My greatest vacation thus far, and I do plan on having many more, started many years ago but actually occurred only 2 years ago in 2010.
When our daughter Kaitlin was just 2 years old, my wife Loreen and I decided to get away with friends for a trip to Hawaii. We had never taken a real honeymoon so we decided to leave Kaitlin with our moms, in our hometown of Chapleau, Ontario, and take one nice trip before we got into our heavy child-rearing years. We were just starting off our life together, having had Kaitlin when Loreen and I were only 26. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time but both Loreen and her friend Lucy worked with Canadian Airlines, and we were able to get free flights to Hawaii. We spent a couple of days in Honolulu and 6 nights or so on Maui and it was definitely a great vacation but that is not my story at all.
My story really starts when we were in Honolulu and we decided to buy a cute Hawaiian outfit and a Precious Moments Hawaiian doll to bring home for Kaitlin. When we returned to Chapleau to pick up Kaitlin from her visit with her Grandmothers, it was springtime and the green was starting to come out on the trees and the weather was quite warm. When Kaitlin saw her grass Hawaiian skirt, she just had to put it on and have her picture taken with her new doll which she also loved.
We happened to have bought an acrylic double picture frame at the Honolulu International Market so we put Kaitlin’s picture in the frame together with another picture which featured some colorful foliage and a sign saying “Welcome sign to Hawaii”, and put that on her bedroom dresser. The picture frame stayed there for many years; as a 2 and then 3 and then 4 year old, she often talked about that picture and when she went to Hawaii and how beautiful it was. Of course, why would we take the time to correct a 2, 3 or 4-year-old on such a thing, no harm can come from such a simple white lie; at least that’s what we thought.
So now let’s fast forward a few years to 1996 when Loreen and I were watching our 7-year-old son Zack in a house league hockey game in Sault Ste. Marie. Kaitlin happened to have brought her best friend Heather out to the game and they were sitting behind us. We overheard Heather telling Kaitlin that, for the upcoming holiday season, her and her family were going on a vacation to Hawaii. Well, of course Kaitlin, now 10 years old, said was that she had been to Hawaii when she was 2 and it was such a beautiful place with nice green trees and plants everywhere and there was this nice rainbow sign saying Welcome to Hawaii; she had worn a grass skirt outfit, attended a luau and it was the best vacation she ever had. Torn with guilt and a feeling that we could no longer allow this little white lie to persist, we agreed that we must set the record straight. Later that night near bed-time, we confronted Kaitlin with the truth – she had stayed in Chapleau with her grandmothers and we had taken the trip on our own, returning with the doll and the grass skirt outfit. Well little white lie be-damned – this was the worst thing we could have ever done. How could we let her have live with this? Why did we lie to her for so many years? What about all the things that she remembered? She just had to have been there. This was not good; then and there, we promised Kaitlin that we would go back to Hawaii and she would have this great vacation after all.
Hit the fast forward button once again; we move to the Toronto with a new job and start investing in some serious family vacations like Disney World, Myrtle Beach and even an all inclusive to Dominican Republic. Not bad but we’re still schmucks; no trip to Hawaii yet. Meanwhile, I am traveling a lot with work and my Aeorplan points are starting to build up so we begin to plan a trip to Hawaii. Around the same time, a good friend of mine Tim Patrick, whom I worked with at Ericsson, let me know of a great place he stayed called Kaanapali Ali’i. “It’s a little expensive but it’s a beautiful spot, you won’t regret it” says Tim. Since the flights are going to be on points, and since this was to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to make up for our now HUGE white lie, we decide to bite the bullet and book the place. By this time, learning from our Dominican vacation where we drooled over the view from a full ocean-front suite that we walked by on the way out from our “oceanview” room (where you could view the ocean if you got up from your balcony chair and looked sideways out over the balcony railing), we had already become firm believers in “oceanfront” rooms. In the end, because we had booked the flights with points, the fee for the unit was a fraction of what we had paid for our all-inclusive in Dominican so we were more than fine with the budget.
So now, 8 months after booking, the trip was finally approaching; we were quite excited and as it unfolded, it was turning out to be everything we had hoped for. After an uneventful 1-stop flight and we landed in Honolulu. My brother Darryl and his wife Jane had recommended a place on Waikiki beach where you could see Diamondhead in one direction and Waikiki Beach in the other.
The hotel and location was great but we didn’t invest much in this room since our real vacation was going to begin a couple of days later when we got to Maui. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the hotel enough and enjoyed Honolulu a lot. We ate the first evening in Dukes in the Outrigger and promised ourselves that next time we came back we were going to stay at the Outrigger and come back to eat at Dukes.
So now we were on our way to our real vacation – destination Kaanipali Beach, Maui. We arrived there on another uneventful short hop and got our rental Jeep Liberty which was a good deal and it was pleasure to get what we requested from the online rental booking site. We jam-packed all our luggage into the Jeep and headed off for the Kaanipali Ali’i. We found the spot without too much trouble but that’s when things began to get interesting and unlike any of our other vacations. We’ve always stayed at 3-4 star places and read the reviews to ensure that we would be okay but nothing had prepared us for this. As we drove up, a bell-man, literally, with white gloves and all, approached the vehicle, introduced himself as Dean, and asked me my name. I told him who I was and he checked his sheet; “Mr. Ritchie, welcome to the Ali’i… oh, you’re in one of our best suites. Let me get your luggage and show you in”. Some bellhops and our new friend Dean unloaded our luggage, took our Jeep away and proceeded to take us into the property. It was a paradise; the lawn manicured tighter than many golf greens I’ve played on, the pools were appointed with waterfalls and lush foliage and exotic flowers – we were blown way.
As we were approaching the building, Dean mentioned that we were on the ground floor and that we were going to love it. We all thought, here goes, the bubble is going to burst; we always booked higher rooms to get good views and get away from any issues that might occur on the ground floor (whatever we thought that those might be???). So we walked into the room, which actually seemed a little dark and gloomy at first. When our eyes started to adjust to the dim light of the room we started to notice that the living area was large and beautifully appointed; off to the left was a luxury kitchen, with black granite countertops, that any master chef would have been proud work in. Dean then showed us around the master suite and the kid’s room which was larger than most large double hotel rooms with two queen-sized beds. Then, because Dean had done this so many times in the past, and he knew the reaction it would bring, he prepared to deliver le pièce de résistance. Dean walked over to the front of the room where the patio doors were fully draped and said, you’re just going to love this; then with all the drama Dean could muster up, he pulled open the drapes and there was our patio, another 20 feet of that immaculate lawn, Kaanipalli beach (one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world) and the breaking crystal clear surf of the South Pacific. The whole experience of this unveiling was one of the best moments that we as a family has every lived through, we were all overwhelmed. I looked over at Kaitlin and wasn’t surprised to see that she was crying; not surprised because my own eyes were also welled up as were Loreen’s. But while, this was a great introduction to our greatest vacation, it was only the beginning.
We planned several outings including a drive up to Hanna where we stopped in at Eden which is a private park and with natural gardens maintained by the owners. There is a fee to enter but it is highly advisable that you take this in especially if you want to capture the best of the Hawaiian rainforest and its luxurious flora and fauna. I’m including a couple of shots here but there is so much to see that I definitely can’t do it justice.
We also took in an afternoon of surfing which was a lot of fun but we found out that surfing is definitely an acquired skill. Jared and I found it quite challenging, Zack was the most natural surfer in the group and Kaitlin won the award for best surfer shot.
Another outing that I would highly recommend is the 5 hour ocean tour and snorkel expedition where you get to check out some of the ocean life and see some of the newest lava flows on Maui – only 600 years old. I hope I look that good at 600 ;-).
There were many great moments on the trip, not the least of them being lazing around the beach and pools of the Ali’i. However, for me, cooking dinner and enjoying it on our patio with our whole family while the sun set into the Pacific was the highlight – and we did this 6 times out of 8 nights.
We are very fortunate to have a close family, and to have the health and tolerance to be able to still enjoy each other with the two older kids already in their 20s. While you may read this article and think that I’m blowing my horn about taking expensive trips to exotic places, then you’ve misunderstood my intent. As I mentioned, our tickets were booked on points and we spent very few nights in restaurants. You don’t even have to go anywhere special to have truly special times with your kids; you can get these experiences in a provincial park, at your in-laws cottage or anywhere that your family like to be together. It just so happens that this vacation, 22 years in the making, happened to be the most impactful one for us.
The key, in my opinion, is to plan something, somewhere, where you can dedicate time to live in the moment and be with your kids away from the chaos of regular life and even away from email and social media ;-). Time unfortunately moves quickly; Loreen and I chose to prioritize family vacations over things like home renovations and fancy cars. Life is a series of trade-offs and we decided that it would be best to postpone other investments while we invested in creating memories that we could share with our kids for many years. For us it has worked, but it’s only one approach.
As the title implies, this story is about planting memories. Imagine, if we were able to create such fabulous memories in 2-year-old Kaitlin with a cheap grass skirt, a Hawaiian doll and a couple of pictures, just think of what you can do with your family with a little effort. With that, I bid you Aloha and I wish you many happy vacations and memorable times with your family.