Filed under: Hawaii - general, Kauai, Maui, Most Popular Questions, Oahu, Prices, Vacation Planning
Your Guide to Simple, Low-Cost, and Fun Hawaii Weddings
Hi, I’m Lisa.
This ebooklet is an answer to all the requests from people asking for my personal advice on getting married in Hawaii and doing so without spending a fortune.
Hawaii is such a beautiful place that it makes it an ideal location for weddings. More than 10,000 couples travel here every year to get married.
The islands are just naturally romantic, and with the great weather and amazing settings, you don’t even need to rent an indoors venue. You will already be in one of world’s favorite honeymoon destinations, and family and friends able to attend will appreciate the great excuse to visit Hawaii.
I have made every effort to ensure that this information was correct when I wrote or updated it, but I do not assume any liability to any party for any loss or damage caused by any errors or omissions, regardless of how they occurred. Nothing in this book is guaranteed.
But I think you are going to be surprised when you find out how easy it is to not only get married in Hawaii but to do so within a tight budget.
Most everything in this book is my opinion, based on my preferences and resources and experiences. I hope it helps point you in the direction you most want to take based on your preferences and resources. Aloha!
My Experience Getting Married in Hawaii & Coordinating a Wedding Here
In 1996, my husband and I got married in Kona on the Big Island. We had lived in Hilo for about a year so we knew a little bit about the islands. My husband planned the wedding with some help from a coordinator in Kailua-Kona, and we spent less than $600 on it.
The most valuable piece of information to know about getting married in Hawaii is it is legal to get married on almost any beach or public park in the islands. (There is a $20 permit required for beaches now, if you have a coordinator.)
Plus, if you get married on the West side of any island you are practically guaranteed good weather (very little rain falls on the West sides) so you may decide not to have a fallback plan. We didn’t. We just decided the weather would be nice and went for it. The weather was awesome.
We got married at 10 a.m. 10 or before or else after 5 are good times to get married – any other time may be too hot.
Our wedding costs were like this:
pastor, photographer, and videographer: about $400
(my husband rented a tux and I made my dress)
The coordinator brought the cake and the leis and found the pastor, photographer, and videographer.
We got married in Pahoehoe Park off of Alii Dr. in Kona. It was actually a wonderful experience. We had a light breeze. A praying mantis climbed up the pastor’s pant leg, climbed out on his bible, and then hopped onto my dress. That was cool. Plus, a van full of hippies stopped when they saw us walking and ran over and gave us all maile leis they had probably been making.
Afterward we walked next door to Jameson’s by the Sea Restaurant for oceanfront dining. They opened up an hour early for us and we had the ocean lanai area to ourselves. What a nice memory
Then, we drove to the airport and went off to Molokai for our honeymoon.
A few years later I coordinated my brother-in-law’s wedding in Kona also for under $200. Here’s what I did for that one.
We stayed at the then Kona Surf (now Sheraton Keauhou). We used their gardens for wedding grounds for a small fee (i was very inexpensive back then, like $80 or something). I ordered a small wedding cake from KTA (a local grocery store) and went there to pick it up before the wedding. I ordered a Haku lei (very extravagant and pricey and awesome lei) – at least $50) for the bride and a maile lei for the groom and I picked these up from the lei store.
Before the wedding we went to Hilo Hatties and got matching tropical-style clothing for them.
I found a pastor in the phone book and his fee was around $100 I think.
I took the pictures of the event and my husband took the video.
It was small, inexpensive, and perfect – and they are still married , as am I and my husband. So that’s the secret to a long and happy marriage. Get married in Hawaii for under $1000.
The coordinator I hired is no longer in business but here’s a good one for Kona. Their packages start out very reasonably.
You could do it without a coordinator, but I wouldn’t if you don’t have reliable friends in Hawaii. It’s not worth the hassle, in my opinion. I would get a coordinator for the basics (they can help you pick a place and make sure that you have everything done that needs to be done) and then if you want to save money by getting your own leis and your own cake, etc, do that.
How to Get Married in Hawaii
While some things have changed since I got married in Hawaii and since I coordinated my brother in law’s wedding here, it is still very easy to get married in Hawaii.
Some mistakenly think that they need to get married “legally” on the mainland if they have a wedding ceremony in Hawaii, but Hawaii is our 50th state and weddings here are as legal as in any of the other states.
All you will need is a marriage license, and in most cases a picture ID or Driver’s License. The marriage license costs $60, is issued on site, and there’s no waiting period before the marriage can take place.
There’s a PDF you can download with the marriage license application. You will both need to sign in the presence of the marriage license agent here in Hawaii.
If you have any questions there’s a number to call (listed on the page)
The second page of this two-page application contains the specific instructions on what you need to bring with you with your license. There is no blood test requirement. If you are under 19, you’ll need a certified copy of your birth certificate. If over 18, you may be asked for a picture ID or driver’s license. If you are under 18, you will need both parents’ or guardians’ consent or consent from the family court, and if 15, you will need these too along with approval from a family court judge. Instructions for the application and what you need to bring are very straight forward and easy to follow.
After much debate Hawaii decided not to legalize gay marriages (so far 2011); however, many coordinators and officiates will help with the ceremony as well as vow renewals and other non-legally binding but meaningful events.
If you’re from a country outside of the United States, chances are they will recognize a United States wedding, and if an Apostil is required, you can get a copy of the license from the State of Hawaii for $1.
Contact information for marriage license agents, along with the marriage license application and everything else you need to know about getting a Hawaii marriage license is on or linked to from this page
The State will mail a certified copy of the marriage certificate to the address you provide on your marriage license application. Many of the wedding packages and coordinators offer personalized copies.
Before choosing a wedding coordinator or officiate, consider the type of wedding you want. Do you want a traditional ceremony? Or a Hawaiian ceremony? A blend of the two or something unique? Just as with getting married anywhere else in the United States, it’s all up to you and your fiance.
Many like to include both traditional and Hawaiian elements. This may be religious or non-religious. Often in this type of wedding the officiate will speak of the beauty of Hawaii – its waters, mountains and flowers, plus how they symbolize your love and marriage.
Sometimes the ceremony will be announced with the blowing of a conch shell, and there will be a lei exchange between bride and groom. The officiate will talk about the lei and how it encircles in never ending love. The wedding will be completed with the exchange of rings and vows and of course the kiss.
Here are a couple of examples:
Just as with mainland weddings, if you want to write your own vows check with the officiate before hiring. Most will be happy to accommodate.
The Wedding Coordinator
I used a wedding coordinator and my advice is unless you have friends or family in Hawaii you trust to help you, then the money is well worth it. Find one you connect with and follow the coordinators advice – they will know what area blows too much sand, or which minister is the most personable. Often the wedding coordinator is also a marriage license agent.
Likely the coordinator will offer various wedding packages. Choose one you can afford. Most offer packages in varying increments from about $250 to thousands. Ours cost about $80 but that was in 1996. Since we purchased our own leis and cake and all, we just used the coordinator for help finding the minister, photographer and videographer. You can probably do the same today for about $150.
Another advantage, depending on where you want to have your wedding, is that some of the state’s places of historical significance that rent facilities, such as Iolani Palace require a wedding coordinator set things up.
To find a coordinator, I would search online along with the name of the island and maybe also the region or city (Kona’s a long way from Hilo). If you want to marry on the beach, check for coordinators that specialize in beach weddings on the sand. Some will prefer parks near the ocean to avoid the beach permit (more on this later), so do read their sites and ask.
Packages start around $200 for a minister, maybe two leis and some consultation. The most basic packages that include photography will often start at around $500 and will include about an hour’s worth of photography and around a dozen 4×6 prints.
You’re paying mostly for the photographer. I think the photography and videography are worth the extra money, but I would advise avoiding those second or third tier packages that add hundreds for two leis and a bottle of champagne because you can get these things yourself for far less.
Packages with video are found in higher price ranges. This coordinator offers fairly decent prices and this will give you an idea of what to look for:
You can also see what various packages offer by going to the state’s official tourism site’s wedding section These are mostly expensive, but there are some deals.
Many of the packages include something like “processing marriage license,” which seems silly to me since you and your fiance are the ones who must fill it out and then go to the agent to sign there. The lowest price ones are usually selling this service, the marriage performer and a little help finding locations. If you don’t know the area and don’t have someone here to help, again, it’s the consultation that will be of the most value.
The Wedding Performer (Officiate)
As mentioned above, the wedding coordinator will help you find someone to perform the wedding. If you aren’t using a coordinator, you can find an officiate in various ways. One is to ask the marriage license agent for recommendations but do so on the phone – don’t wait till you get here.
Another place to look for marriage performers is to search online. If you wish to have an officiate with a specific religion perform your wedding ceremony, search online for places of worship on the island you wish to be married. Be sure that your marriage performer is licensed by the State of Hawaii.
Also good to know – your officiate will likely be a very good source of information, so if you don’t have a wedding coordinator or others in Hawaii to help, don’t be shy about asking the officiate for suggestions on free and low-cost locations, photographers, etc.
Plan on spending around $100 for the marriage performer.
If you want to marry right on the beach, your officiate may add on to the price the cost of the beach permit fee ($20 minimum and 10 cents per square foot).
The Wedding Photography
The photographs will likely be the most spendy part of your wedding, and if you have video, even more so, but you’ll have them forever as visual memories of your special day. Unless you have a good photographer among your friends or in your family, plan to spend $500 upwards, depending on if your getting video too and and how many prints you want, if you want the DVD with the unedited photos, etc.
The wedding coordinator can arrange for or make recommendations. If you are coordinating, you’ll find several photographers and videographers online. You might also add “budget” or “affordable” to your search terms. If you first find a wedding performer (officiate), ask for recommendations.
Look at the photo galleries, comments and prices, and then call or email the ones on your short list. Ask them questions like what type of wedding photography they specialize in or most enjoy and see if this rings a bell for you. For example, some specialize in fun and spontaneous wedding photos, while others are more formal and traditional. Some do mostly beach weddings, while others church weddings.
Where to Get Married in Hawaii
Oahu is the easiest island for getting married on a dime. Just about everything costs less on Oahu than the outer islands (except groceries in Waikiki!). Oahu also has more venues for weddings. Possibly on the downside, Oahu has lots of people at the beaches and parks.
However, even Oahu has its secret beaches (like the hidden cove in walking distance from Turtle Bay) and Oahu also has venues you can rent for good prices. Actually when you are getting married in an outdoors location such as at the beach or in a park, you are saving hundreds or thousands right there, no matter which of the Hawaiian Islands you choose for your wedding.
Many of the hotels offer wedding packages, but these can be extremely expensive. I would go with an alternative location, and then if you can afford it, save the romantic hotel or resort for your honeymoon (I’ll list some of my favorites in the honeymoon section). You can check with them to see about fees for using their grounds only, but even for just the right to take wedding pictures (with your own photographer), it’s going to cost a few hundred.
When I coordinated by brother in law’s wedding we were able to use the Kona Surf (now Sheraton Keahou Resort & Spa) grounds for $80, but this was over a decade ago and the hotel has changed ownership and undergone renovations.
The Sheraton Keauhou’s lowest cost venue rentals now $500 (sunset cliffs and the small chapel overlooking the sea), and their lowest cost package is $750 (coordinator, officiate, location, lei and a solo musician). Sunset weddings, as at many venues, are extra – in this case, $250 more.
One of the best hotels to get married out these days is also on the Big Island: King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. This is one of the Top 10 – and really the only low cost one – in Destination Weddings and Honeymoons article “Hawaii Weddings on Any Budget.” And their luau is both a a local and visitor favorite on the Big Island $70 per adult, making a great place for a wedding with guests. The King Kam’s wedding packages start at $500 like most of the lower cost wedding packages do. The location here though is what makes this budget wedding special. The grounds are lovely and include the beach overlooking Kailua Bay, the gardens and the sacred grounds once occupied by King Kamehameha himself.
Honestly though, this hotel is starting to show it’s age. The grounds are awesome, but unless they start renovating rooms, you might want to stay elsewhere and just use their accommodations for the wedding itself.
The best value hotel wedding packages in Hawaii start around $500, but quickly jump to a thousand and upwards for very few extras. The basic packages usually include something like this: the officiate, wedding coordinator, location (of course) and two leis. If you really want that particular location, this makes sense, otherwise it doesn’t really when you consider you’ll like pay about about half that for these things and the location could be free or nominal. The photography usually at least doubles the prices of these basic packages, and it will likely be your biggest expense package or no, but a very important item.
You might want to just call though and check with the hotels you like and see what it would cost to hold the ceremony on their grounds and be allowed to take pictures. Alternatively, if you have a beach wedding directly in front of hotel’s landscape, you’ve got the nice background for free.
As for the low cost and free venues…
You can marry on the beach for free. There are also parks and waterfalls that you can use as settings for your ceremony, free of charge.
Tying the Knot on the Beach
Beach Wedding Rules
Perhaps you have heard you need a permit to marry on the beach in Hawaii. You actually don’t, but the vendors now do. As of August 1, 2008, the State of Hawaii requires all commercial service providers to carry a a Right-of-Entry (ROE) Permit. So anyone making a profit from your wedding, such as the officiate, wedding coordinator, musician, must get the permit and give copies to their staff serving at your wedding.
This only applies when the wedding is on the actual sand. It has to do with commercial vendors operating on Hawaii’s free, public beaches.
If you’ll notice, in my pictures, we got married in front of, but not on a beach at Pahoehoe Park in Kona. And it was still perfectly lovely.
Again, the wedding couple does not need a permit nor are they responsible for getting this for the service providers. And don’t worry…Hawaii will not not interrupt your wedding if one of the service providers doesn’t have their permit – they may later fine them but Hawaii will not interfere with your wedding. Hawaii loves weddings (and the visitors they bring to the islands)!
Your officiate and other service providers may add on to the fee the cost of the permit, but unless you need lots of space, this shouldn’t be much. Each service provider is charged .10 cents per square foot with a $20 minimum.
There are some restrictions that the new law brings that you should know about if you don’t have a coordinator to handle it. Alcohol is not allowed. Neither are receptions (although many beaches have pavilions and grassy parks you can use). Two hours is the maximum time allowed. Weddings on the beach aren’t allowed to place chairs (except for elderly, disabled and others who need to sit for health reasons).
Arches and other structures and decorations cannot be used, although you can have loose flowers. For example a petal path can be created with loose flowers and leis can be used for decorative purposes, but vases of flowers could not be set up to mark the path. Acoustic but not amplified music is allowed. I’m not sure if a CD player would count as “amplified” music, but your wedding coordinator or officiate should know.
Finding the Best Location for your Beach Wedding
To make finding a quiet spot on a beach easier, avoid weekends, major holidays and the high tourism seasons of summer, Christmas vacation and spring break.
You might also want to take a look at Hawaii’s school vacation schedule, although when the parents are at work, you won’t see a great deal of extra people at the beach except maybe more teens who want to catch waves or hang with friends. Hawaii has a year-round school year, with vacations split up throughout. You can get the school’s vacation schedule at the DOE site here.
To make this easier though, just check with your coordinator, officiate or if you have friends or family here that know the beaches. You can find quiet beaches on every island. Usually they are more out of the way. Or if you go during the quieter times as mentioned above, and you don’t go to the busiest beaches, like Waikiki, you can likely find a quiet spot on your beach.
While many of the parks do rent pavilions, keep in mind that alcohol is not allowed at state and county parks. If you want to serve champagne or have an open bar at your reception, there are other venues that will accommodate.
If you do want to look into a pavilion, check the Hawaii State Parks site or the county parks site for your wedding destination island.
A pavilion next to the beach is a good idea to have for a back up should the weather turn bad. If it’s first come first serve basis, don’t plan your wedding on a busy day, like those mentioned above, if you have someone who can arrive early in the morning to set up the decorations, all the better. Again, this is where a coordinator can come in handy. Some parks will be more suitable to your special day than others, and your coordinator can help with this.
Many couples to exchange vows with the sunset as a romantic backdrop. Along with early morning, evening when the sun is setting is another of the more quiet times at the beaches. Choose a leeward (west) side location for the perfect, sun setting over the horizon views, and depending on the beach, south (Waikiki) and north (North Shore’s Sunset Beach) offer some of Hawaii’s most awesome and romantic sunsets. Silhouetted palm trees add lots to the photos.
The view of the sunset will change slightly from day to day, as will the sunset time. If you’re reeealy into sunsets and want the perfect angle, here’s a sunset calculator.
If you are not sure which island you want to get married on, see my other free eBooklets
Hawaii Wedding Weather
Basically the windward (east) sides of the islands are lush and tropical but get lots of rain, while the leeward (west) sides are hot, dry and sunny. Most rain on the
windward side falls at night and in the morning, but sometimes it can rain for weeks straight. Most showers on the leeward side fall in the late afternoon on the upland slopes. If you marry on the leeward side and the weather reports look good you might not even need a back up location. My husband I didn’t use one.
Other Places to Marry in Hawaii on a Dime
Tying the Knot at a State Park
Hawaii State Parks include some of the most beautiful and romantic locations in the islands. Akaka Falls in one of them. Here you can get married in front of a 400 foot waterfall amidst lush tropical gardens on the windward side of the Big Island. There’s always a chance of rain here, but you just need to two volunteers to hold umbrellas
If you want to get married at a state park, note that you must send in your permit application at least 45 days before the requested date of use.
This is also where you can apply for a group permit to use a pavilion at the state parks that require this.
Tying the Knot at a National Park in Hawaii
Are you and your betrothed outdoorsy types who are looking for a unique wedding location? If there will be no more than 25 people, you can get married in one of Hawaii’s national parks. To preserve the natural and cultural grounds and atmosphere, there are restrictions; for example, only acoustical music if any (depends on the location).
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park – Big Island
Also known as the Place of Refuge, this is a lovely and peaceful park with a lagoon, ancient royal fish ponds and a replica of an ancient Hawaiian village. There
are picnic tables near the ocean. You will need to apply for a permit for your wedding here. They also require permits for group picnicking (over 25).
For information on the permit (I think it’s $50), use the contact info here
As the National Park description reads – “Haleakala volcano is a marriage of light and stone, clouds and forest…” It’s a very unusual place and an unusual place for a wedding, but if if you love it here, it may be just right for your wedding. There’s much majesty and splendor here, and the serenity is quite profound. If you’re both adventurous types, instead of riding off in the limo to your honeymoon, take the downhill bike ride here!
Permits are $100 for Haleakala weddings. Here’s the permit info
Getting married on an active volcano – now there’s an opportunity for some powerful symbols. Ceremonies may be held anywhere that is easily accessible with the exception of Halema’uma’u Crater and the hula platform near the Kilauea Visitor Center.
Most couples choose overlooks with a view into Kilauea Caldera or Kilauea Iki Crater, or the pretty, forested areas filled with bird song like Kipukapuaulu. Start your honeymoon with a helicopter tour of the fiery lava or a hike (free) out to see the lava flow to the ocean !
Caution: Have a backup plan because since Halemaumau’s recent eruptions the sulfur dioxide levels have on occasion increased to the point that the park had to close. You can see the changing levels here.
There is a non-refundable $50 application fee for the wedding permit. Park entrance fees also apply.
Tying the Knot at a Garden
Honolulu Botanical Gardens There are five sites in all, each with lovely settings for weddings (ceremonies and photography only, not receptions). The tropical plant collections are home to many rare and endangered plants from around the world. The use of music, chairs and table is decided on a case by case basis. Permits need to be filed at least three weeks in advance. Your photographer/videographer may also need a permit.
Up to five parties (weddings, commercial photography shoots, etc.) are allowed to use a park at one time, and this is on a first come first serve basis, meaning you might have to wait for your turn. On the other hand the gardens are amazing.
Foster Botanical Gardens is located in Honolulu and gets the most visitors, but you’re practically guaranteed sunny, nice weather.
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is located in Kaneohe on the Windward side and is very quiet, gets far less visitors than Foster but you do need to be prepared for rain showers, and due to the moisture more mosquitoes. You can read about all five of the gardens in detail here.
Note that while Lili`uokalani Botanical Garden has waterfalls, they are a popular lunch spot with those working in the nearby businesses.
Waimea Valley Gardens
Home to Waimea Falls on Oahu’s North Shore, this is what used to be an adventure park and then later was run by the Audubon Society. The park is a cultural and serene place of great beauty now run by a non profit organization. They have facilities for receptions and you can get married here by a waterfall or
in one of their other awesome settings. I don’t know if you can still swim under the waterfalls. If after viewing their site, you are interested, use the contact information there to inquire about fees.
There are many public and private gardens on all of the islands with awesome sites for weddings. Some have wonderful photography settings like gazebos, waterfalls and lily ponds, and many have covered areas you can use if it rains. You’ll find these by searching online for wedding locations on your destination island. Or ask your wedding coordinator, officiate or photographer for recommendations.
For a fairy tale wedding, consider getting married at the only royal palace in the United States. Iolani Palace in Honolulu has sites on its beautiful grounds for weddings and receptions. Since the palace is considered a sacred place and a historical gem, there are restrictions and policies that need to be followed. After exchanging vows in one of the Palace’s gardens, you can have a reception in the private open-air courtyard of the historic ‘Iolani Palace Barracks, a coral block structure of limestone with crenelated parapets and towers.
If you wish to marry here, you will need to apply for a permit from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Permits usually take about two weeks to process.
Receptions require a non refundable $250 deposit, and a wedding professional such as a wedding coordinator must submit the application. Permission for professional photography such as wedding pictures and other special events on the Palace grounds should be obtained through the State Parks Office (808) 587-0300.
Queen Emma Summer Palace
Located just a couple of miles from Honolulu in the lush, Nu’uanu Valley, this was the summer retreat of Queen Emma (1836-1885), wife of one of Hawaii’s favorite kings, King Kamehameha IV, Alexander Liholiho (1834-1863). The lovely palace
(Victorian summer home) and grounds are preserved by the Daughters of Hawai`i in a charming Hawaiian-Victorian setting.
Rental of the separate and less regal Emmalani Hale reception room starts at $100 for less than 25 guests. A $200 security deposit is refundable. For less than 50 guests tables and chairs and parking (valet not required) are available. The open air reception room is over 1,000 square feet and has a kitchen. Weddings are more spendy – $400 for use of the Palace’s Terrace. Admission to the museum palace for everyone is included.
What to Wear for your Hawaii Wedding?
If you will be getting married outside or in a venue without air conditioning, keep in mind Hawaii’s weather is usually warm and humid except in the evening or early morning or higher elevations. The tradewinds help a lot with the humidity, but still a tuxedo might be very uncomfortable. Same goes for a dress made with heavy materials. While the wedding ceremony itself isn’t long, the photo shoot could run an hour to two. You want those pictures to reflect your happiness with smiles not grimaces!
If you do want to rent a tux, there are places you can do that in Hawaii. Check with your coordinator or do an online search.
The Bride’s Attire
Getting married right on the beach with feet in the sand calls for a few special considerations but also opens the door to some really fun options – going barefoot, for example. (I was barefoot)
It can get quite breezy on the beach, no matter what side of the island. With this in mind, it’s probably best to avoid full skirts. A slightly flared dress, if long, is pretty much wind-proof, or if you have the figure for it, something slinky. Short and tea-length dresses, long sundresses, and strapless and halter top gowns are all classic beach wedding attire. Hawaiian sundresses with white on white Hawaiian floral print can be very pretty as well as elegant.
Some brides even wear bikini tops with a sarong tied around as a skirt, although I’d like something a bit more special for my wedding that is fun and memorable for others.
Airy lightweight fabrics and cotton are best. Think cool and relaxed, yet sexy and beautiful. And if you want something fancier than barefoot, consider barefoot sandals.
A very formal looking gown with a long train might look out of place on the beach but could be very fitting in a garden sitting or at an Iolani Palace wedding. Some though like going all out with the tux and Cinderella wedding gown on the beach – the contrast is rather fun, and Hawaii doesn’t have much of a fashion police force.
For a Hawaiian wedding dress that is both formal and yet fitting for any wedding location, check out the holoku. This goes back to Victorian times in Hawaii but has many modern variations.
The holoku is a long fitted dress that flares at the bottom. It’s slightly shorter in the front and has a fishtail or short train. It’s what Maile wore when she married Elvis’ character in Blue Hawaii. The holoku can be floral print or elegant white, as tropical or formal as you like.
To save money on a formal gown, check out eBay. At last check today, I saw traditional wedding gowns starting at $200. You can also save money on formal gowns by looking at prom dresses. My sister-in-law got a beautiful white dress for $50 off ebay last year.
The Groom’s Attire
As mentioned above a tux might be uncomfortable at an outdoor or open air venue in Hawaii’s warm and humid climate. Still many do rent tuxes here and wear them for the short ceremony. My husband did – he was fine (if I do say so myself lol). Places in Hawaii to rent tuxes can be found online or through your coordinator.
The Hawaiian tradition for the groom is a white shirt with maile lei. A lightweight white jacket with maile lei and black slacks looks very elegant and nicely complements a bride wearing a more formal gown.
Many men wear tan slacks and a white shirt or tasteful aloha shirt (Hawaiian print, usually floral) or tan dress shorts. I think the slacks go better with full length wedding gowns and the dressy casual shorts (resort wear) work better when the bride is wearing something more casual, like a sun dress.
Men can go barefoot in the sand too (don’t forget the pedicure!). I like this look much better than flip flops with slacks.
Another option is to wear matching aloha wear and leis, like my brother in law and his bride did. Hilo Hatties is a good place to find matching shirts and dresses.
And don’t worry, this isn’t tacky. My Hawaiian friend and her local groom did this for her second wedding. They had the whole family (two kids also) in matching outfits. They all looked very nice.
If you are looking for more trendy and don’t mind the additional expence, Macy’s in Hawaii carries very nice Hawaiian lines, including Reyn Spooner and Kahala, two of the trendier aloha wear designers.
Head Adornments and Lei
If you wear a veil on the beach (many don’t) or anywhere that it could get breezy, insert small weights at the bottom to keep the tail from flying and pin it down well to your hair. Some Hawaiian wedding dress sites have veils with silk orchids, but for a more real Hawaiian look, wear a haku lei or a flower/cluster of tropical flowers in your hair.
The haku lei is a crown of flowers and other plant materials and is gorgeous. Many of the haku leis have lots of greenery woven in but you can have one made with flowers to match your wedding colors or even white orchids. You can order these at florist shops. These take much longer to make than neck leis so they are more spendy – around $50 upwards, but a beautiful haku lei will do so much for those photos. Be sure to order in advance (many of the florists are online) or work with your wedding coordinator on this.
If you decide to instead wear loose flowers in your hair…You can find these everywhere – grower’s markets, supermarkets, florists…refrigerate and then if
you are having your hair done bring to the stylist. There are so many lovely flowers here that you will have no problem finding ones you love and that coordinate with your dress: gardenia, Tahitian gardenias, plumeria, orchids, hibiscus of varying colors, and the list goes on.
Saving Money on Airfare and Lodging for your wedding
You can find some really good fares and hotel and car rental rates by using sites like Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire and Hotels.com To learn how and to get lots more money saving tips check out my free ebooklet: How to Save Thousands on a Hawaiian Vacation
If you have guests flying over for the wedding, they can save by sharing vacation house(s) or condo(s). I also talk about these in the above ebooklet.
For my lists of favorite “Most Romantic” hotels on each island, check out my island guides.
These romantic hotels and resorts aren’t budget, but by using my Hawaii budget travel guide linked above you can learn how to find the best rates on them – I’ve often paid 2-star hotel rates for luxury hotels. You might want to spend your entire honeymoon at one or your wedding night.
Just being in Hawaii is romantic, so don’t feel bad if your budget doesn’t allow for one of these luxury hotels. If you both love camping, there’s a beautiful and secure campground on Oahu that also has yurts and beach houses: oahu camping info
Low-Cost & Free Things to do on Your Honeymoon (besides the obvious)
To save money on activities in Hawaii I use the Hawaii Entertainment Book. I recommend this coupon book for Oahu and Maui. While it has some coupons for Kauai and the Big Island, there’s not enough to make it worth your while. If
you’re going to be on Oahu or Maui, you can save hundreds on activities and dining.
Here’s a few of my romantic favorites: Go for a moonlight swim in Hanauma Bay. The famous Oahu snorkeling spot and marine preserve is open for night swims, just like the famous one in Blue Hawaii taken by Elvis’ character and Maile.
Stroll through lovely gardens (all islands). Enjoy a free torch lighting ceremony and hula show at the Hawaiian Hilton or on Prince Kuhio Beach at Waikiki.
Watch the sunset. Anywhere on the west, northwest or southwest sides of any of the Hawaiian islands.
Frolic in the Seven Sacred Pools (Oheo Gulch Pools) off Maui’s Hana Highway.
Watch the famous and inspiring Haleakala Sunrise (Maui).
Explore Maui’s Iao Needle Park and picnic by the stream.
Take a sunset sail (any island – best rates on Oahu). Paddle a two-person kayak (any island). Cozy up by the fire that never goes out at Kilauea Lodge on the Big Island’s active volcano. Take the short coastal hike under the stars to view the lava (Big Island). Be enchanted by Akaka Falls – Take the short hike and steal a kiss or two in the tropical gardens that end at the 400-foot waterfall.
Visit a summer palace of Hawaiian kings and queens and learn about their romantic history (Oahu and Big Island).
Behold Spouting Horn on Kauai. Visit the romantic and mystical North shore of Kauai – take the 2 mile hike to a secluded beach cove on the Napali Coast, snorkel holding hands at Ke’e. View the thundering twin falls of Wailua on Kauai (as shown in Fantasy Island TV series). Be serenaded with the Hawaiian Wedding Song in the Fern Grotto. (Kauai – Smith Family’s Wailua boat ride takes you there).
Enjoy an early morning breakfast picnic at Rainbow Falls, the best time of day to see the rainbow (just up the road from Hilo’s Farmers Market where you can pick up some yummy delights).
Stroll through the beautiful grounds of some of Hawaii’s most romantic resorts. Linger by a waterfall, enjoy the entertainment. (Any Island).
Food, Wedding Favors, & Gift Bags
For your Honeymoon
Save something in your budget to splurge on a romantic dinner at one of Hawaii’s really nice oceanfront restaurants or luaus. It’s easy to save when you have a hotel room with a kitchenette, shop at supermarkets and growers markets and use restaurant coupons from the Hawaii Entertainment Book. Hawaii also has many family budget restaurants and the famous plate lunches found around the islands are filling and cheap.
You’ll find romantic picnics and breakfasts on your lanai (balcony or patio) save you bundles too.
Hawaii’s grower’s markets offer wonderful picnic fare including fresh island fruits, gourmet island cheeses, and delicious baked goods, as well as island grown meats and fish. Hawaii has many grower’s markets. Kapiolani on Oahu is very popular and very good.
For your Wedding
As I mentioned, I bought my brother-in-law’s wedding cake at a local supermarket’s bakery and it was lovely. All the supermarkets have bakeries. KTA’s on the Big Island is a favorite. Expect to spend around $50 for a small wedding cake.
If you’re looking for an extravagant, highly customized cake, speak with the wedding coordinator about where to best find one.
Your wedding coordinator can also arrange for catering, but again you save bundles if you and your fiance or a trusted friend or relative takes care of the menu. Again, the supermarkets will save you lots. Just order those platters with cold cuts, cheeses and such, like you do for holiday parties or have someone make those tiny sandwiches and put together nice platters. Better yet, do what we did and go to a restaurant. One of Kona’s nicest oceanfront restaurants, Jameson’s by the Sea, was in walking distance of our park wedding, so we just all walked over there.
Wedding Favors and Gift Bags
It’s really easy in Hawaii to find affordable wedding favors and gifts for your guests. Walmart and Kmart have big souvenir sections that have many items that would be nice for the gift bags and favors. So do Hilo Hatties and the ABC stores. You can also find cute bags in these stores too that have Hawaiian print or words on them that guests will enjoy as souvenirs. Or if you want them personalized with your names, search online.
Want more information on specific islands or other advice? See my other books. Have a wonderful wedding in Hawaii – and again, congratulations and best wishes!
Filed under: Big Island, Hawaii - general, Kauai, Maui, Oahu, Vacation Planning
So you are going to Hawaii for the first time! How exciting! You are going to have such a wonderful time. This is the online version of my ebook First Time Hawaii Vacations the Easy and Fun Way – How to Get to Hawaii, Where to Stay, and What to Do.
Topics in this guide
- How to Get to Hawaii
- Booking Flights and Packages
- Where to Stay in Hawaii
- Which Island?
- Where on the Island?
- Main Areas for Hotels & Condos
- Which Hotel
- Hawaii’s Most Popular Brand Name Hotels
- What to Do in Hawaii
- Historical Sites & Cultural Events
- Most Awesome Things to Do on Each Island
So you’re planning your first vacation to Hawaii…how exciting!
Before we get started, here are some Fast Facts about Hawaii.
- Hawaii has two offiicial languages: English and Hawaiian, but English is primarily spoken. In casual conversation, Pidgin English is spoken among locals. The staff at hotels and most restaurants and activities all speak standard English to visitors (other than “aloha” and “mahalo.”)
- Hawaii is our 50th state and is also known as “The Aloha State.”
- The currency here is the U.S. dollar, major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, and there are lots of ATMs. Many businesses also accept traveler’s checks. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you won’t need a passport to visit Hawaii.
- The average year-round, daytime temperature throughout the islands is 75˚to 88˚ F, with the Leeward (west) side of each island being on the warmer end of this range. Hawaii has but two seasons: summer and winter. Summer is from May to October and winter is from November through April. The only difference between the two seasons – winter is just a few degrees cooler and has more rain. Temperatures in Hawaii rarely drop more than 5 degrees at night. Upland temperatures are cooler, and there’s even snow on some of Hawaii’s mountain peaks, like the Big Island’s Mauna Kea in winter.
- The Hawaiian Islands are all volcanic in origin and Hawaii is the youngest and most remote island chain on Earth.
- Broadband Internet service is available at many hotels and Internet cafes.
- Dress is casual and summery. For resorts and upscale restaurants, wear dressy casual.
- Beautiful beaches can be found on each island. All beaches are free to use (except for Hanauma Bay Marine Preserve on Oahu). Water temperature averages around 74˚but gets closer to 80° on the Leeward (west) sides during Hawaii’s summer months.
- Hawaii’s winter is whale watching season on all islands.
- The time zone is Hawaiian Standard (GMT-10 hours), which is two hours behind Pacific Standard Time. When dawn is breaking here at about 6 a.m., it’s already 8 a.m in California. During Daylight Savings Time, which Hawaii doesn’t have, the islands are three hours behind the West Coast. Hawaii is five hours behind Eastern Standard Time.
- All of the islands have beautiful beaches, nice hotels, wonderful restaurants (American, island and ethnic cuisine), and fun activities including snorkeling over coral reefs, dolphin and whale watching, golf, shopping, cultural events, sunset sails and more.
If you haven’t yet decided which island you will visit, this ebooklet will help you choose. First we’ll talk about how to get to Hawaii, then where to stay once you get here, and finally what to do when you’re here.
Since the Hawaiian Islands are located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (2500 miles from Los Angeles) you will need to fly to get here – even if you take a Hawaiian cruise, you will be flying to Hawaii first.
Here are the international airports in Hawaii – these all serve direct flights from the mainland: Honolulu International Airport on Oahu; Kahului Airport on Maui, Lihue Airport on Kauai, and on the Big Island: Kona International Airport at Kehaole and Hilo International Airport (Hilo sometimes has and sometimes does not have direct flights).
Chances are when you book your flight or vacation package you will be placed on a flight to Honolulu International where you will transfer to an inter-island flight. Most visitors to Hawaii enter through Honolulu. These reservations are taken care of for you when you book your flight to your destination island(s). All of the United States’ major domestic carriers and 16 international carriers fly to Oahu.
You will almost always find the best fares during the Hawaii tourism industry’s low season: when kids are traditionally in school. In 2009, these fares hovered around $350 from the West Coast and around $700 from the East Coast during low season. During the summer and around the major holidays, fares tend to double.
So to book your fight, here’s what I would do. Hawaii’s own airline, which scores very high in customer satisfaction, flies from the West Coast, Las Vegas and Phoenix, Arizona. They often have good deals, so if flying from one of those locations, I’d check their rates: Hawaiian Air. I would also search the discount sites and compare. My favorites are Expedia, Priceline and Hotwire. Pleasant Holidays often also has good deals.
Booking your airline seats online saves you money. And the more flexible you can be with your dates and times, the easier it will be to find good deals. With the exception of Hotwire, you’ll get the best price breaks at least 2 weeks out, and with Hotwire you’ll do best booking within 2
weeks or less.
Speaking of Hotwire, you can get their regular low rates while specifying your hotel, airline/flight time and car model, but to get the deep discounts, you need to go with general times on flights, star rating on hotels, size of car, etc. And then after you purchase, Hotwire can give you the specifics. This has to do with agreements they have with their vendors.
The same sort of thing applies to bidding at Priceline – Whether booking a flight, hotel or car, you will be given general information but not the exact carrier, hotel name or car make/model. Before I place my bid there, I check the going rates for other hotels, flights, cars in the category I’m searching. Then I bid 50% of that.
The Priceline website will have a ticker of recently accepted rates in the area you are searching for that is helpful. And the bidding for travel forum is a big help too because here, people can post their accepted and decline bids. So that gives you an idea of how much to bid. If you’ve never bid at Priceline, be sure to read their “New to Priceline” page.
Sometimes you may want to book interisland flights separately, especially if you’re island hopping and find better deals this way. You can check prices with the following airlines:
Hawaiian Air, Go! and Mokulele airlines are pretty much equal in price (mostly around $60 one way in 2009), but with any given airline, fares can fluctuate widely from day to day and with the time of day.
Island Air is another choice if you don’t mind turboprop planes. These fly lower, offering better views. They fly into most of the islands’ major airports.
Again, you’ll get the best rates by booking online and being flexible with dates and times.
You can generally save more by shopping for your airfare separately from your hotel and car, but sometimes an air/hotel/car package deal is the better value. After you check airfares at discount sites like Expedia, Priceline and Hotwire, and at Hawaiian Air, (if applicable to your departure airport) click on their “vacation packages” tabs and compare.
Hawaiian cruises don’t depart from the mainland. That would be just too much time at sea and with inclement weather. The main port for Hawaii’s cruise ships is located in Honolulu, so if you decide to take a cruise, you’ll be flying there. You can find these cruises by searching at the discount sites like Expedia, Priceline and Hotwire.
If you want to take a cruise, but you don’t want to spend your entire vacation cruising from island to island and taking day tours, you could start or end your vacation by staying at a hotel on Oahu or on the island that interests you most, which brings us to the next chapter…
Hawaii has seven inhabited islands: Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island (more so known as the Big Island) are the major ones. Molokai and Lanai are small, very rural and mostly visited via Maui’s ferries. Tiny Ni’ihau off Kauai is privately owned and only a few tours (highly supervised) are allowed. We’ll be focusing on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.
It can be hard to choose! To help you decide, here’s an overview of each island with its major highlights.
Oahu – The Gathering Place
Oahu, the most visited of the Hawaiian Islands, is home to the state capital and the well developed city of Honolulu with its Waikiki Beach. Pearl Harbor and Diamond Head are here too. So is the famous North Shore with the world championship surfing contests. Oahu has more easily accessible beaches than any of the other islands, and the multitude of attractions, cultural shows, nightclubs, events, activities and people makes Oahu a good bet if you want to do a lot and enjoy the high energy of crowds. If you want a quiet moment or scenic beauty, Oahu also has some nice beaches and waterfall hikes away from it all.
Maui – The Valley Isle
The second most popular island with visitors is well-known for its beautiful beaches, “Heavenly Hana Highway” and Lahaina Town. Maui’s beaches are one of the reasons this island is so often voted among or as the best in the world. Maui has more swimmer-friendly beaches than any of the other islands. Lahaina Harbor is most famous for its whale watching cruises. While the Humpbacks hang out around all of the Hawaiian Islands from December through April, they favor Maui and are easy to see here even from the highway with binoculars. Maui is also famous for its dormant and quite huge and scenic Haleakala Crater and the amazing sunrises up there, and it is second only to Oahu in arts & entertainment.
Kauai – The Garden Isle
The oldest of the inhabited islands, Kauai offers the most scenic wonders including the deeply sculpted, towering cliffs of the Na Pali Coast and the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon. Kauai’s scenery is featured in many movies and television shows – South Pacific, Blue Hawaii (Coco Palms scenes), Gilligan’s Island, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lilo and Stich, and about 95 more. Kauai also has more white sand beaches than the other islands. The Garden Isle is the smallest of the four main Hawaiian Islands (only 550 square miles) and there is one main road, so to stay out of gridlock, you need to avoid before and after work traffic. Other than this, it is easy to get away from the crowds on beautiful Kauai. If you’re looking for mostly outdoors fun and a laid back atmosphere, Kauai just might be the perfect island for you.
Hawaii Island (Big Island) – Volcano Isle
Hawaii Island is larger than all of the other inhabited Hawaiian Islands put together, so to avoid confusion with its namesake, the state of Hawaii, it is called the Big Island. While each of the main Hawaiian Islands is quite diverse, the Big Island has 11 of the 13 world’s climate zones (it’s only missing the arctic and sahara).
The Big Island is best known for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with its active Kilauea Volcano. When conditions are right you can see the lava from a land viewing site, and the rest of the time there’s almost always viewing by helicopter or boat. It is the youngest of the islands and the volcano continues to create new land. This is why the Big Island has so many black sand beaches. Other famous attractions include Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest mountain (counting from beneath the sea to its snow capped peak) with the largest telescopes in the world, a green sand beach, Kona’s world class deep sea fishing and the famous Kohala resorts.
Climate – Leeward & Windward
Each island has a Leeward and Windward side. In Hawaii, the prevailing winds blow east to west (trade winds), and the mountain ranges prevent the Leeward sides (that face west) from getting the full results of these winds. So the Leeward sides are sunny and dry, while the Windward sides get more rain, are lusher and a bit cooler. Along with the Leeward side, the southern ends of the islands are also sunny and dry. Conversely, the northern ends are greener and slightly cooler.
Oahu - The best place to stay in my opinion is Waikiki. This could be that being from Hilo where that’s not a lot to do, I really appreciate the high energy and offerings of Waikiki. This is the major hotel area of Oahu also. The weather’s almost always perfect, and if you don’t plan on leaving Waikiki much, you don’t even need a car. If you more interested in the North Shore, there’s the Turtle Bay Resort and lots of nice condos and vacation rentals.
Maui – One of my favorite areas to stay on Maui is at Kaanapali, just a few minutes north of Lahaina. Here luxury hotels line a long stretch of golden sand beaches on Maui’s upper Leeward side. South of Lahaina, Kihei offers lots of choices in condos as well as pretty, white sand beaches. Kihei is also quite crowded. Some of the best bed and breakfasts are found in upcountry Maui, which is very picturesque with its rolling green hills, flower and produce farms and awesome views of the coast. Hana isn’t a place to go to for hotels, but it’s a beautiful drive.
Kauai – The Garden Isle has three major places to stay: Princeville, which is secluded on the lush and incredibly beautiful North Shore near the Na Pali; Poipu on the beach lined sunny and arid South Shore, close to Waimea Canyon; and the Coconut Coast on the Windward side with its coconut lined roads, golden sand beaches, and the popular Coconut Marketplace.
Big Island – The Kona and Kohala areas on the Leeward side are where you’ll find the most and best hotels. Kona has more budget hotels and condos than Kohala, and Kohala as the most awesome luxury resorts, including the Four Seasons and the Waikoloa Hilton. Both of these areas have mostly sunny days. Kohala is the driest area on the island and has the best beach on the island, Hapuna Beach. Kona beaches are small pockets of sand and rock, but Kona has the most things to do on the island. Hilo on the Windward side is closer to the volcano and has beautiful gardens, but it’s lacking in hotel choices (my favorites are listed in the Big Island guide).
Once you’ve decided on the island you want to visit and what part of the island you’d like to stay on, you can search for accomodations in these areas. Types of accomodations you can easily find include hotels, resorts, condos, vacation rentals and B&Bs.
Here are some good sites for conducting vacation rental and condo searches:
VRBO Vacation Rentals by Owner What I especially appreciate about this site is I can search by the specific areas on an island, using their maps.
Home Away This one lists all kinds of properties – condos, vacation rentals, B&Bs, cottages, and so on. You can search by property type as well as criteria like budget and luxury, oceanfront, etc. Another thing I like here is that you can opt to have images show on your search returns (without needing to click through).
Besides browsing the results at these sites, you can search by specific hotel or property if you know what to look for. For the best properites I have found in Hawaii and organized into categories, like “best for families,” “most romantic,” and so forth, check my ebooklet guide to the island you want to visit. If you haven’t done so yet, you can download them (these are free also) from my Hawaii Guide Books page.
Another way to search for hotel deals is to start with a hotel brand that sounds really good to you. And then check both the hotel chain’s site for deals and enter it into the search at the discount sites to compare.
My favorite hotels in Hawaii almost all happen to be part of chains. On the Big Island: it’s the Hilton Waikoloa. On Oahu: the Waikiki Hyatt, the Hilton Hawaiian Village and for family/budget: the Waikiki Banyan. On Maui, it’s the Wailea Marriott, and on Kauai, the Kauai Beach Resort and the Grand Hyatt.
Note:(Don’t pay rack rates – use this list to look for specials and when searching the discount sites):
Outrigger Hotels, This classic Hawaiian chain has both hotels and condos on Oahu and the Big Island, and it has condos on Maui and Kauai. Voted by Travel & Leisure magazine to be among the top family-friendly hotels in the United States. Budget to luxury.
Hilton Hotels and Resorts, grand and luxurious. The Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island with its Dolphin Quest program is my favorite hotel of all time. And there’s two on Oahu.
Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, The Hyatts are also quite grand – large pools, expansive beaches, and big price tags. There’s one on Oahu, one on Kauai, and one on Maui.
Seaside Hotels, These are all close to the ocean, and *very* inexpensive. Of course, you will give up some amenities, but if you are looking for cheap on Maui, Kauai and/or the Big Island, you’ve found it.
Aston Hotels, These range from budget to luxury and are on Oahu, Maui, Kauai on the Big Island. Be aware that some of the Astons in Waikiki are just barely still in Waikiki – but these are still only about four blocks from the beach, and can save you big money.
Marriott Hotels and Resorts, These are all luxury hotels. There are three on Oahu, two on Kauai, one on the Big Island, and one on Maui.
No matter which island you visit, you can expect to find many interesting and fun things to do. Here are activities popular on all the islands, followed by activities specific to each island.
History – Hawaii is steeped in history and legend from when centuries ago the first Hawaiians landed their canoes at South Point on the Big Island, to Captain Cook’s discovery of the islands and later the formation of the Hawaiia Kingdom by King Kamemehameha, the missionary era, the overthrowing of the Hawaiian monarchy, Hawaii’s statehood and Pearl Harbor. Each island has historical sites and tours that give insight into the many events that make Hawaii what it is today from heiau (ancient temples) to Iolani Palace on Oahu.
Cultural Events - Traditionally the Hawaiian people love festivals and so does the state of Hawaii. The most popular and significant of these events are the state-side Aloha Festivals and the Big Island’s Merrie Monarch Hula Competition and Festival. You’ll find events listed by island at GoHawaii.com, the State’s official website.
More Fun - The following activities are popular on all four of the main islands: surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, golf, deep sea fishing, horseback riding, sunset cruises, dolphin and whale watching, cultural/historical tours, relaxing on a beach, going to luau and last but not least sight seeing. You’ll also find Hawaiian music everywhere (lots of free concerts), nightclubs, fantastic restaurants, craft festivals, great shops and lots more to do.
Note: See the individual guides (again free at Lisa-Hawaii.com) for lots more recommendations – this is just to give you an introduction.
If you decide to vacation on the Oahu or Maui, I recommend you get the Hawaii Entertainment book. However, if you will just be on Kauai or the Big Island, it won’t be much good for you.
You also might be interested in the Go Oahu card if you are staying on Oahu.
Oahu – As mentioned previously, Oahu has tons to do! For starters there’s the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace for those interested in Hawaiian culture and history. Also there’s Pearl Harbor (USS Arizona and USS Missouri memorials), the Polynesian Cultural Center, Wild Side Specialty Tours (swim with dolphins), learning to surf at Waikiki, watching the pros surf 20 foot waves on the North Shore, taking a sunset Waikiki sail, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Marine Preserve, kayaking at Kailua Bay, hiking Diamond Head and strolling through gorgeous botanical gardens. And also just walking around Waikiki and taking the trolley at night is good fun!
Maui – Drive the Hana Highway and stop along the way to hike into waterfalls, taking the downhill bike ride from Haleakala (woohoo!). Better yet, take the downhill bike ride after catching the sunrise at the crater! More awesome things to do: stroll through historical Lahaina, attend the really fantastic Old Lahaina Luau, watch the whales, watch the kids play in the fantasy pool at the Grand Wailea Marriot, take a snorkel tour at Molokini Crater, take the short ferry ride to Molokai or Lanai… On Molokai, ride a mule to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. On Lanai, scuba dive n the cathedrals or four wheel up the Munro Trail. Back on Maui, explore the Iao Needle area and its Kepaniwai Park and Heritage Gardens. Save time for Maui’s beaches!
Kauai – Enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Na Pali from a boat, helicopter or hiking trail. Take a look at Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Play at Poipu Beach with the kids. Go snorkeling at Ke`e. Take the cheesy but fun and scenic Smith Family boat ride up the Wailuku river to the Fern Grotto, a natural amphitheater where the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” is performed. Dozens of movies have been filmed amidst Kauai’s stunning scenery, so the Hawaii Movie Tours are pretty popular. And if you’ve always wanted to learn how to stand up paddle (a combination of surfing and paddling) you can learn on the calm waters of the Wailuku River.
Big Island – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the number one Big Island attraction and one on my favorites list too. It’s got history, culture, a science museum, an active volcano and wonderful hiking. Outside the park, watch lava flow into the sea from the Kalapana viewing area or from a helicopter or boat. Go to a green sand beach. Check out the turtles at Punalu`u Black Sand Beach. In Hilo view lovely botanical gardens and drive up the Hamakua Coast, stopping at Akaka Falls State Park to view the 400-foot falls. Head on to Waimea and the sprawling Parker Ranch. In Kohala, enjoy two of the world’s most beautiful beaches: Hapuna and the Mauna Kea Beach, and check out the dolphins at the Waikoloa Hilton. In Kona, take a snorkeling cruise at Kealakekua Bay and have a world-class deep sea fishing adventure.
Now that you have an overview of what to expect on your Hawaii vacation, remember to check my other free guides for more details on each island and specialty topics like “Saving Thousands on your Hawaii Vacation” and “Island Hopping.”
And have a fun vacation!
Filed under: Big Island, Hawaii - general, Kauai, Maui, Oahu, Prices, Vacation Planning
(short answer: take an inter-island flight. I recommend Hawaiian airlines. There are no boats between the islands except for between maui and lanai and maui and molokai. for long answer, see below).
So you’re planning a vacation to Hawaii that will take you to more than one island – good decision. I’m really excited for you!
If you already know exactly what islands you want to visit, this is the perfect guide for you because it provides the “How.” This is the online version of my ebook Hawaii Hopping for Fun! Visiting More than One Island in Hawaii the Smart Way
If you haven’t yet decided on your destination islands, you can learn more about each island and saving money on them by reading my free guides to Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.
Topics in this guide
- How to Visit Other Islands Overview
- Booking Your Flight, Hotel and Car Independently
- Booking Your Island Hopping Flights
- Booking Your Mainland – Hawaii Flight
- Booking Your Rental Cars
- Booking Your Hotel
- Hotel Chains
- Island Hopping Fun By Boat
- Maui Cruises
- From Maui – Molokai and Lanai Ferries
- Best Tours for Island Hoppers
- Best Island-Hopping Package Deals
Brief info about each island: Oahu (Waikiki island) has the most things to do, Kauai is known for its amazing scenery and endless, pristine white sand beaches, Maui has the Hana Highway and the best whale watching, and the Big Island is most known for its active volcano and its Kohala resorts.
The two tiny islands of Molokai and Lanai are quiet, mostly rural and have their own treasures – Molokai is best known for its mule rides to Kalaupapa and Lanai for its excellent diving. These two islands are typically visited for day or overnight tours via boat excursions from nearby Maui.
All of the Hawaiian Islands have wonderful beaches and climate. Most visited in order: Oahu, Maui, Big Island, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai.
There are many ways to visit more than one island:
- Book each leg of your journey yourself: airline reservations from mainland from island to island, lodging, car rentals, and activities.
- Book a hotel/air/car vacation package.
- Book only air/car through a discount site, and reserve your accommodations with the hotel itself or a timeshare, etc.
- Use one or more of the above methods and then a tour company for day or overnight island tours.
- Use the services of a travel agency company to book everything from air to activities.
- Stay on Oahu and spend part of your vacation on a 7-day Island to Island Cruise out of Honolulu.
- Combine some of the above into a package that you create.
Lots of choices! To help you plan the best Hawaiian vacation ever, I’ve broken all this down into the following chapters.
Remember when planning your island hopping that it takes time to pack, unpack, and wait at airports (the flights themselves are pretty short – most around 30 minutes). I don’t like to recommend more than one island for every 5 to 7 days in Hawaii, because that is too much packing and being at airports for my taste within that time period.
I do outline some options in this guide for those who can’t/don’t want to spend this long on a given island. Either way…The bottom line is if you make your priority having plenty time to relax and enjoy your vacation (rather than checking off a “things to see and do list” as fast as you can), you can make this your best Hawaii vacation ever!
I frequently do the research and the math, and normally, on a Hawaii vacation you save money when booking a package that includes your flight, car, and hotel compared to booking each of these separately.
But sometimes for various reasons it works out better to book separately. You may want to customize more. Some own a timeshare on one island or want to stay at places that the packages don’t include. Or you could just end up finding better deals through specials offered by the hotels, airline (most likely Hawaiian), etc.
So we’ll start by looking at the individual booking options and then move on
to tours and packages.
Booking your Flight – General Information
Which Airports are Best?
Oahu – Easy. There’s one major airport: Honolulu International HNL.
Maui – For flying directly from the mainland, there’s one choice: Kahului (OGG). You can also island hop to Kahului. This is located in Central Maui and is just a few minutes from the beginning of the Hana Highway. It’s about an hour Lahaina and Kaanapali. Kapalua (JHM) is located near Lahaina and Kaanapali, is closer to Kihei and serves inter-island flights. If you’re planning on visiting various areas of Maui, go with the best airfare prices, otherwise take into account time and gas.
Big Island – Whether just island hopping here or flying direct from the mainland you have two choices: Kona Keahole International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International (ITO). If the Volcano National Park is the epicenter of your Big Island visit, know that Hilo’s much closer (about 45 minutes opposed to 2 1/2 hours from KOA).
Generally, you’ll get the best fares for times when the kids are in school: from the West Coast around $350 and East Coast around $700. Prices almost double in the summer and around the major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and spring break.
With the exception of Hotwire, you’ll get the best price breaks at least 2 weeks out, and with Hotwire you’ll do best booking within 2 weeks or less.
You’ll almost never save buying directly from the airlines, except for Hawaiian Air. They serve several West Coast airports, as well as Phoenix Arizona and Las Vegas. They also have inter-island services and often have special deals.
If you’re staying on Oahu for part of your vacation, you will usually save by making this the destination for your mainland flight, although increasingly there are very good fares to be found to and from Maui. Flying direct to the Big Island and Kauai often costs the same as if you flew to Oahu and then took an inter-island flight.
When you book your own inter-island flights, you can choose from major airlines, Hawaiian Air (I recommend Hawaiian) and Go!, as well as Mokulele (now a partner of Go!) and airlines with smaller planes.
Hawaiian Air and Go! airlines are pretty much equal in prices. Their fares have been running around $60 one way when you book online. Hawaiian Air has a more user friendly site (I think), and they do consistently earn high marks for their customer service. My general opinion about these two is to book with whichever one is most convenient for you (but I do like Hawaiian a bit more).
Keep in mind that fares can fluctuate widely with the time of day. For example, searching Hawaiian Air for Dec. 3, 2009, Honolulu to Hilo, I found $58 one way fares for early morning, late morning and some afternoon and evening, while a few of the other flights in the afternoon, evening and around 8 a.m. were $104 one way. Big difference there! Seats generally cost less during the times of day that local commuters are least likely to travel.
Inter-island fares don’t go up as much around holidays as mainland fares – unless you’re traveling on the holiday or the day before or after. For example, searching for fares on Dec. 21, 2009 for Honolulu to Kahului, Maui at Go! Airlines, I found several $64 ones, but fares for Dec. 24, 2009, except for two in the evening were $84 to $220. Note, when using Go! In order to get varying times and their fares, you need to check “flexible dates.”
Mokulele which entered a partnership with Go! in October provides a more user-friendly site. Here you can search by date and get varying hours, like at Hawaiian. Checking fares for the same day and flight from Honolulu to Maui on Mokulele, fares varied from $58 to $79, and morning flights were still available (searching on Nov. 20) for December 24 at $58.
When you’re island hopping you don’t necessarily need a round-trip ticket, and none of these three airlines require that for these one-way prices.
Island Air has a fleet of 37-seat turboprop planes. I flew with them to Molokai and the plane was *small* and the views are awesome because they fly lower than the jets used by Go!, Hawaiian and Mokulele. Island Air has an outstanding reputation for reliability and safety, and their fares are comparable. The only drawbacks I see are that they don’t fly into Hilo and they don’t have as many flights.
Checking fares from Honolulu to Kona for Dec. 21, 2009 (the same day I checked for Hawaiian Air above), the search returned a 1 p.m. flight for $64, which is about where their regular fares generally start and is the same as some of those for the Dec. 21 HNL to Hilo Hawaiian Air flight. That was the only flight with empty seats. Island Air compared well to the others for holidays, with a morning and afternoon Christmas Eve day flight, each at $64. Like its competitors, Island Air offers specials from time to time.
When booking your flights with any of these airlines, you will save by booking online.
If you’re flying from the West Coast you will often find the best deals with Hawaiian Air. I just checked and found some December $259 roundtrip fares for LAX – HNL. Since they fly inter-island too, you could book all your flights with them if the price and times are right.
I like to search the discount sites also and compare to find the best possible deals. My favorites are Expedia, Priceline, and Hotwire. This year, I’ve seen fares as low as $250 – roundtrip. Remember the best deals at Hotwire are found within a couple weeks of departure, just the opposite of the other sites. My free island guides go into a lot more detail on mainland flights.
When I bid on rental cars (or anything) at Priceline I usually start at about 50% of the normal low rates for that time of year. That could mean bidding at $8 to $15 per day.
Sometimes you’ll find a good deal with the actual car rental company because they often run specials. All of the major car rentals are in Hawaii and can quickly be found online.
Booking Your Hotels through Discount Sites
Shopping for travel reservations through Expedia, Priceline, and Hotwire is a fantastic way to save money on hotels! I detail this in my free island guides and include in these the best deals I found for specific hotels and condos.
Usually a chain’s hotels will be pretty consistent in their offerings, and you will only need to deal with one company for all your island accommodations.
You can often find good deals when the hotels are most hurting for visitors. Here are a few to get you started:
Outrigger Hotels, This classic Hawaiian chain has both hotels and condos on Oahu and the Big Island, and it has condos on Maui and Kauai. Check for specials like “4th night free.”
Hilton Hotels and Resorts, grand and luxurious. The Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island is my favorite hotel of all time. And there’s two have two on Oahu.
Seaside Hotels, These are all close to the ocean, and *very* inexpensive. Of course, you will give up some amenities, but if you are looking for cheap on Maui, Kauai and/or the Big Island, you’ve found it.
Aston Hotels, These range from budget to luxury and are on Oahu, Maui, Kauai on the Big Island. Be aware that some of the Astons in Waikiki are just barely still in Waikiki – but these are still only about 4 blocks from the beach, and can save you big money.
Note that many of the Hawaii hotels offer room/car and even room/car/flight packages, but do compare to see if the deal is really a good one.
Honolulu is the main port for Hawaii cruises. A popular and lower cost one is the 7-day “Pride of Aloha” offered by Norwegian Cruise Line. Check the discount booking sites too. The lowest fares I found today were in January: about $600 for inside cabins and $700 for ocean view. I found these prices at the NCL site, Hotwire and Expedia. Bidding on Priceline, you might even do better.
While taking a cruise doesn’t follow my “no less than 5 days per island” preference, the advantage here is that you’re not packing and unpacking and waiting at airports with each new island you visit. You stay in the same room and go on day trip tours. The drawback may be (considering on your preferences) that you spend more time at sea than on the islands. Too see more of the islands, I recommend spending the rest of your vacation on a favorite island or two – even more convenient if Oahu is one of them!
Tip – If you’re not into the tour/activity add-ons offered by the cruise, check out one of tour companies listed later or tour coordinators like Shore Trips.
Because Maui is so close to its sister islands of Molokai and Lanai (all one county too), you can easily find one-day and overnight cruises. Many of these are specialized: snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching and fishing are all very popular. You can find these by searching online, but they are too small to be offered through the large discount sites.
Lahaina Cruises has ferries to Molokai, Monday through Saturday. It’s about 90 minutes to Molokai on their Maui Princess, a 100-ft yacht, and depending on which cruise you take you’ll arrive around 7 or 9 a.m. The ships back to Maui depart at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., so you’ll have an entire day on Molokai. You only have to check in about 15 minutes ahead of time. So what do you do when you get off the boat? Well Lahaina Cruises offers rental car packages, but these are pretty spendy at $207 for driver, $90 each additional adult and $45 for each child, and they also offer guided tours ($207 per adult and $144 per child).
Otherwise, one way it’s about $52 per adult and $26.20 per child.
If you want to save money, you could book a car yourself (or four-wheel)and if you wanted to stay overnight, a hotel, and then plan your own activities (maybe one of those famous Molokai mule rides). The Molokai Visitors Association site can help with all this.
The Maui – Lanai ferry operates seven days a week with five departure times from Lahaina Harbor, and it takes about 45 minutes. Rates are one way $30 per adult and $20 per child. They also offer a variety of packages. Lanai is most popular with scuba divers and hunters. For more information about Lanai and possible day adventures, here’s their official visitors site.
And here’s my portal page to my Molokai and Lanai reviews and articles.
While I do recommend staying at least 5 days on each island you visit, if you really want to make more island hops than this allows, there are day-tour providers that will book your flight, pick you up at the airport, whisk you off for the tour and get you back on time for your return flight. Many also offer the same service only for overnight tours in which they also book your hotel. Generally, you will spend more this way then booking your own flight and activities with smaller businesses.
For example, Polynesian Adventures is offering a one-day Big Island Volcano tour on the Big Island for $252 per adult. If you booked your own inter-island flight, you’d spend about $130 air fare, and about $30 for a one-day rental car (without the weekly rate discount), plus gas, but you’d not be paying extra for each person in the car. I found one for $25 at Expedia when checking for a return time late enough to allow for after dark lava viewing.
So in this case the tour prices don’t really justify themselves, not if you’re just looking for lower cost. However, sometimes you do find good deals with these tour companies. I’ve often seen activities such as luau for less than at the venue. And if you want to relax and let the tour guide take care of everything (and the departure time works for you – some leave reeealy early as in pre-dawn), this may be the way to go for those short island hops.
The following tour companies can arrange your tour/activities, air, car (if you’re staying longer and want to do some of your own exploring) and hotel if you’re staying overnight.
- Roberts Hawaii, One of the biggest and oldest tour companies in the islands offering day tours and overnighters to Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. Check out their “island hopping” tours, like the Hana one (not everyone wants to drive that road!).
- Polynesian Adventure Tours, Another large tour company, offering two different tours on each of the outer islands, plus options from each of the outer islands to another island. Check their “One Day Fly Away Tours’ and their “Overnighter Packagers.
As with individually booked hotels, air and car rentals, it pays to be flexible. If for example, the search has an option under times of day for “anytime,” selecting this can make a huge difference in prices you see.
Hawaiian Air has inter-island “build your own package” deals. After clicking on “vacation packages” scroll down to the bottom of the form where it has an “options” link. Just to check current deals and offer you an example, I built one for two persons that included 7 nights in Waikiki and 5 in Kona on the Big Island. The search returned the Hilton Hawaiian Village for Waikiki and my favorite hotel, the Waikoloa Hilton, for Kona (It’s on the Kohala Coast just above Kona).
The total was $2167 per person (including tax). There are links under the hotel room rate charts to click for alternative hotels. So I tried the newly renovated, 3-star Waikiki Aqua Wave and kept the Waikoloa on the Big Island. This brought my grand total down to $1798 per person (taxes included) for the 2 week island hopping vacation, including all air fare, hotels and rental cars. They also offer activities to add if you wish, such as a volcano helicopter tour for $211, but I found a special at the Blue Hawaiian site for $183 (They’ve been featured in National Geographic and have an excellent safety record).
Be sure to select “multiple destinations” for these island-hopping packages and after you add your last destination click to add “return flight” information, inserting your mainland airport so that it makes it a round trip.
Panda searching with the same dates, general locations and the two adults as at Hawaiian, I was offered a $1784 package; however the hotels were both 2-star only and one of the two was in Hilo, about a 2-hour drive from the Kona airport.
So, underneath each hotel, there’s a link to view alternatives. While it reads “view others in Hilo” it did return several for Kona. I upgraded to the 3 1/2 star Outrigger Keahou Beach Resort in Kona and to the Outrigger’s Ohana Waikiki West on Oahu. Grand total: $2079 per person (taxes included), so almost $300 more than the Hawaiian package and no Waikoloa Hilton or any 4-star hotels offered this time for that matter . Do compare though because prices change with dates your checking.
Pleasant Holidays – On the good side, they have lots of customizing options. For example, next to each hotel there are alternative hotels and the savings or increased spending for each one is listed and you can click through to detailed descriptions. This all makes comparing and customizing your package easier. A major drawback though is they don’t have an “anytime” search option, and if a flight time isn’t available, they don’t give alternatives.
You have to guess, changing your search each time. The site was very slow and kept crashing my Firefox. After several attempts, I lost patience.
Expedia – So far, this is the only major discount site I know of that lets you book more than one destination in a package. They allow two. For the best deals, select “anytime” for flights. This isn’t the default. So comparing to what I found with Hawaiian Air and Panda packages, Expedia gave me a 3-star hotel in Waikiki and the 4-star Waikoloa Hilton on the Big Island Expedia with air and cars for the grand total: $3870 per person (taxes included). So, you’re paying more for the good hotels and you’re getting the good hotels.
Filed under: Most Popular Questions, Oahu, Oahu Activities, Vacation Planning
This is the Complete Oahu Vacation Guide, which is just about everything I know about Oahu that I think a first time oahu visitor wants to know at one time. This is the online version of my ebook, Plan Your Best Vacation to Oahu Ever, so if you’d rather read this in ebook form or be able to download it to your computer, you can right-click on the ebook link and save it.
Topics in this guide
- My Favorites on Oahu
- Best Hotels on Oahu
- Best Overall Hotels, Beachfront Hotels, and Luxury Hotels on Oahu
- Best Family Hotels
- Best Budget Hotels
- Bidding on Hawaii Travel at Priceline and Hotwire
- Most Fun, Must-Do Activities on Oahu
- Inexpensive or Free Activites
- Best Ways I like to Save Money on Oahu
- Best Oahu Beaches
- Oahu Areas, Weather, and Seasons
So you’re planning a vacation to Oahu – congratulations! You are going to have SUCH FUN! First, you‟ll be flying in to Honolulu Airport (HNL). You may not need a rental car because the public and activity transportation is so good (and because parking fees are sometimes pretty high).
Also check out Hawaiian for great rates to Hawaii.
This is all my opinion, based on my preferences and resources. I hope my opinions help point you in the direction you most want to take based on your preferences and resources.
Honestly, I like Waikiki the best. Probably because I live in Hilo (which is slow and quiet with not too much to do) so I like to visit the high energy with tons to do area of Waikiki. We always stay in Waikiki, we love Waikiki Beach, and we like to walk around downtown and ride the trolley around at night.
My favorite hotel: We generally stay in a different hotel every time we go but if I had to pick an absolute favorite, maybe it would be the Hilton Hawaiian Village (typical best price: $171 on expedia).
Rental Car or not.
My husband likes to get a car because that’s how he is, but if just my son and I go, we don’t. We take a shuttle from the airport to the hotel ($11 per person) and avoid the parking fees and headache.
Activities Outside of Waikiki:
If we want to do something outside of Waikiki, we consider the bus, a shuttle, or renting a car for the day in Waikiki. Don’t worry, this will all be incredibly easy to figure out once you get here. People will be falling over themselves to get you to take their shuttle or rent their car.
Availability of transportation: In the busy season (when we’re not in a recession ) availability might be an issue, but not usually. I wouldn’t worry about it.
Staying outside of Waikiki:
If I wasn’t going to stay in Waikiki, I would stay on the North Shore (turtle bay resort – best price I’ve found: $218 at Priceline) or maybe in a vacation rental on or near Lanikai Beach (Kailua area).
West Side? I’m not a big fan of the West side, probably because there are minimal tradewinds and I just get too hot, but there are some wonderfully inexpensive beachfront, long-term rentals out that way (Makaha Beach Cabanas, Hawaiian Princess).
Best Weather on Oahu
Oahu is an island full of great weather – you really can’t go wrong, winter or summer. Waikiki is great weather; the best you really need. The West Side has the least rain and the most sun, but it is far from everything. The East side has a bit cooler weather and not TOO much rain, especially close to the ocean.
These are the best hotels in all of Oahu, in my opinion. Generally, in Oahu you will find small pools with minimal extras at the hotels, because the great swimming beaches and extras are so easily available scattered around the island. Expect *not* to spend your whole vacation at the hotel.
If you consistently find higher prices than what I have found, maybe prices are up due to season high season or some other reason. If you find lower, don’t question it, just book it!
This is my opinion – the prices given are the best price that I could find based on a search of Priceline, Expedia, hotels.com, and the hotel website for the same time period. Prices could change, I just wanted to give you an idea of what the hotel rooms cost for each hotel.
You can click through to expedia for a review, or download my book for a very short blurb on each hotel.
- Aqua Waikiki Beachside, $74 priceline
- Aston Waikiki Circle, $90 expedia
- Aston Waikiki Beach Tower, (huge rooms) $407 at the website, $428 expedia. Occasionally, a deal will show up at the website for under $300.
- Halekulani, $364 at expedia
- Hilton Hawaiian Village, $199 at expedia
- Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort, $153 at expedia
- New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, $168 at the website
- Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, $213 at the webstie
- Royal Hawaiian Hotel, $300 at expedia
- Moana Surfrider, $220 at expedia
- Ihilani Resort at Ko Olina (Marriott) (far from waikiki), $249 at website.
- Kahala Hotel and Resort (15 minutes from Waikiki), $395 at expedia
- Turtle Bay Resort (on the north shore – not waikiki), $218 at priceline
- Hilton Hawaiian Village, $171 on expedia
- Imperial of Waikiki, $162 on Hotels.com
- Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort, $153 on expedia and most booking sites
- Ohana East, $98 on Hotels.com
- Sheraton Waikiki, $189 on expedia
- Aston Waikiki Banyan, $114 on expedia
- Aston Waikiki Beach Tower, (huge rooms) $407 at the website, $428 expedia. Occasionally, a deal will show up at the website for under $300.
- Ilima Hotel, $89 at website
Many of these hotels don’t list with expedia and priceline. If you call them directly for reservations, be sure to ask: “do you have any discounts that could bring my rate down?‟ You could get a yes and a better rate off the bat.
I also highly recommend bidding on priceline. Most of these smaller operations do not sell rooms to priceline, and so if you are bidding on Priceline you will normally get something like the Waikiki Prince Hotel, which is a nice hotel. I have seen bids accepted for $75 there.
You’ll have the most luck with getting low bids accepted on priceline when the hotels are hurting for visitors, but try anytime. You could really get some good deals. When the hotels are hurting for visitors, I would even bid $95 or so on 4 star hotels. According to the Bidding for travel, the 4 star Hawaii Prince Marina has accepted bids at $75 in September of 2009 (last minute bids).
- Aqua Waikiki Beachside, $74 at priceline
- Ilikai Hotel and suites, $95 at expedia
- Pagoda Hotel, $88 at the website
- Continental surf, $65 at expedia
- Hawaiian King, $80 at website
- Holiday Surf, $57 at expedia
- Ilima Hotel, $89 at expedia
- Kai Aloha, $95 at the website
- Ocean Resort hotel, $67 at expedia
- Royal Grove Hotel, $55 at the website
- Aston Waikiki Circle, $90 at expedia
- Waikiki Prince Hotel, $107 at priceline
- Waikiki Resort Hotel, $107 at priceline
- Makaha Beach Cabanas, check website for monthly rentals
Best Romantic Hotels and Hotels for Weddings On Oahu
- New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, $168 at the website
- Ilikai Hotel and Suites, $95 at expedia
- Royal Hawaiian Hotel, $300 at expedia
- Kahala Mandarin Oriental, $395 at expedia
- Turtle Bay Resort, $218 at priceline
Bidding on Priceline and hotwire is a great way to save money on hotels and sometimes even flights to Hawaii. I have personally bid and gotten $55 at the Royal Kona Resort, and $120 at the Waikoloa Marriott. My friend got $110 at the Waikoloa Hilton, and $85 at the Hapuna Prince. I know someone who bid and received a roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Honolulu for $250. These are good deals!
Oh, and don’t forget car rentals. You can get great deals on car rentals by bidding. The only issue with bidding for hotels is that you won’t know what hotel you get until you are locked in to paying for it. You just specify a certain star level or class of hotel. The only issue with bidding for flights is that you won‟t be able to specify an exact time, but they do tell you it will be sometime between x morning hour and x evening hour, so not too bad.
So How Should I Bid on Hawaii Travel?
Hotels: I like to decide on a hotel I like, then find out what its star level is. Then on Priceline, I go directly to naming my own price, and during the process priceline will tell you what the average price is for that star level. I then bid half of that. The priceline website will have a ticker of recently accepted rates in the area you are searching for that is helpful.
An awesome resource is the bidding for travel forum. If you scroll down on the home page you’ll see three Hawaii forums, based on which islands you are planning to visit. People bid, and then come here and post their accepted and rejected rates. I have heard that the posted “median retail prices‟ at priceline are sometimes inaccurate. I don’t worry about this in Hawaii because I am so familiar with what the hotels cost here.
You, however, may want to check prices on the website of a few hotels that are the same star level as you want. You can then try to bid 50% of that. Rental Cars – $15 a day is a good place to start, and check the recent winning bids on Priceline.
Flights – I like to bid 50% of whatever the going rate is and then bid up in $50 increments if that is refused.
This is my list of the most exciting and fun things to do on Oahu in my opinion.
Wild Side Specialty Tours – small group, eco-minded, really cool, wild-dolphin swims. One of the most awesome things you‟ll ever do.
- Atlantis Submarines tour. Good fun for kids and adults, very interesting, not scary. We had dolphins circle us when I went. That was really cool.
- Learn to surf on Waikiki Beach, just show up and look for signs
- Bodysurf at any beach with some wave action
- Dolphin Quest at the Kahala Resort is good fun
- The Arizona memorial is interesting to some, but my family enjoys the USS Bowfin Submarine museum and the Mighty Mo more.
- Sea Life Park is cool if you have kids or are interested
- The Polynesian Cultural Center is well-done with plenty of interesting shows and exhibits
- The Bishop Museum is interesting to people who have an interest in Hawaiian culture and history
- Charter Boat Fishing
- Glider rides, sky-diving, or hang-gliding if you‟re brave
- Helicopter or airplane tours of the island
- Hiking Diamond Head, Manoa Falls, or Kapena Falls
- Kayak Kailua Bay
- Stand-up Paddleboarding, the newest craze around the world and in Hawaii. Easy, and good fun, but you may be sore the next day. If balancing is hard or if you have a wiggly child on the front, just paddle on your knees. Easiest for beginners with flat water and no wind. Go in the morning.
- Sunset Sails in Waikiki. Just walk up to the boat on the beach and ask about it. Amazing sunsets every night and in your face
- Whale Watching December to May – Whale watching is actually better on the other islands for some reason, but if you do manage to find a boat you like and see some whales it‟s an awesome experience
- Hanauma Bay is cool for many – snorkeling with TONS of fish in a protected cove, and on 2nd and 4th Saturdays you can do it at night. Cool.
- If you have kids, the Waikiki aquarium is worth a look and fairly inexpensive.
- A Hanauma Bay snorkeling trip – this is the only beach in Hawaii you’ll have to pay to visit, but it’s not expensive at all
- Rent snorkel gear, a paddle board, surfboard, boogie board, or kayak
- Body surf at any beach with mild wave action, except Sandy’s, or anything with big waves. You want to enjoy your vacation, not see what the inside of Hawaii’s hospitals look like.
- Hike anywhere. The hiking is really good and sometimes quite easy on Oahu, with great rewards (think waterfalls)
- Honestly, Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park is a fun day at a decent price. My family likes it.
- In the winter, head out to the north shore to watch the big wave action. You‟ve never seen anything like it.
- Dole Pineapple maze – a hedge maze in the Guinness Book of World Records. It‟s cool and only $5.
- Chinatown – authentic! And interesting
- Hawaii‟s Plantation Village
- Sea life park admission is relatively inexpensive if you don‟t do anything extra
- Waimea Valley Audobon Center – used to be adventure park but now it‟s more of a garden. If there’s a lifeguard you can swim in the pool under the waterfall at the end of the park.
- Beach-hopping – Just drive, walk, or take the bus until you find a beach and hang out. It’s really that easy on Oahu.
- Catch the free torch lighting hula show every other evening in Waikiki. Just ask your hotel staff. It’s a great show.
- I like to walk through the lobbys of the grander hotels on Waikiki beach to see what’s going on there. They don’t mind. No one questions you, but if someone ever did, you could just say you are scoping out the hotel for your next trip.
- The Marriott Waikiki Beach has a mini-version of the Halona blowhole that goes off in their lobby every once in a while. Some places have cultural demonstrations, live music, or hula shows.
Bidding for travel
I like bidding at priceline for hotels and rental cars and airfare. This can save a lot of money right away
Hawaii Entertainment Book
Entertainment.com sells coupons books for dozens of locations across the country. The Hawaii book is pretty good if there are two of you, especially for fine dining deals. The Buy One Get One free Entrees are phenomenal.
There are also activity and casual dining coupons, national coupons (like free upgrade or free day car rentals, six flags coupons, and hotwire coupons) and supposed hotel savings. In my experience, the hotel savings are not any better than what you can find on the internet, and so I don’t recommend them. If you have a different experience I’d love to hear about it.
The book is typically best for Oahu, second best for Maui, and marginal for the Big Island and Kauai. I can’t recommend it for Kauai or the Big Island, really. Sigh. Wouldn’t it be nice if that changed in the near future. Check to see if the book works for your trip.
Go Oahu Card
The Go Oahu Card is a discount card that you pay a one-time fee for and then you can do whatever activities covered under the card at any time. I really like it for a certain class of vacationer: The type that consistently gets out and GOES to activity after activity. If you plan on lounging on the beach most of the day, this is not for you.
I also really like this for a gift to honeymooners or vacationers. What a great gift! (and I like the entertainment book as a gift too). Check to see if the card works for you.
Don’t hit all of these unless you are really into beaches. Just pick a few and take your time.
** Note: In Hawaii, all beaches are public. Anywhere that there is water, there must be public access to the shoreline. If you are in a residential neighborhood and want to check out the beach, just look for the blue signs that say “shoreline access” and follow the path, even if it’s directly between two houses. Sometimes, though, residential beaches do not have restrooms or showers.
Don’t worry about directions too much. Oahu is a small island and you can see the ocean from almost everywhere. If you can see the ocean, you can find your way.
Waikiki Beach – This is where all the action is. Instant surfing lessons, paddle an outrigger canoe, walk up to a catamaran and be riding it over the open ocean an hour later … Waikiki Beach is an awesome whirlwind of activity and people with consistently awesome weather and mellow surf.
There’s a protected area for babies to play, plus wide spots and perfectly sandy spots. It’s like a giant, beautifully clean bathtub that you are sharing with the world. I love Waikiki Beach. A must-see beach.
Ala Moana Beach – This is a locals beach, and it’s very close to Waikiki Beach. It fringes Ala Moana Park, which is a great place to walk or picnic. It’s well protected and wonderful for kids.
Kahala Beach – A pretty beach in a very rich, residential area. Shallow reef with good snorkeling in some areas.
Hanauma Bay – The value here isn’t so much in the beach as it is in the snorkeling. The fish are everywhere, and they don’t run from people too much. They are used to us.
Kailua Beach – Awesome beach with tons to do. Rent kayaks right at the park and head out to the offshore islands.
Lanikai Beach – One of my favorite beaches ever. Really what a Hawaiian beach that is not a cove should look like. Lazy, gorgeous, relaxation beach.
Laie or Hukilau Beach – Really cool beach with one awesome off-shore island. Mostly calm and swimmable.
Sunset Beach – In the summer (may – September) this is an awesome, fun beach to play at. In the winter, the waves will scare you out of the water, but drop your jaw when they are rocking. It’s fun either way.
Sharks cove – An amazing snorkeling cove in the summer. In the winter the waves get too big.
Waimea Bay Beach Park – Awesome, awesome beach. Beautiful and fun. Turtles like it, people like it, definitely check it out for swimming in the summer. In the winter, you want to check it out but for the WAVES. Waimea Bay is where some of the biggest and wildest surfing waves in the WORLD are.
The south side and the west side have some very nice beaches that I have not mentioned (Ko Olina Lagoons, Makaha Beach Park, Papaoneone Beach …) but I am not going to go into them. If you are staying out there, you‟ll find them. If you are not staying out there, in my opinion it‟s not worth a trip because the beaches in the areas where you will be already are just as good. The only difference on the west side will be less people for the most part.
Waikiki is where most people who visit Oahu stay. It is essentially the beachfront area of the large city Honolulu. It is incredibly safe for a large city. In fact, all of Hawaii is very safe. There are some thefts from cars, but person on person crime is very rare. There are over 80 hotels in Waikiki alone. The beach is packed every day – but it’s a good and fun kind of packed; lots to do and lots of happy people running around doing it.
The water is clear and refreshing (72 degrees year round) and the beach is clean. I like Waikiki. Some people will shun it because of the rampant commercialization and the skyscrapers and the buildings packed on top of each other, but as long as you know this is what it will be like, you can still enjoy Waikiki. The beach is phenomenal and makes up for all of that, plus the “country” of Oahu is a short ride away by car or bus. Good deal. Waikiki Hotels will offer the best deals in all of Hawaii and Waikiki activities such as surfing lessons and sunset or dinner cruises will also offer the most competitive prices in the islands.
Waikiki Weather and Waves
Average Temperature in Summer (May – September): High: 87 to 89 degrees F Low: 72 degrees F
Average Temperature in Winter (October –April) High: 80 to 84 Low: 68 to 70
Avg Rainfall per month in Summer ½ inch Avg Rainfall per month in winter 2 inches Waves in Winter Generally small waves in winter – still usually big enough for a beginner to learn to surf, but almost never so big your babies can’t play on the shore.
Waves in SummerHawaii gets South Swells in the summer, which means that occasionally, the waves will be so big on Waikiki Beach that you won’t feel comfortable being in the water unless you are an expert swimmer. There is an area in the center called Kuhio beach or Baby beach where there is a wall blocking the waves, so people can still get in the water. I wouldn’t try first-ever surfing lessons during a south swell though.
The Rest of Oahu Overview
Outside of Waikiki and Honolulu, you can find one Hotel on the North Shore, the Turtle Bay Hilton, and a few hotels on the West Side of the island like Makaha Bay Towers and Ko Olina Resort. All of these hotels are at least a half hour drive from Honolulu and the airport. There are also countless vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts scattered around the island.
Ewa Beach area
Location: South side on the other side of Pearl Harbor from Waikiki
Weather: Hot and sunny all the time, even at night this area will be slow to cool down Rain: very little – 20 inches or less a year
Waves: occasional big waves in the summer Beach: Ewa beach is long and pretty, with houses lining it. This is a residential area, and some of the beach leads to clear water, some is full of coral, rocks, and seaweed. We still swim in it but this may not be what you are looking for. Activities: Nothing really except hanging out on the beach. You‟ll have to go elsewhere for boats and attractions.
Hotels: None. There are plenty of vacation rentals.
West Side of Oahu This is Ko Olina, Nankuli, Waianae, and Makaha.
You may have heard that Makaha and Waianae are not safe areas. Well, it’s true that they are considered a poorer areas but that image of being not safe is outdated. Don’t leave valuables in your car and you’ll be fine out here.
Hot and sunny all the time, even at night this area will be slow to cool down Rain: very little – 20 inches or less a year Beach: There are many awesome beaches in this area.
Activities: The Ko Olina Hotel has some ocean activities, and Wild Side Specialty Tours: operates a wild dolphin swim in the area too.
Hotels: Ko Olina Resort , Hawaiian Princess, Makaha Beach Cabanas, and Makaha Valley Towers. You‟ll also find vacation rentals. Some of the places in Makaha offer great long term rental opportunities.
East Side of Oahu
This is Waimanalo, Kailua, Lanikai, Kaneohe, Kaaawa, Waimea, and Laie, although Laie is practically on the North Shore.
A bit cooler than the South and west sides thanks to constant onshore winds. Rain: A bit more rain, than other areas too, but not too much if you are on or near the beach. Between 30 and 60 inches a year.
Beach: Tons and tons of blow-your-mind-awesome beaches.
Lots of stuff to do: hike, windsurf, kayak, shop, sightsee, snorkel, lounge on the beach, and tons more. Hotels: None. Many phenomenal vacation rentals. I like Waimanalo area, Kailua, and Lanikai area – especially Lanikai for the beach.
North Shore of Oahu
This is Waimea, Kahuku, and Haleiwa. Small, laid-back, surfing towns.
Weather: Hot and sunny Rain: Between 20 and 40 inches a year.
Waves: Waves big enough to shake the ground in the winter months. People come from every country just to look at these waves. No waves in the summer months.
Beach: Great beaches and snorkeling coves. Swim in the summer, come just to look in the winter, unless you are an expert surfer.
Activities: Lots of stuff to do: hike, shark dive, gliding, kayak, shop, sightsee, snorkel, jet ski, lounge on the beach, and tons more.
Hotels: Only the Turtle Bay Hilton. Lots of right-on the-beach vacation rentals.
So that’s it, have a wonderful, wonderful vacation. Hawaii is a great place and you really can’t go wrong here. Leave me a comment if you want to share any stories or ask any questions.
Filed under: Big Island, Hawaii - general, Hawaii Revealed Guides, Kauai, Maui, Oahu, Vacation Planning
I have an absolute favorite Hawaii GuideBook series and it is the Hawaii Revealed Series (link is to the Hawaii Revealed books at Amazon). I like these guidebooks because the author’s pull no punches. There is no vague, travel magazine-speak about nothing. The books are filled with their honest opinions based on their actual experiences. I love that. That’s what I try to do with my websites.
One of the best things about the books is the aerial pictures of the hotels, which you can see at their website. Another awesome things about their books is that the authors have actually eaten at every restaurant, done every activity, and stayed at every hotel they review. It’s 100% evident in the way they talk in the book. Not too many guidebooks can say that.
I have each of these books for each island. If I am going traveling around Hawaii, I take these books – and I’ve lived in Hawaii for 14 years. I’ve written a review for each of the individual Hawaii Revealed Guidebooks here, if you are interested.
I also like to recommend my books of course. Mine are free, only digital, and are more like mini guides or ebooklets. They are all available here: http://www.hawaii-lisa.com/answers/hawaii-guide-book/. There is one for The Big Island, Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and then four general books, one about saving money, one about getting married in Hawaii, one for first timers, and one about Island Hopping.
I do have a second favorite paper book, and that is the Hawaii Trailblazer Books . I have personally spoken with the authors. They are nice people and they write solid books with good information. If you are an active person who likes to hike, swim, snorkel, and surf (or take lessons), these books are a good choice for you.
I’d love to know your favorites or which books you have bought and like the best. Leave me a comment. thanks!
Filed under: Hawaii - general, Maui, Oahu, Vacation Planning
Hi Lisa: Wanted to get your input on some things.
We are planning our honeymoon and would like to stay in Oahu for 7 nights. We are looking at July 26 – Aug 2. I understand that flying on a workday is cheaper, than the weekends. It is so hard to find the best package and know which one to trust. There are so many sites to choose from, but it worries me to use one of these 3rd party on line websites, such as “Priceline, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc” .
I have personally used expedia, priceline, travelocity, and orbitz and they are all reputable businesses that provide valid services. really
I found yet another website that took me to “Great Hawaiian Vacations”. They are a travel agent who will help you choose your best package. Are they trustworthy?
I have not personally used great hawaii vacations, but it looks they are members of the better business bureau. I also found this post at tripadvisor where many people like them
Do any of these 3rd party websites get any commission if you use there services/website?
Yes, anybody who does booking for you will get some sort of a commission.
We are wanting to stay on the beach in Waikiki. I found that the “Outrigger Reef on the Beach” has the options we want. Do you recommend that hotel? If I go through a 3rd party to make the reservations, how would I communicate to the hotel that it is our honeymoon and what kind of special deals can we expect?
Yes, I recommend the Outrigger Reef on the Beach- I like all the Outriggers and this one is a nice one.
The booking party may be able to input notes that it is your honeymoon, if not you can let them know when you get there. You will not get any special deals probably, unless you specifically book a honeymoon deal and that is normally through the hotel itself. You may get a bottle of wine or champagne though.
When talking to an agent from “Great Hawaiian Vacations”, he mentioned that instead of renting a car from the airport and paying that price everyday + a $25 parking fee at the hotel, he recommends just renting on a daily basis. We can usually go through the hotel to rent a car and not have to pay that parking fee. What do you recommend?
This is a valid idea, especially if you won’t need the car everyday. If it’s important to you, you could actually do the math, confirm with the hotel that their parking fee is $25, then add up the car rental fee, then see how much it would be to just rent it per day.
There are certain activities that we would like to do while we are there. Do you recommend that we reserve ahead of time or wait until we arrive?
Activities consisting of:
go to a dinner luau (the one that has flame dancers). What is the best to go to?
rent a Harley Davidson for one day.
take a Pearl Harbor tour.
You are going during the busy season, so I would recommend prebooking your harley davidson rental and your luau. They are all good in Oahu but I recommend the paradise cove luau. There’s nothing to book for snorkeling unless you take a boat tour, for which case I would recommend prebooking, and for pearl harbor you are not able to prebook – you have to do it onsite.
When should we book our vacation/honeymoon to get the best price?
Well, I would ask the great hawaii vacation guys what they think, but generally, if you aren’t going to book last minute then you will want to book as early as possible. 2 months out is smart if you can do it.
Congratulations, and have a wonderful time!
Hi, Lisa. I have found your site very helpful. My husband and I have some questions, and I hope you can offer some help.
We are planning a trip to Oahu the end of June, beginning of July for 7 days to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We are trying to decide on which area of the island will suit us best for lodging. This is our first trip to Hawaii, so we are fairly clueless about the various areas of Oahu.
We plan for this trip to primarily be a laidback, romantic trip rather than a very active one, so we are thinking the North Shore area would suit our needs better. We are not shoppers, but we do plan to spend a day or 2 in the Honolulu/Waikiki area at Pearl Harbor, the zoo, the aquarium and Diamond Head. Other activities we are interested in are the Polynesian Cultural Center, Dole plantation, and hiking around some waterfalls. We are looking at a condo – Pat’s on Punalu’u – and are wondering if this would be a good location for us. We like that it is directly beachfront, so that we can spend some time on a quiet, peaceful beach, maybe do a little snorkeling, and also see the beach from the lanai/condo. We have read some reviews of this location that mention that this is a windy location. Is Punalu’u a terribly windy area, and is it noticeably more windy than other locations? Would you think that this location is a good place to base ourselves in consideration of the activities we are plannning and interests we have, or do you have a different suggestion? Also, if you have any input about Pat’s (or anything else) that would be welcome as well.
There may be some confusion here about the name Punaluu. There is a Punaluu Beach on the Big Island that is on a south shore and frequently can get very windy. I wonder if some of what you read was about this place. Pat’s at Punaluu is in a town called Punaluu on Oahu, which is on the North-East side of the island. This side of the island will get tradewinds and more weather than the west and some the south sides of Oahu, but I wouldn’t be worried about the wind. You might run into some weather, but most likely it will be sunny and beautiful and the tradewinds will just cool you down
I can recommend Pat’s and I don’t think it’s too far from what you want to do. Just try to avoid going into the Honolulu area during morning commute and out of Honolulu during evening commute – try a late morning drive in and stay in Honolulu for dinner and you should be good.
Filed under: Oahu, Oahu Activities, Prices, Vacation Planning
I am planning a trip to Oahu this January but I am on a budget. The cost of luau’s are pretty steep on this island. Are there any economical luaus and where can I get any specials or discounts?
well, you have a few options – there’s something called an entertainment book that has a lot of coupons for Oahu.
in the 2010 edition (coupons good now) there is a coupon for 25% off Germaines Luau and Paradise Cove Luau for four adults.
There are also luaus at the Polynesian Cultural Center, if you were planning to go there anyway you could just purchase a ticket that includes a luau.
There are also coupon books available at the airport andyour hotel that may offer discounts, although probably not as much as 25% off.
Have a great time! Lisa
Filed under: Big Island, Hawaii - general, Kauai, Maui, Oahu, Oahu Activities, Vacation Planning
I am coming to Hawaii in Feb 2010 and would like to do some camping. Can you tell me if there are places on Molokai, Maui or the Big Island that rent camping equipment?
** update 2011, there are now some places to rent camping equipment – check the comments below this text for multiple links.
Sorry, but there really is no where to rent camping equipment on any of the islands. You’ll need to bring it or buy it when you get here – on Maui or the Big Island – molokai and Kauai will have the least buying options. Oahu will have the most buying options.
You may be able to rent camping stoves or larger things of that nature, but you will be limited on where you can use such a thing. No one rents tents or sleeping bags that I know of.
New rental places and stores do open up all the time though, so if anyone knows of anything or has a rental company website, please leave a comment. thanks!
Filed under: Big Island, Hawaii - general, Kauai, Maui, Most Popular Questions, Oahu, Vacation Planning
i happened upon your site while doing research on Hawaii vacations..
here is my dilemna…my husband and two daughters (13 & 16) will be coming to Hawaii in July. I am trying to book a nice vacation and at the same time trying to control costs…
Since this is a once in a lifetime trip for us I am trying to decide if we should do 2 islands or just enjoy one. We want to have some down time to relax and some time to explore. I am definetly staying on the big island. By staying on just one island will we get to see all Hawaii has to offer?
You didn’t say how long your trip will be. I like to recommend no more than one island for every 5-7 days in Hawaii, for just that reason. Relaxing is important. Packing and unpacking and flying and renting a car all over again is not relaxing, typically.
The other islands are quite different than the Big Island, but the Big Island definitely has something to offer for everyone, and it’s the only island with the volcano and an awesome black sand beach (punaluu) and it’s best beaches (Hapuna and Mauna Kea) can rival the best anywhere in the islands.
I don’t think you will be missing out on anything by staying on the Big Island, unless someone else in your party has their heart set on something specific like Pearl Harbor. There is always the option of a day trip too – meaning you could just fly over for a day and fly back that evening, but that could the priciest way to island hop if you go with a predestined tour.
So, don’t worry if you just stay on the Big Island. Others may tell you that you were missing something, but I don’t think you will be.
Filed under: Big Island, Hawaii - general, Kauai, Maui, Most Popular Questions, Oahu, Vacation Planning
I have written a Hawaii Guide Book as a gift to you! Actually, I’ve written 8 Hawaii guide books and they are all free to help you plan your trips. There’s one for each major island and then 4 special topics.
Download the Oahu book here – right click the link and download the book to your computer, or read it at the online version, The Complete Oahu Vacation Guide. They are a little different but not too much.
This guide book describes Oahu areas, what hotels are best for budget trips, romantic trips, best overall beach locations, and best family hotels. I also talk about the best beaches I like and my favorite activities. Or, see the online version here The Complete Oahu Vacation Guide
Download the Kauai book here – right click the link and download the book to your computer.
This guide book outlines all my favorite things about Kauai, plus what hotels are best for budget trips, romantic trips, best overall beach locations, and best family hotels. Or see the online version here,The Complete Kauai Vacation Guide
Download the Maui book here – right click the link and download the book to your computer.
This guide book outlines all my favorite things about Maui, plus what hotels are best for budget trips, romantic trips, best overall beach locations, and best family hotels. Or see the online version here: The Complete Maui Vacation Guide
Download the Big Island book here – right click the link and download the book to your computer.
This guide book outlines all my favorite things about the Big Island, plus my favorite family, beach-front, and budget hotels. Or, see the online version here: The Complete Big Island Vacation Guide
Get the Hawaii Hopping For Fun; Visiting More than One Island In Hawaii The Smart Way Book here to discover all the ways there are to get around between the Hawaii Islands. Inter-Island Hawaii Travel explained in depth! Or see the online version How to Get from One Hawaii Island to Another
Get the First Time Hawaii Vacations Ebook Here Right click and choose save target as. So, if you’ve never been to Hawaii before, get out your pen and take notes. This book will give you a basic overview of Hawaii, and tell you the popular and best places to stay and what to do on each island, where to fly into, and where to look for packages. Get an idea of what sounds good to you and then follow it up. Or see the online version First Time to Hawaii Guide
Save Thousands on a Hawaii Vacation! right click and choose save target as. Dozens of strategies and website recommendations to save you money. Spend less on the flight and have more for the fun stuff!
Or, see the online version here Cheap Hawaii Vacation Guide
How to Get Married in Hawaii on a Dime – I recount my experiences with getting married in Hawaii and coordinating a wedding in Hawaii, plus I talk about what you need to get married in Hawaii, and cool places to do it. Congratulations, by the way! Or, see the online version here: Cheap Hawaii Wedding Guide
I’m in the process of planning my honeymoon and would love to visit Hawaii. I read some of the articles on your site and you seem to have a lot of knowledge about Hawaii. There’s a deal that I found on the internet, but my fiancé and I are unsure whether it IS really a good deal, like they claim. I copied and pasted it below. I would really appreciate it if you give me your feedback as to whether we should go ahead and book w/ them, or if we should book everything separately? (i.e. flight, hotel, activities, food, etc. to be separate) In other words, is the quoted price really worth it? Also, how much money should we plan to spend on top of this quoted price? (that is, for additional activities, food, etc.) We are trying to make it as affordable as possible. Thanks a lot!
**** Note. I was asked to remove the copied and pasted all inclusive waikiki vacation itinerary and I did. The itinerary included 1 to 2 activities per day, plus some meals, airfare and hotel, shuttle, transportation, tips, and trolley for a day.
So, I took your email and got the VALUE of what you are being offered as this: $1418.5 per person low-end, $1868.5 high end. Now, this is not a figure that can really be locked down, because I am figuring my values based on a low-moderate of what prices I know are available. For example, I did not determine the price of the Breakfast Buffet, but since I know breakfast buffets can be had in Waikiki for as little as $6 and as much as $30+ I decided on a low-moderate value of $12. The meal you may be booking could cost significantly more.
You also could go to Subway and get a breakfast Burrito and drink a bottle of water you got from the supermarket for $.60 and pay about $4 for breakfast .. it’s all relative.
That being said – here’s how I arrived at my figure:
I looked on Expedia fare tracker, and although most flights cost $900+ when you want to fly, there was one to be booked for $450.
Outrigger Waikiki West has an Internet Special at $89 per night. add taxes and fees and take this up to $105 or so. They also have higher priced rooms so I averaged $700 and $1050 and divided by 2 (per person) for 437.5 per person for 7 nights.
Lei greeting one person – $20
food plus tips: $200
airport shuttle each way plus tip $11
So, in terms of absolute money, I don’t think you are getting the best deal you could get. However, to have everything done for you and someone else worry about all the details and barely even have to bring a wallet? That may be worth it to you. Some people who work for themselves know the value of their time – and someone whose value per hour is $60+ or so would definitely find value in this trip.
Filed under: Camping, Hawaii - general, Oahu, Vacation Planning
Hi Lisa – Thanks for your website info! My question is that I am planning a trip to Hawaii for me and my son, who turns 16 in March. He’s a keen surfer/bodyboarder/golfer and we are both active types. I am wondering if it is poss to rent an rv or campervan on oahu from the airport and then explore the island like that, rather than book into a hotel. Or, is it better to stay in one place and hire a car etc. He particularly wants to spend time around Pipeline.
Well, the problem with Oahu, and Hawaii in general as it pertains to RV’s, is that there are no hookups. No one rents RVs because there is nowhere really to park and hook one up. A Camper van would work, but you would need advice on where you are allowed, or will get by with parking for the night. Contact these people: http://www.oahucampingvans.com/ and see what they say. Have a great time! Lisa
p.s. Here’s another Oahu camper rental site, Hawaii Campers and as you can see by the comment below, they will help you with permits AND pick you up from the airport!
And for big island camper van rental or tent and camping rental, see Happy Campers Hawaii
What are the cheapest ways to island hop from Oahu? I heard of a hydrofoil boat that takes you to the other islands. Do you know about this and what the cost is? Thanks
I think the boat you have heard of is the Superferry, and it seems rates are about $49 one way now – compared with $69 one way which is the lowest you’ll occasionally find at Hawaiian Airlines and Go Airlines, it is indeed the cheapest. However, it only goes to Maui and back right now. It won’t come to the Big Island till sometime in 2009 and Kauai is having a legal battle about it right now – so who knows when it will go there.
Sometimes prices are higher, and sometimes they are lower. During high travel seasons things sell out quickly and what you can get goes at a premium, so maybe $104 each way is the best you’ll get at the airlines. Sometimes the airlines get into pricing wars for various reasons and their prices drop drastically. When Go! first entered the scene prices were dropping as low as $19 one way, but then one airline went bankrupt and all those deals disappeared.
The superferry hasn’t been around long enough for me to draw any conclusions about what it will or won’t do, but their prices have mostly held steady since they started.
Listed below are my itineraries for my Hawaiian Vacation for four adults. Can you tell me what you think? should I change, add or modify anything to my itineraries?
Flight departure to Honolulu, Hawaii
Boy, you are a trip planner after my husband’s heart Me, I just show up and look around to see what looks fun. lol. So, my first impulse is that you have a LOT planned – but I understand – you want to see it all. Anyway, regarding Oahu, everything looks good to me. One thing is I would do Manoa falls before you head out to Hanauma Bay, maybe even before Diamond head – it’s more above Honolulu than to the East like the rest of that stuff. Plus, Manoa falls is a HIKE. It’s just a mile but most of it is sloped up. You’ll want water and maybe a change of clothes or at least a towel to dry off with. Also, Kailua and Lanikai beaches are so awesomely beautiful you might want to plan a swim there.
The book Oahu Revealed The Ulimate Guide to Honolulu, Waikiki, and Beyond is, in my opinion, one of the best guides online or off to the island of Oahu. I like all the Hawaii Revealed books a lot. This was the last one to come out and I eagerly anticipated it – it was worth the wait. Here’s a quote from the book to give you an idea of where the authors are coming from:
Oahu: land of myths. We’re not talking about ancient Hawaiian myths. We’re talking about the myths that exist about the island, both from visitors and those that live on neighbor islands (including us before we moved here to do this book). The biggest myth is that Oahu is Waikiki and Waikiki is Oahu. NOTHING could be further from the truth. Oahu has all the wonder, adventure, and discovery that a person could ever ask for – and far more.
We’ve had to deviate from our usual way of doing things for this Oahu book. Put simply, this island is so vast, so dense and so full of choices that its impossible to be fully comprehensive. If we were you’d never be able to lift this book. So instead, we’ve chosen to show you those things that we think make Oahu special. …
The most incredible thing about the book, as with all the books, is the hotel review section where they include aerial pictures of every hotel they review – so you can see exactly where your hotel or building is in relation to the ocean or the mountain or something you might not want to be so close to!
The book is filled with pretty and interesting pictures that really point you in the direction of what YOU might find the most interesting. There is so much to do on Oahu that you aren’t going to get to do it all, so a bit of planning can go a long way.
Of course the book covers Waikiki and Honolulu sights, then it moves on to East Oahu and talks about the coastal route to Kailua, Kailua, and Kaneohe, then it goes on to North Shore sights and talks about what’s best to see and o in Kualoa, Hakan Bay, Laie, Kahuku, turtle bay, Waimea Bay, Haleiwa, and the off road areas of the north shore. Then on to Waianae and Central Oahu – as in Wahiawa, Mt Kaala, Pearl Harbor, Ewa Beach, Kalaeloa and Barbers Point, Waianae and Makaha.
Under attractions, it covers the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaiian Waters, Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo, Iolani Palace, Punchbowl, Hawaii Maritime Center, Chinatown, Hawaii’s Plantation Village, Bishop Museum, Sea Life Park, Military History, Garden Tours, and Doris Duke’s Shangri La.
It covers beaches too – talking about how to get to them, what they are like, what activities can be done there, how clean and crowded they are. Beaches covered are: Yokohama Bay-Keawa’ula, Makua Beach-Kaena Point State Park, Ohiki-lolo Beach, Keaau Beach, Makaha Beach, Papaoneone Beach, Mauna Lahilahi Beach, Pokai Beach, Maili Beach, Ulehawa Beach, Nanakulu Beach, Electric Beach, Ko Olina Lagoons, Nimitz Beach, Oneula beach, Ewa beach, Keehi Beach Park, Sand Island, Kakaako, Ala Moana, Magic Island, Waikiki, Kaluahole – Makalei, Diamond Head Beach and Kuilei Cliffs, Kaalawai Beach, kahala Beach, Waialae Beach, Wailupe Beach,Kawaikui Beach, Maunalua Bay, Hanauma Bay, Halona Cove, Sandy Beach, Makapuu Beach, Kaupo Beach, Kaiona Beach, Waimanalo Beach and Bay, Bellows Beach, Lanikau, Kailua, Kualoa Beach Park, Kualoa Sugar Mill Beach, Kaaawa Beach, Swanzy Beach, Makaua, Kahana, Punaluu, Makao, Hauula, Kokololio, Laie Beach – Pounders, Laniloa, Hikilau, Goat Island, Malaekahana, Kahuku, Kuilima, Turtle Bay, Kawela Bay, Waialee Beach, Sunset Beach, Ehukai Beach, Pupukea Beach park – Sharks Cove – Three Tables – Waimea Bay, Chun’s reef, Turtle Beach, Haleiwa Beach, Mokuleaiea Beach, and Hidden Beach.
Whew, that’s a lot of beaches on one island.
After that, the book goes on to review or talk about just about every activity available and how to do it. This book is really complete. Buy it – you won’t be sorry.
Filed under: Big Island, Most Popular Questions, Oahu, Oahu Activities, Vacation Planning
I am planning to be in Kona, Hawaii from May 17 to May 24 and would like to take in some
of the sights on Ohau such as Pearl harbor and the Cultural Center. Any ideas on the best
way to do this? I know each of these are at least a day in themselves. Maybe 2 trips or
an overnight stay to catch both? What might you suggest?
I would do an overnight stay in Oahu – otherwise you eat up too much of your day on the airplane, getting the car, etc. Plus that way you get to enjoy Oahu a bit – it really is very pretty. Have a great time!
Filed under: Oahu, Oahu Activities, Prices, Vacation Planning
Hi we are a family of 4 2 adults and 2 children under 10, we are going to hawaii next week. I need information about not so expensive luaus in Honolulu, all I have seen are very expensive!
Hi, what are you wanting the luau for? Is it just for the hula show? because there is usually a free Hula show on Waikiki Beach – ask your hotel for details. If you absolutely want to do a luau, then wait till you get to Honolulu and pick up the free coupon books at the airport or in any bin that line the streets of Honolulu and leaf through them. You will get a sense of what the cheapest one is that you can find that you want to go to. Also, if you were planning to go to the Polynesian Cultural Center they have a luau that may help you offset the cost a bit. The cheapest price I see is $69 at Germaines – is that what you are seeing? You can probably find it a bit cheaper if you look in the coupon books once you get there.
The Entertainment Book sometimes money off tickets at the Polynesian Cultural Center or similar entertainment.
Filed under: Big Island, Hawaii - general, Kauai, Maui, Oahu, Vacation Planning
If you had to recommend a two week itinerary in Hawaii, what would you recommend and why (13 full days)? Don’t give me some cop out answer like “every island has something to offer for each person”. We were thinking of visiting 2-3 islands. Which islands should I visit and for how many days.
Ok, 13 full days – never been to Hawaii before – I would do Oahu for 4 to 5 days. On Oahu I would visit Waikiki beach, because it really is the beach that started it all even if it is completely packed with people and commercialized these days.. I would visit Pearl Harbor and maybe hike to some waterfalls. I would consider Hanauma Bay. I would check out Kailua and Lanikai beaches and the North Shore. For the rest of the trip *I* would decide which out of the following was my favorite must-see and choose my island(s) around that:
an active volcano (big island)
black sand beaches (big island)
the Na Pali Coast (Kauai)
tons of waterfalls (Kauai or Maui)
zip line (maui and kauai)
downhill bike adventure (maui)
ferries to smaller islands (maui)
hana and the road to hana (maui)
mauna kea (big island)
green sand beach (big island)
waimea canyon (kauai)
sport fishing (all islands, but big island – kona side is considered best)
waipio valley (big island)
Anything else you would want to do in Hawaii could be done on any island – so figure out what appeals to you and focus your activities around that. That is the most specific advice I will offer. I hope you have a wonderful time! Lisa
…. BIG TRIP for us all. Most of us do not like tons of crowds for a long time. average crowds are fine. we have planned 11 days or more. Quoted 4,500 for all inclusive flight hopper to 3 islands. Does this allow you to see the greatest of hawaii by moving about?
Three islands is a personal choice – if you guys want to move around that much, great! Of course staying in one place is good too. The only island I sometimes really advise people to not stay on for a long time is Oahu – sometimes visitors get disenchanted with the amount of traffic and people there. Lisa
Latest on planning is … talked to an agent that suggested a cruise to the three islands instead of flights. After thinking about it, we think it sounds easier than packing and unpacking. We would fly to Honolulu and get on a cruise ship that moves about three different islands. At least there are stay overs for more than one day.
We have been on cruises… the frustrating part for us has been we find a place we really like however, we can’t stay any longer than the time they allow. :
If you had say 11 days to see hawaii, knowing this could be your 1st and last trip, what would YOU do? Teens will need activity. Parents and grandma like activities such as hiking, snorkeling, ATV rides, beaches, FOOD of course. Any suggestions??
I have a really hard time when people ask ne what would YOU do becaue I have been here for so long and have seen so much and I can’t seem to get myself back to a place of being a fresh newbie to Hawaii.
The cool thing about a cruise is all the people are right there when you get off the boat trying to talk you into their activity – but the not so cool thing is you are stuck in this one geographical area for this finite period of time.
I won’t say – do the cruise or don’t do the cruise. I’m sure it could be awesome, and I’m sure it could be awful
Our family is considering taking a vacation in Hawaii. Maybe in the next year or so. Being pretty clueless when it comes to Hawaii, what would you suggest? It would be for 6 adult and 1 child. Is one place cheaper to fly into than another? What about hotels and such?
Many people start with Oahu on their first trip, and it is generally the easiest to fly into and cheapest because it is the most popular – of course being the most popular it has really gotten developed and a lot of people complain there are more buildings than trees, but it’s still a beautiful island and has fantastic, easy-to-get-to beaches (that you’ll be sharing with a million other people ) but that’s ok, they are big. You might want to look into Oahu and see if it’s what you want.
Don’t think about hotels till you decide on an island – do you have rewards with anybody like Hilton or Marriott? That might also be a good way to decide where you want to go – you could find the hotel that would get you the best deal and then see what you think of the island it’s on.
my husband and l had some interest some day of traveling to hawaii, he has been reading the lonely planet book about and sounds very beautiful. just wondering if you had any suggestions for me not sure what time of year we would go, but we were thinking of three weeks. we do know someone that lives in kihei – how would we go about setting up an itinerary, where would we start and where would we end? is it best to stay in b&b’s any suggestions for hotels, renting vehicles, what would you suggest to budget yourself per day, any suggestions would be great
Wow, this is a huge question and I’m just not sure I can do it justice – it’s huge and broad and usually I do best with very specific questions, but I’ll try to point you in the right direction here:
- Decide what island you will visit – if you know someone in Kihei and want to go to that island then start looking into Maui.
- Decide what area – if, for your first trip, you stick to the very touristy areas you will be ‘safe’ meaning you will find great beaches and great weather typically – so on Maui that would be Wailea, Lahaina/Kaanapali, and Kihei.
- Decide what hotel you will stay at – alternatively, this could be your second item on your list, because if you prefer say, Hilton hotels because you like them or have rewards with them and there is only one Hilton on the island, well then what area choice is pretty much made for you. easy
- As for should you stay in a hotel, vacation rental, condo, or bed and breadkfast — this is all personal preference. Do YOU prefer hotels or bed and breakfasts. Do you want to eat out every meal or cook your own food? Do you want to have your vacation in a place that feels like home or do you prefer a hotel where everything is done and provided for you? see what I’m getting at here? Me, I like condos because you can save money and eat healthier stuff but I like hotels because you can forget about all that cooking and cleaning cr– and concentrate on playing. I like vacation rentals because you are hanging out by yourself away from all the other visitors but I like hotels because there are lots of other people around
- As for budgeting yourself per day – well, what is your budget? Do you have $10,000+ to spend on this trip, or only $4500? This will make a big difference. There are books that will show you how to make the most of a budget – Frommer’s Hawaii on $80 a Day is one of them. I don’t know how relevant it is to today since it was written in 2005, but it will get you started I think.
- As for what to do – you could out your daily itinerary before you go down to the very last activity (this is what my husband does) by doing a google search for Maui activities (if that’s the island you’ll be staying on) and seeing what comes up or you could just fly to Maui and see what looks fun to you (this is what I do)
I hope this helps get you started, write me again if you have more questions. Aloha, Lisa
Filed under: Hawaii - general, Kauai, Oahu, Vacation Planning
We will be going to Kauai for 2 days and Oahu for 5 days beginning 10/13. We’d like to focus on flora–the beautiful flowers, mountains, etc. What would you recommend as the best use of limited time? We have considered a hike through Manoa Valley. We’re not adventurous hikers, but can handle a couple miles of walking. Appreciate any insights you have.
Hi! Manoa Valley is a nice place to hike. Have you seen this page on the Manoa Falls hike? There is also the Oahu Hiking Trails main page that will give you more information than you can handle on available hiking trails, along with what to expect, plus how easy and long they are.
As for limited time, I would look on the afore-mentioned page for all the hikes that are near where you will be staying. You can waste a lot of time on Oahu sitting in traffic but if you stay in one area most of that can be alleviated. Other than that, I don’t have any major recommendations.
As for Kauai, you don’t have a lot of time there. I like Waimea Canyon – a really unique place, especially in Hawaii. there’s nowhere else like it in the islands as far as I know. It’s beautiful.
Filed under: Oahu, Oahu Activities, Oahu Rentals, Vacation Planning
We’re coming over late november this year( 2 couples for the 1st time) & not quite sure what part of Oahu to stay at ( Looking at Condos or house rentals). We are surfers (Longboarders) but the girls will want to spend some time sight-seeing, shopping etc. Bearing in mind the time of year, where would you suggest to stay that would be close to beaches – not too far from shops. We’re not fussed with huge crowds. Looking forward to your response. Kind regards.
Hi! Well, the waves on Oahu are big on the North Shore in November – are you looking for BIG waves? There is only one hotel-condoon the North shore – that’s the Turtle Bay Resort. Other than that, there are hundreds of house rentals – in some really nice areas.
… however, the shops are mostly in Waikiki, which is on the south shore. the island is not big – if you stay out of traffic you can go from one to the other in an hour or less. Traffic is bad commuters hours INTO Honolulu in the morning and out of honolulu in the afternoon. You could stay at the halfway point of Kailua maybe .. but I think you would be happier either on the North Shore or in Waikiki.
Hi Lisa. I am currently looking at home rentals for the week on Oahu. I have found homes at Waimanalo, Haleiwa and Makaha that looked good but I have no clue what might be best for our family. What is the best side of the island to stay on? We have 2 children, age 17 & 12. My daughter will be interested in soaking up the sun and my son will be interested in boogie boarding, swimming, etc. My husband and I are interested in a relaxing and seeing the sights! I know we can easily drive to any location we want to see but where would be the best location to STAY?
In your situation, I would stay in Waimanalo. You’ll be right in the middle of the other two places, close to everything, and both of your kids will be happy. Plus, Waimanalo is really a great beach. You can’t really go wrong outside of Waikiki, but Waimanalo is probably the most right out of the three you mentioned. Have a great time! Lisa
Filed under: Big Island, Big Island Activities, Big Island Areas, Oahu, Oahu Activities, Vacation Planning
Thanks The volcano is on the Big Island, so the first thing you will need to do is get a flight to the big island – or you could look around for a tour company that would do an island tour for you, like this one.
However, you are correct that right now the best viewing is from the air. You might just want to catch an inter-island flight to the Hilo airport and just walk over to the helicopter and small plane departures and take one of them, like Hilo Wings.
If you do take a helicopter or small plane tour, here’s some pics of what you may see: my friend was up just last week and took these pictures.
Now, as for the park being closed – everything is currently open except for some pretty advanced hiking trails near the current flow. The closures only lasted for a short time after the earthquakes around mid-June. There’s lot’s of interesting stuff to see and a huge crater that is easy to get to, but the flowing lava is only visible from the air right now. Check the absolute latest information with the National Park or my volcano blog.
Have fun! Lisa
First, what a great website! I find the information very interesting. My wife and I are planning a trip to Oahu next week and wanted to include a tour of the Volcanoes National Park. With all the current activity going on and based on their website, it appears that a good portion of the park is closed. We were really hoping to see some neat things, including lava, etc. With these developments, does it make more sense to tour from the air instead of the ground? If we still elected to tour from the ground, what is still open that would be worth seeing?
Vicki from Australia asks
My friend is visiting Oahu in March. Would it be cheap enough for him to hire surfboards there or would it be better to bring his own?
Well, before we explore prices and availability of surfboard rentals in Hawaii, let’s talk about whether it’s even a good idea to bring your own surfboard to Hawaii for use on your vacation. The How to Pack Your Shortboard for an Airplane Trip article at eHow.com reveals that surfboard noses are commonly broken in baggage holds and that airlines can charge big bucks for handling surfboards – so that’s a pretty big strike against bringing your own surfboard.
At Hawaii Surf Board Rentals.com on Oahu they state they offer free, island-wide delivery and pickup of quality surfboards for between $50 and $90 for the first two days and $10 each additional day. (Prices may change, check the website).
Also, anyone who wants to just try surfing in the Waikiki area can walk onto Waikiki Beach and rent a surfboard for about $20 for an hour or two. Just look for the rental booths and the racks and racks of surfboards. There are several spots along the beach.
So, Vicky, it appears to me that renting a surfboard once he gets here is your friend’s best option. I hope he has fun!
More rental websites:
… Neal wrote and suggested this – thanks Neal!
I would like to make a suggestion to let visitors know that they can also buy a surfboard when visiting Oahu. While many may prefer to rent, there are other surfers who can buy a cheap used surfboard here and then take it home as surfboards back home cost way more than they do here. Hawaii, being the home of surfing also boasts a wide array surfboard shapes and types and lower end prices. Aloha, Neal
Filed under: Big Island, Big Island Activities, Dolphins, Oahu, Oahu Activities, Plants and Animals, Vacation Planning
Years ago I was able to swim with dolphins (in a rescue program?) in a closed lagoon at a posh resort on the Big Island, for $50 if I remember correctly. Now my wife is interested but we are not headed that way. Heading to Oahu and Kauai end of November. Do you know of any other program like that?
On the Big Island, you probably did the Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. These days, it’s more like $200 though . I don’t believe there is any such program on Kauai, but on Oahu, you have the Dolphin Quest at the Kahala Hotel and Resort and the Sea Life Park has a dolphin swim program too. I can’t say which would be ‘better’ but I know in the past if the dolphin gives the OK you could hold onto their fin and get a ride at Sea Life Park, which is something the Dolphin Quest does not do.
My fiance and I are looking to have our wedding in Oahu in June or July of 2007. Can you tell me any locations that are really beautiful ? I have done A LOT of research but would like another opinion. My fiance lived there for 11 years (military kid), but that was 15 years ago and I am sure so much has changed!
Well, what hotel are you staying at? Most hotels have a gorgeous garden or building set aside for weddings. As a matter of fact, a hotel garden is probably the ONLY place near the ocean where there will be flowers. Waialae beach park also seems to be a popular place for weddings. I think you can have weddings at Waimea Falls and Waimea Bay, and Sunset Beach is really pretty too – really a ‘typical’ hawaiian beach. Congratulations! Lisa
Thanks for the info! We are staying at the Hole Koa (miltary family) and we really don’t want to have it there?
Oh but the Hale Koa is gorgeous! That would be a nice place. Here, here’s some nice wedding pics at various locations that might help you out a bit.