Saturday, September 11, 2010

Maui Wowie

We just got back from a great trip to Maui, Hawaii. We decided to go on this vacation, not only because we needed it already, but also because we wanted to use some of our airline/hotel miles before they expired. We knew we wanted to go to Hawaii. I had been to Oahu before, so we decided to go to Maui since it seemed to have a great mix of relaxation and activities.

Immediately after the wedding, we started to do some research on Maui. We got some great suggestions on activities, restaurants, and other general tips from friends and also from my trusted travel site, TripAdvisor.

Maui had an abundance of activities: snorkeling, biking down the mountain, sunrise tour, helicopter tour, road to Hana, etc.

A couple tips:
* If you do the Haleakala sunrise tour (which means leaving your hotel at 3 AM), do it the very next day after you arrive (while still adjusting to the time difference). Also, wear LAYERS and bring hats and gloves since it's really cold up in the mountain.
* Try to do activities in the morning. The trade winds pick up in the noon-afternoon time, and it got VERY windy around the island.
* Go to Ululani shave ice as many times as you can!
* Take dramamine for snorkeling tour, road to Hana, or helicopter ride (as needed).

Without further ado, here's our trip report:

Day 1

Finally the day we had been waiting for came. It felt like it'd been so long since our honeymoon, although really it's been only three and a half months :p We got an early flight at 9 AM and arrived in Maui at 11 AM. The airport was FULL (since it was Labor Day weekend). When we got to Maui, we picked up our luggage and went to the car rental to pick up our car. The line was SUPER long. Thankfully it moved pretty fast, and we were out with our car soon enough. We decided to get a convertible since a lot of friends suggested this option. We're glad we did! It was nice to be able to drive with the top down!

First stop was the Geste Shrimp Truck in Kahului, which was really close from the airport. We got the Spicy Pineapple shrimp, and it was excellent. In fact, it was Dan's most favorite food of the whole trip.

Maui's best shrimp truck
Spicy pineapple shrimp

Next stop was Ululani shave ice. This place was the top rated shave ice place of all Maui, and it totally deserved the honor. The ice was SOOO soft, and the toppings were home made.

THE BEST Hawaiian shave ice
Sooo soft!

Day 2

We wanted to do the Haleakala sunrise tour since it seemed to be one of the activities unique to Maui. We decided to do this early on our trip while still adjusting to the time difference. In order to make it to the top of the Haleakala crater by sunrise, we had to leave our hotel by 3 AM. We decided to do the tour so we didn't have to do the early morning drive. We went with Polynesian Adventure Tour and were pretty happy with the experience. Haleakala is the fourth tallest mountain in the world and the sunrise view was pretty amazing. There were a lot of people at the top of the mountain waiting for the sunrise. It was really cold, and thankfully we came prepared. We saw some people wearing sandals and shorts...not smart! :)

After the sunrise trip, we went to lunch at Da Kitchen Express in Kihei and got the Loco Moco, which is a traditional Hawaiian dish: burger patty with eggs and sauteed onions topped with gravy. And of course with a side of rice and macaroni salad. Talk about heavy! It was sooo good though! I've heard that Da Kitchen has the best Loco Moco and they totally delivered.

That night we decided to splurge on dinner and went to Spago at the Four Seasons, which is a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. I was quite excited to try and I read about this early bird promotion for a $49 three course prix fixe menu (between 5:30 PM-6:00 PM), which turned out to be perfect because we also saw the sunset. We were both not that impressed with the food at Spago, but we did enjoy the ambiance and the view.

Day 3

Another early morning for us! We decided to do the AM snorkeling tour with Trilogy, and we had to be at the harbor by 6:15 AM. The crew at Trilogy were AWESOME and very friendly. They also served good food. We LOVED the cinnamon bun that they serve in the morning. Snorkeling was fun! We went to Molokini crater and turtle town. The water clarity in Molokini was amazing! We didn't see very many fish, but some, and the experience was great. We then went to turtle town and saw a turtle swimming very close to us.

Aboard the Trilogy snorkeling tour
Look at how clear the water was!

That night we went to the Old Lahaina Luau, which is supposed to be one of the best luaus in Maui. The seating is reserved based on when you made the reservation. We booked it a couple months early and got great seats! Food was buffet, and they served traditional Hawaiian food. The show was pretty good, although I think after a couple of performances Dan and I were pretty bored :p Overall we would recommend this luau though. Everything went very smoothly...great food, great ambiance.

Old Lahaina Luau
Beautiful grounds!
I liked the Lava flow (on the right)
Traditional Hawaiian food

Day 4

Everyone said that the Road to Hana is a "must-do". We heard that the drive was brutal (600+ turns), and many one lane bridges. Neither Dan nor I wanted to drive, so we decided to ride in a tour. We heard Temptation Tour does a combo Road to Hana/Helicopter tour and decided to do this option. It was definitely pricey, but considering that it included the helicopter tour, we thought it was worth the price. The van was quite luxurious and carried only 6 passengers. The road to Hana was definitely beautiful, but it was pretty similar to what we've seen in other tropical places. On the way to Hana, we stopped by this place called "halfway to Hana" that sold great banana bread. Delicious. Definitely stop by if you do the drive.

On the way to Hana
Black sand beach

After lunch, we were off to our helicopter tour. We were both so excited since this was our first time. We were originally supposed to do the Hana/Haleakala tour for around 40-45 minutes. However, the Haelakala crater was closed that day due to cloudy weather :( so we only got to do the Hana helicopter tour. We got the front seat (yay!) which was great since I was not sure how much we could see if we got the back seat. The pilot actually assigned where to you sit based on weight.

So excited for the helicopter ride!
View from our ride

The views from the helicopter were absolutely amazing! The tour ended a little early though (I think it only lasted 30 minutes), but oh well, we still had a great time.

After the helicopter ride, we went to Ululani shave ice (again) since it was close to the airport :) We tried the Haleakala flavor which is a combination of coconut milk and lychee. Mmm...

That night we went to Sansei sushi for dinner. They have a 25% off special if you have dinner before 6 PM. We'd heard rave reviews about this place so had pretty high expectations. Food was good in general but not out of this world.

Day 5

Wow. Time does flies when you're having fun! Couldn't believe our vacation was almost over already. We planned a pretty "chill" day. We had breakfast at Kihei Caffe (love this place!), and then went to the pool in the morning to relax. Afterwards we got ready for our couples massage at Spa Grande, at the Grand Wailea hotel which was just next door from our resort. The Grand Wailea was a HUGE resort, almost had a disney-esque feel to it, but definitely beautiful! Spa Grande has been rated one of the top 10 spas in the world, so I had high expectations. The spa was definitely beautiful and had lots of amenities, but was a little older than expected. Nevertheless the experience was still great.

Breakfast at Kihei Cafe

After the spa, we decided to visit the "west" side of the island (Lahaina/Kaanapali). We went to the Whaler's Village and visited the Whaling Museum. After that we made a quick stop to downtown Lahaina, which was a cute town with character and saw the huge banyan tree. We also got the ice cream sandwich at Hula Cookies.

Mama's Fish House

For dinner, we went to Mama's Fish House. We made dinner reservations a couple months ago and requested window seating. The view was so picturesque. Food and service were good. Their menu is printed daily, and they even included the name of the fishermen that caught the fish that day. It's that fresh!

When we were waiting for our valet car after dinner, we saw Paris Hilton and her boyfriend. I wanted to take a picture with them but Dan said no :( so we just took a picture of them from afar. That was definitely a pretty interesting experience.

Day 6

Our last day in Maui :( We didn't really have anything planned except for trying to eat as much as we could...ha. We started off with pancakes at Kihei Caffe, which were delicious! We then checked out of our hotel, went to Zippy's to get the hot Malasadas (doughnut), lunch at Da Kitchen (Hawaiian plate and deep fried spam musubi - which was EXCELLENT), and then Ululani for our last shave ice before leaving. Needless to say, we were both VERY full and happy :)

Fried spam musubi
Hawaiian plate

In summary, we had a great time on our first trip to Hawaii, filled with lots of food, activities, and good times. Where to next? Hmmm...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Our First Home

We finally bought our first home! It is a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1100 square foot condo in the South Bay. We had been looking for a number of months, and we were so thankful the timing worked out. We closed about a month before our wedding. Before moving in, we repainted the interior walls, replaced the carpet in the bedrooms, and upgraded the living room and hallway carpet to laminate flooring. It was pretty hectic because we coordinated the renovations while finishing up wedding planning at the same time. The renovations were completed 5 days before we got married. Talk about cutting it close!

Here are the details...

We went with the painter our agent recommended and were very pleased with the timeliness, quality of service, and reasonable/competitive cost. They repainted all interior walls, doors, inside closets, and baseboards.

Selecting the colors took the most time for us. It was difficult because there were so many colors and shades to choose from, and the swatch sample cards did not look the same as the actual paint color on the wall. After narrowing down our selections and going back and forth, we went with the following colors for each room:

Living room, hallway, breakfast nook, kitchen: Wise Owl (beige)
Master bedroom: Plymouth Gray (blue-grayish)
Master bathroom: Sierra White (white with a hint of blue)
2nd bedroom: Sycamore Green (sage)
2nd bathroom: Navajo White (off-white/cream)

We replaced the carpet in the living room with laminate, and also put in new carpet in the bedrooms.

Getting HOA approval to put in laminate flooring took the longest time. Once we got approval, carpet was done in a day, and laminate was done in 2 days.

The carpet we chose was Shaw New Idol, Balsa color. Surprisingly, it was very similar to the original carpet color (light gray).
For the laminate flooring, we selected True Timber Premium Laminate, Steinway Cherry color.

In the end, we were satisfied with the results of both.

For window coverings, we bought white faux wood blinds from and installed them ourselves. The very first blind we put up ended up being a good 4" too low. We used a manual screwdriver to put up our blinds which made it much harder than it needed to be. So we went to Target, bought a motorized screwdriver, and used it to re-position the first blind we put up.

Before and After
Here are a couple of pre- and post-renovation shots of our new home.

Before: Carpeted Living Room with original paint
After: Living Room with new paint and laminate floor
Before: Breakfast Nook with original paint
After: Breakfast Nook & Main Entrance with new paint

After countless trips to many, many furniture stores and outlets, we finally made the following purchases:

Henriksdal bar stools with backrest from IKEA
Bjursta brown dining table from IKEA with Ann Glenn side chairs from Scandinavian Design
Kensington bisque sofa and chair from Macys
Now that we have the main items taken care of, we will move on to the smaller things like an ottoman, accent pillows, curtains or vertical blinds for the living room sliding door, and perhaps a few other detailed touches over time. In the meantime, we are so grateful for and are fully enjoying our new home.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wedding Video!

Here is our wedding video by Caputre Me Videography. Thanks Alaina and Tres!
Location: Martinelli Event Center at Garre Winery, Livermore, CA
Date: May 8, 2010

Dan & Marcela's Wedding from Capture Me Videography on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Honeymoon in French Polynesia

We were so thankful that we got the chance to go to French Polynesia for our honeymoon. Ever since I saw the pictures of overwater bungalows, I knew that's where I wanted to go for my honeymoon (even prior to meeting Dan :p). Thankfully, Dan agreed to go to French Polynesia too! Yay!

Intercontinental Thalasso Bora Bora - our favorite hotel during our honeymoon!

French Polynesia is a collection of islands in the South Pacific, about 8.5 hours flight from LA. We decided to go to 3 different islands: Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. Bora Bora was most recently featured on the movie "Couples Retreat".

If you need help booking your travel package for Tahiti/Bora Bora, you can contact me for a free quote - I am now a travel advisor! I realized now after comparing prices that for South Pacific, travel agent prices are much better than booking independently. This is because 90% of South Pacific business is from travel agent, so the hotels give the best prices to the agencies that send the majority of their business.

We decided to go for 11 days/10 nights. Here's our trip report :)

Our flight from SFO was delayed and we were worried that we would miss our connecting flight in LAX. Thankfully the flight from LAX was also delayed, so we were able to catch it :) We got into Papeete (Tahiti airport) around 1 AM. We stayed at the Intercontinental Tahiti hotel, which was actually super close to the airport.

Arriving in Tahiti airport

The hotel was a little older, but still in good condition. We got upgraded from the garden view to lagoon view room due to our Ambassador club membership (totally worth it! See tips below).

Our hotel room in Tahiti
Beautiful view from our room
Intercontinental Tahiti

Day 2: Tahiti
We had breakfast at the hotel, and as we mentioned previously, we're so glad that we had breakfast included since it would be super expensive otherwise. After breakfast, we took the shuttle from the hotel to downtown Papeete and visited the market. Downtown was not very big at all and we were done in an hour or two, so we just took the shuttle back to our hotel.

Us at the Tahiti market in downtown

Day 3: Tahiti - Moorea
We were off to our next destination: Moorea. During our trip research, we noted that a lot of people recommended this island (we'd never heard of it before). We took the ferry from Tahiti to Moorea (which was about 40 minutes). We stayed at the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Resort, which was highly rated on TripAdvisor. The resort was really nice and quaint. We booked the Garden Bungalow to save some money instead of the Overwater Bungalow. We figured we'll stay in an Overwater Bungalow in Bora Bora.

Sofitel Moorea open air lobby
Our Garden Bungalow
Our bungalow room

Huge modern shower
Tropical rainshower bathroom

It was raining really heavily when we arrived. Thankfully the rain stopped at night so we were able to go to the Tiki Village (Polynesian center). We did the dinner & show at Tiki Village. I would imagine this is very similar to Luau. They did a demonstration of the unveiling of the "Tahitian Oven", coconut demo, and dance performance.

Our welcome reception @ Tiki Village - Moorea
Unveiling of the Tahitian Oven, similar to Luau

Day 4: Moorea
It was raining on/off throughout the day so we didn't book any excursions. We went swimming at the Infinity pool and then rested at our resort.

Day 5: Moorea
Thankfully it wasn't raining so we were able to do the ATV tour. This was probably our most favorite excursion of our whole trip. This was our first ATV experience for both of us, and it was so much fun! We went up the mountains, visited pineapple plantations, agriculture school, and went to the top of the mountain where the view was just breathtaking.

Ready for our ATV ride
Loving every minute in paradise!

Day 6: Moorea - Bora Bora
We were excited to finally go to Bora Bora! The view from the flight was absolutely gorgeous. You could see the coral reefs that surrounded Bora Bora and the multiple shades of blue water that looked so unreal. We were picked up by the resort and the boat ride was just so surreal! Couldn't believe we're finally in Bora Bora. We stayed at the Intercontinental Thalasso Bora Bora and the resort was so beautiful!

View from the airplane, the turquoise-blue water was so unbelievable!
Arriving @ Intercontinental Thalasso Bora Bora Resort & Spa
The lobby/reception area
Our overwater bungalow
Huge comfy bed with an unbelievable view
The BEST view to wake up to!

Huge bathroom with dual sinks
Complimentary Champagne from the hotel
Day 7: Bora Bora
We went on a 4x4 jeep safari. We had to take the boat to the main island to get picked up for our tour. The safari was VERY bumpy. We went to the top of the mountains to take pictures of the beautiful scenery, saw some old cannons (from WW II), and visited a pearl farm.

Afterwards we went back to our hotel and swam in the lagoon, with direct access from our overwater bungalow! It was so surreal! It's like having a giant swimming pool in your backyard.

Direct lagoon access from our deck

Day 8: Bora Bora
We went into town (Vaitape) to get some snacks and water. The town was super small! We came back to our resort just in time for a cooking demonstration of poisson cru (tuna sashimi with coconut milk). Afterwards, we ordered room service for lunch so we could eat on our deck. It was wonderful!

Best seat in Bora Bora :)

Day 9: Bora Bora
We went jet skiing! It was a lot bumpier than we expected, but was fun! We made a stop to swim, and then went to a private island where the guide cracked open coconuts for us. They were so good! We came back (again) just in time to view and paint in the pareo making demonstration.

Jet ski adventure
Dan making pareo

And later that night...we had dinner at the highly acclaimed restaurant, Villa Mahana. This restaurant had been constantly rated as the #1 restaurant in Bora Bora, and they did not disappoint. This was definitely the best meal of our trip! We booked the "top table", and it was so romantic since we had the top "floor" all by ourselves. I made reservations about 3 months in advance!

View from the Top Table
Us at the top table
Seared Ahi Tuna with Vanilla Oil - very fresh!
Steak with Creamy Gnocchi - SO GOOD!
Mahi Mahi in Curry Banana Crust with Mango Sauce, Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Royal King Lobster and Prawns Risotto with Old Parmesan Cheese
Sorbet - palate cleanser
Banana Flambe with Old Rum and Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream
Chocolate Lava Cake - compliments of the Chef!

Day 10: Bora Bora
We kayaked in the morning around our resort (it was free :p).

Dan kept checking whether I was actually pedaling :p

After that, we went to our spa appointment! Yay! The spa facility was amazing. There were different rain showers, jacuzzis (where you could order in food), and various other saltwater pools. As long as you booked a treatment that day, you could spend the whole day at the spa. We booked the 20 minute bath + 50 minute couples massage, and our treatment room was also over water!

Spa at the Intercontinental Thalasso Bora Bora
So relaxed!

Our last day in paradise :( I guess we had to come back to reality.
We went to the famous Bloody Mary's for lunch, but we were both unimpressed with the food and the Bloody Mary drink. The lunch menu was very simple and nothing special. Hey, at least we tried. :p

Here are some tips from our experience:
  • If you are staying at the Intercontinental Hotel, enroll in the Gold Ambassador program. For a fee of $150, you get a guaranteed room upgrade and free bottled water every day (water is expensive in Bora Bora :). The room upgrade alone per day would pay for itself in just one day.
  • Make sure you let your credit card companies know that you will be traveling outside of the country. Once you do, you do not need to bring a lot of cash. We only exchanged $300 in cash and charged everything else to credit card.
  • If you are interested in doing activities, then visit Moorea and do the majority of your activities there, since it's a lot cheaper than Bora Bora. If you really just want to relax and enjoy the beautiful view, then you can mainly stay in Bora Bora. We would suggest visiting both Moorea and Bora Bora though, and splitting your time evenly: Moorea for activities, Bora Bora for relaxing. 
  • If you want to save money, we would recommend only staying at an over water bungalow for part of your trip, since they cost a fortune! We would suggest staying at a regular hotel room in Tahiti, a garden or beach bungalow in Moorea, and splurge on the over water bungalow in Bora Bora. Also save Bora Bora for your last leg of the trip since it is truly the best!
  • A lot of resorts now including breakfasts as part of the package. If you can, try to get this, if not, breakfast buffet alone costs around $45 per person! Our package came with breakfast included which saved us a ton of money. For the Bora Bora hotel, the package even included dinners which saved us even more!
  • Bring books and DVDs with player. One of our favorite "free" activities was reading on our deck with the view of the lagoon.
  • Order room service one time and eat lunch or dinner from your deck with the view of the lagoon :)
  • Research free activities at the hotel. Our resort in Bora Bora has daily sting ray feedings, and various activities free of charge: kayaking, pareo making demonstration, poisson cru cooking demonstrations, etc.
  • You can book your activities once you arrive in Moorea/Bora Bora. No need to book in advance, especially since the weather can be unpredictable.
  • You do not need to book activities through the hotel concierge. It is more convenient, but also may cost more as compared to a local tour/activity company.
  • Book dinner at Le Villa Mahana. Totally worth it!

Hotel Recommendations:

We have received questions about hotel recommendations in Tahiti/Bora Bora. Of course we can only vouch for the hotels we stayed, but I did plenty of research beforehand so here's the compiled list of hotels that are highly rated.

  • Intercontinental Tahiti: This is the hotel that we stayed in. Although we loved the location and the traditional feel of the hotel, we felt that the hotel was a little tired and probably in need of a renovation.
  • Radisson Tahiti: Located on a stretch of black sand beach, this hotel is relatively newer and have good ratings in Trip Advisor.
  • Manava Suites: One of the newer hotels in Tahiti. The decor is very modern.
  • Hilton Moorea: The garden bungalow comes with a plunge pool and the hotel has been recently renovated. The bathroom has a large bathtub which is nice.
  • Sofitel Moorea: This is where we stayed. The hotel is located close to the ferry terminal, but it is far from the main town. The garden bungalow was a good size and the hotel is still in good condition. The pool area is relatively small, but it never felt crowded. We love the quaint feel of the hotel - even though the size of the hotel is pretty big. Unlike the Hilton and the Intercontinental, the garden bungalow category does not come with a plunge pool, which could be a disadvantage. Also to note, there is no bathtub (only rain shower). The breakfast at this hotel was probably our favorite. The chocolate croissant is the best! We had a great time at this hotel and would recommend it.
  • Intercontinental Moorea: This hotel was recently renovated in May 2011. They added the plunge pool to the garden bungalow. There's also an on-site dolphin sanctuary, which tends to attract more families to stay in this hotel. Also to note, the over water bungalow category is not all truly over water (only some are all over the water, the rest are partially over the water/on the beach).
Bora Bora
  • Four Seasons Bora Bora: This hotel is the #1 rated hotel in Bora Bora. It is located on a motu - an island off of Bora Bora main island, so it could be a little bit of hassle if you want to go to town. They charge for shuttle transfer into town. The decor of the room is Tahitian style with modern touches.
  • St. Regis Bora Bora: This hotel is where Nicole Kidman honeymooned :p The decor is more Asian style and there's an onsite Jean Georges restaurant which is supposed to be wonderful! This is where Couples Retreat was filmed.
  • Intercontinental Thalasso Bora Bora: This was our favorite hotel during our trip! It was the most expensive though compared to our hotels in Tahiti and Moorea, by far. The location of the hotel was probably had the best view of Mt. Otemanu in my opinion. It is also located on the motu, but the hotel does not charge for boat transfers to the main island. The decor of the hotel is modern (see pictures above) and pricewise, it's a little bit more affordable than the Four Seasons or St. Regis.
  • Hilton Bora Bora: The Hilton is probably the most economical compared to the other three hotels mentioned. It is still a great option. This is where the Bachelorette was filmed, as well as Keeping up with the Kardashians.
We had such a wonderful trip to Bora Bora, and if you have ANY questions at all, feel free to ask :)

Dan & Marcela