Grand Cayman Island, 1989

In the fall of 1989, my husband and I took our first Norwegian Cruise Line cruise. A couple days in, we decided cruising offers the best travel value. Cruising combines exciting ports of call, fun and interesting excursions, onboard entertainment, gaming, great dining, friendly staff and passengers with ease and affordability.

On the Seaward, our itinerary was: NCL’s private island cay off the coast of Florida, Jamaica, Grand Cayman Island, and Cozumel, Mexico.

Grand Cayman Island is a British overseas territory located south of Cuba and north of Jamaica. Seven Mile Beach, one of the world’s best beaches, is here. There’s also good snorkeling, scuba diving and a turtle farm in West Bay.

We chose Seven Mile Beach for our day excursion. Our “party” boat arrived an hour late looking like something Huck and Tom took when they went down the Mississippi. We were about to board a thatched roof raft with a motor that didn’t look “seaworthy.”

But once onboard, the steel drum band started playing, the rum punch started flowing and the dance line started limbo-ing. It ferried us to a very peaceful, empty stretch of beach with powder-fine sand. I found several large pieces of sun-bleached coral. The coral in itself would have made my day.

It was the ride back that made the excursion.

We were an hour late getting back to the ship. The whistle was blowing. And, as the rule goes, if you aren’t back by the time the whistle blows, be sure to have your camera with you so you can snap a photo of the ship leaving you behind at port.

The lido deck was packed with passengers watching our little party boat approach. We circled the ship twice – music blaring, people laughing, dancing, and singing - before docking. The band continued playing as we disembarked. We formed a Congo line singing “hot, hot, hot” all the way up to the lido deck. When we reached the top, much to the amusement of our fellow passengers, we waved goodbye to Grand Cayman and the best party boat west of the Mississippi.



There's something magical about your first castle!

Mine was the ancient edifice of Kenilworth located in the county Warwickshire. The castle was started in 1125 and finished in 1660. Kenilworth has changed hands several times and is now a heritage site.

In the summer of 1974, my aunt and uncle took my mom and me to visit Stratford-Upon-Avon and Coventry. Along the way, we stopped to explore Kenilworth. As I climbed around the ruins, I imagined what it would have been like to live amongst the cold stone walls in England's middle country, surrounded by an enormous lake moat and endless countryside. Romantic and difficult were what came to mind!

I Googled Kenilworth to see what it looks like today. Thirty-five years later, the Elizabethan garden Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, created to please his queen were recreated a few years back at an astonishing 2.1 million pounds. It's quite a lovely addition.



Nice and Eze are located in the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea in the Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region of Provence. Enroute from Cannes, our church group's motor coach came through both cities of the French Rivera. For this leg of the two week trip, our ultimate destination was Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Breaking up the long ride, we spent a half day at two tourist attractions in Nice and Eze.

At the Confiserie Florian Old Nice of les Gorges du Loup, we took a morning confectionery tour. The Confiserie is located in the quaint, pastel harbor area. On display in the showroom were chocolates, candied clementines and delicate, crystallized flowers: violets, rose petals, and verbena. In the kitchen tour, vats of clementines were being bathed in pure sugar. The sight of the oranges in the blue kitchen was poetic French provincial. I bought a bag and somehow did not open it until I got back to the states. I have to tell you, candied clementines are one of the most amazing confections. Crisp and sweet citrus peel on the outside and a jelly, nectar-sweet center.

In Eze, we stopped at the Parfumerie Fragonard, a laboratory factory, on the Moyenne Corniche, overlooking the sparkling sea. Eze is situated between Nice and Monaco. In the factory (which is too harsh a word to describe this pastel, low-profile building - tucked away in grounds beautifully landscaped – but that is what it is called), we took a tour of the soap, eaux de toilette and perfume making process. At the end of the tour, we had the opportunity to purchase Fragonard products from the gift shop. I bought two perfumes. My daughter chose the oriental 'Murmure' – a fragrance of rose, cinnamon, jasmine, iris, vanilla, patchouli and pepper. I chose the 'Eau Fantasque' – a light scent of grapefruit, black current buds, hyacinth, freesia and amber.

It is so true. The French have mastered many things. Two of those things are confection and perfume. Both can be found in the lovely French Rivera.



A little over a week and a half after we had arrived in Paris, traveled by train to Lourdes and motor coached through Nice, Monaco, Florence, Pisa and Siena, our church group tour ended mid summer in beautiful Rome.

We had hoped to have an audience with Pope John Paul II, but two days before our arrival, the Pope left for a visit to Eastern Europe. I felt a little nonplus. So, I lifted my spirits by buying three pendant crosses. These I left to be blessed by Cardinal Ratzinger. Years later, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Amazing how God works; I feel very blessed!

Rome is a convergence of two cultures: Ancient Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. The city holds on to its ancient history. There’s the Roman Ruins – the Roman Forum - the central area of ancient Rome. Although many of the oldest structures of ancient Rome have been lost, much is being preserved. The Colosseum (70-80 AD) is the largest amphitheater built by the Roman Empire. It is a massive structure and most of it is accessible to the public.

Sistine Chapel – (The Papal Conclave) has the incredible frescoes by Michelangelo (the ones he painted while on his back). Now restored to their original brightness, the well known frescoes depict the faith through creation of Adam to the final judgment.

St. Peter’s Basilica – Michelangelo’s inspiring, finely polished sculpture of “The Pieta” (The Virgin Mary mourning Christ) is near the entrance. The tombs of the Popes are in the lower level of the church below the altar.

Catacombs - The Catacombs were underground burial sites and early Christians also lived in them. There are many in the region. We visited the catacombs by the Appian Way. We quietly made our way through the soft, cool volcanic tunnels. In one cell, is the stirring replica of The Martyrdom of St. Celia by Maderno.
As a Christian, my visit to Rome brought me to the roots of my faith. For that, I am grateful. But, from the Trevi Fountain, to the Italian ice, the scenery, to the markets, pizza made with the most amazing homemade sauce, to the history of mankind B.C. and A.D, Rome should be a destination for everyone.


PARIS, 1979 and 2001

Paris is its image: fashionable, cosmopolitan, cultured and romantic.

I've been to Paris twice. Once, as a student and the other as the mother of a student.

In the ensuing years between my first and second visit, not much had changed. The same landmarks and sights which wowed me the first time, did so the second.

The Eiffel Tower: This distinct iron tower was built next to the Seine River in 1889 for the Word's Fair. Be sure to take an evening river tour to see the city of lights from the water. Back in 1979, the tower was not lit. It is now and it sparkles above all else. During the day, be sure to take a ride up to the observation deck for a panoramic view of the city.

Avenue des Champs Elysees: This is the most prestigious avenue in Paris. It is lined with cafes, fashion and luxury shops. In the summer, an open air cafe is the perfect place to relax, enjoy a cool drink and people watch. Another iconic landmark, The Arc de Triomphe is nearby.

Montmartre & the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) : It's a bit of a climb, but well worth the hike. Montmartre is the artistic district of Paris. This is where Picasso and Toulouse-Laytrec lived and painted. Artists still work here and display their art. The atmosphere is wonderful and the view from the top of Montmartre is amazing.

Louvre: The national museum of France is a must see! A former palace, the Louvre is home to over 35,000 art objects including the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. The works of the world's most recognized masters - Rembrandt, Vermeers, da Vinci, Michelangelo - are on display. It's simply the greatest art museum on earth.
Notre Dame: This catholic church is breathtaking on several levels. First, the architecture - outside the flying buttresses, the facade with its stone carvings and the gargoyle rain spots. Second, inside the large rose stain glass window gleams like a jewel inside the dark interior.



I traveled with a group of college students to three countries during the summer of 1979: Holland, Belgium and France. Belgium was the second country we visited.

On the road in to Brussels, our motor coach passed by the Atomium. Built in 1958, the Atomium is a giant nine-sphere replica of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Back in 1979, the Atomium had its original aluminum face (in 2006 it was refinished in a glossy stainless steel). To this day, I've never seen anything quite like it.

Within the city limits, the first sight we passed was the impish Manneken Pis (pee boy) fountain. There are several stories associated with the fountain. The one we heard was of a merchant father who had lost his son while visiting the city. The father searched frantically for his son. At the end of a long search, the boy was found relieving himself in a garden. As a remembrance, the happy father had a fountain built on the very spot his son was found. Nowadays, the Manneken Pis is dressed up in costumes to mark different occasions; and sometimes, a beer keg is attached......

The place my friends and I spent most of our time exploring was The Grand Place. The Grand Place is Brussels' central market square. Most European cities have a square, but The Grand Place is by far the most beautiful. The town hall and guild houses of different architectural styles encircle the square. Each seventeenth century guild house is topped by a gilded statue or ornament. A myriad of colorful banners were displayed at equal spacings adding more drama and appeal to the house fronts. Here, in a shop by an open air cafe, I bought my first box of Godiva hazel nut cream chocolates. No small wonder I discovered the most gorgeous chocolates in the world in such an amazing place.


WASHINGTON, DC 1974, 2006, 2008

Washington, DC is one of those intriguing places steeped in history and historical sites. It's also one of those cities requiring an extended stay to absorb everything it has to offer. Unfortunately, each of my visits only lasted one day. To this day, The Smithsonian remains at the top of my "to-do" list.

For those who must blow in and blow out of Washington, here are my suggested must-sees:

1.) The White House, 2.) the Capitol Building 3.) the Washington Monument, 4.) Lincoln Memorial, 5.) Jefferson Memorial, 6.) WWII Memorial and 7.) The Vietnam Memorial. All are within easy walking distance.

The layout of the mall is nothing short of genius. Each vista includes more than one monument and more than one opportunity to reflect on our amazing history.

I have to say, I loved Washington by night best. The reflecting pond glimmers. Lights sparkle and bounce off the water. The statue of Lincoln glows in the surround of the memorial. The marker commemorating Dr. King's immortal speech is inlaid at the top of the memorial steps and is visible even in the low light. The Vietnam Memorial by night is poignant and emotional; growing from a few inches to soaring heights, name after name; over 50,000 in all. Every few inches, a flag, a flower, a pair of jungle boots, a note, left to the cherished memory of a fallen soldier. Intense and sobering sums up the emotions the memorial left upon my soul. I hear it is even more powerful during the day. I cannot imagine.



To a vast majority of people, whenever Amsterdam is mentioned, reflex questions about the infamous red-light district and cannabis coffee shops are sure to be asked.

So, in answer to the "Did you.... I reply, "No and No" to both.

While some of our fellow student travelers did check out them out, most of us opted for Amsterdam's other venerable sights. Here are some high points:
  • The Anne Frank House - located on Prinsengracht. Anne, her family and four others hid from the Nazis during WWII. Walking through the upper floors of the narrow house is a very sobering experience. For anyone who has read her diary, Anne's indomitable spirit and tragic end continues to resonate in that stark hideaway.
  • The Canals - Absolutely, take a canal tour. Boats used to be the major means of transport of people and goods. From water level, a canal tour offers a unique and peaceful view of the city. Especially beautiful is the long perspective view of five canal bridges. Each one getting smaller in the distance.
  • Rijkmuseum - This national museum contains familiar works by world renown Dutch masters. Words cannot describe what it's like to stand in front of Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" or Vermeer's "The Milkmaid." Simply breathtaking!
  • Heineken Brauwery Tour -Although it stopped being a working brewery in 1988, it was firing on all cylinders in 1979. For a nominal fee, Janice, Jenny and I got right down on the floor with the gleaming copper vats, traipsed through the fermenting, storage and bottling rooms, then headed upstairs for a company movie and all the beer and cheese we could manage. By 11:00 AM, we were firing on all cylinders.



While attending summer classes at Birkbeck University of London in 1979, I took a weekend trip with a group of students to Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.

After being in London for several weeks, the contrast between this bustling, energetic metropolis and that of quaint, historic and slow-paced Edinburgh was pronounced and refreshing.
It's funny some of the things I still remember as if they happened just yesterday: The rowdy young men from Scotland traveling with us by train. The inebriated older gent who stumbled out of a pub carrying a sack of potatoes. His bag breaking and the spuds rolling in the street. The four of us, laughing while helping him gather his potatoes, only to have them repeatedly fall back out. Browsing the shops along Princes Street, feeling the texture of the tartan and marveling at the endless colors and patterns. St. Leonard's Hall with its turrets and towers. The haggis celebration, the haunting sounds of the Scottish bagpipes. Redheaded men in kilts. The sky the color of lavender. The inspiring scenery. The castle edifice looming over the city and the North Sea off in the distance.
We stayed in the Pollock Halls of Residence at the foot of Arthur's Seat, the main peak in a group of hills rising above the university. Holyrood Park, less than 1.5 miles, with its golden fountain and Ramsay Memorial, stretches out beneath the enormous castle rock and historical Edinburgh castle (est. 1058). The expansive castle defines the city. We toured the castle and walked The Royal Mile from castle rock to Holyrood Palace.

In the evening, we went to nearby hotel Oratavia for a banquet. There was also a show with Scottish music, dancing, and poetry readings. The haggis was ceremoniously brought out at the conclusion of Robert Burn's passionate "Address to a Haggis." Being a vegetarian, and a rabid Monty Python fan, I thankfully had cause to decline. I quickly whispered to my girlfriend some lines from Monty Python's "Horace" poem and she did likewise.

Not until everyone else had taken a bite did our host recite the indelicate list of ingredients* contained in that boiled sheep's paunch (stomach).

*spices, oatmeal, minced heart, liver, lights (lung).



Some of the most wonderful places happen to be those that are along the way. On our church pilgrimage to Rome, Siena was one such place.

Traveling by motor coach, we reached Tuscany in the heat of the summer. A very hilly city with brick streets and bustling crowds, Siena is home to the Siena Duomo (cathedral). Its Romanesque facade is stunning. Ornate, gilded and imposing, you feel dwarfed as the high face of the cathedral towers above.
From many corners of the city, the beautiful Tuscan hillside is visible. A short walk from the Duomo, the Piazza del Campo provides a shaded place to rest, eat a gelati and mingle. Like most European cities, Siena has a town square. This square is unique in that it is the site for the annual Palio horse race! When I heard this, I could imagine the horses running over the brick pavers and rounding the curved corners of the walkway. The outer rim of the square did resemble a racetrack.

Our final destination: In the Basilica of San Domenico, we paused to reflect on St. Catherine of Siena. As in all the churches we visited, we lit candles, let the coolness waft over us and offered a prayer.



Sunny Cancun is situated on the Caribbean Sea on the north-western edge of the Yucatan Peninsula. Our hotel was The Westin Regina Resort on the far end of Punta Nizuc - the hotel farthest away from the populated and partying section of Cancun. It was, after all, a family vacation.

Most of our time was spent relaxing seaside. The ocean, layered in blues and green is gorgeous in Cancun. The hotel’s restaurant was convenient, economical and served both Mexican and American food. We took two excursions.

My daughter and I spent a day touring the Riviera Maya while my husband went deep sea fishing. On his Aqua World charter, he caught several large game fish including two dolphins (but not the Flipper kind). The swordfish trophy fish, however, eluded him.

On our Mayan region tour, we visited a local craft market selling everything from honey to colorful rugs. At Chichen Itza, we had a relaxing lunch at the hotel before touring the grounds. The ruins were stunning in their sophistication and relationship to astrological events. The civilization was so advanced for its time. Some visitors climbed to the top of El Castillo (The Temple of Kukulkan). We climbed about 15 steps, took a picture and called it a day. It was too hot; the steps too steep. Hats off to all who made it to the top of the pyramid’s summit!

Our second excursion, Xel-Ha, was a family affair. We spent hours snorkling in the saltwater Parrot Fish Lagoon. There were thousands of vibrant fish. Later, we grabbed inner tubes and floated down the Chaac Mangroves to the River of Dreams. After lunch, we relaxed in hammocks and watched the dolphins (the Flipper kind) in Launa Delfin. We could have spent another day at Xel-Ha and still not have done everything La Leyenda de una Creacion Magica (The Legend of a Magical Creation) had to offer.

In between tours, we played rousing games of Uno and took the bus to Kukulcan Plaza. Kukulcan is a great shopping district. My husband added a Cancun Harley Davidson t-shirt to his collection. Across from the plaza, my daughter got her hair braided. She went off to band camp happy, tanned and coiffed.



Sometimes, you're just plain lucky to attend an out-of-town job training class. This past spring, luck would have me in beautiful Arizona.

Although most of the day was spent inside a Hilton hotel training room, there was some down time. One evening, I took a whirlwind tour by car of Phoenix, Scottsdale and the surrounding communities. The native American and southwest motifs (lizards, symbols, etc.) installed alongside the freeway exits, overpasses and sound barriers were a refreshing and aesthetically pleasant surprise.

As we traveled, the mesas hovered in the distance; creating a striking backdrop to the desert landscape. In Scottsdale, my travel companion and I got up close to some gorgeous purple cactus, native plants and a Gambel's quail. Near Mesa, we watched the sun set behind the mesa, turning the sky a soft pink. It was remarkable how quickly the radiant heat dissipated. The desert is an intriguing place.

Other high points: Enjoying early morning continental breakfasts by the hotel pool. Mornings are comfortably warm. Mesa also has terrific shopping and dining. Most establishments are within short walking distance of the Hilton Mesa Pavillion Hotel.


NEW YORK CITY - 1979, 2006, 2007

There's just too much going on in this place to do it justice here. So, I'll settle on the two experiences that will always define NYC for me.

First, 1979: The place was CBGB: a music venue located at 315 Bowery at Bleecher St., Manhattan. CBGB stood for country, blue grass and blues. At the time of our visit, punk was in vogue. I went to see Cleveland's The Dead Boys with two friends from college. Thom was into the Cleveland music scene so he knew about the Boys. Stiv Bators, lead singer and Cheetah Chrome, guitarist, were the band's biggest personalities. I don't recall much about the music. It was loud, there were gestures, some spitting, verbal harassment between the band and the audience. All really pretty lame in the context of punk, especially London punk; but a memorable experience for a couple of green Ohio students. Regrettably, CBGC closed in 2006. The building is still there though with some of the inside graffiti intact.

NYC today: Definitely do a ferry boat tour. You'll pass by the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the famous bridges and Manhattan. There's nothing like the view of NYC from the water, especially in the early morning.

After a tour, head over to Greenwich Village - it is up and coming once again. McSorley's Old Ale House is a quaint, old watering hole ("153 years and ale is well" according to the sign on the window.) See if you can spot Houdini's handcuffs on the bar foot railing (see my Friend's Flickr account for a photo of the handcuffs). The pub has a lot of history and the ale, dark and light, is good especially on a hot summer afternoon.


HIGGINS LAKE, MICHIGAN circa 1965 & 2006

In the mid 1960's, my parents took our family on our first real vacation: real in the sense that it was out of state and overnight; real in the sense that we all got blue "Higgins Lake Michigan" sweatshirts as souvenirs.

The five of us stayed in a log cabin set off a main road. Being around 7, I don't recall where the cabin was located in relation to the lake. But the cabin itself was spacious and wild blueberries grew nearby. Mom and I picked them to put on our morning cornflakes.

Higgins Lake is a glacier lake. In the summer of 1965, it was pristine and cold. We swam one day. My brother, sister and dad went fishing on another. The narrow beach had a strip of rocks - some fossilized - right at the shoreline. I found my first fossil along the bank. I still have it.

In 2006, my husband and I visited the lake in mid-September. We rented a small, one-bedroom cottage named "The Brass Bell." The cottage, situated on the shoreline facing east, was one of many. In fact, it was like a small subdivision. A far cry from the secluded log cabin we had stayed in as children. There were also more boats than I remember. But the water was still crystal clear....some 40 years later!


CHICAGO - That Toddling Town (2006-08)

I have taken three business trips to Chicago, the Windy City. Although the trips did not allow for site seeing, what I was able to fleetingly experience, I thoroughly enjoyed.

The tony area around the Hancock Tower - shopping and business district - is bustling and clean. The area reverberates with energy. In the summer, an inviting Lake Michigan is a short, pleasant walk away. Along the lake shore, there are casual places to eat. (A big nod to the Oak Street Beach Bistro's tasty vegetarian Quesadillas.) The bistro and promenade offer a beautiful view of the lake and dynamic people-watching.

My goal: One day, I'd like to toddle through Chicago instead of rushing through it.


My brother lives on peaceful and picturesque Lake Sabbatus. Not only is Sabbatus the perfect place to live, it's a great vacation destination for us!

My brother owns two houses: a small cottage on the east side, which he now rents, and a larger home on the west side.
He's lived on the west side almost two years. His home, tucked off a dirt road, has a view of Mount Sabbatus. Woods, heavy with pine, a narrow verge and a small pond surround his property. King fishers, ducks and loons frequent the pond. The lake is also home to game fish. Most of the boat traffic is local and is light except on the weekends. But even then, the number of boats - pontoons, bass and outboard motor - remains small.

The relative quiet makes Lake Sabbatus the perfect place to unwind, wine in hand. There is a constant breeze coming off the lake and humidity is low. Sunsets are my favorite pastime. They are inspirational - a photographer's dream.
As we like to say, "Hail Sabbatus!"



We visited Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida Gulf Coast islands in September ,2007. As a general rule, we plan our beach vacations the day after Labor Day because 1.) rates are lower and 2.) crowds are gone.

We flew into Ft. Myers and drove the short distance to Sanibel Island. We stayed at the Seaside Inn. Although our beach view was partially obscured, the beach was a short walk from the hotel. The hotel's amenities included free bikes, pool and a daily complimentary continental breakfast basket. Bike riding around the island is enjoyable, easy and highly recommended. The Sanibel lighthouse is a quick ride by bike or a 30 minute walk by the beach.

For shell collectors, Sanibel is Nirvana. The shoreline is thick with shells. The hardest thing to do besides the "Sanibel Stoop," is deciding on which shell to pick. The calico scallops were colorful and abundant. I also found starfish, turkey wings, cockles, fighting conchs, jingles, olive shells, lightning whelks, kitten paws, cones, cocquinas and others. I added 7 lb. to our luggage weight and just missed being overweight!

Not only is Sanibel the best beach I have ever combed, Sanibel is home to the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge; one of the best places I have ever bird watched. Altogether, I added 15 birds to my life list. We cruised Tarpon Bay and watched the pelicans return to roost. We also spotted dolphins, storks, ospreys and egrets. In Ding Darling, we got close to an alligator and saw heron, ibis, tern, spoonbills and cormorants. The tram tour offered an excellent educational background to the preserve, its birds and the mangrove ecosystem.
  • Other sights to see include the Sanibel Bailey-Mathews Shell Museum and Captiva's Bubble Room Restaurant. It is a pleasant drive up to Captiva. The restaurant features generous portions, mammoth desserts and a fun atmosphere. The interior is decorated with Hollywood photographs, Christmas decorations and all manner of things nostalgic. We had a good time touring the different dining rooms and burned off a little of that slab of coconut cake.
My rating: Unsurpassed for shelling and birding.



USS Missouri & USS Arizona,
Pearl Harbor

Ko Olina Resort Waimea Valley
Tahitian Dancer,
Polynesian Cultural Center"From Here to Eternity" Beach
Dole Pineapple Plantation

2008 - Destination: HONOLULU, OAHU

Oahu is the most populated of the Hawaiian islands. It also has some of the most recognizable landmarks and attractions: Pearl Harbor, Pali Lookout, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Dole Pineapple Plantation, Byodo-in Temple and Halona Blowhole. We saw them all!

We stayed in the Honolulu W at the western edge of Honolulu. From our balcony we could watch the sun rise over Diamond Head. Twice we were treated to rainbows. Waikiki Beach was a few steps away. Pounding surfs, surfers and an array of tourists and locals made for interesting people watching. Large and surreal-looking banyan trees grow inside the beach park. Children play hide-n-seek in them. The Waikiki Aquarium, a short 5 minute walk from the hotel, has lovely and educational exhibits. The W's restaurant has great, reasonably priced food, fun and friendly staff. The spinach salad with candied pecans, house bread and flavored oil are excellent. Complimentary Kona coffee in the morning…what more can I say?

For gardeners, photographers and nature lovers, Oahu is a goldmine of unique and beautiful plants. Waimea Valley is an easy to walk rain forest with clearly marked species both native and non-native. Ironically, due to a current dry spell, the waterfall at the end of one trail was only a trickle. It struck me part way through our trip, that the lighting in Hawaii is what makes everything, especially the vegetation, look so beautiful. The shading and light is so defined, so magnified, that every plant looked as if it were artificially enhanced.

Dole Pineapple plantation is another great stop for viewing plants and learning about pineapple varieties. Pineapple and bananas grown in Hawaii taste so much better than the fruit we get stateside.

Near Diamond Head is the Halona Blowhole and beach where “From Here to Eternity” was filmed. The area is known as the Beverly Hills of Honolulu because of the million dollar homes built around Diamond Head. This side of the island has spectacular views and larger than life surf.

Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona: Especially poignant is the sheen of oil floating around the USS Arizona memorial: every few minutes, small drops of oil surface from the wreckage; a moving reminder to this national tragedy. The decommissioned USS Missouri is nearby. We toured the ship, crew quarters, command center, and site of the Japanese surrender. The Mighty Mo is loaded with WWII and Gulf War history.

A day at the Polynesian Cultural Center: Hawaiian, Tahitian, Tongan, New Zealand, and Samoan cultures are represented. As part of their work/study, each village is run by native students from BYU. We participated in several cultural activities (e.g., fire starting and poi tasting.) Poi is not bad, really! After a lavish buffet, we enjoyed an evening show featuring dance, drums, fire and music. The students are talented and honestly enthusiastic about sharing their culture and heritage.

Pali Outlook offers a windy and panoramic view as well as an overview of Hawaiian history. Byodo-in Temple was a pleasant surprise: an ornate Japanese temple surrounded by mountain mist that reaches down to the tree tops. Simply breathtaking!

AAA was our booking agent. We have used them for years. At our AAA orientation breakfast, we purchased tours (at a discount) and also won a day trip to the Marriott Ko Olina Resort (including transportation). A quiet, posh and private resort with man-made lagoons, Ko Olina is exactly how you picture Hawaii – lush, perfect, paradise! No wonder I kept hearing Israel Kamakawiwo'ole singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in my head.