Monday, October 17, 2011

Disney's Aulani Resort and Spa, sounds amazing right. Disney building a hotel in Hawaii the perfect match. I can not even begin to tell you all the beauty of this place. Disney has outdone themselves by far with this property. George and I had pretty high expectation, as we usually do, and Aulani exceeded every single one of them. It is amazing, beautiful, breathtaking, fun, way more than either of us could have ever imagined. I will start from the very beginning..

The drive over to Ko'Olina from the airport was very easy, the roads are marked well and the directions are very easy to follow. For my DVC friends there is a Target, Costco, Denny's,Outback Steakhouse, McDonalds along with some other stores that I don't recall at the exit just before Ko'Olina so you can stop and get your grocery shopping done before heading over to the hotel. As you come off the highway into Ko'Olina it is simply beautiful. They have a security guard at the entrance that will ask which resort you are checking into and then he will check the list and give you directions, this was really the "call ahead" that we were on the way in. As we pulled up the Valets opened the car doors with "Aloha Mr. and Mrs. Raub".... Ooooooo nice touch. You are then greeted by a Cast Member that gives you Leis and a small tour of the lobby area, with a little history as they walk you to the front desk (yea don't know how but George and I missed them and they came running up to the front desk to give us our Leis as we were checking in apologizing profusely that we managed to slip passed them).

The hotel itself is stunning. Much like everything else in Hawaii it is Open Air. They have huge glass doors that fold away as if they were never even there. When you are standing out front in the valet loop you can look straight through to the back of the hotel and the breeze that comes through is amazing. There are no words for the lobby, it is breathtaking, the breeze is amazing, there is a lot of history brought into it and lots of separate seating areas for lounging. Take some time to just relax and enjoy the lobby atmosphere it is really awesome.

We had a 1 bedroom Villa on the 14th (ok well 13th but...) floor 1458 and it was beyond words. We had gone to Disney's Saratoga Springs and seen the "rooms" so we knew what to expect but you just can't "know what to expect" when you add in the amazing views. The 1 bedrooms are set up to sleep 5 but the 5th bed is ingenious... You have the typical King in the bedroom; Pull out sleeper sofa in the living room BUT... the hidden bed, that was very well thought out. The Entertainment Unit in the living room has 2 handles on it and a single bed foldsout from it, Didn't see that coming! The rooms are set up slightly different than the 1 bedrooms at WDW and are a little larger, the kitchen cabinetry is beautiful and George and I liked that the dining table was a wrap around bench with 2 extra pull out seats rather than having a bar top. In keeping with the Hawaii open air theme, the sliding glass doors have screens on them, nice touch!!!! Our view was AMAZING. We looked out over the pool and the ocean and had a great view of sunset.

Oh the pool... Move over Yacht and Beach Club your baby sister Aulani is giving you a run for the money. The pool is unbelievable. There is a lazy river with a plethora of tubes, single or double that you can float around. They have 2 slides, one you ride on the tube (again double or single) and one that you don't. There are several spas through out but the coolest on is an infinity spa at the back of the resort that over looks the ocean. There is also an actual pool behind the lazy river and an adult pool completely separate from it all. As for the kids section, what can I's Disney... awesome!! It was so cool looking George kept saying we needed to bring Wade back with us cause he was his "ticket" into the kids section... LOL... Also in the pool area is the Sting Ray area where you can go and feed them as well as Rainbow Reef where you can snorkel with the tropical fish *Rainbow Reef is an additional fee but was a pretty good deal for the length of stay pass* My only complaint about the pool was, it is for Aulani guests only so you have to show your room ID and get a wristband everyday. I like this BUT the location to get the wristbands is not a central location and kind of a pain in the butt. You have to go through the pool area and around to the back where they give out the towels to get the wristband, it was just kind of annoying having to walk past the pool and back around to get them but hey, if that's my only complaint we are doing good. Also behind the pool is a shared lagoon which was really nice too if you like the swimming in the ocean.

Food... hmmmmm... We were a little, ok a lot, disappointed with the Buffet. Not the food but the price. The food was REALLY good, but the cost per person was a little outrageous for a buffet. The restaurants were all really good and the quick service (while not so "quick") was exceptional. And don't forget to get Shave Ice... The station is by the pool by where you get the wristbands, they are huge and super Yummy! Across the street from the hotel is a new shopping area that has food too, Ko'Olina Station. It just opened so there were only a few shops open right now but here they are, "Just Tacos Mexican Grill" , "Hawaiian BBQ", "Island Country Market Deli" and "Two Scoops Ice Cream". We ate at the BBQ and I will say you can pretty much order one meal and share it they are HUGE. And we saw the menu at the Deli and it looks really good. Also the Island Country Market is just that a little Market. They have a nice little store with the basics, bread, milk, cold cuts, some meats, sodas, Cereal, etc. The prices were the same as Target so something to keep in mind if you don't feel like going to Target or you realize you need something and don't want to go out for "just that one little thing" you can run across the street and get it. this web page has all the restaurants in Ko'Olina in case you want to check out the other hotel options too!

Disney has done amazing things here in Hawaii. You know you have exceeded expectations when it is someone’s first trip to Hawaii and they never want to leave the hotel. Every day they have "the daily 'IWA" which is like a cruise ship navigator. It tells you everything that is going on at the hotel that day, along with sunrise and sunset times. There are Character Greetings (Mickey, Minnie, Stitch, Goofy), Pool parties (with Chip and Dale), Hawaiian Crafts, Nature and Wildlife Tours, Evening Star Gazing, Firepit Storytelling, they have a bus that will take you across the island to go shopping on Tues, Thurs and Sat (reservations are required). They do outdoor Movie night, while we were there they showed "Finding Nemo" and their signature evening event Aulani Starlit Hui (Monday and Thursday) it's hard to explain but it’s really fun. There really was SO much going on ALL day long. There was lots for the Kids too! Oh and be sure to do the Menehune Adventure Trail I thought George was being silly when he suggested it but we had a lot of fun and learned new things about the History and meaning behind some of the things in the hotel!

So what can I say, I think I used all the good adjectives... Amazing, Breathtaking, Stunning, Georgeous, Beyond words, exceeded our expectation... THE BEST PURCHASE WE HAVE EVER MADE! I can not say enough about Aulani. The Cast Members were top notch. Hawaiian culture is amazing and they are all very eager to share it with you. Rod at the Shave Ice told us the best place to go and check out "where the locals go" just in general conversation while getting a Shave Ice... Aina at the Concierge became a friend in 5 short days, he was so awesome, and Hi'Ilani what can I say she is AMAZING. Hi'Ilani is one of the greeters she stands out among the rest by far. She is very tall, has a great smile and is so very personable. We pretty much attacked her on the first day because she had a beautiful flower arrangement (it wasn't "just a flower") in her hair, which we found out later Aina made for her! She shared so much with us, about the Iwa Bird, the Taro Patches in front of the hotel, The Totem Poles... little stories about Hawaii and the culture! One thing she said was that "Sometimes we are put into people's lives for a reason" ... I could not agree more! I can not wait to go back to Aulani to see my new Friends... WELCOME HOME!

A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in. ~Robert Orben

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hawaii~ An amazing adventure of LIFE, LOVE and Self Discovery

As we return to reality after an amazing trip to Hawaii, I have so many emotions. To say my life has been touched would be an understatement. This was not just a tropical get away, it was a heart opening life adventure.

A few weeks ago we were standing in Arlington National Cemetery and I became mesmerizer with the story of Lt Col Anne Weatherbee Tinges from World War II, it is surreal to be at Pearl Harbor just a few weeks later. We all know the story of Pearl Harbor, We have seen the movies, it is a part of our history, but I was NOT prepared for Pearl Harbor at all. It is a very emotional place, a very thought provoking experience and it touched me very deeply. They say that you can feel "for" someone but unless you have experienced what they have you can never truly know what they have/are going through. Standing there and seeing "Battleship Row" where the ships were moored, looking out and seeing the USS Missouri at her dock and the USS Arizona Memorial right in front of her... it was very touching. I am not going to go into a history lesson but if you don't know the story of the USS Arizona PLEASE read about it. When we stepped onto the memorial it was very quiet, everyone was in their own little world of "absorbing" the enormity of the history that we were now a part of. Staring at the little bit of the ship that is still above water, seeing a small leaf growing through it, knowing that the ship is beneath you, the forever resting place of so many men, seeing the oil still bleeding out of the ship 70 years later... seeing the wall ... It very quickly stopped being a story you have heard or a movie you have seen and became the reality of what took place. Looking at the memorial wall and seeing all 1,177 names listed on it knowing that those men are forever entombed with their ship, they never even knew what happened... It was heart-wrenching.

Some things that I learned while we were there that you don't hear about in History books amazed me too...

The USS Oklahoma lost 429 men in the attacks,the memorial was created to represent the returning of a ship back to port, (from the memorial web page) The memorial’s black granite walls suggest the once formidable hull of the Oklahoma while the white marble standards represent its lost Marines and Sailors. Eachperfectly aligned marble standard symbolizes an individual in pristine white dress uniform, inspired from the naval tradition of ‘manning the rails.’ In full dress whites the ship’s crew stand at attention along the rails or in the rigging of the ship to display respect and honor. The marble standards of this memorial stand perfectly straight, ‘manning the rails’ of the Oklahoma, forever.

But what touched me most was a little known secret that made me proud that they made the acknowledgement ... the USS Utah lost 54 men and 1 infant... It was very touching that they acknowledged that. Baby Nancy passed away when she was 3 days old, her father was a Chief Yeoman on board the Utah and had her urn in his locker to scatter her ashes on their next sea voyage... Her father survived the attack but her Urn remains in his locker, entombed within the ship.

We spent 5 hours at Pearl Harbor, to say that it was very touching is an understatement. On our journey we also visited "The Punch Bowl" , NationalCemetery of the Pacific. Much like Arlington National Cemetery this is rows and rows of stories, of heroes, of emotions and history. What got me the most was The Gardens, where they have wall after wall of names inscribed, 28.788 names to be exact, the dedication reads "In the gardens are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and whose earthly resting place is only known by God" ... walking past these names, being able to touch the inscriptions, taking a few moments to sit in the small chapel you can not help but realize the sacrifices that our Service Men and Women make to ensure that we... all of us... can obtain our Freedom. These moments were spent thinking of My grandfather, Felix Cotelli, whom I never met and my Mother has no memory of... A man that served in World War II but never got the chance to know his family. How would our lives be different, I wonder... My grandfather, the one that I knew, the Father that my mother knew and loved, my grandmothers 2nd husband was VERY influential on my life, how would that have changed who I am today? Looking at the names, realizing that My Dad served during the Vietnam War and George's dad was in Vietnam... the thoughts of what could have been... and how incredibly proud I am of them! I called my dad and said Thank you...

Hawaii is beautiful, the culture is amazing, the history is preserved, O'ahu is someplace that everyone needs to go at least once. The Pali Lookout, the North Shore, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, Shave Ice, Great Food and awesome Hospitality. I am back home now... humbled and changed, refreshed and yearning for more! Of course the next visit will not have the same affect as the first time, the emotions, the feelings, the moments of self reflection can not be duplicated.

My quote today is from the "Fire Pit Storyteller" at the hotel, it is so true!

"You take a piece of every person you meet with you on your journey"

It is so very true, whether they were in your life for a moment or several years people leave a little bit of them with you forever, some people make a bigger impression while others just slip away into the back of your memory but you will undoubtedly remember a person that said something thought provoking, or a story that told itself in the way of a memorial as well as the crazy girls you saw in the lobby of the hotel everyday and will forever chuckle about when you think of them... SO when you are out and about in the world try and make sure that the "piece of you" that people are taking with them is a good piece!

*I will post all about Disney's Aulani Resort later, I wanted this to be about the emotions and the moments, the history and reflection of what Hawaii meant to me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

GET OUT OF MY HEAD... Stress, Anxiety, Fear!

For the first time since I started blogging, I am going to open up about ME. I try and always be upbeat and inspirational, yes yes there will still be some inspirational, crazy quote at the end, but today I decided to put out the other side. It is what makes me most vulnerable, it is what is taking me down, it is what scares me…problem is, I don’t know exactly what “IT” is.

Get out of my head… That’s what I keep telling myself. I can’t turn off my mind. I think I am going crazy sometimes as I obsess over things. Is it Post Traumatic Stress, Is it an anxiety or panic attack, is it something more that I just don’t know. Am I stupid for not taking my Dr up on a prescription for Zoloft or Prozac… This all really started a few weeks ago. I am having a really hard time and it is starting to consume most of my life and almost all of my thoughts. Has life just “caught up to me” or have I finally taken a moment to “try and breathe”? Here goes… Welcome to my “Crazyland”

A few weeks a go I started feeling a little anxiety, I figured it was just because the 46 Mommas Shave was coming up and I was not sure what that was going to bring, emotionally. I started having a really hard time breathing. I feel like I can not get a deep enough breathe. I don’t feel like I “can’t breathe” I just feel like I need to take a really deep breathe and it won’t come, my chest gets really tight and I don’t ever feel like I got enough air. Everything I have read on line about this points towards anxiety and stress but I don’t know how to control it. I get very panicked when this happens and every thought runs through my head. Am I going to pass out, Am I going to have a heart attack, Am I going to die… why can’t I get a deep breath. It is very scary and then my imagination sores. I told my Dr I feel like a hypochondriac going through every possible scenario in my head to the point where I freak myself out and can’t calm down.

As I sit here thinking about it I am like, um yeah—you have a “little stress” in life. I mean I lost my son, had a miscarriage, am dealing with regaining my relationship with Wade and George, trying to figure out a new family dynamic on top of working and trying to keep everything as normal as possible. Add to that the 46 Mommas Shave and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I am SO beyond honored that everyone changed their photos to Bryce on Facebook. It makes my heart smile to get emails from strangers telling us how much Bryce has affected their lives… I love that everyone wants to use his picture for fundraisers and awareness videos. I am SO proud that I am the mother to such an inspiring little man. But I think I became so overwhelmed with everything, going online and not being able to tell who is actually “on” line because every picture is Bryce. Looking at all the amazing photos that have been posted raising awareness and watching the videos… I actually get disappointed when I see videos and Bryce is NOT in them. It’s crazy, it’s amazing, it’s stressful. Then there was the shave. I am so honored to be a part of an amazing group of Mommas, I am so proud of all our accomplishments, the amount of money raised and the amount of people that have been made more aware by our presence. But as one of the 2010 Mommas pointed out, you don’t expect the Lows. You don’t realize the social anxiety that comes with the decision to shave your head. Everyone has told me that I am beautiful, that they are proud, that I am so strong and so amazing but truth be told I am hiding behind a hat… everyday when I leave the house I find the perfect hat to cover my head. I am an awesome advocate behind the computer screen, I can talk to everyone and anyone that wants to listen, but I can’t put the “Ask me why I’m bald” button on and walk out of the front door. I feel socially awkward instead of empowered and bold. I feel like everyone is staring at me and not wanting to ask, even though I have a button that says so. I feel like I want to start a conversation off with this was for my son. This was a $6000 donation of money and a wonderful gift of hair… But I can’t because then everyone WOULD stare at me and think… this chick is off her rocker! Will this pass, will I be able to get my identity back, when will I be able to breathe, should I take the medication (even just for a little while to get myself back on track)… or is there something else. Am I sick, is it not anxiety and stress, is it possible that I have something medically wrong causing my breathing to be labored… perhaps I am just the Crazy chic living in Crazyland trying to recover from 2 Crazy years and trying to recover from an unfair & heartbreaking experience!

Wow…I just laid my whole heart out…my thoughts and my fears. As I sat on the airplane heading to Chicago this morning (connection city to Hawaii) I had to get the iPod out because I could not get out of my head. I was about to have a panic attack right there, how embarrassing would that be, having a panic attack on an airplane that is um yeah… Your employer! So I put the iPod on to distract my thoughts… I took some deep breaths and said … God, please get me through this. I am not a “church on Sunday” person but I believe in God and eternal peace. I believe that allowing yourself to stop worrying is ok because life is a “planned” journey and worrying about things just ruins the moment you are in. I said to myself… God has this, take a deep breathe, and GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. ~Etty Hillesum