When I was in O’ahu, maybe twenty years ago, I went to a luau and I enjoyed it. I remembered it as being a silly tourist thing, but I liked the Polynesian show and the pig cooked in the ground all day had been delicious, and the whole experience had been entertaining. In researching this trip, we had read about the luaus, and the various guidebooks all said that they were fun – they didn’t say “You must definitely do this,” but they said that they were fun. So we had decided to go ahead and do a luau, as Lis had not been to one, and I had not been in a long time.

We chose the Old LaHaina Luau because all the guidebooks agreed that this was the best one – the most authentic. I thought this meant that the whole luau experience was authentic – turns out it means that the Polynesian show is the most authentic.

As we approached the luau site, I saw lots and lots of traffic, and then lots and lots of stereotypical tourist types in stereotypical tourist flowered Hawaiian shirts and dresses. My heart sank – I said to Lis “It’s like being on a cruise ship.” She said “Yeah, that’s kind of what I expected.” But I hadn’t been expecting it (I’d been expecting tourist, but not this much) and so I was disappointed. Once inside the mega-tourist-ness continued, plus it was incredibly hot and no air was moving. There were about 500 people altogether, all jammed in to tables for eight arranged in a semi-circle, and even though we were outside it felt like being in an airless room with 500 people and no air conditioning.

Our table mates were pleasant, but again the sense of being on a cruise (and not in a good way – we love cruising but not this part of it) predominated. After a while the servers led us over to the buffet (shades of cruise ship some more). The food was all right but nothing special, and I was beginning to feel like the whole thing had been a total dud – not a happy feeling.

Luckily, the show is very authentic, with lots of historical information, so it rescued the evening somewhat. I wouldn’t say it made it worth the $100 per person, but at least not a total loss.

The following morning we had scheduled a snorkel tour out to Molokini Crater. With the bad taste of the previous evening’s luau still in my mouth, I was apprehensive – what if this was another overpriced tourist thing? Especially since we had been able to see Molokini from the Haleakala lookout, and even from that distance you could see a million boats there. I was worried.

We had purchased our tour from SeaFire Snorkeling Adventures, on the advice of Katie at Snorkel Bob’s. They were less expensive than most we had read about, because more bare bones – no breakfast or booze or BBQ lunch or “party cruising” – just out there and back, with some snacks as needed. Also, the boat was smaller – a rigid hulled zodiac – so there were fewer people.

We arrived at the boat launch at 7:15 am and were out on the water by 7:30. Our crew was all-female – Dana, Vanessa and Captain Vicki. The surf was high again, so I was worried about the visibility – Dana said that visibility is always good at Molokini because there is no beach there – no sand to churn up. And this turned out to be true – best visibility we’ve had the whole trip, and we saw tons and tons of fish. And because we got there fairly early, we were able to snorkel somewhat unmolested at first, though it did eventually get pretty crowded – but by that time Capt Vicki was wanting to take us to another site anyway.

One of the passengers was a very pale young man from Ireland who had never been snorkeling before. The swells were high, so there was much up-and-down action, both in the boat and while snorkeling. When we got back on the boat, this young man was looking peaked and asking for a bucket – “I’m going to be sick.” Capt Vicki told him to lean over the side – “Nothing ruder than a bucket of puke.” So he leaned over and did his business. I was also feeling slightly nauseous from the wave action, so made sure that I did not see or hear any of this – didn’t want a chain reaction. A few minutes later Lis and I glanced over and saw a huge gathering of fish near the impact area – lunch was served, apparently.

Afterwards, the young man (or Seasick Boy, as I took to calling him) sat back down and sank in to his misery, which in my opinion is the exact wrong thing to do. Speaking as someone who tends toward motion sickness, I know that if I am feeling seasick but still try to keep my head up and participate in/ think about something other than how I’m feeling, I don’t feel quite as bad – of course, I haven’t actually thrown up since I was 11, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about (a shocking concept, admittedly). Anyway, Seasick Boy basically curled in to a ball under a beach towel and stayed that way the rest of the trip.

Capt Vicki took us around to the outside of Molokini, where the water is really deep, and pointed out a shelf in the outer wall where we could snorkel. She said that in deep water the swells go up and down only, so there was no chance of being pushed in to the wall, like you can be pushed in to shore in shallow water. I wondered if the deep water would scare me (I can freak out easily while snorkeling), but was willing to give it a shot. Then, while we were looking at the shelf, this huge swell slammed a mass of water up in to the roof of the shelf area. I said “I think I’m too scared to snorkel here,” just as Capt Vicki said “I’ve changed my mind – I don’t think we’re going to snorkel here.”

So we went on to the next site, which was in La Perouse Bay – one of the many places called Turtle Town by the snorkel tours. There was sand here, so the visibility was not as good, but it wasn’t bad – we could see. Soon in the water, we found a turtle – a pretty big one. Everyone gathered round, and took pictures, and I was bummed that all of us were going to be watching this one turtle. I thought about trying to find another one, but then noticed that everyone was gone – only Lis and I remained to hang out with the turtle until she (short tail) surfaced – everyone else had gotten their pic and moved on.

After about 15 minutes, the turtle started to swim slowly to the surface. Lis and I did what we do, which is to put our head above water right before she surfaces so we can watch from above. Since we were near the boat, and about half the people were not in the water, I called out “Turtle about to surface right here.” It was fun to watch the commotion of everyone running over to see – distracted me from watching the turtle.

Lis: I was extremely close when the turtle surfaced. It was a pretty amazing experience. Mary yelled at me, “Lis, you’re too close!” which I took great offense at since I was just floating and the turtle happened to be close to me. I thought I was not supposed to move and bother the turtle. Once we were back in the boat I asked, and both Dana and Captain Vicki said that you should back up if you get too close to a turtle. So now I know. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know at the time, because it was really cool being that close to the turtle.

Then it was time to head in. While we were heading back to the boat ramp, Capt Vicki slowed way down. We wondered what was going on, then realized that Capt Vicki was listening to someone on the radio saying “I’ve got some spinners here.” She radioed “We’re on our way,” and I said to Lis “We’re going to see some dolphins.”

Soon we came upon a pod of 10-15 spinner dolphins. They swam around us for quite some time, and at one point one of them repeatedly jumped out of the water and spun in the air like a corkscrew (hence the name) – we all (except Seasick Boy, who wanly raised his head once but otherwise stayed balled up) cheered and hollered – it was really fantastic. They kept swimming with us, and Dana called out “Talk to them – they’re very curious.” I said “What should we say?” and she demonstrated making some high-pitched dolphin sounds. I made a halfhearted attempt but felt silly. Then Lis did the call she does for our cat LuLu – basically “LuLuLuLuLuuuuuuu,” yodel style. The dolphins seemed to swim closer, so I said “Do it again.” She did it several more times, and each time the dolphins seemed to come closer, or stick their snouts up, or do something in response (no more spinning, though). I wondered if LuLu would be pleased that her call had been used successfully with dolphins, or just jealous (she’s a jealous girl). Lis: I can tell you the answer to that – jealous. And who can blame her – I did feel a little like I was cheating on her.

Now we headed back in, a fabulous morning in the books and my faith in tourist activities restored.