Receiving a flower lei. Listening to someone play the ukulele. Learning how to do a hula dance. Attending a luau dinner. All these things come to mind when I think about visiting Hawaii. Although Hawaii is another state in the US and you’re more than likely visiting to enjoy the surf and sand, why not experience what makes it so unique; it’s culture.
I had this on my mind when deciding on where we were to stay while visiting Waikiki. The Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach offers a great location, superb restaurants and many other features with families in mind, including its cultural program consisting of daily cultural activities for guests right within the hotel’s lobby.
More than likely you will find some neighbouring hotels offering similar activities, some for a fee, but what I loved about the cultural activities offered at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, besides being free, was the people running the programs.
One of the first activities we attended was on flower lei making, which my 4 and 8-year old daughters participated in. I liked that there was no sign-up required; we could just walk over to one of the tables in the lobby and join right in. The very friendly and outgoing Matt Sproat, one of the Cultural Specialists at the hotel, taught the class along was a group of delightful ladies from the local seniors center. Not only were the ladies sharing with us how to make a lei, based on their years of experience, but they also shared personal stories. It was like visiting your grandmother and learning to knit while learning about your family’s history. The experience didn’t feel so much like a class but like a family gathering. My two girls loved making their leis and wore them proudly all day. My 4-year old loved telling everyone she met, whether they asked or not, that she made her beautiful lei all on her own (sort of).
Ethan Chang, the Events and Activities Manager at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, said the hotel prides itself on not just running a class. Each program, from making a flower lei and kukui nut bracelets to hula and ukulele lessons, is taught by staff members with a true interest and passion on the subject. Ethan pointed out that sharing the island’s culture is more than just learning a technique; an integral part of their programs are the stories shared and tied into what you’re experiencing, such as the story behind the flower lei. It was actually foreign cowboys, looking for ways to bring flowers from the mountains back down to the girls, who came up with the lei. I would never have guessed that but it was very cool to learn.
The cultural programs aren’t just for girls. My son, keen on surfing, was eager to attend the mini surfboard carving class. Also taught by Matt, he showed the kids different techniques to make the mini surfboards smooth and bring out the Koa wood’s grain. While we worked on smoothing our mini surfboards, Matt gave us some information on Koa wood, the most sought after and expensive wood in the world. It takes about 80 years for a treat to grow and is protected in Hawaii (though volcanoes have destroyed chunks of the forests). Koa wood was also used in the construction of the original surfboards due to its denseness and that it doesn’t absorb water. As part of the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach’s green program, the pieces of Koa wood used for the surfboard-carving workshop are actually remnants from a local ukulele factory, cutting down on waste.
At the elevator bay on each floor there’s a sheet posting local activities planned at the hotel, including the cultural ones, making it easy to plan your day.
My son still proudly displays his surfboard hanging from his backpack, now a great souvenir and memory of his trip to Waikiki. We had a great vacation, eating well, enjoying the beach and experiencing some of Hawaii’s culture right within our hotel.