We went to visit my sister and brother-in-law outside of Dallas this year to celebrate Christmas. This is what we saw/ate:
Lights synced to music at Frisco Square
A Christmas tree outside of Frisco City Hall
Puffy tacos at Posado’s! I have never seen these things outside of Texas
Christmas morning at my sister’s house
ICE! at the Gaylord Texan. This year’s theme was Shrek the Halls
Some crazy kids decided to go snow tubing
We visited Gingy’s house!
Christmas decorations at the Gaylord Texan
Korean barbecue at Omi, followed by bubble tea, followed by karaoke
Went to my first Texas steakhouse. III Forks. Amazing service and old school style food
The rest of the trip included exploring my sister’s toy museum, watching movies, lots of good conversation, more desserts than are necessary, many children everywhere you go, and Jean Paul Gaultier at the Dallas Museum of Art.
I tried to include this in my last Hawaii post but it was getting unwieldy. We stayed at the Mahinui Treehouse for two nights to coincide with our visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The treehouse is about five minutes away from the park entrance. On top of that, this is by far the most special place that I have ever stayed in. My sister sent me a link from TripAdvisor for the treehouse and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to book it. It was romantic, thoughtfully designed and a little inspiring in terms of the eco-friendly aspects of the place.
The treehouse is actually located on a residential road but somehow you are also in the middle of the rainforest. There is a driveway where you can park. On the driveway, these is also a tent that contains the generator and headlamps and backpacks that the owner provides. You have to unpack your luggage and transfer it to the backpacks because it is impossible to take any suitcases or large bags up to the treehouse. At the end of the driveway is also a moongate that leads you into the forest and towards the house.
A moongate welcomes you to the treehouse
After a short walk through the rainforest, this ladder leads to the house
This beautifully carved door is the first thing you see at the top of the ladder.
Main entrance to the treehouse
Hot tub and porch with an outdoor eating area
It rained every night so we weren’t able to make use of the outdoor dining area but we still used the hot tub briefly every night until we couldn’t take the cold or wetness anymore.
There was a small kitchen where we were able to prepare breakfast.
You’ll notice there is beautiful stained glass window around the house as well.
This small fireplace did wonders in warming up the whole treehouse.
After our hikes, we used this outdoor bamboo shower. Unfortunately, these showers also took place at night when it was raining so it was a tad cold.
A ladder leads you up to the bedroom.
The bedroom also had beautiful stained glass in it.
I loved staying at Mahinui. It was such a unique experience and I found the treehouse to be absolutely beautiful. It also made use of the space that was available to create a comfortable and homey vacation spot.
We ended our very short jaunt to Maui and headed to Hilo on the Big Island on Monday morning. We decided to have a little fun so we upgraded our rental car to a Mustang convertible. I actually wasn’t really on board with renting the Mustang because to me a car is a car, but I was oh so wrong. It was so much fun to drive.
We stopped at Ocean Sushi for lunch. Usually, affordable and sushi are a scary combination, but I thought the food was pretty decent. Of course, I ordered the simplest things, which, in my opinion, are the best types of sushi.
Ocean Sushi in Hilo
Sushi roll with tuna, avocado and tobiko and chirashi bowl
Hilo is the largest city on the Big Island but I found it to be extremely quiet and thought that it felt like a small town. Hilo is one of the wettest cities in the world and that is supposed to be what makes the buildings look older than they really are.
After lunch, we headed to Volcanoes National Park for a half day before we needed to check into our treehouse. We started at Kilauea Visitor Center and drove up Crater Rim Drive to the Jaggar Museum. The road past the museum has been closed for some time.
Our first stop was Caldera Overlook. To get to it, walk across the street from the visitors center and past the Volcano House, which was also closed. There is a great view of Kilauea Caldera and Halema’uma’u Crater. This overlook is not that well-visited and there was only one other group of people when we were there.
Steam coming from Halema’uma’u Crater
We got back on the rode and stopped at the steam vents. There is a man-made steam hole in the parking lot that has a gate around it, but if you walk a couple of minutes away from the parking lot and towards the crater, you can see natural steam vents and a view of Kilauea Crater.
The rest of the drive along Crater Rim Drive was painful because there was roadwork going on and traffic was flowing one way at a time. Once we finally arrived at the Jaggar Museum, we were treated to this view of Halema’uma’u Crater.
Halema’uma’u Crater from the Jaggar Museum
The Jaggar Museum offered some informational exhibits on Pele and different types of lava flow. We had to back track along Crater Rim Drive and past to park entrance to come to Pu’u Pua’i Overlook to see the hiking trail that we had planned for the next day. A roughly 3 mile hike along the crater floor.
View of Kilauea Iki from Pu’u Pua’i Overlook
We still had some time left in our day so we continued on and completed the short Devastation Trail, which is exactly what it name suggests. The half mile trail takes you from forest to tephra and back to forest. The contrast is so stark but beautiful at the same time.
Forest begins Devastation Trail
The landscape becomes more barren…
But then you can see forest on the other side
And there is life again.
We still had some more time in the day so we decided to stop by the Thurston Lava Tubes. As we pulled up to the parking lot, we saw Matt’s dad, stepmother and brother in the parking lot too! So we took a short stroll with them through the lava tubes. I was actually very disappointed in the lava tubes because I was expecting this to be one of the highlights of the volcano. I had read that there was an unlighted portion of the lava tube that you can walk through to see pitch blackness, but that portion was behind a locked gate. I’m not sure how long that section has been closed, but it was a big bummer for me. We split up with Matt’s family and went to check-in to our treehouse.
Our last day on Maui started with a going away champagne brunch with all of our guests at Tiki Terrace at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.
Tiki statue at Kaanapali Beach Hotel
After saying our goodbyes to most of our guests, we headed to Lahaina Town to explore with Rebecca and Chris, my sister and brother-in-law. Our first stop was to the drug store to pick up some essentials like Spam-flavored mac nuts. Just kidding, we didn’t buy these.
One of the highlights of Lahaina Town is the banyan tree. This tree is over 130 years old and now is 60 feet tall and has 12 major trunks. It provides shade for a large area and is a nice gathering place.
Banyan tree in Lahaina Town
We spent the rest of the time looking at old architecture, snacking and souvenir shopping.
I had my first taste of real Hawaiian shave ice at Annie’s. I chose the “Pacific” which has mango, passion fruit, and guava.
Shave ice from Annie’s Island Shave Ice
We did some un-fun things that afternoon like shipping things back to DC, doing laundry and checking into our next hotel.
That evening, we joined my parents, brother, aunt and cousin at Old Lahaina Luau. To be honest, the whole set-up had a Disneyland vibe with the millions of workers and buffet line, but I really thought the presentation of the hula was quite beautiful.
Entrance to Old Lahaina Luau
Upon arrival, you are welcomed with a lei greeting and shown to your table. If you arrive early, you have time to wander around the grounds, get boozed up and do some crafts. Here is my mother and me making fresh plumeria hair clips. They smelled like heaven!
Making plumeria clips
With our finished hair clips
At a designated time, everyone gathers around the imu pit to see the uncovering of a whole pig that will be served for dinner.
There’s a piggie in there
Unveiling of the kalua pig
Prior to dinner, we also got to watch another Hawaiian sunset.
Old Lahaina Luau at sunset
Next up, lining up in the buffet line with get mass-produced food! I’m exaggerating a little. The whole production was extremely organized and there really wasn’t any waiting in line, but I didn’t think the food was all that great.
Food from Old Lahaina Luau
Finally was the main event. The dancers presented a variety of traditional hula dances. Old Lahaina Luau is said to be the most authentic luau on Maui, which is the reason why I wanted to go here. I, of course, don’t have anything to compare it to but I found it to be very tasteful and well done. Plus, there wasn’t any dreaded audience participation! Another thing I enjoyed was that they took you through the various different forms that the hula took throughout history and we also got to see a variety of different tempos, dances and costumes that were used.
Dancer at Old Lahaina Luau
Dessert tray at Old Lahaina Luau
Dancers at Old Lahaina Luau
We said goodbye to my family for the rest of our trip. Our next stop…the Big Island!
Our second day on Maui was our group activities day. We started off with breakfast at Castaway Cafe. The main reason we chose this location was for the beautiful outdoor seating overlooking the ocean, and it didn’t disappoint.
View from Castaway Cafe’s patio
The food wasn’t half bad either. I got a short stack of the combo pancake platter which was macadamia nut, pineapple and banana pancakes. Yummy!
Castaway Cafe’s combination pancakes
Next came one of the many highlights of my trip to Hawaii. Snorkelling! First, we needed to get equipment for almost everyone in our group, so we headed over to Snorkel Bob’s to get all geared up.
We decided to do two snorkel spots that day and the first was Kapalua Bay Beach. Upon getting into the water, we met an enormous sea turtle. The water in that area was very murky, so it was impossible to get a picture of him, but it was a great sign of things to come for the rest of the day. The sea life was so amazingly beautiful and I felt so lucky to be able to see all of it.
Moorish Idol at Kapalua Beach
Our second snorkel spot was Black Rock at Kaanapali Beach. I wasn’t able to stay the whole time because I had to get myself ready for our photography session, but I did have a chance to swim out to Black Rock a couple of times. The water here was slightly rougher and there were a ton of people right on the beach, but once you got out a bit, it was fine.
Matt and some of the crew stayed for a while longer than I was able to, and they got some amazing photos of a couple of sea turtles. They are such neat animals.
Sea turtles at Kaanapali Beach
We got ready for our photo session with Jen from Makai Photography and met her at Baby Beach to do a couples session. Working with Jen was so easy. She is a bundle of energy and so upbeat. Our session was fun as can be and she gave us everything we wanted. Unfortunately, we have only just sent her the photos that we want to be edited so I don’t have any of those to share at the moment. But she also shot our reception so some of the photos below are by her.
Our reception was held at David Paul’s Island Grill on Front Street in Lahaina Town. We chose this location because it is well-rated and the location across from the beach made for a lovely location. We were seated on the lanai and the timing was just right to enjoy a Maui sunset. Oh what a perfect night!
(photo by Jen)
View from the lanai (photo by Jen)
Some of my arts and crafts handiwork
Brussel sprouts caesar salad
Our good-looking guests (photo by Jen)
A couple of goofballs enjoying the sunset (photo by Jen)
Taking a break from studying and writing papers to get into the Christmas spirit! Our first lawfully wedded Christmas. Also, the coming Friday will mark one year from when we were engaged! What are crazy but wonderful year!