The stunning azure blues and emerald greens of Oahu welcome visitors to the island and proclaim the natural beauty of this lush, luxuriant land. First-time visitors can expect to be impressed by the rolling mountain ranges that meet the crashing sea in a display of long-present tenacity, as well as the island locals who greet each visitor with a special brand of island hospitality called the "Aloha Way."

Duke popularized
surfing in Hawaii;
the tradition continues in Waikiki.

It is a magical place, and there is plenty to do on Oahu that will keep you wrapped up in its splendor. In fact, one could have a very full vacation and never leave Waikiki Beach. The famous beach boasts fine, powdery white sand and excellent surfing waves. It's a treat to watch the surfers dotting the horizon, floating on their boards as they wait for the premium wave. The beach itself is always busy, with sunbathers staking out the shore and swimmers bobbing in the water. For those wishing to stay dry while exploring the sea, there are catamaran rides and canoe rides available for an afternoon or evening cruise. Or, for the more adventurous, there are several places along the beach that offer surfing lessons, which cost about $35 for a two-hour period.

Indeed, surfing lessons are very popular on Waikiki Beach and, according to locals, those who take lessons range in age from 12 to 80-something. The instructors claim that anyone can learn how to surf in two hours, and that women catch on to the sport especially quickly. The first hour is a period of on-shore instruction where students practice the best technique of getting on top of the board in the proper position to ride the wave. When a level of comfort is reached, the instructor takes the students to shallow water for additional practice before tackling the giant waves that make the beach famous.

The OHANA Waikiki West puts you
in a location for exploring Waikiki,
steps from the famous
International Market Place.

Waikiki has no shortage of places to stay, but the best are the family-owned Outrigger and Ohana hotels. These resorts offer a range of travel packages and special programs that make vacationing in Hawaii an affordable option, with rates starting as low as $69 per night. Many of Ohana's properties have a kitchenette in each room, allowing guests to make their own meals. Each hotel is located close to beaches, shopping, dining and nightlife. There are many different properties to choose from, ranging in price from budget to luxury. While both Outrigger and Ohana are owned by the same company, the Outrigger brand indicates a full-service, more deluxe property, while the Ohana (which means "family") brand is more budget-priced for family travel.

According to Nancy Daniels, Public Relations Manager for Ohana and Outrigger, "it is the staff at the Ohana and Outrigger hotels that sets the brand apart. Traditional Hawaiian values, such as hospitality and friendliness, are taught to all resort employees, and they pass the Aloha Spirit on to our guests."

Indeed, guests are made to feel welcome from the moment they enter the hotel's lobby. At the Ohana Waikiki West, I was greeted with alohas and warm smiles despite the late hour of my arrival. The rooms were clean, comfortable and spacious. Information desks in the lobby staffed by knowledgeable professionals are a Mecca for curious tourists searching for the perfect pastimes to fill their vacation days. Parents wishing for a day or two on their own can take advantage the Children's Club, which is open to all young Ohana guests. A van comes to pick up the children for a day filled with well-supervised activity, while parents are free to explore the island at leisure.

A special treat in Oahu is the Star of Honolulu dinner cruise. Departing nightly from the Aloha Tower Marketplace, the Star sails out to Diamond Head for a full 2-hour inclusive cruise experience. Guests can enjoy memorable sunset vistas while savoring a delightful table service dinner. Operated by Paradise Cruise, Hawaii's premier sightseeing and sunset dinner cruise company, the Star of Honolulu is a 232-foot four-deck cruise ship with room for 1,500 people and a crew of over 100.

The vessel was awarded the "Outstanding Passenger Vessel Design" award in 1992. Guests are welcomed with the Honolulu Hawaiian Hula Welcome pier show, and then it's fun and excitement from the first champagne toast. Guests enjoy the talented jazz trio that performs during the meal and features music from the 1920s to current favorites. I recommend the Three Star sunset dinner cruise, which offers guests a five-course feast that begins with an appetizer buffet of cheeses and fruits and then moves on to a gourmet greens salad. The Star of Honolulu offers the special treat of all-you-can-eat crab legs, as well, at no additional cost.

The main course of filet mignon and whole Maine lobster is fabulously delicious and well-presented, and so filling that it is hard to find room for the delightful mango mousse chiffon cake that is served for dessert. The cruise culminates with the dazzling "Spirit of Aloha" musical revue and dancing, where the largest cast on island waters presents an invigorating hula show and invites the audience up for dancing, before returning to land. The $7 million Star of Honolulu was custom-built for smooth sailing in Hawaiian waters and is A.D.A. approved. For reservations or more information, call 800/334-6191, or visit In Hawaii, call 808/983-STAR.

Diamond Head from Kapiolani
Park, on the east end of Waikiki.

Transportation to and from the cruise ship can be provided from selected Waikiki hotels for an additional fee by Superstar Hawaii Transit Service, which operates a fleet of 35 motorcoaches, four minibuses and three vans.

One way to see the less obvious gems of Hawaii is to rent a car or take advantage of the island's bus service and explore the less bustling parts of Oahu. Visit rainforests and deserted beaches, hike a mountain or bring your camera and take advantage of the many marked scenic vistas. Be sure that on the way back home you stop at a beach just before sunset - you just might get a chance to see the legendary "green flash" of Oahu. On a night that is absolutely clear, a green flash of light can be seen just before the sun sets, which is just one more thing that makes a trip to Oahu a delightfully unique experience.

By Laura Romano, Maine Correspondent.