Monthly Archives: September 2022

Hawaiian Luau

In traditional Hawaiian culture, the feast and festivities of a Luau were used to celebrate special occasions. So, while in Hawaii to celebrate my aunt’s 70th birthday, a Luau was high on our to-do list.

We chose the Smith Family Garden Luau at Smith’s Tropical Paradise on the island of Kauai. While sorting out my grandma’s slides from her trip to Hawaii in 1991, I found that this is the luau she attended while on the island, so since we were back in Hawaii with her two daughters and two of her granddaughters, it felt like the perfect place to celebrate!

Smith’s Tropical Paradise was created over sixty years ago by Walter Smith Sr. and his wife Emily along the Wailua River. Today, four generations later, the company has grown as the Smith family continues to welcome guests to explore their beautiful gardens, take a boat ride to the Fern Grotto, and enjoy a feast and show at the Garden Luau.

We started with a two-mile boat ride along the Wailua River with Captain Walter Jr. III sharing stories about the island and his family’s company on our way to visit the Fern Grotto.

Once docked, there’s a short walk through the lush rainforest to the Fern Grotto—a geological wonder of Kauai. Here, the ferns grow upside down from the roof of the grotto, which was formed millions of years ago.

When my grandma visited thirty-one years ago, guests were able to walk right into the grotto and be surrounded by the ferns. Unfortunately, this is no longer an option as rocks have begun to fall from the ceiling and the grotto was deemed unsafe for entry.

So, in order to continue tours here, they built a large platform out front. While here, we were treated to several Hawaiian songs performed by one of the crew on ukulele while another showed us some traditional hula dances. More of these were performed on the boat ride back.

From here, we headed over to explore the gardens at Smith’s Tropical Paradise, where we were greeted with a shell lei before boarding a tram for a tour around the thirty-acre botanical garden.

Since I began sorting through Grandma’s travel slides, I’ve enjoyed seeking out places she’s been on my travels and trying to get a similar photo to the ones she took.

The, entrance may have changed a bit in the past 31 years, but I’d say it still looks pretty similar!

Then you were free to wander around the beautiful, lush grounds including a Hibiscus garden, Japanese Garden, Bamboo Rainforest, multiple ponds, and more. The grounds were gorgeous with all the lush green foliage and brightly coloured flowers, with the mountains creating a lovely backdrop!

At 6 p.m., the Imu ceremony begins where they dig the Kalua pig out of the earthen imu oven.

The host explains about the Hawaiian cooking method called Kalua and what food to expect during dinner before sounding the conch shell and giving the food a blessing.

The Smith family entertains during cocktails and dinner with Hawaiian songs, stories, and hula. So we grabbed a Mai Tai and a Blue Hawaiian and enjoyed the music.

The dinner was delicious and included many traditional Hawaiian dishes like Kalua pig, beef teriyaki, sweet ‘n’ sour mahi mahi, lomi salmon, fresh poi, Hawaiian sweet potato, various salads, and dessert including tropical fruit, coconut cake, and rice pudding.

The Rhythm of Aloha show began at 8 p.m. in the outdoor Lagoon Theatre, complete with an erupting volcano!

The show was great—full of music and dance with some history of the island woven in. There were traditional hula dances from Hawaii and Tahiti, Samoan fire dances, and traditional dances from New Zealand, Japan, and the Philippines.

It was a fun show and made me want to learn to hula! (Pre-Covid, guests were invited up to participate, so hopefully that will open again soon!)

It was a wonderful way to experience some Hawaiian culture with my Ohana, made even more special as we shared the same experience as my grandma!

More info

The entire Fern Grotto tour takes about one hour and twenty minutes. Tickets are best purchased online ahead of time. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for children. Tours currently run Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

*If you are going to the luau after the boat tour, select the 3:30 p.m. time.

The Smith’s Family Garden Luau dates vary based on time of year. Check the website for more details. Adult $125.00, Jr. (7-13) $35.00 & Child (3-6) $25.00. The luau includes entrance to the gardens, dinner, drinks, and the show.

If you just want to tour Smith’s Tropical Paradise gardens, you can Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 8:30–4 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be bought at the entrance.

Categories: Blog, North America, Photo, Where in the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Santorini

Santorini has been at the top of my travel wish list for years and the main reason I’ve always wanted to visit Greece. Flipping through travel magazines and seeing those white churches with the bright blue domes sitting high up on the Caldera made me want to book a plane ticket there immediately, and yet, somehow it’s taken me years to finally do it. Thankfully, when I first saw Oia, it was everything I imagined and more!

Walking along the cobblestone streets was like stepping into the photos of the travel magazines that made me dream of coming here. The contrast between the white cliff of Cycladic houses perched 300+ metres up at the top of the Caldera and the beautiful deep turquoise Aegean Sea shining below was breathtaking. I was immediately in love with all the blue doors and shutters and colourful flowers, such a striking contrast against all the white.

The island of Santorini surrounds the vast crater left by one of history’s largest volcanic eruptions, with smaller islands found around the western edge. The sunsets hitting the snow-white buildings give the whole place an orange-red glow and are definitely not to be missed!

We spent five days in Santorini, the first three at an Airbnb just outside Oia, in Finikia, and the last two in Fira.

Oia, located on the northern tip of the island, is a must-see when visiting Santorini. Restoration work after the earthquake in 1956 has turned this spot into one of the most stunning places in the Cyclades. Built at the top of the steep Caldera, bright white buildings are nestled into the dark volcanic rock and the contrast is stunning. Today, the often-narrow streets are lined with shops and restaurants. Boutique hotels and Airbnbs can be found built into the sides of the Caldera. Spend your time exploring the labyrinth of streets here, finding the iconic blue domes and numerous churches.

While not much remains of Oia Castle after the earthquake, the ruins of the Venetian Castle of Agios Nikolaos is worth a visit for the views alone. This is also one of the most popular places to watch the sunset.

Over 250 steps below Oia, you’ll find Ammoudi Bay. The walk down is full of beautiful views of the dark-red Caldera with its snow-white peaks looming above.

Several fish tavernas are found down here, making it a perfect spot to enjoy fresh fish for lunch or dinner. To get back to the top, you can take a taxi or ride a donkey … or just hike it like we did and get your steps in!

Another must-do in Oia is a sunset cruise. There are many tour options ranging in size, price, and number of participants. We went with Barbarossa Sailing, and are so glad we did. We sailed out from Ammoudi Bay and went snorkelling in the Caldera and spotted the tiny church built in the rocks at sea level and saw the boats hidden in caves for protection, sailed around Santorini, checking out the various rock formations and the old port of Fira.

We stopped for another swim in the hot springs by the newest island (still over 500 years old) before having a delicious dinner made by the crew onboard and then sailing back out into the water to watch the sunset, which was amazing over the water. (Have I mentioned that the sunsets here are not to be missed??) The cruise ended back in Ammoudi Bay, which all lit up at night is also a must see!

From Oia, we moved to Fira, Santorini’s largest town. Views from here are amazing as you’re in the middle of the island and able to see both edges of the island’s moon shape.

Much like in Oia, the Caldera’s edge is filled with layers of hotels, restaurants, and cave apartments. The narrow cobblestone streets twist and turn as you make your way up and downhill.

The old port of Santorini is 587 steps down from Fira. Here, along with walking or taking a donkey, you can also ride the cable car and enjoy the view.

Following the Caldera’s edge, you can walk to the neighbouring town of Firostefani, filled with more beautiful views and great restaurants to catch the sunset from. Anywhere along the edge here offers beautiful views of the island, the sea sparkling below and, of course, the sunset!

Also be sure to stop by The Church of the Three Bells of Fira, one of the most photographed Greek Catholic churches on the island, also known as the Church of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it can be a bit tricky to figure out how to get up, the view from the top is a must-see.

As one of Greece’s most important producers of wine, no trip to Santorini is complete without touring one of its wineries. Here, they are known for fresh dry white wine made mainly from the assyrtiko grapes of the region, and I couldn’t wait to try some.

We headed to Santo Wines for a tasting with a view. They have several different tasting options available. I opted for the 7 Premium wines and was quite happy with my decision! Our server gave us a brief history of the winery and some info about each of the wines we would be tasting, but if you are looking for something more in depth, tours are also available.

And of course, the food here is amazing. If you want a sunset view along with your dinner, be sure to arrive early or make a reservation. A few of our favourites were Piatsa Souvlaki Grill House, a cheap, delicious spot near the Oia bus stop with gyros, souvlaki, tzatziki and pita and more; Terpsi N Oia, a fancier spot where we enjoyed a great breakfast with a gorgeous view over the Caldera and the 3 blue domes in Oia; and in Firostefani, we had an amazing meal with a sunset view at Vanilia Mediterranean Cuisine.

Tips and Info

Santorini is a popular cruise ship stop, especially in Oia and Fira. To help avoid the huge crush of cruise ship passengers that flock here starting mid-morning, head out early in the day and then back out in the evenings. This is also a great way to beat the heat, as shade is almost non-existent here. Plus, if you’re looking to get great photos before both the crowds and the sun hit, 7 a.m. is a great time to be out exploring!

A cheap and easy way to travel both around the island and to and from the airport is by bus. Most rides cost less than €2 and buses run on a fairly regular schedule during the high and shoulder seasons. Buses all have luggage areas too, making it a much cheaper alternative to taxis. More info can be found here.

Ditch the heels as the cobblestone is very uneven and you are constantly walking up and down stairs and hills.

If possible, avoid high season, when crowds and prices are both at their peak.

Oia is a must, but accommodation prices here are definitely at the higher end, especially during the high season. So, while I would have LOVED to have a place right on the side of the Caldera facing the gorgeous sunset, based on booking last minute and the $500 a night and up price tag, we opted to stay just outside of Oia in Finikia, in our own Cycladic-style house. Then we’d walk about 20 minutes into Oia each day. This is a great option if you are unable to book well in advance or are looking for cheaper accommodations.

Categories: Blog, Europe, Photo, Where in the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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