Guest post: Knocking Hawaii off the birthday to-do list

NOTE: This is a story by our daughter Mallory. She compiled a “30 before 30” bucket list. This is her adventure in reaching one of the goals she set for her 30th birthday.

Sunset view on the beach at Waikiki

By Mallory Trudell

This is a very big year for me. This is the year I turn 30. Now, I realize that’s not actually that big of a deal- practically everyone turns 30 at some point, and 30 doesn’t really signify anything. I’m not able to finally vote, drink legally, rent a car without extra fees- there’s no perk to turning 30. But, it’s nice round number, and those are the birthdays we tend to consider significant.

This one is significant for me because it marks the deadline for my 30 Before 30 list. I have a list of 30 things I wanted to do or accomplish before turning 30. Some were silly, small things, like teach myself to write left handed (passable, though super slow), be able to type over 100 wpm with 0 errors (I’ve accomplished this a couple times), or create a Muppet-style puppet (might not end up making this one happen).

Some goals were big things- graduate college, go to New Zealand, be a bridesmaid. Some were things to push myself out of my comfort zone- swim with dolphins, enter a photography contest, and rappel down a building.

My travel buddies: Bunny, Goat and Frog. They got a souvenir ukulele

The big goal, the goal that has sucked up most of my time, energy and money throughout my 20s, has been to step foot in all 50 states. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve traveled ever since I was a baby- my parents would take my sister and I to visit family in different states, or just on road trips to Minneapolis or Kansas City, and of course the obligatory trip to Disneyworld! So, by the time I started my 20s, I already had a good chunk of the states covered. I’d been to 23 states before turning 20:

Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska (obviously, since this is my home state!), South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey.

Four Corners
Four Corners allows you to be in four states at one time: Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah

That still left me with just over half the states. However, over the last decade, I’ve visited a friend in Ohio; I went to Alaska with my dad and stepmom; I visited relatives in Wyoming and then in Utah when they moved; I went to Yellowstone and went into Montana; I celebrated my 21st birthday, and attended a cousin’s wedding, in Vegas; I went to the Grand Canyon with my dad; my mom, sister and I covered 15 states in 2 weeks as we traveled the South; my mom and I did a trip through the Rust Belt; I visited companies for work in New England- I’m so close to having been everywhere, man.

Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon. My dad and I spent a few days in the southwest.

At the start of this year, I had just 5 states left- Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Now, I’m down to 4.

Back in March, my mom, sister and I went to Hawaii. This was the first time any of us had ever been there, but we are also budget travelers, so while it would’ve been nice to island hop a little, we decided instead to try to get the biggest bang for our buck and set up shop in Waikiki, Oahu.

Island view from the plane. Hawaii, here we come!

We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, and it was gorgeous. The woman at the car rentals warned us that we’d have to force ourselves to leave the resort, that it’d be easy to just stay at the resort the entire trip. She was right! If we hadn’t already had activities planned, between the multiples pools and restaurants and activities including yoga and paddle boarding and kayaking and water tricycles and the beach and the lagoon and so on and so forth, we wouldn’t have had to leave for anything. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Hawaii is so lush and green. It’s beautiful

The very first night we got in, we headed to the Tropics Bar and Grill on the resort. It was right on the beach, and there was a reggae band playing covers of Bob Marley and Jason Mraz and Colin Hay and anyone else you’d imagine listening to at the beach. Now, when it comes to the Hawaiian food, I’m at a real disadvantage since I’m allergic to shellfish and mango, and don’t like fish. But Tropics had the most delicious pork nachos, and I had a butternut squash ravioli that was that day’s special, and it was so good. We attempted to split the coconut cream pie and rainbow tower torte for dessert, but each took about one bite and could eat no more. They made a delicious breakfast a few days later, though!

Rainbow torte cake

One of the main activities my mom wanted to do was go on a whale watching tour. We’d attempted one in San Francisco a few years back for my sister’s 30 birthday, but the weather didn’t cooperate with us. In fact, it made my mother incredibly seasick, and gave me a bit of the sea tummy too. Luckily, Hawaii was a much better experience. We used the Star of Honolulu for the tour, which included a lunch buffet, and had excellent luck sighting whales. We found a few pods, including a few babies, and were able to follow them for close to an hour. It was amazing.

Whale watching with Honolulu in the background

That night, we went to the Starlight Luau at our resort. When I’d been imagining the luau, I of course had been imagining something on the beach, with a pig with an apple in its mouth rotating on a spit above a fire. I was off by just a bit! This luau is on a rooftop, and the food was served buffet style. The food was actually very similar to what we’d had for lunch- Kalua pork, teriyaki chicken, poke, some fish, some rice, and some fruit. I will say this about the authentic Hawaiian food- some of it is very good; most of it is not my cup of tea!

The one thing that most definitely lived up to my expectation was the entertainment. Before dinner, they offered lei making lessons, temporary tattoos, and uli uli lessons (uli uli are gourds filled with pebbles, and look like giant flowers). My mom made a wristlet lei; my sister got a shark tattoo, and I went and checked out some of the vendor tables. There was a wood carvings table that had some spectacular pieces, and they told me a little about what different carvings mean.


But the main show came after dinner- about a dozen dancers came out and did native dances from around the Pacific. There were traditional Hawaiian dances, Samoan dances, a fire dance, a Maori- well, dance isn’t the right word for that… chant, I suppose. The outfits the men and women wore were incredibly beautiful, especially the women’s outfits- grass skirts, beautiful sarongs, one gravity defying bikini top (I kept looking for strings or a sheer back or something- that thing must have been glued on!).  plus the emcee was very entertaining explaining what each dance represented and telling the history of the area the dance was from, the significance of the costumes- and he was quite the crooner, treating us a couple Hawaiian songs, including my favorite, Aloha Oe, at the end of the night.


The next day, we hopped on another boat to use submersible scooters through Island Watersports Hawaii. I can’t remember how we learned about these, but it was years ago. It’s like helmet diving, except instead of a helmet and oxygen hose connecting you to the boat, you’re in a little scooter where the head portion is like the helmet, so you can breathe normally after diving into it. We were down in the water for about 20 minutes- well, my sister and I were anyway. Once again, poor Mom got sea sick and had to head up early. (I think it may be a good thing she’s land locked most of the time!) We had bread in these little shakers to attract fish to us, and the fish definitely swarmed us. In fact, a lady in the family after us was bit on the back of her arm by one of the little buggers!

My sister Steph behind me on the underwater scooters

It was definitely a unique experience, and the tour was set up nicely- while waiting for our turn on the scooters, we were able to use snorkeling gear. We saw three sea turtles that hang out near the boats- evidently one of them had had a hook stuck in it in the recent past, and one of the divers on our boat removed it for him, and they’ve been BFFs ever since!

Sea turtle

Since the underwater scooter tour ends mid-day, we killed the afternoon at the Dole Pineapple Plantation. I love pineapples! We took the narrated Pineapple Express train tour around the property and saw pineapples, bananas, mangoes and more while learning the history of the plantation and James Drummond Dole.

Pineapples at Dole Plantation

The next day, while our mom was off being cultural and checking out the Pearl Harbor memorial, my sister and I got our adrenaline pumping and went on a shark cage dive with North Shore Shark Adventure! This was a last minute splurge that I booked the week before heading down- I thought Hawaii would be a once in a lifetime trip for me, so I didn’t want to miss out on seeing some sharks up close and personal. My sister, who is terrified of sharks, wanted to come on the tour with me but didn’t think she’d actually dive. However, seeing everyone else get pumped up for it got her excited and she bravely climbed down into the cage with the rest of us!


Of course, the day for our dive didn’t have the best weather. While we were down there, it started raining, and I don’t know if you know oceans or not, but the water tends to get quite choppy during rain, so the six or so of us in the cage kept bumping into each other and had a hard time finding a good drip to be able to look down. But we did see a handful of sharks and a barracuda!

Shark, as viewed from the safety of a shark cage

On the way back to shore, the heavens let loose and we were in the pouring rain. Sadly, we didn’t plan for such rainy, wet conditions, so our “dry” clothes for the afternoon were soaked through. Luckily, we were able to hit up some shops to find something dry! I bought a cute hand dyed skirt from a shop with two locations, and the guy at the shop told us the other location was featured in the Bethany Hamilton movie Soul Surfer, which I’d just watched on the plane ride to Hawaii.

My sister and I were starving at this point, so we grabbed a couple street tacos from Killer Tacos, which were awesome, and then splurged and got a Huli Dog, which is a hot dog with garlic butter and fancy relish wrapped in dough. It’s messy, it’s so bad for you, but it’s delicious. Just don’t spill some of the garlic butter on the rental car’s seat belt, because the car will reek of garlic for the rest of the trip!

After meeting back up with our mom, we grabbed a quick dinner and headed to a show on our resort called CabaRae, which is just that- a cabaret act. It was funny and sexy and fun. There were singers, jugglers, acrobats, magicians- pretty much everything you could think of. I would say, though, if you were to check it out for yourself, splurge a little on your seats. We got the basic tickets, and the seats were in a circle around the stage and were these wooden folding chairs- not very comfortable. Splurge to get some of the comfy VIP seating that’s further back from the stage but way more comfortable!

Performers during the show

Our final full day in Hawaii was spent at the Kualoa Ranch. This is an absolute must see, in my opinion. They have many different packages- horse rides, ATV rides, a jungle ride, a catamaran ride, and more. We did the ATV ride, which took us into the valley where so many movies and shows have been filmed- Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Godzilla, Lost, Hawaii Five-O, Mighty Joe Young, Windtalkers- the list goes on and on! We saw lifelike World War II sites, including a bunker where the movie Pearl Harbor was filmed.

I’m at Jurassic Park.

We saw a fish pond, a Hawaiian ceremonial site, and a plant that when touched bunches itself up. We had amazing views of the coast, including the Chinaman’s Hat Island. Everything was so beautiful and the people so friendly- I absolutely recommend a day at Kualoa Ranch. The only thing I’d say is that if you’re in it for the movie sites (like I was) you see enough stuff on the ATV tour that you don’t need to do the movie tour afterwards, unless you really want to see inside the WWII bunker.

Mom and me at Kualoa Ranch, ready for our ATV ride

After an amazing day, we had a wonderful dinner at the Top of Waikiki revolving restaurant. We stayed long enough to go around a complete rotation and had amazing views of the city and ocean. Because of my no-fish-no-mango dietary needs, it was slightly more difficult to find something to eat on the menu, and while I can’t remember what my entrée was, I do remember that the potato puree was actually quite delicious. My mom and sister loved their dishes, though!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, including our trip. That final morning, we spent a little more time at the lagoon at our resort- my sister kayaked and Mom and I split a giant water tricycle. After getting just a little sunburned, I headed over to Tattoolicious and got something to remember the trip by forever!

My souvenir tattoo

Of course, it turns out, my sister fell in love with Hawaii so much, she took the resort up on a deal to put $100 down then and get a weeklong stay for half the price, so she and I are going back next March!