We have friends who go to the same resort in Hawaii every single year. For a long time, we thought this was the height of fuddy-duddy. Why in the world would you want to go to the same place year after year? There aren’t enough frequent flyer miles to see all the really cool places in the world.
But as we discovered during a recent trip to Seattle, sometimes exploring new places means unpleasant surprises. As middle age sets in, known quantities stop being boring and start being blissful.
That was how last week we ended up, for the eighth time in 16 years, at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island. We first stayed there because it’s walking distance from one of the largest fields of petroglyphs (stone carvings) in the Hawaiian Islands, an anthropological site I’d wanted to visit.
The hotel’s history is almost as fascinating as the petroglyph fields. It was designed by well-known architect Christopher Hammetter for Hyatt and a group of Japanese investors back in the 80s. Those investors sunk $360 million into blasting out a bunch of lava on the west side of Hawaii and building a complex of three towers and a reception area that looked like Shangri-La from Lost Horizon. They connected the towers with both a monorail and motorized boats, making it feel like Disneyland. They built swimming pools with water slides and grottoes, and created a lagoon fed by the ocean, where turtles and fish swim by. They filled the walkways between the towers with Asian art, Polynesian artifacts, and other statuary, making it feel like a museum. The Hyatt Waikoloa opened in April 1987, six months before the stock market crash decimated travel from both Japan and the U.S., and was sold to Hilton sometime later for $60 million. (I often wonder what it feels like to have $300 million vanish.)
We didn’t initially intend to make the Hilton Waikoloa our default vacation destination. But over multiple vacations, we grew to love the Big Island because it resembles what we imagine Hawaii to have been 50 years ago. If you’ve only been to Honolulu or Lahaina, the Big Island seems as different from Oahu and Maui as Maine is from Florida. It’s spectacularly underdeveloped, probably because it takes $360 million to blast away lava and replicate Disneyland. It’s easy for us to get there, because United Airlines flies non-stop from San Francisco to Kona twice a day. The hotel is about 20 minutes north of the airport; we used to rent a car, but having seen most of the island, now we just take a cab back and forth.
It is a welcome change from the work week. Monica usually sees a new patient every 20 minutes; that’s in addition to the pull-and-tug for her attention from colleagues and staff. My work day is somewhat less stressful than hers – when she makes a mistake, people die; when I make a mistake, it’s a typographical error. Nonetheless, when I’m at my desk, I may cycle through the projects of two or three clients in any given day in order to progress toward specific deadlines. And that doesn’t count the attention-shifting interruptions of e-mail and the phone.
Hunkering down at the Hilton, we know where the good restaurants are (more important, we know where the bad ones are too). I’ve discovered that January is the best month for avoiding the lines at the water slides. We know where the light switches are in the room. We know the best time of day to secure the canopied chaises beside the lagoon. We know how long it takes to get back to the airport.
We don’t have to think, which is the last thing we want to do on vacation. Instead, we turn our face to the sun and embrace our inner fuddy-duddy.