Friday, July 11, 2014

Tips and Advice for Staying at Turtle Bay Resort

Although we had a great time on our six day stay at Turtle Bay on the North Shore of Oahu (you can read my recaps here, here, and here), it could have been knocked out of the park if I'd know a bunch of little tips. So, I present to you, my giant list of tips for the perfect Hawaiian vacation!

Turtle Bay Image

The Resort
  • The beach situation at Turtle Bay still boggles my mind. There's the beach everyone goes to, as you can see in the image below on the left. It's where all the lounge chairs live and unfortunately where all the small children live, too. However, just a three minute walk down the shore and it’s gorgeous empty white sand beaches, as you can see in the image below on the right. If you can walk five minutes in either direction along the coast, do it. You don’t have to worry about a wave slamming someone into you or someone walking off with your beach bag. [Sidenote: Turtle bay also has a ‘private’ beach that they will take you to for a fee. It’s the same beach where they teach paddleboard. So if you want to find it, take the class early in your trip and drive your own car back later to cut out the fee. I could point it out on a map, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that.]

Left: Main Beach  Right: Our Beach
  • When you check in, the front desk will give you one towel card per person. At kiosks by the beach or by the pool, you exchange these cards for beach towels. You should never carry around a towel card. If you’ve finished with a towel, just exchange your dirty towel for a new one. It will save you from having to walk back to the kiosk next time you want to head to the water.
  • Don’t waste your money on fancy coffees at the café in the hotel lobby. Each room comes with a Keurig, some K cups, and paper cups. If you need your coffee fancier, just buy a bottle of creamer (for the price of one cup of coffee) and keep it in the mini-fridge.
  • Traffic and driving on Oahu takes some getting used to. Locals have no problem just pulling out into traffic, whether there is a gap to pull into or not. It’s jarring at first, but you’ll be doing it, too by the end of your trip. Also, if you’re in one of the surrounding towns, park and walk. Try to find a nice, big parking lot and leave your car there until you are ready to leave. The towns are small enough that you can just walk everywhere.
  • If you are a West Coaster, consider staying on west coast time. There’s not much of a nightlife at the hotel and things are a lot less busy early in the morning. Go to bed early and wake up early to miss the crowds.
  • Know what events are going on around the hotel. We almost bought tickets to the fire dance show at the Polynesian Cultural Center for a minimum of $40 a person. Turns out, every Wednesday, the hotel had their own fire dance show, albeit it much smaller, for free. And, since it is much smaller, you can participate and learn some of the dances, too.
  • The wooden blinds in the room don’t block out much light. If you are a light sleeper, consider requesting a room with a sunset view, not sunrise.
  • If you are having trouble finding something on the Turtle Bay website, try their mobile version. I found it much easier to find times and rates on it than their regular site.
  • If you plan on trying out paddleboarding, don’t sign up for the private class. Just pick a 9AM group class a couple days out that is empty and odds are that no one will sign up with you. Much cheaper.
  • When we did the paddleboard class, we worried about where we would put our stuff. So, we didn’t bring anything, which probably led to my insane sunburn. Just know that they bus you in a van to the cove where you paddleboard and you can leave anything you bring along locked up in the van.
  • Visiting Pearl Harbor is a long day. We knew there would be a wait, but the internet didn't explain it to us properly. Tickets for the boat to the memorial are free and at assigned times, like the Fast Pass at Disneyland. You pick up the tickets and they tell you to come back at a later time. There are also only a scattering of tickets. We arrived at roughly 10AM and were lucky to get on the second to last boat of the day at 2:30PM. Fortunately, there are a lot of museums and displays to see while waiting for your ticket group.
  • If you are visiting Kualoa Ranch, know that you need to take one of the tours to see anything. I was afraid we would be wasting our money on a tour when you could just walk up and see the log from ‘Jurassic Park’. You can't. It's deep in the valley. Although the lodge is nice, you can’t see anything worthwhile without getting on a tour.
  • My biggest regret was not bringing a disposable underwater camera or getting a waterproof case for my phone or camera. There were so many great moments I failed to capture because I didn’t want to risk ruining my electronics. Find a way to take pictures in any condition.
  • If you are not checking a bag, just plan on buying a big bottle of sunscreen when you land. Don’t try and stuff your liquids bag full of tiny travel tubes.
  • Turtle Bay boasts ‘trails’ to local points of interest, like the WWII bunker and the large banyan tree where they filmed ‘Lost’. These walks are nice to take, but be aware the trails not well marked at all and you will get lost several times. Just make sure you have a map and if you get lost, just walk in the general direction and you’ll be fine.
  • Shop around for souvenirs. Most places you go will have a souvenir shop and most shops will carry the exact same things. Put some forethought into what you’d like to bring back and hunt it out, like my dashboard hula dancer Lelaini.

  • Along the same lines, if you’re hoping to bring back a big bag of sea shells as your souvenir, think again. The only shells we found on any of the beaches we went to were either teeny tiny or fragments.
  • The Turtle Bay website claims that you can check out a snorkel from them, which is true. However, only the first hour is free, so that kind of limits you to their busy, popular cove. Every additional hour will cost you $7. If you want to spend time snorkeling, bring your own (Amazon has kits for only $20) and heading to somewhere more scenic. Our paddleboard instructor recommended Sunset Beach, the beach across from the Foodland.
  • The biggest way we saved money was by not buying breakfast at the hotel. Their options were the café in the lobby, a la carte at North Shore Kula Grille, or the buffet at North Shore Kula Grille. These will easily set you back $10+ per person every day. Instead, we stocked up on breakfast food at Foodland, the local grocery store. Just a ten minute drive away, we bought a tray of cinnamon rolls, boxes of cereal, and a bottle of juice and kept it in the mini-fridge. A whole tray of cinnamon rolls was $3.99. I don’t think you could get a single cinnamon roll at the café for that amount. We did try the breakfast buffet on our first morning and it was not worth the $24 price tag ($18 for me since I don’t eat breakfast meats).
  • Apparently a lot of restaurants close early in the surrounding towns, like 8PM early. Plan accordingly.
  • Driving along, you’ll notice a lot of fruit stands on the side of the road. Save your money and just buy the exact same pineapples from the grocery store. They all come from the same Dole plantation in the center of the island, anyway. Go to Foodland, buy a couple of them (and a small knife to cut them up), and enjoy! Those pineapples were some of the best I’ve ever had. And it’s a great room air fresher for the days before you carve into one!
  • The famous place for shaved ice on Oahu is Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa (pronounced hal-eh-EE-va). Because it’s so famous, the line goes around the building and they’re only open until 6PM. An equal drive from the hotel is Wili Wili’s at Kahuku Grill in Kahuku. Just follow in the highway in the opposite direction and follow the signs. Yummy yummy.
  • Review of restaurants at the hotel
      • North Shore Kula Grille: the hotel restaurant. It's one of the few places that is open all day long. You can order off the menu or choose the buffet all day long. The food is pretty good and the cost is not ridiculously outlandish. Also, the dining area has an incredible view of the pool and the cove beyond it. 
      • Pa'akai: the fancy restaurant. It boasts local ingredients and decor is quite stylish. However, the food isn't that much greater than North Shore Kula Grille, the cost is more, and the view is worse. It's okay to skip this one.
      • Hang Ten Bar and Grill: the poolside grill. The drinks were good. The fries were good. The veggie burger was the worst veggie burger I've ever eaten in my whole life. No exaggeration. The one thing it really has going for it is the location. You can watch the sunset or the fire dance show or people learn to surf in the waves below.
      • Lei Lei’s Bar and Grill: the golf course restaurant. The food is kind of meh and the views are bad. I guess unless you want to just stare at a golf course. Feel free to pass on this one.
      • Lobby Lounge: the hotel coffee shop. We didn't have anything here. It wasn't worth the high prices.
      • Ola Restaurant: the beach restaurant. Unfortunately we didn't eat here because there wasn't anything I could/wanted to eat on their menu. Oh, the plight of the vegetarian.
      • Surfer, The Bar: the hotel bar. See 'Ola Restaurant' above.
  • Review of restaurants we tried in Haleiwa
      • Kua Aina: the burger hole-in-the-wall. This was Dan's favorite place. We went twice and he raved about their grilled fish sandwiches. Their fries are shoestring, which I'm not a fan of, but their avocado sandwich was yummy.
      • Pizza Bob’s: the pizza shop. We had our first meal on the island here and it was delicious. the place was chock full of locals and had great service. Since my dad's name is Bob, his souvenir was one of their t-shirts.
      • Luibueno’s: the Mexican joint. This was some of the best Mexican food we'd both ever had. And that's a BIG compliment coming from people who live less than 90 minutes from the border. Make sure to stop in here.
So, I think that's everything. Hopefully this helped you a bit if you ever think about visiting the islands yourself. It's so totally worth it.


  1. FANTASTIC information! We are planning a trip in 2016 and these details are a blessing!

  2. FANTASTIC information! We are planning a trip in 2016 and these details are a blessing!

  3. Hi! We are having our destination wedding at Turtle Bay next year. Would it be okay if I link to this blog entry on our wedding website? It is SUCH great information.
    Thank you so much :)

    1. Sure! That's such a great compliment. You're going to have such a beautiful wedding! Congrats!

  4. Thank you so much! This is going to be a huge help for all of our guests.