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North America » United States » Hawaii » Oahu » Waikiki
January 4th 2019
Published: February 24th 2019
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You’d think I’d be used to queuing up through Immigration by now. But there’s queues, and then there’s QUEUES and Hawaii wins the medal for having the longest. I guess being on a plane that was several hours late arriving and coinciding with the arrival of three other planes stuffed to the gills with passengers seeking entry to a small island archipelago didn’t help. Add to that arriving in the middle of a government shut-down with many security staff effectively working unpaid and you had a perfect recipe for chaos. Which is what we got ...

The Immigration Hall could barely contain the volume of passengers. The barriers snaked up and down and left to right, filtering us through to a central area with automated fingerprint scanners and cameras. Slowly, slowly we crept along and, just as the central area came into view, we realised that a mirror-image queue was filtering in from the other side. FFS ... The cabin crews and pilots from the planes were understandably given priority but I couldn’t help resenting them their perk. Finally, we reached the central area and I managed the process quite easily but Steve, who must have exceptionally long digits, couldn’t get the scanner to capture his little finger as well. Are we going to be stuck here forever? Eventually, we grabbed a rare, passing member of staff who managed to contort Steve’s hand into an acceptable position. Finally, we’d done it! Except we hadn’t ... We had to queue again to repeat the process in front of a person in a booth and I almost lost the plot and the will to live at that point. Just let me out of here.

The airport itself was a bit on the tatty side, which surprised me. I was astonished to see the Union Jack on a corner of the state flag, not knowing at the time of any British involvement in its history (I know now!). My phone rang as soon as I’d turned it on again - I wasn't used to having a phone that worked! It was the office of the transport we had arranged to collect us and they directed us to where our driver was waiting. He was shouting our name to any western faces he could see (the island is incredibly popular with people from the East, especially Japan, as all the flights from there testified). Another couple was already in the transport. They were from New Zealand, though she was originally from the UK, had lived near Huddersfield and had studied at Leeds University. Small world. They had travelled to Hawaii en route to Las Vegas for a friend’s wedding and, though she had backpacked around in her youth, she felt they were ‘stuck’ in NZ as it is so remote and difficult to get anywhere from there. They were staying in a different hotel from us and thought theirs might not compare well.

We were delivered to the Waikiki Ramada Plaza by Wyndham about noon. We were able to check in but the room would not be ready until 3 pm. We strolled around the marina and had something to eat before returning to sit in full view of Reception about 2.15 pm, hoping the room would be ready. When I saw others arriving after us and going straight up to their rooms I reminded Reception we were ready and waiting. They wanted to see our passports again. Strewth, we’ve been through all this once, we’ve travelled 48 hours with just 5 hours’ sleep and I’m tired and cranky - just give me the goddamn key (I thought, but didn’t say, as I tried to smile sweetly). We still had to wait, the room still wasn’t ready, said the unsmiling receptionist. Lady, you’re pushing your luck ... Eventually, the room became available and we were given the key to Room 1705/PH. What’s with the PH then? Pokey Hovel? Positively Homely? No, it was Pent House! Worth waiting for then. Except it wasn’t THE penthouse, it was just one of several rooms on the very top floor, rather splendidly called the Penthouse Floor. I’m not sure that the rooms were any better than any of the other rooms on the lower floors but it was lovely, with stunning views, and I got perverse pleasure every time I pressed the PH button in a busy lift full of people going to rooms lower down. One guy asked in a loud voice ‘Who’s got the Penthouse?!’ and I somewhat smugly replied ‘That would be me!’

The only time I could have done with being on a lower floor was on the morning of the day my key card stopped working. I’d nipped out in my pyjamas for a cigarette in the very early hours, had successfully returned all the way to the top floor without passing a soul and then found I couldn’t open the door. I didn’t think Steve would take kindly to being woken up in the middle of the night by me knocking on the door so I furtively crept all the way back down to reception to explain the situation to the same unfriendly receptionist who clearly wasn’t happy about being on the night shift. ‘I need to see your passport,’ she said. ‘Lookee - I’m in my pyjamas at 3 in the morning,’ I replied. ‘Why would I be carrying my passport?’ And no, I didn’t have any other form of photo ID on me either. Security was called. ‘Can’t you just recode the key?’ I asked. Nope. ‘Can’t you check my home address with the one you have on your records as a verification?’ Nope, again. One of the security guys vouched for me as I had passed the time of day with him on many occasions. That wouldn’t do either. So, I was ‘escorted’ back to my room by security, all the way up to the very top floor, where they let me in to my room long enough to produce my passport to prove I was me! Won’t be doing that again in a hurry ... Steve slept through it all, but it was a tale to tell him the next morning when I embellished it to the point where ‘I was almost arrested!’

The hotel was very conveniently situated near bus routes, shops, bars and restaurants and was just one block back from the famous Waikiki beach so not too noisy, apart from when the Hilton, opposite, did its amazing weekly firework display which was loud enough to burst eardrums and lit up the night sky. Many airlines used the Ramada to accommodate its crews (which seemed to fly mainly short haul as I met many of them several times as they came and went, mainly to the Marshall Islands which I now know lie between Hawaii and the Philippines, but also to the USA mainland). I always used to use this as a sign of hotel quality on the basis that airlines wouldn’t accommodate their pilots in a dump; I’m clearly showing my age because these days I use the standard of the toilet tissue as a benchmark! The Ramada had both, so I felt that said something. One pilot quashed my theory though, as he said they used the Ramada mainly because it was one of the few hotels in Hawaii to provide a smoking area and apparently pilots are heavy smokers! Good to know we’re in healthy hands when we take to the skies ...

I met soooo many people there, including Lucy from Missouri who lived with her cats, dogs and horses on a ranch of 40 acres in the middle of nowhere. She was single, fearless and had come to Hawaii for a family event. Other holiday makers I talked to included a woman from Alaska where it was currently minus 4° so she was really enjoying the heat and told me that a 97lb salmon had recently been caught where she lives. That’s a fish weighing almost 7 stones! She laughed when I asked if they’d let it go ... Many Australians said they weren’t quite having the good time they expected because alcohol cannot be served to those under 21 which came as a disappointing surprise to many of them! I chatted with a masseur from the hotel who only worked part-time because he loved to travel and visit Las Vegas to gamble and his winnings there supplemented his earnings. He told me gambling was not allowed in Hawaii and there was no Lottery. I spoke with a cleaner who said he was about to move his family to Las Vegas because he could not afford to buy property in Hawaii, it was so expensive (well into the millions of dollars, depending on location). He too liked to gamble and was moving into an area which was largely populated by Hawaiian exiles where it is known as ‘the 9th island’ because there are so many of them there. He hoped to win his fortune. I later learned that many Hawaiians, especially those with children, have to work up to three jobs just to earn a living.

We had a super time in Hawaii, after catching up on all that sleep we had missed. The bar near our hotel served good food in a relaxed environment and was very popular. The young staff were ideally suited for the job - ‘Hi guys, would you like some food, a drink or are you just chillin’?’ I also liked the way they asked us if we would like any change when it came time to settle the bill! We tried to sample all the local beers but the waitress wasn’t sure which glass of the two she brought us contained which beer so I can’t tell you if they were any good but the Mondello was fine and the Maui Somethingorother was definitely awful!

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