OIB NC — Thanksgiving in the sand

Last year, my family and I started a new tradition of spending Thanksgiving on the beach.  What a great way for some time together and relaxation!  The beach party included my mom, stepdad, and two nieces.  While it was a short trip, we all had so much fun and came back with sand in our shoes and memories in our hearts.

Ocean Isle Beach, a small barrier island in North Carolina, was the setting for our weekend away.  The island is about an hour or so north of Myrtle Beach, very near the NC/SC border.  Development started there in the late 1950s but the island has maintained a low-key family atmosphere, which brings us back over and over.  I first visited Ocean Isle (OIB for short) when I was just a wee one and have visited many times over the years.  Most visitors rent a beach house for the week (in the summer) but shorter rental periods are available at certain properties in the off-season. Our favorite spot to stay is on one of the man-made canal streets where you have your own dock that you can relax on, crab from, or swim — if you’re feeling brave.  Swimming in the canal is not my cup of tea because we’ve pulled many a sea creature from the canals over the years and ‘swimming with the fishes’ isn’t my thing.

We enjoyed a Thanksgiving buffet at Causeway Gourmet, right over the bridge to the island.  I don’t know how we never stopped in this delightful little cafe before but we will most definitely be back next summer.  We actually ate lunch again there yesterday too.  Buffet food that actually tasted like the good, home-cooked food you want on Thanksgiving, was aplenty.  The staff was super friendly and attentive.  You can definitely tell that they put a lot of effort into the quality of their food.  Delicious!

With the island being a relatively short hop down to Myrtle, you’re not too far away from the hustle and bustle when you want it.  We typically pop down to have dinner and shop a bit before returning to the tranquility of OIB.  I couldn’t even begin to estimate the hours we’ve spent trolling the beaches for that perfect shell and we’ve never come away disappointed.  Starfish, sand dollars, whelks, limpets, lettered olives, small sharks, crabs, jellyfish, and even a puffer fish have been scooped up while beach combing.  As good beach stewards, if it was alive, it was returned to the ocean again after a quick photo was snapped.  We easily spent five hours or more on the beach this time around, even in the 50 degree weather.  I will say that it is a wonder that I didn’t have hypothermia after getting the bright idea to go barefoot and walk in the ocean yesterday.  It wasn’t a short stroll either and was followed by walking through sand spurs for a good twenty minutes.  Needless to say, I’m due for a nice pedicure after that adventure!

We’ll be back at the beach in the summer and none of us can wait.  This little town grabbed my heart many years back and I don’t think it is letting go anytime soon.

Ocean Isle Beach at sunset

Ocean Isle Beach at sunset

Shells at OIB

Shells at OIB

Ocean Isle

Ocean Isle

Sea gulls on the beach

Sea gulls on the beach

Advertisements

Hey, I’ve got this idea… How about a trip to Disneyland and Aulani? (Part 2)

After flying from LAX to Honolulu, we were six hours behind our normal East Coast time.  Time zones are so hard to get used to.  We landed in Honolulu, grabbed a rental car, and started the drive to Aulani.  Aulani is Disney’s resort in Ko Olina which is on the island of Oahu, about 20 minutes from Honolulu without traffic.  We did land right in gridlock time so that added probably 30-45 minutes more to our drive time.  No worries though, as is the mantra there.  The traffic eventually cleared up and we were on the way.

I had read that Oahu had a weird road system when planning the trip and that was an understatement.  Lots of roads that change names, even though they are the same road, just to change back to the original name.  For this Virginia girl, all the Hawaiian names really threw me for a loop too.  The crazy thing is that our GPS voice, who can’t pronounce normal words correctly half the time, didn’t even stumble on those Hawaiian words.  Super strange.

So Ko Olina.  I could live there.  This is a newer development on the west side of the island and features vacation and residential properties, like a gated community.  (OK, so I like my fanciness.)  There are resorts in the area and they sit on four man-made lagoons which provide protected access to the Pacific.  Aulani sits at the first lagoon and man, color me impressed.  This resort blows anywhere I’ve ever been out of the water.  The attention to detail here, the grounds, location, service, and hospitality were mind-blowing.  Most all of the staff seemed to be native Hawaiians which really added to the comfort and ambiance of the resort.  Super friendly.  At check-in we were given gifts: a traditional lei for me, a Menehune necklace for my daughter, and a Kukui bead necklace for the hubs.  More on Menehune later.

Our room was perfection, overlooking Waikohole Valley at the resort.  That’s what Aulani calls the water feature area in the center of the resort buildings.  A lazy river, waterslide, child waterplay area, infinity pool, hot tubs, koi pond, etc. are all found there.  Talk about amazing.  I’m not a huge fan of waterparks and things like that but Waikohole Valley might have changed my mind.  We spent so much time drifting on tubes in the lazy river and bobbing at the edge of the infinity pool that it was heavenly.  The lagoon area was super nice too with abundant beach chairs, umbrellas, watercraft options, etc.  I could give you a lesson on how to climb up on a floating “island” raft in the lagoon but no videos, please.  I have never laughed so much trying to haul myself up onto something and not fall back off into the ocean.  So much fun.

Back to the Menehune.  Menehune are little shy, mischievous little people in Hawaiian legend that Disney uses throughout the resort as a fun way to tie in culture to the property.  There is a Menehune Bridge play area for the kids (and adults because you have no idea how much fun it is to run through a good six inches of water and have buckets of water being dumped on your head at the same time, seriously!) and an interactive game where you solve puzzles and riddles related to the Menehune around the resort.  You’ll find Menehune statues all throughout the property so that by itself becomes a neat scavenger hunt.

Food at Aulani is quite the mixture with grab and go all the way to high end.  Being a vegetarian, I don’t tend to go for high end as it can be hard for me to get my money’s worth.  We spent a lot of time at the Ulu Cafe, the grab and go location at the resort and have no complaints.  Great service there and a wonderful Margarita flatbread that I think I ordered every day.  You can also get the famous Dole Whip and Hawaiian Shave ice in Waikohole Valley which make for quite excellent snacks.

We did venture to a nearby small shopping area and had dinner at a place called Just Tacos.  It didn’t disappoint either.  We ate there twice and I wouldn’t hesitate to do so again with their plentiful options, yummy food, and caring service.

I had high hopes of day trips from Aulani and visiting the touristy places on Oahu.  Didn’t happen.  We went out one day to Pearl Harbor and stopped at Punchbowl (the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and also an extinct volcano) with lunch in Waikiki but that’s it.  The resort had so much to do that I couldn’t pull myself away.  Next time maybe.  Pearl Harbor was moving, to say the least, and I’m so glad we took the time to go there.  The USS Arizona Memorial is beautiful yet heartbreaking for the men and their families that so needlessly died there.  The Honolulu traffic and crazy roads led us back to Ko Olina though, calling us to get back in the pool.

In typical Disney fashion, Aulani offers so many things to do with some at a fee and some for free.  We like free so we enjoyed a nighttime hulu show that also featured traditional Hawaiian music, craft making, and had all of the guests sitting on warm straw mats.  Fun!  We also participated in an animation class where we learned to draw Stitch and painted our own animation cels.  On our final night, Aulani was celebrating Halloween Hawaii style so we had a costume party, craft making, and carnival type games for small prizes.  The characters were out in full force in their Halloween costumes too which were a treat.  So much to do and never enough time.

When our time was up, we loaded onto the plane and spent the next nine hours in the area flying back home.  What a long flight and nowhere near enough sleep!  It was completely worth it though and I hope to be back at Aulani, floating in the lazy river, soon!

The inside of the Aulani lobby at the main entrance

The inside of the Aulani lobby at the main entrance

Hawaiian sunset

Hawaiian sunset

Aulani's lagoon at sunset

Aulani’s lagoon at sunset

A beautiful hibiscus

A beautiful hibiscus

Looking back toward the resort from the edge of the lagoon area

Looking back toward the resort from the edge of the lagoon area

The lazy river section from our balcony

The lazy river section from our balcony

Hawaiian beauty with the best smelling flowers

Hawaiian beauty with the best smelling flowers