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September 08, 2010


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My wife and I have been to Hawaii approximately ten times, visiting the four "primary" islands. The question of which island would appeal the most to you of course would be a function of what activities appeal most to you and your wife. While there are points of interest on each island, I would catagorize each of the four islands we've visited as follows:

1) Oahu - Home to Honolulu is very commercialized for the most part and has about as much appeal to us as Los Angeles, i.e. not much. If you enjoy heavy traffic, strip malls, tour buses, and a general tackiness that could be found in South Phoenix, then Oahu will appeal to you. There are some must see sights however including the USS Arizona Memorial and now the USS Missouri, co-located at Pearl Harbor. Well worth the visit but we've always done this as part of our transit to another island.

2) Kauai - Probably the most "laid back" of the four. Has some nice beaches on the south end of the island and some fantastic coastal scenery on the north side near Princeville/Hanelai bay which are especially appealing if you enjoy hiking along the truly scenic Nepali coast. Also features an area in the center of the island which looks quite a bit like a scaled down Grand Canyon. While this island can be very enjoyable, especially if you want to stay in one of the top end resorts, you do have to be careful to avoid it during the rainy season. By February, you should be okay, however.

3) Maui - Rapidly becoming as commercialized as Oahu, Maui still has much to offer depending upon how much money you want to spend. There are some high end resorts on the north end of the island including the Four Seasons which are fantastic. Also some world class golf courses as you might guess. Driving the "Road to Hana" or all the way around the north end of the island are also things that you'll want to do on Maui. Momma's Sea Food Restaurant on the east coast is also excellent but very pricey.

4) Hawaii (also known as "the Big Island") - By far our favorite for variety of reasons. Of the four, it is the least densely populated, has a wide variety of climates, much to see and do, and is less commercialized than the others. At the same time it offers some excellent resorts north of Kona and some of Hawaii's best beaches, gold courses, etc. A great all day drive involves circumnavigating the entire island and visiting the volcanoes, black sand beach, a coffee plantation, and even one of the world's largest cattle ranches. We are planning to return to "the Big Island" for nine days in March.

Since you've never been to Hawaii, I would also recommend going to a Luau to at least capture some cultural atmosphere. All in all, we still like Hawaii since it's part of the US and you don't have to put up with the hassles involved with international travel. I would highly recommend however that you be prepared to spend a lot of money. But it's well worth it, especially if you've never been there before. I hope this synopsis helps.

We plan on taking a cruise ship the first time we visit Hawaii that way our hotel will travel with us and we can cover more area with controlled cost. At least that's our plan. I wonder what others think of this plan?

1. If possibly, go for longer than 10 days. With four people travelling, the airfare to and from the islands is likely to be a significant part of your total cost. Additional days will not add that much to the cost, unless you're staying in an expensive hotel on Oahu.
2. Go to the Big Island. It's less commercialized (less expensive) and offers a tremendous variety of landscapes (including great beaches that are far less crowded than Oahu's), wildlife, and activities within what is -- compared to what we mainlanders are accustomed to -- a relatively compact area.
3. Camping for part of the trip can help save money on housing. There are companies you can use to ship a tent where you're going, which is often cheaper than extra baggage costs on the plane.
4. If camping isn't your thing, a cabin rental for a week is still likely to be cheaper than staying in a hotel (depending, of course, on how rustic the cabin is) and if the cabin has some sort of kitchenette, it may help you save some money on food.

Felix --

That was quite helpful. Thanks!

cmadler --

Thanks as well.

Keep the suggestions coming, everyone!!!!

I have friends that have done the cruise and everyone that has done it has loved it. As Roy said, your hotel travels with you.

I spent a summer in Hawaii as a sophomore in college. I live on Oahu, but made it to the Big Island and Maui. Honestly, each island has its own identity and is very enjoyable in its own way. However, if I could only visit one island I would recommend the Big Island for many of the same reasons it is recommended above.

I recommend trying to rent a house. That will be probably be your best bet as hotel rooms seem expense and a little smaller. Try or

I think you are going during the low season the later in February you go. I've been researching a return trip for several months and it appears that you can get some deals around late Feb to April.

These are the must do's:
surf, volcano, luau, bike down mauna loa, iron man race (just kidding) and relax on the beach.

Have fun.

I've been to Oahu (twice) and Maui. Both are wonderful places to see. Yes, somewhat commercialized but still beautiful.

On Oahu you should hike up Diamond Head and snorkel at Hanauma Bay. I also agree with seeing Pearl Harbor. On Maui, you have to see Haleakala crater (get there to see the sunrise if you can get the kids up early. You can bike down that also.) and the waterfalls at Hana.

If you can, a good thing to do would be to take a SCUBA class before you go. You can do your final certification dive in Hawaii and then have some fun. Hawaii doesn't have the best diving (it is a sea mount island not a reef island) but it would be fun.

You can definitely find a condo or something to rent, at least in Honolulu and probably in certain areas of other islands. As others have said, Oahu is more commercialized, which isn't necessarily bad, but it has a different feel. If you like the outdoors and hiking, Kauai has a lot of options, and if you like camping, you can camp in a lot of places.

As a young kid, Oahu was fun, lots to see and do. For older individuals, Kauai is a lot more peaceful, still has a lot to see and do, but is less stressful. I can't say much about Maui, since I've never been there, but what I know from others is that it is becoming more like Oahu, but the beaches aren't as nice (Oahu, the shallow water goes out a lot on the main beaches, not so much on Maui).

I agree with King - VRBO and are great sites to find nice places cheap - especially for families.

My wife and I went to Oahu, Maui and Kauai. We were in our late 20s when we went. We liked Oahu but couldn't wait to get to Maui and Kauai. We were going to be on paradise and Oahu was too busy for that.

Maui was a nice happy medium - and our favorite. It had a lot of stuff to do (laid back or active).

Kauai was a little boring, but great too. We did a lot of hiking and horseback riding. That was nice.

Have fun!

Like many of the others stated, the Big Island offers the most bang for your buck. The Hilo side is as tropical as it gets, with lots of waterfalls, while the Kona side has lots of resorts, etc. Oh, and word has it that there may even be a volcano ( that's worth seeing between the two.

If you decide to stay in Maui, it would be worth it to spend a day on Molokai. It really is like stepping back in time, and the mule ride down to Kalaupapa was one of the best experiences I had in the year I lived in Hawaii. Another option is to do a whale watching tour, too, but depending on the exact timing, there may not be much to see.

Although very commercial, Oahu is still lots of fun. Hanauma Bay is very touristy, but it's very accessible and has some nice sea life for snorkeling. A little further on the windward side of Oahu is Lanikai, which is an incredibly beautiful beach area.

Of course, if you had a military ID, the options are even better, as you could rent cabins near Lanikai or even in Volcanoes Natl Park on the Big Island!

I like the camping idea. In fact, I started planning a cammping trip for Maui. Great spot and prices. We stay at Maui Ka'anapali Villas because of the great prices and view. We get the same room every year. They have a nice restaurant called the castaway and the kids will love the pool. We brought our kids for the first time last year and they had a blast. It's a very budget friendly place. Now I need to go check out Kauai!

Stay away from Oahu. Honolulu is just another big, very crowded city with tourists. Not the real Hawaii at all. The Big Island is our favorite. Things are relatively cheap there and the diversity of scenery, climate, etc. must be seen to be believed. It is our favorite vacation spot.

I spent my honeymoon in Kauai in March several years ago. To me, it was a little too cool to swim although the weather was nice. I'm from Georgia, so 70-degree air and 72-degree water means I don't want to stay in for more than 10-20 minutes. We had a great time in Kauai although our 2 week stay was a bit long. One week is about right for Kauai, I think.

I liked Oahu...lots to do. Torch lighting on Waikiki beach is something to see. Don't go to Hanauma Bay there is a better snorkeling on the north side of the island. It think is is Captain Joe snorkeling that offers the trip. Transportation (pick up at hotel), lunch and great snorkeling on a coral reef are included in the snorkeling package. You get to see more of Oahu and get some history about the island.
If you are going to Pearl Harbor which I think is a must for anyone visiting purses or camera bags or backpacks are allowed at the monument. They are very strict so plan ahead to avoid being turned away.
Enjoy your trip FMF.

FMF, My wife is from Hawaii (oahu) and I have been out there 7 times. My best suggestion to you is regardless of what Island you decide, I would suggest renting a house and really trying to see the real hawaii. Its really hard to get the true Hawaii experience stuck in a huge hotel with a bunch of other tourist.

I have had great look using a site called Vacation Rentals By Owner... they have great deals for almost any budget on any island.

Check it out.

FMF, the big question here is how old are your kids? The suggestion to hike diamond head is a good one but not one for youngish kids.
We just spent 3 weeks this August in HI. A week on each island - oahu, maui and kuaui. I used to live there and wanted to take my kids (4 and 7) to see the islands. Since it's such a long haul from east coast, it was worthwhile for staying longer than 10 days. All of those islands have Costco's/Walmart and that is a huge money saver because food and gas are so expensive there, since it's all "imported." On Maui we stayed at a hotel, on the sunny side of the island (this is key), that had 3 water slides so the kids never complained of being bored. If you stay at hotel, try to find one where kids eat breakfast free. On Kuaui we stayed at a hotel right on the beach on the east side of the island, which is kind of in between sunny (Poipu) and drizzly side (Princeville). Staying on sunny side is important because there isn't much to do on the smaller islands when it's raining. I booked the hotels through and the rates got cheaper as it closer to the dates I wanted.
You need to book interisland air in advance to get the best rate or fly directly into Maui or Oahu. GoMokulele had the best fares and they operate under different names, ie Mesa Air. I booked the car rental through a local web site and the rate I got was excellent, though I was so sure at the time, Gas was running $3.86 a gal on Maui which was the most expensive so I rented a compact car, which got 28 mpg. Oahu was cheapest for gas and Kuaui in between. All of the Costco's sell gas.

I forgot to mention that all of the hotels on Maui and Kuaui had some free activities too. On Maui the kids did lei making poolside, ukelele lessons, outdoor hulu show, star gazing at night, feed the fish and flamingoes in the koi pond, bonfire on the beach, etc. the dolphins are great to do but it can be very expensive so it's nice to have some "free" entertainment, included at the hotel, too.

I went to Maui 4 years ago and had a great time. The highlight for us were snorkling at Molikini and Turtle town. A boat takes you out and it is pretty expensive (We used Princess kuio I think). If you do this make sure you take sea-sickness medicine as half the boat or so (including myself) was throwing up. We could literally touch the massive turtles if it was allowed (against the law). I think you also should do a luau even though it is pretty pricy. The road to hana, also known as the road to hell, is a must do but you should start as early as possible and plan on spending the whole day exploring the jungle. Low points were the submarine ride at lahania and the bike ride down from the volcano. We didn't enjoy the submarine at all since we were cramped and there was very little worth seeing. We didn't feel safe on the bike ride since it was on a highway with no bike paths. In hindsight I would have drove up to the top of the volcano in the rental car instead.

If you have 10 days, I would suggest going to Oahu for a couple days, then the Big Island (Hawaii) for the rest of your time.

Though Honolulu and Waikiki are really touristy, in my opinion if you're going to spend the money to fly all the way to Hawaii, you can't miss a trip to Pearl Harbor. The tour and visitor center are really well-done and the experience is extremely moving. There are also lots of neat resorts like the Royal Hawaiian that are worth a visit, and free to stroll through!

On the Big Island, renting a house or condo (something with a kitchen to make meals) would be a great way to go. One thing that we splurged on that was totally worth it was a helicopter tour over the volcano. Aaaaaa-mazing!

We did a week trip a few years ago to Oahu and had a blast. We got a steal of a rate at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki and it was awesome. The hotel food prices were so outrageous that we ended up buying yogurt and bagels from the ABC stores (convenience stores that are everywhere there) the night before and eating them for breakfast.

We spent the time doing the typical tourist stuff and didn't feel like it was too crazy crowded-
-Pearl Harbor was worth the trip.
-We did a drive around the island to see the North Shore and stopped off at the Dole Pineapple plant on the way up for some great ice cream and look for a shrimp truck on the side of the road for a cheap fresh tasty meal.
-We spent a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center which was worth it to have the luau experience
-We went snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. The scenery was awesome and the snorkeling was OK.

Overall, we did most that a typical tourist could do on Oahu and had a great trip. We hope to head to another island next time but Oahu was worth it.

Spending 4 days on Oahu and then island hopping might be a good option. Flights between islands are not super expensive and that could give you plenty to see.

I'm born and raised on Oahu. If you go there, don't stay in Waikiki if you can help it. It's a fun place to visit, but that's where we keep our tourists, so it isn't the "real" Hawaii.

I'd recommend renting a house, perhaps in Kailua. Kailua is a lovely town, and its beach, along with neighboring Lanikai, are consistently ranked as two of the best beaches in the world. Depending on the ages of your party, you might consider renting kayaks and paddling out to the nearby islands (inhabited only by birds). If there are youngsters in the group, this is a very safe beach for them. Get a shave ice at Island Snow after your day at the beach.

Like others have done, I'd recommend visiting the Arizona Memorial and the U.S.S. Missouri. For a different history lesson, you really should go see 'Iolani Palace, the only former royal residence in the U.S.. This was the home of the Hawaiian Monarchy before the U.S. overthrow.

A hike up Diamond Head, a snorkle at Haunama Bay, a drive around the island with snorkeling at Shark's Cove (named for the shape of the bay, not the inhabitants) are also high on the list. The drive along the Windward coast up to North Shore is practically required. You'll have the ocean 10 feet away on one side and the mountains directly on the other. You might consider a surf lesson once you reach the North Shore. Haunama Bay is lovely and a great place to see lots of fish, but be sure to get there at opening. The parking lot fills up rapidly and it's not worth the hassle after that.

You may also consider the Polynesian Cultural Center or Bishop Museum. They're both entertaining and teach a lot about Hawaii's history and culture. On a lighter note, a horseback ride at Kualoa Ranch will take you back into the valley where filming has been done for Lost, 50 First Dates, Godzilla, Windtalkers, Jurassic Park, and a host of other films. It's a stunning valley and the only way to see it is through a tour with the ranch.

Given that you'll be there in the winter, you should be able to see whales. A hike up to Makapu'u lighthouse will practically guarantee a sighting. Just don't leave anything valuable in your car (this applies to ALL the islands).

As for Maui, I'd drive to Hana, go up Haleakala (the sunrise is spectacular, you'll never forget it), see 'Iao needle, and go hiking, snorkling, and whale watching.

The Big Island has Volcanoes National Park, that's the do-not-miss attraction, particularly if the lava is visible. From what I hear, a helicopter tour is worth the splurge, but I've never done it.

Feel free to post questions, I'll answer as best I can.

Ghenghy --

Can I email you?


Ghenghy --

It might be a few weeks, but I will email you when I get closer to knowing what we want to do (I still have lots of research to do.)

I've been to all four of the major islands and 100% concur with Felix. His recommendations are exactly what I give to folks interested in Hawaii.

I happen to like Kuaui but if I had kids and was going for the first time, I'd pick Maui.

I have ben to Hawaii 25+ times and to every islad. I would strongly reccomend Maui. To me, it's a happy medium of scenery and activities. Maui all the way!

I've been to all the islands (Oahu, Maui, Kauai, BI, and Molokai) numerous times. While my personal favorite is the west side of Maui (and I've traveled there with kids), for your purposes, Ghenghy's advice is probably spot-on. Rent a home in Kailua right ON the beach. Believe me, this is where you want to splurge. You may only travel to Hawaii as a family once, and the water, sun, and sand are a big reason you are there. To wake up and see the ocean and have it a few feet from your door is something you will never regret. Shop at the Costco in Honolulu and stock up. There are also good grocery stores in Kailua as well as a few delicious and inexpensive restaurants (Maui Taco is both healthy and cheap). Kailua is a wonderful, quintessential beach town with a slow pace and natural beauty, and Lanikai is considered one of the best beaches in the world. I also strongly suggest staying at least two weeks instead of 10 days because there is a lot to do if you choose. Pearl Harbor for sure. Diamond Head, yes. Hanauma Bay definitely. But mostly you will find a wonderful rhythm of the art of doing nothing very well. You can drive around the entire island in a few hours. Oahu's North Shore is packed with surfers December and January and prices will be high. People come from all over the world to surf Pipeline. You might be better off going in February.

Don't swim with dolphins and support that whole cetacean captivity deal.

If you go to Oahu, which I would for your first time, definitely check out a luau - Paradise Cove is the most highly rated on the island and I can personally attest to it. Very fun. If you shop around the internet, you can get discounted tickets + transport if necessary.

I haven't been to Hawaii yet either, although I have been looking at possibly visiting soon. I was wondering, are there any good deals as far as vacation rentals go?

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