What to our wondering eyes should appear, just in time to stave off the after-Christmas doldrums? A flight from NAS Whidbey to Hickam on December 29!
Hmmm…bringing the year to an end with clouds, cold, rain and dark, or starting the new year off with sun, sand, heat and light…which to choose, which to choose?
A quick call to the Navy Gateway Inn and Suites (NGIS) complex on the Pearl Harbor side of Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (JBPHH) revealed that they did, miraculously, have rooms available. We were convinced that the space a gods were truly beckoning us to come to paradise. The decision was made! We made room reservations for a week, called Whidbey to sign up, and packed up our summer gear. As an added bonus, we enticed a space a newbie friend to take the plunge with us; now there would be THREE happy souls in paradise for the new year!
Ground transportation research revealed that the Enterprise rental concession at the Honolulu airport was $170 LESS than renting from the Hickam. What is up with THAT? Fortunately, it’s easy to get over to the airport on The Bus (Oahu’s public bus system). Number 19 departs from a stop outside the terminal for the short ride to the airport, and continues all the way to Waikiki beach, near the Hale Koa military hotel, about every 20 minutes.
All arrangements were in order when we showed up, in the dark and the rain, at the Whidbey terminal for roll call. I had even had time the day before to bake some treats for the PAX reps and flight crew (always feed your PAX reps and flight crews!). A couple of hours later, we were on our way, aboard a very comfortable 737 (configured just like the regular commercial airline version, except with a cargo section separate in the front) – thanks to VR 61!
After landing and collecting our bags, we stopped by the the AMC counter – temporarily located in a tent outside the main terminal due to terminal renovation work – to be sure they had our return sign ups in their system. They did not, but we showed them our sign up emails and all was quickly put in order. We just had time to stop by the USO – also temporarily located in a tent, opposite the AMC tent – to grab a couple bottles of water and some activity books before hopping on the bus to pick up our car.
Check in at the Lockwood complex was quick and easy, and the rooms were very nice in the main lodging tower. They do not, however have balconies (lanais?), so, after a couple of nights we switched over to the Hale Alii in the Arizona complex. We like to sit out in the morning and enjoy our coffee, and in the evening to have a glass of wine :). Another quirk at Lockwood tower is the beds – they are so high up that even at 5′ 5″, I had to hop up to get in!
We had dinner our first evening at Restaurant 604, near the Arizona memorial parking lot. The food and service were great, but the music was very loud! We had to shout at each other to be heard – mai tais helped :). For the rest of our visit, we dined almost every evening at the Lanai at Mamala Bay (formerly Sam Choy’s), on the Hickam side of the base. Yes, yes, I know there lots of wonderful places to eat on the island! But, after being out and about all day, by the time we returned to get cleaned up for dinner, we just didn’t feel like fighting traffic again. The Lanai is nearby, in a wonderful location – right on the water, with views all the way down to Waikiki and Diamond Head, and, closer by, the end of the airport runway, excellent for watching planes. Sunsets can’t be beat! The food is great, the service friendly, the prices right (for Oahu), and the atmosphere quiet and relaxed. We couldn’t ask for anything more!
We got our fill of local fare at lunch on our adventures. The snack bar at the Barefoot Bar (Hale Koa), Dim sum in Chinatown, the Haleiwa cafe on the north shore for ahi tacos, Filippino food out past the former Barber’s Point, and even a dinner at the Big City Diner – a local chain with six locations around the island – for some Hawaiian fare.
New Year’s Eve was a low-key affair. It’s been some time since any of us bothered to stay up for actual midnight in our local time zone. We watched the ball drop in frosty Times Square while sipping li hing margaritas at our table at the Big City Diner, then returned to the Hale Alii to enjoy some of the fireworks going off over the ridge at Waikiki and all around us. At about 2200, we shared some Prosecco (which I had accidentally left in the freezer and so was like a bubbly, melt-in-the-mouth slushy confection) and chocolate to bid 2017 farewell. There were quite a few celebratory bangs and explosions throughout the night, so I was really happy I had my earplugs!
There is plenty to do (or not!) on Oahu – whatever your interest, you can find something you like. We hiked up Diamond Head, toured the Punch Bowl cemetery, explored Chinatown, drove up to the North Shore and lounged on the beach watching the surfers at the Banzai Pipeline, hiked the paved trail to Makapuu Point, and the rugged trail out to the west point of the island, and visited the Byodo-In temple in Kaneohe.
There was also plenty of beach time! In addition to the North Shore, we soaked up the sun at the Hale Koa, Pyramid Beach (MCS Kanoehe), and Bellows Air Force Station. We even had the opportunity to visit friends on the island.
It was perfect!
The one fly in our ointment was our return from Hickam. Normally we have active sign ups going at all times, but this trip we were joined by our space a newbie friend. She was not signed up, so we needed to adjust in order to have the best chance of flying together. We would only have a little more than a week on the list at Hickam when we were ready to come home, instead of our usual 45-50 days. Those odds are almost never good, but we decided to take the chance anyway.
Around day four of our escape, we began to watch the Hickam forecast for flights to McChord or Whidbey. The terminal was being quite obliging and posting a 96, rather than a 72 hour forecast, probably due to holiday traffic, so we had an extra day’s information to work with. Unfortunately, the closest option that appeared was a flight going to Fairchild AFB, near Spokane, a 6+ hour drive over the mountains and across the State from us. Weather reports in WA were not great for the drive, and a one-way rental from Spokane was going to be pricey. We opted not to try for that one (good thing – there were 50 PAX for 31 seats and the last one who got a seat had a sign up date two weeks better than ours!). There were a couple of flghts to Travis AFB, but we knew those would be packed with higher prioirity passengers and Cat 6 with better sign up dates. The roll call reports showed we were correct!
Finally, on January 3, with nothing on the flight horizon through the coming weekend, we did the calculations (continued lodging, food, car rental VS commercial tickets), and decided to purchase for our return. We lucked out and found some fairly cheap ($267) one-way tickets on United on January 4, and jumped on them. Our flight was departing at 2200, so we got a whole extra day of activities and a final dinner at the Lanai before we bid Aloha to Paradise.
As mentioned in the recent holiday travel tips post, even though the holidays are a busy travel time, it is sometimes possible to find a flight in the period between Christmas and New Year’s. We were fortunate finding and being able to take advantage of one such gem this holiday season! Keep your eyes open and your bags packed!