It hits you as soon as you step through the front door. There is only one thought that describes it… tourist trap.
The signs are classic, you enter and exit through the gift shop. It isn’t a little gift shop either, but a large operation with every type of tacky tourist wares. This is a place where the tour buses stop. A place designed to extract as much money as possible in the short time available before the bus moves on to the next stop around the island.
I have been to tourist traps so kitschy they actually become fun. Between Benson and Wilcox, Arizona, along I-10 is The Thing. The place make no pretense about being a pure tourist trap. Admission to the museum that includes the namesake mummy/artifact/side-show-exhibit is actually quite cheap, $1 per person last time I was there. They obviously make the money in the gift shop. Beside The Thing itself, the little museum is surprisingly decent, with western memorabilia, wagons and old cars. If you take the place for what it is you can simply enjoy the experience, with some ice cream on the way out.
The Dole Plantation is simply a tourist trap, without many redeeming features. They charge for most everything, the maze is $6/person, the train is $8, the garden tour is $5. Visit a couple spots and it quickly adds up. The prices in the gift shop are not much better. I had to laugh when I saw the prices for the small packages of macadamia nuts. You could buy twice as much of the same brand in any local supermarket.
There were a few simple signs in the garden that explained the history of the Dole pineapple empire and it’s founder, James Dole. The story is a fascinating example of a determined businessman who took a quiet local market and turned it into a global industry. It is a classic example of the plantation history of Hawai’i, with all of the good and ugly bits mixed in. Likely you will not learn much visiting the place. There was supposed to be something more of a museum here, if it still existed I could not find it behind all the tasteless merchandise. A bit of history, something real, anything would have created a more worthwhile stop. I guess it would just take up space that could be used for another rack of hula skirts.
I must admit it was not all bad… Walking through the garden Deb and I discovered the best part. There were cute little Carolina anoles all through the bromeliads. We must have spent half an hour chasing anoles trying to get good photos, with some success. The pineapple ice-cream float wasn’t so bad either.