Brave New (Pandemic) World: A Trip to the Honolulu Zoo Post-Shelter-in-Place

During life pre-pandemic, I bought annual passes for my family to the Honolulu Zoo. I figured it was the perfect time in our lives to spend large amounts of time there. Elephants and lions roaming their paddocks still captivated my 5-year-old daughter. My 1-year-old son was now aware of everything around him and LOVED to be outside. And anything that can tire those two kids out was a win in my book. It was a definite “check” for a fun family outing. And then COVID-19 decided to rear his ugly crowned head and called out “checkmate”. Needless to say, our printed passes collected dust in the corner of my desk for the last couple of months.

Reopening day: June 5, 2020

This past Friday, the Honolulu Zoo reopened for the first time since closing its doors due to the pandemic. Friday also happened to be the first day of summer vacation for my oldest kid. As I’m sure it was for many of you, distance learning was a bear. I figured we could both use some well deserved celebrating out in the sun. I dusted off our annual passes and we went to check out what a “social distancing” zoo really meant.

Flamingos at the Honolulu Zoo
Obligatory photo of the first thing to greet you at the Honolulu Zoo, the flamingos.

Some things were the same as before the pandemic. A lot of things were noticeably different. There were some cons as can be expected, a mask in the hot sun was not a good time. However, there were definitely some major pros as well.

Things to know before you go to the Honolulu Zoo

Hours of operations

When the Honolulu Zoo reopened on Friday, it was for limited hours only. Their new times are from 10 AM to 2:30 PM from Wednesday to Sunday, with the grounds closing completely at 3:30 PM. (Check their website for more up-to-date information.)


Despite appreciating the later start time to my day, I was worried about parking. The parking lot for the Honolulu Zoo is a decent parking location for those wanting to enjoy Waikiki beach. And many people park there to do exactly that. (Note that I mean “decent” in terms of comparable costs to other locations in Waikiki. It still is $6 for 4 hours.)

We arrived at the Honolulu Zoo close to 10:30 AM. While we found ourselves in the part of the parking lot farthest from the entrance (and the beach), spots were still plentiful. This was clearly a nod to the 14-day quarantine still in effect for visitors, which has effectively stopped Hawaii’s tourism industry.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give is that you can add additional time to your parking meter remotely. A plus since you can only pay for 4-hours at a time. We spent about 3 hours at the zoo before deciding to head to the beach. While I still had 1 more hour left on my parking meter I paid again in order to cover the next 4 hours (thereby double paying for 1 hour). I figured that an extra $1.50 was worth having to pack up all our beach gear, after being there only 1 hour, in order to pay for more parking. I was shocked 4 hours later to get a text asking if I wanted to simply add more hours to my parking time remotely (albeit for a fee of $1.50, so it was a wash for me).

ProParking Text

Admission information

Even though we got there only 30 minutes after the Honolulu Zoo opened, there was a long line. The entrance to the zoo includes a “members” line” and a “non-members” line. However, both lines were open to anyone, regardless of membership status, in order to move the crowds along. I actually stood in the non-members’ line because it was closer to where I walked in from. Zoo employees were passing out new maps of the zoo to show the new walking trails and new-off-limit areas. While some areas continued to have two-way traffic, the key exhibits only allowed one-way traffic. If you don’t end up getting a paper map as you enter the zoo, fear not. A huge map is located right before the flamingo section (as an overlay to the original map) so you can just take a picture of that.

Honolulu Zoo Pandemic Map

Face masks

The rules state that you are required to wear a face mask if you are over the age of 5. The age differentiation was important to me because there was no way Baby L would allow a mask to be on his face for any length of time. That being said, It looked like every kid that was old enough to walk on there own was wearing a mask. (Great job Hawaii parents!)

The rules are slightly confusing because you’ll eventually get to a specific section of the zoo where wearing a face mask is mandatory. (I’m not sure what that means for the rest of the zoo that falls under the first rule requiring you to wear a mask in the zoo.)

That being said, there are three lawns (perfect to picnic on) which allow you to go mask free. You can also take off your mask to eat at the Plantation Cafe.

Social distancing rules for a pandemic world

The Honolulu Zoo now includes painted green dots at most of their exhibits. These green dots show families where they are allowed to stand to view the animals. This was a big plus in my book. While you have to wait your turn for a spot, once you get there, you have a prime view of the animals. Some exhibits, like the penguins and hippopotamus sections, allowed only a few families (3-4) in at once. Each family was given a green dot to stand on. While this did create long lines in some places, the good thing was they allow you to bypass exhibits if you prefer to not wait around for a green spot. Since the reptile section was a hard pass for both Em and myself, we got to “skip the line” at the Ectotherm Complex.

Social Distance Spots at the Honolulu Zoo

Unsure if you want to spend your newly found freedom at the Honolulu Zoo? I have 2 words for you: Baby Lemurs

During the height of the stay-at-home pandemic orders, I received an email from the Honolulu Zoo. The email announced that twin baby ring-tailed lemurs (an endangered species!) had been born. I completely forgot about that joyful announcement until we scored our exclusive green spot in front of the lemur enclosure. There I was staring at “Lemur Island” when a little head popped up and a curious baby lemur stared back at us with a modicum level of interest. I’ve been to a lot of zoos, but that might have been the most precious thing I’ve ever seen.

Baby Lemurs at the Honolulu Zoo

The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Animals at the Honolulu Zoo

One of the longest lines at the zoo was to view an Orangutan. The COVID-19 pandemic is a zoonotic disease. This means people can transmit the coronavirus to animals, especially apes and cats. The Honolulu Zoo was especially worried about those animals that share similar DNA with us. The lesson of the day for me (taught to me by the person manning the Orangutan line), was that human DNA was 97% the same as Orangutan DNA and 99% the same as Chimpanzee DNA. To be fair, I wasn’t a great biology student (or even just a good one), but that was pretty interesting to me.

Pandemic - A Zoonotic Disease

Temporarily closed areas of the Honolulu Zoo

The playground and hippo sculpture were both closed. A fact my daughter was NOT happy about. The Keiki (children’s) zoo, walk-in aviary, and all water fountains were also closed (so bring lots of water with you!). However, as previously mentioned, the Honolulu Zoo does allow you to be mask-free in the lawn areas and at the Plantation Cafe, huge plusses in this pandemic world.

Food options at the Honolulu Zoo

Plantation Cafe

If I was a more organized person I would have brought my own food with me. It would have been the perfect day to have a picnic on the lawn. Instead, I forked over money to eat over-priced food at the Plantation Cafe (albeit discounted over-priced food, thanks to my annual pass holder status).

The Keiki meal came with a soft drink option, animal crackers, and spam musubi. My daughter was in heaven. I opted for a hot dog and fries but cheeseburgers and chicken tenders were also viable options. Note: there are no self-serve condiment options. However, pre-packaged ketchup cups are available upon request.

We grabbed lunch right around noon and the tables were pretty empty. I think a lot of people opted to each lunch on one of the lawns since there seemed to be quite a few people buying lunch at the same time we were. Since you can no longer use water fountains, you can also buy bottled water at the Plantation Cafe.

Dippin’ Dots concession stand

Well played Honolulu Zoo, well played. Smartly located right ahead of the picnic lawn, a visit to the Dippin’ Dots cart was a highlight of the day. We were able to find a spot on a couple of tree trunk legs far away from others. Masks off and digging into our cold treats was a highlight of our day.

Dippin Dots

In Summary

As a result of waiting in lines to see some of the animals, we saw less of the zoo than normal. However, I would prefer it that way as having our own space to see the animals was pretty magical. Additionally, I’m not sure what exactly caused it, but I felt we got much clearer views of the animals we did visit. Half the time I’m at the zoo I feel like Jeff Goldblum’s character in the first Jurassic Park. You know the scene. Where he knocks on the camera/monitor to ask “now eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?” This time the animals were right there.

The masks may be a pain to wear and hot, but if you are looking for something to do in this post-shelter-in-place pandemic world, the Honolulu Zoo is a great place to be.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other posts about Oahu experiences, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024 or check out my review on the Funtastic KidZone in Pearlridge.

Funtastic KidZone: A Kid’s Wonderland in the Middle of a Huge Shopping Mall

Until this past December, I hadn’t stepped foot in the Pearlridge Shopping Center for years. Now I think I might make it a monthly occurrence thanks to the Funtastic KidZone.

But first…. my previous allure: the monorail

When I was a little kid, one of my favorite places to visit was the Pearlridge Center. Why? Because they had a monorail. Seriously, how cool is that? Fun fact: Pearlridge Center has the only monorail in the state. Two major sections make up the mall: “Mauka” (previously called “Uptown”) and “Wai Makai” (previously called “Downtown”). And the monorail bridges the two sides.

As a little kid, I used to go just so I could ride the monorail. Back when I was the mother of a toddler, we visited Pearlridge Center all the time to ride the monorail. It was Emily’s most favorite thing on earth for several years running. While she still loves the monorail, Emily has a lot of other “favorites” these days. Visits to Pearlridge had completely fallen by the wayside. That changed once we were invited to a birthday party at the Funtastic KidZone. My daughter had such a good time at the party that the Funtastic KidZone has been added to our rotating list of places to visit when Emily isn’t in school.

Playground at the Funtastic KidZone

What is the Funtastic KidZone?

A huge indoor playground arena is located in the Wai Makai section of Pearlridge Center, nestled between Vans and Sketchers. Towards the front of the KidZone, you’ll find a toddler section for ages 1-4. Everything from a whale and a mini merry-go-round to plastic playground structures and kitchen sets abound in the toddler section. Towards the back of the Funtastic KidZone is a structure for older kids. Slides, hammock swings, a trampoline, caterpillar climbing structure… you name it. It is pretty much heaven to my daughter and the other kids enjoying their time.

Swing Fun!

What to bring to the Funtastic KidZone?

Socks are a must for kids enjoying the play structures (and I assume for parents that need to be in the structure with their younger kids as well). They do offer socks for purchase if you forget. I’d also recommend water. Lots of water. Getting my kid to drink water on a daily basis is no easy feat. But Emily definitely gets thirsty running around the place. She constantly stops by wherever I’m sitting to grab her hydroflask. However, don’t worry if you forget or run out (like I did on our first visit). The Funtastic Kidzone does offer water bottles for $1. And that’s actually a pretty good deal considering what bottles of water go for these days in vending machines.

How does pricing work at the Funtastic KidZone?

The Funtastic KidZone costs $15 per kid (free entry for adults). That entrance fee is good for 2 hours, although I’m not sure how well that is monitored. When we went this week I dragged my kid out of there right at the two-hour mark. However, at the birthday party we attended we were there for over three hours. The party had officially ended by that time but my daughter and some of her friends continued to stay and play at the KidZone.

Toddler Area of the Funtastic KidZone

Throwing a party?

I’ll say it. I hate throwing kid birthday parties. Maybe I have really poor planning skills but I feel like my parties are always super disorganized. We’re never ready on time, end up needing tons of help from other parents and the kids end up starving. So embarrassing! (Those will be stories for another day). Since I wasn’t hostess at the Funtastic KidZone party, I realize I could be simplifying matters. However, it sure seemed like a great place to throw a party.

When we got there, I mentioned the party to the front desk and they quickly checked my daughter’s name off from a list of the party-going guests. Then we were ushered into the area in the back of the KidZone that is allocated to parties. The party space provides tables and chairs and allows food to be brought in from the outside. We had space for all the presents and three tables with multiple chairs for the food and the guests. While we ended up needing to vacate that back section/party room after a couple of hours, the kids used the play structures all afternoon.

For anyone interested in throwing a party here, I came across these two pricing options on the Funtasic KidZone instagram page:

My plans for next time…

The only downside I see to the Funtastic KidZone is that the seating isn’t great for adults. I’m 5’9″ and mostly legs (does this make me sound very model-esque? I assure you I am not). The “mostly legs” issue meant that in addition to being very uncomfortable, sitting on the balance beam-looking waiting chairs caused my legs to constantly be in the way of others. I spent two hours trying to constantly contort my legs so that people could get by me.

Therefore, next time I go I’m bringing the entire family. I realize that sounds just like misery wanting company, but hear me out! I would love a chance to get to investigate the rest of the mall or find a place to grab a quick bite to eat. With my husband in tow, one parent could be in the KidZone for an hour or so while the other gets to enjoy some alone time, and then we could switch. Happy kids, happy wife, fed husband. Sounds like a golden plan to me!

Slide Fun!

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other posts about Oahu, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024 as well as our experiences at Aulani’s Painted Sky and Aulani’s Pau Hana Room and Menehune Adventure Trails.

Baby Shark Concert: How This Grinch Got on Board with the Phenomenon

Unpopular opinion, especially from someone that writes a family-centric travel blog, but I don’t covet everything “baby”. I won’t ooh and ahh over a stranger’s baby. I’ve never told my kids it was “din-din” time or ask if they want a “baba” of “wawa”. It just isn’t me. So when I heard that Baby Shark Concert was coming to Hawaii, my initial thought was to grimace. I hadn’t even introduced Baby Shark to my daughter when it first got popular (my mom did, however). Needless to say, as Hawaii parents everywhere scrambled to get tickets, I didn’t even bother to look up showtimes.

The Baby Shark Concert

Then one day while I was at a cheerleading competition for my cousin’s kid, the Baby Shark concert got brought up. My cousin was regaling us with stories about all these people she knew that threw Baby Shark-themed birthday parties. Listening to the phenomenon and discussing how many kids were obsessed with it made me realize that I was doing my kid an injustice by boycotting it. Just call me the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes in one day. I went home that night and bought tickets.

Coming to Hawaii!

Probably the coolest part about the concert was that it almost didn’t happen. Welcome to the downside of living in Hawaii. No two-day Amazon Prime shipping. Nor Chipotle, Olive Garden, or Trader Joes. No shipment of many bulky furniture items that are sold online. Nor a stop on the Hamilton tour. And no Baby Shark concert. (I do realize that no one is going to feel too sorry for me #Hawaiiproblems.)

However, my favorite local magazine (Honolulu Family) teamed up with the creators of Baby Shark to bring the concert here. Well, they were able to bring part of the concert to Oahu in any case. My understanding is that the full Baby Shark concert is actually two hours long. Dubbed the Baby Shark Mini-Show, the Honolulu Concert was only going to run for 1 hour. My tiny, little Grich heart really appreciated the decreased show time when deciding whether or not to bite the bullet and purchase tickets. I figured I could handle 1 hour of just about any concert. And with that, tickets were bought.

The Baby Shark Mini-Show

Let the show begin!

Since I purchased the tickets at the last minute, we ended up in the nose bleed section of the Blaisdell Concert Hall. It didn’t seem to make a difference to Emily. She downed her blue popcorn, hugged her new Mama Shark stuffed animal (because everything she owns needs to be pink) and waved her light stick. And that was before the Baby Shark Concert even started.

Max and Ruby Show

The Baby Shark Mini-Show was broken down into 30 minutes of Max and Ruby, a 15-minute intermission and 30 minutes of Baby Shark and Pinkfong. The Max and Ruby part of the show included big rabbits jumping around the stage with a mouse singing children songs. I thought Emily knew who Max and Ruby were by her participation in the songs. She didn’t, but she still thought they were wonderful. And then (after the intermission) came Pinkfong to introduce the star of the show, Baby Shark.

How was it?

You know what? It actually was really awesome. First Pinkfong taught the audience the hand motions to Baby Shark (which this blogger definitely needed a lesson on). And then THE song started, sing-along style with the cartoon and lyrics behind the dancers onstage. After Baby Shark, the group of singers/dancers continued on with Penguins Attention (my personal favorite) and Jungle Boogie. (There was also a dinosaur song I wasn’t able to find online.) And then because the Pinkfong crew knew their audience, they threw in a super-fast remix version of Baby Shark to round out the show. Emily walked out of there super sad that it was over. And I walked out super thankful that I had sucked up my reservations and bought us tickets.

We are ready for the concert to start

As for my level of enjoyment, I maaaayyyy have been singing Baby Shark all day at work the next day. Just think of me as the Grinch singing with all the Whos in Whoville.

A tip on what age of children would like the Baby Shark Concert?

Based on the crowd at the concert, Emily may be at the older end of the Baby Shark fanbase spectrum. However, Leo is definitely too young for it. I was shocked to see so many of the under 1 crowd in attendance. It’s not that bringing a baby would be frowned upon at this concert. Quite the opposite. There was so much laughing and (happy) screaming going on throughout the concert, a baby would fit right in. I’m just not sure the baby would be able to make it through the concert.

I took a special interest in watching the groups that had babies. Truthfully, I was feeling a little guilty for leaving Leo at home and was interested in seeing how the kids his age handled the concert. I watched as one by one, those families left, often before the Pinkfong section even began. No matter how cute the songs were, those babies were NOT happy to be stuck in those laps/seats for an extended period of time.

What’s next for Baby Shark?

While Hawaii readers have missed the boat, for all you mainland inhabitants, there is still time. Here is a link to the tour for the Baby Shark show. Go for it! You’ll be happy you did!

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Click here for our experience at Aulani’s Painted Sky and Aulani’s Pau Hana Room and Menehune Adventure Trails. For other posts about Oahu experiences, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024.

The Pau Hana Room at Disney’s Aulani: A Treasure Chest of Fun

One of the coolest (although perhaps underrated) things about Disney’s Aulani Resort was the Pau Hana Room. Located on the first floor of the Ewa tower, the Pau Hana Room is right across the bridge from the Waikolohe Stream and close to one of the main spots for Disney Character Meet and Greets.

Pau Hana Room

DVD Rentals, Board Games and Books

While you can’t stream Disney movies nonstop from your hotel room there is a way to have a relaxing night in with your favorite childhood cartoons. The Pau Hana room is stocked full of DVDs. They are available to rent for free to watch on the DVD player located in your room.

The collection of DVDs was impressive. Of course, as can be expected, there were multiple copies of Star Wars and Marvel movies for older viewers. However, they also carried copies of movies for the younger crowd, such as the introductory story to Elena of Avalor. After a long day at the pool, we spent one of our nights eating takeout and watching a rented Elena of Avalor DVD. Emily said it was her favorite thing about our vacation. (Don’t even get me started on how aggravating that was to hear… we can watch movies at home kid! Hmph!)

We only rented DVDs but I certainly looked longingly at their board game and book collections. I imagined the day when my kids would be old enough to enjoy them as well.

Pau Hana DVD Inventory

Arts and Crafts

The Pau Hana Room includes arts and crafts for people to work on throughout the day. Kids and grownups alike can stop in whenever they like to work on these daily projects. However, there are also special projects, such as Aulani’s popular t-shirt stamping, that require advanced sign-ups. On the night we rented a movie to watch in our room, they had several Halloween crafts to work on. Emily and I ended up staying at the Pau Hana Room for close to an hour decorating various pumpkins.

Daily ‘Iwa (Newsletter)

Dorky confession time alert. My favorite thing about cruise ships is when the daily activities newsletter comes out. I race back to my room after dinner and quickly begin plotting out the next day. I know, I need help. Imagine my excitement when I found out that Disney’s Aulani Resort also had a daily newsletter, called the ‘Iwa. However, it was a little harder to obtain this newsletter than on cruise ships. The hotel does not leave daily copies of the ‘Iwa in the guests’ rooms. While you can get them at the front desk or online, the easiest place to get the ‘Iwa is in the Pau Hana Room.

The ‘Iwa is important to use because some of the activities that Aulani offers are so popular that you need to stand in line just to sign up for the class first thing in the morning. The classes listed didn’t seem to be activities that my kids were old enough to appreciate. However, I am very excited to try them out during future visits.

Menehune Adventures Trail

Circa 2012, my husband and I were living in Connecticut. Aulani had recently opened so when we traveled back to ‘Oahu for a visit, we took Bryan’s grandmother to Aulani for lunch. My biggest memory from that visit was watching kids and parents alike using an iPad to complete a scavenger hunt. Fast forward seven years and we were the kids and parents on the scavenger hunt, known as the Menehune Adventure Trails. Based on what I saw back in 2012, Aulani made a lot of changes to the scavenger hunt. I appreciated that they were keeping it fresh for returning guests.

There are two different trails that guests can choose between. The first trail, known as the Maka’ala Lobby Trail, is approximately 30 minutes long and goes through the lobby. This trail is also open the longest, running from 10 AM – 8 PM daily. The second trail is known as the Waikolohe Valley Trail. It takes approximately 1 hour to complete and takes guests around the pool. Since a lot of the stops along the way look a lot better in the dark, this trail is only open from 5 PM – 8 PM.

IPad’s that are needed for the Menehune Adventure trails are lent out on an hourly basis. After that hour, if you are still on your “hunt” you need to return to the Pau Hana room. The friendly staff will happily unlock the iPad for you and you can go back to your quest. What’s also nice is if you need to take a break and return to the scavenger hunt at a later time, your progress will be saved and you can pick up where you left off.

Menehune Trails Adventure

Our Attempt at the Menehune Adventure Trails – Indoor Edition (Maka’ala Lobby Trail)

After Emily’s makeover, we had some time to kill before our dinner reservations. We ended up making our way over to the Pau Hana room, obtaining iPad’s, and completing the Maka’ala Lobby Trail. For people pressed for time, the indoor Menehune Adventure Trail was a great option. Emily and I took our time and we were still done in less than 30 minutes. The Maka’ala Lobby trail would also be the perfect way to spend a rainy day (since its completely indoors).

The iPad provides a storyline as to why you are going on the scavenger hunt as well as some Hawaiian lore and history. To be honest, the storyline held no interest for my daughter. I myself, however, am a history-loving nerd. If I had been doing the trail by myself I would have thoroughly enjoyed the backstory and lessons. While the iPad didn’t hold Emily’s attention, she was enthralled with the stops on the trail. Aulani had built high-tech events into the hotel for the stops on the trail. Geckos danced in a light. Art paintings had shooting starts and moving waves. Photographs moved and talked. It was like stepping foot into Harry Potter’s world.

Helpful hint: I think the hardest spot to find on the Maka’ala Lobby trail is the photograph in the souvenir shop. There are photos everywhere so it is hard to find the correct one. However, the salespeople working there are more than willing to point you in the right direction if you can’t figure out which photo it is.

Our Attempt at the Menehune Adventure Trails – Outdoor Edition (Waikolohe Valley Trail)

Since we finished the Maka’ala Lobby Trail right before 5 PM and still had about 45 minutes to spare before our dinner reservations, we decided to head back to the Pau Hana room to swap out our old iPad for one that could complete the outdoor Waikolohe Valley Trail.

Unfortunately, we never completed this trail. Between getting the new iPad, waiting for Bryan and Leo to join us, and struggling a little bit to find the right spots, we didn’t finish before it was time for dinner. Once dinner was over, the kids were exhausted and we called it a night. I wish we had started this trail one day earlier. Then we could have used to option of returning the next day to finish the trail, with our progress saved from the previous day. However, since it was our last night in the hotel, by 5 PM the next day (when the Waikolohe Valley Trail was open) we had already checked out of the hotel and returned home.

From what we did get to see of this trail, however, it was magical. While we struggled a little more on the outdoor trail, the pay off was also more fun. The spots we reached gave us the ability to control fire, draw the outline of a menehune and lots more.

Menehune Adventure Trails

In Summary…

The Pau Hana room was a welcome surprise with so many things to do there. As we didn’t discover it until halfway through our trip, we’ll definitely take better advantage of it the next time we stay at Aulani.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Click here for our experience at Aulani’s Painted Sky. For other posts about Oahu experiences, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024. Want more Disney? Click here to learn about Disneyland’s newest ride Rise of the Resistance!

Painted Sky: Disney Aulani’s Dream Come True for Princesses in Training

Clothing options at Aulani's the Painted Sky

A couple of days after we returned home from our extended weekend stay at Aulani I asked my five-year-old daughter, “what is the number one thing people should do if they stay at Aulani?” Without hesitation, she said it was her makeover at Painted Sky (Disney’s Hawaiian take on their beloved Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique). I asked my daughter, “why?” and she answered, “because everyone should get to feel that wonderful!”

Booking my daughter’s appointment at Painted Sky was the first thing I did after making hotel reservations. Therefore, I’m not quite sure how far in advance an appointment needs to be booked, but please note that Painted Sky seemed very popular. I hadn’t even intended for my daughter to know about Painted Sky until it was time for her appointment. However, girls everywhere were walking around Aulani with their hair did, makeup shimmering and costumes on. With all that “free advertisement” for Painted Sky, it didn’t take my daughter too long to ask if she could get a “princess makeover” as well.

Package Options – The Offerings

The packages for girls come with hair styling, makeup, a costume and accessories. The packages for boys swap out the makeup option for a temporary tattoo. Most of these packages are $150, although some run higher in costs while a couple run lower. A lot of the pricing options depend upon the type of costume included in the makeover package. The most impressive package includes a beautiful ball gown and a starting price tag of $645.

In addition, Aulani offers a couple packages that offer a little more in terms of activities. The first option is the Motunui package. This package is offered on Thursday and Saturday mornings from 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM. For an additional $25, Moana will stop by Painted Sky for a visit. Following the visit, the kids can head over to Aunty’s Beach House for further activities.

The second option is the “Beyond the Painted Sky” experience. This package is offered on Sunday and Wednesday at 12:00 PM and 2:30 PM. For an additional $55, kids can experience their makeover while the salon is transformed into a Magical Rainbow Garden. The kids will also create a craft and march in the Rainbow Wishes Parade with a couple of Disney Characters. Emily’s appointment ended up being right after one of the Beyond the Painted Sky experiences. It was a nice surprise to be able to see the rainbow garden and watch the start of the parade. I’m not sure if the package is worth the $55 splurge, however I did notice that there were a lot of huge smiles on the faces of the children… and their camera-toting parents.

Package Options – What Everyone Else (Seems To) Select

Based on the amount of mini-wayfinders walking around Aulani, I assume that the biggest seller is the aforementioned Motunui makeover. In addition to getting a visit from Moana, Painted Sky’s Motunui package also comes with a Moana costume and accessories. However, I decided to go down the road less traveled and opted for a mermaid costume instead.

Truth be told, Emily has been obsessed over Moana for years. We bought a knock-off Moana costume from Amazon and had Emily dress like Moana for her 4th birthday party.

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Moana Costume

A couple months later, Emily no longer fit her her birthday outfit but wanted to be Moana again for Halloween. We ended up purchasing an “authentic” Disney version of the wayfinder costume.

Moana Costume

Needless to say, I didn’t think we needed any more Moana costumes. Especially considering the above Moana costume is the exact version provided as part of the Motunui package.

Package Options – What I Selected

Emily’s new Disney obsession is The Little Mermaid, so I opted for Painted Sky’s Waikolohe Mermaid Swim Package. The swim package came with a mermaid bikini swimsuit and long tail-like swim skirt. I loved the swimsuit / costume but since I wanted to go out to dinner after she had her makeover, I packed her still-fitting Moana costume to wear that evening.

This ended up working out really well. Since Emily is probably only a couple months away from fitting into the next clothing size, I purchased the swimsuit 1 size too big for her so she could wear it for the next year. Therefore, Emily couldn’t really wear the over-sized swimsuit yet. It was nice that she could change into something that fit her once the makeover was over.

Painted Sky: After Photo Shoot

Package Options – Crunching the Numbers and What I’m Going to Try Next Time

The Waikolohe Mermaid Swim Package is $150 before taxes and tip. I don’t think Aulani readily shares what the breakout is of their packages until you receive your invoice. Therefore, I’m listing my itemized invoice below to give you a better idea of where the cost is attributed to:

  • $75 for hair and makeup
  • $50 swimsuit
  • $12 sun-changing plumeria necklace
  • $10 sun-changing plumeria bracelet
  • $3 miscellaneous service fee
  • Automatic 20% tip added for the hair and makeup (i.e. $15 on top of the $150)

The first thing I noticed was the automatic 20% tip on the $75 hair and makeup. Phew! I didn’t know I would get to see the monetary split between the service and the clothes / accessories. It was a welcome charge as I had been so worried about guessing at what amount I should tip.

However, the second thing I noticed was that the swimsuit and accessories cost over $70. Don’t get me wrong, the Waikolohe Mermaid swimsuit and sun-changing necklace and bracelet were really nice. However, Emily’s closet at home is overstuffed with Disney princess costumes. Costumes that were purchased only when the Disney store was having a huge sale (like her $30 Moana costume). The last thing my daughter needed was a $70 costume.

Therefore, the next time we go to Painted Sky I am going to ask if I can just make an appointment for hair and makeup. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything offering hair and makeup as a standalone service at Aulani. However, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Crown Package in Disneyland offers just that, for the same price of $75. Assuming my plan works, I will just bring an extra costume with me and save the additional $75.

My daughter’s experience at Painted Sky

We arrived 15 minutes early, per Painted Sky’s instructions, and got to see the end of the “Beyond the Painted Sky” experience. After the kids from that event left on their parade, we were ushered into the waiting room. Once inside Painted Sky, we were able to scope out all the costumes and clothing available for purchase. We were also given a “menu”. In addition to a listing of the package options, the menu also included photos of hairstyles to choose from. I have a really hard time braiding Emily’s hair but constantly am putting it in a bun for her various dance classes. Therefore, Emily jumped at the chance of getting a braid done professionally and opted for the “lu’au bound” style.

Hair style options at Painted Sky

Right at my daughter’s appointment time we were beckoned into the fitting room to try on the mermaid swimsuit. It takes a LOT to make my daughter speechless, but just getting to put on her new swimsuit in the beautiful fitting room awed her.

Dressing Room at Painted Sky

After Emily was changed, it was time for the makeover. Typically a wiggly, fidgeting machine, Emily handled her hair and makeup session like a champ. Meanwhile, I was frozen in shock as she morphed into a teenager in front of my eyes. Along with her new hair and makeup, she started crossing her legs and initiated a conversation with the stylist about her school. (Fast-forward to the end of the night and there was a lot of eye-rolling (Emily) and tearful “where did my baby go?” comments (yours truly)).

Makeover at Aulani's Painted Sky

As Emily got to the end of her makeover, I noticed a staff member lowering a backdrop against a wall of the salon. I assumed it was for another group, but it turned out to be used for “after” photos. Emily LOVED it!

Booking the appointment… lessons learned

I booked Emily’s appointment without really having a plan. In fact, I initially tried to schedule the appointment for 9 AM. Thank goodness the salon stylist was much smarter than me. She double checked if I really wanted an appointment that early. She reminded me that my daughter wouldn’t be able to use the pool after the appointment, unless I was okay with her makeover being washed away.

Instead, the salon stylists recommended a 4 PM appointment so that we could go straight to the Ka Wa’a Luau after that. I didn’t have dinner plans yet so I went with her suggestion. However, we ended up opting for the character dining option at Makahiki, which came with a slightly later seating.

Therefore, if I schedule another Painted Sky makeover session, I would get my dining options set up first and then back into the appointment time in order to maximize Emily’s time at the pool. The rule at Painted Sky is that you need to show up with clean, dry and detangled hair. Our entire day at the pool that Sunday was dictated by Emily’s appointment and she (okay all of us) would have loved to spend more time floating around that wonderful, lazy river.

Twinning with Moana after Painted Sky

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Click here for our experience at Aulani’s Pau Hana Room and the Menehune Adventure Trails. For other posts about Oahu experiences, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024.

Tea at 1024: The Perfect Place to Sneak Away for an Afternoon of Fantastic Hats, Relaxation and of course, Tea

I am a huge afternoon tea fan. Huge. I try to sneak in an afternoon tea session any chance I get. The tea service at Tea at 1024 is one of the best places I’ve visited. So, if you come to the islands and want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki or get a little too sunburned and want to try something new, give Tea at 1024 a try. You won’t be disappointed.

How to Dress

No, there is no dress code here. You’ll feel just as comfortable sitting around in shorts as you will in a nice party dress. There are, however, things to wear once you get to Tea at 1024. As soon as you enter you will be told that you can pick out your own hat. Easter bonnets and fascinators of every shape, size, and color adorn the many stands located around the restaurant. There are also boas that you can rock as well. As someone that dreams of attending either the Kentucky Derby or a UK event with a fascinator attached to my head, this part of the experience is a dream come true for me.

The second thing you’ll need to do once your headpiece is sorted is to choose your own teacup. This brings us to…

The Tea

The tea menu offered at Tea at 1024 is pretty extensive, including some very interesting flavors. For example, the last time I went I opted for one of their white teas called Ice Wine. It was very tasty but didn’t come with alcohol… haha. Well, at least I find myself hilarious.

Tea at 1024

If you order the kid’s (or “keiki”) afternoon tea option, it comes with hot chocolate. My daughter doesn’t like chocolate at all so I knew she would balk at an entire cup of chocolaty goodness. However, Tea at 1024 is very accommodating. You are able to order tea instead of hot chocolate if that is the preference. The last time we were there, my daughter and her friends opted to share a pot of Strawberry Green Tea. I was a little worried about how the tea would go over with a bunch of 5-year-olds, but those kids drained their entire pot and asked for another round.

The Food

Salad and Sandwiches

Starter Salad at Tea at 1024

The afternoon tea service kicks off with a fresh and delicious plate of berries, feta, and spinach, before moving on to the real star of the show: the tower of sandwiches and pastries.

The one thing I like the most about Tea at 1024 is their sandwich to pastry ratio. I love love love afternoon tea services but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I really go for the tea and sandwiches. Usually, I end up disappointed when the food arrives and two-thirds of plate is filled with pastries with the mini sandwiches thrown in as an afterthought. Tea at 1024 is awesome in that they heap on the sandwiches, which are usually very interesting, to say the least. Along with the smoked salmon or cucumber sandwiches that frequent many tea services, this place also provides sandwiches filled with shredded cheese and pimentos, braised pork or curried chicken, just to name a few.

Kids Tray at Tea at 1024

Additionally, the keiki food options appeal to kids’ palates, with sandwich varieties such as peanut butter and jelly or egg salad. The sandwiches also appeal aesthetically as well, with pink and purple bread slices cut into little teapot shapes.


While I could take or leave most of the sweet treats offered at any afternoon tea, there is one pastry I enjoy: scones covered in Devonshire cream. Okay, if I’m being honest, I really just like the Devonshire cream, but I feel it would look weird to not eat it on a scone. Many places I try scones at are tasteless, requiring heaps of Devonshire cream to cover up the dryness. However, the scones at Tea at 1024 are moist and therefore a wonderful accompaniment to the delicious cream topping. Meanwhile, the restaurant is definitely not chintzy, offering an entire bowl to its patron, half-filled with Devonshire cream and half-filled with jelly.

Throwing a Party

I’ve never thrown a party here but I’ve been to a couple as a guest, including a 5-year-old birthday party that my daughter and I attended a couple of weekends ago. In addition to the tea, the party hostess also had a makeup and hairstyling center. Princess Belle even stopped by for a visit. While all of that needed to be scheduled and booked outside of Tea at 1024, it was nice to see all the different options that could be done in conjunction with the afternoon tea. Another party I attended was for adults only. We were able to play baby-shower games and open presents at the location. So for any of my Hawaii-based readers out there, the sky’s the limit!

Dressing up at Tea at 1024

Parking and location

Tea at 1024 is located in downtown Honolulu. This means parking will be a problem. The restaurant offers validation at the Chinatown Gateway Plaza parking structure. With validation, parking will cost only $3. This is a great deal for downtown! However, the last time I went, I was able to find street parking (free on Sunday when I was there).

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Want to read about how I gave the Baby Shark Mini-Show Two Thumbs Up? If you need another amazing place to visit with your kid, check out my review on the Funtastic KidZone in Pearlridge.