Hawaii is a destination on many peoples bucket list and rightly so. It is America’s Paradise, exotic but also genuinely American, distant but not too distant and an amazing blend of tropical waters, incredible beaches and unbelievable geology. There are eight major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago and each one has its own unique character. Because it’s a group of islands it is important to decide how to plan your visit and what you want to see. Our first good choice is cruising as you are able to see several of the islands in one trip. Alternatively, you can select an island to visit and just stay, with Oahu being our first choice. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches so be sure to do research before making your decision.
If you go with a cruise, only one company at present does weekly sailings around Hawaii and that is Norwegian. They primarily offer 7-night trips in and out of Oahu with stops usually on three additional islands. Alternatively, if you have around 14 nights available, you can sail round trip from several different California ports or one way from Vancouver Canada. Another favorite of ours is a trans-Pacific cruise. These usually either start or end in Sydney, Australia or Oahu, Hawaii. The advantage to these one-way sailings is they allow you to spend extra days on the island where the cruise begins or terminates and only pay for a one way plane ticket. With any of these options, you are likely to visit four or five different ports giving you the ability to do some great exploring on your own or taking a taking a guided tour to see the island.
The advantage to cruising is that you know many of the costs up front and you know you will have good meals and a comfortable bed every night. You get sea days to relax and port days to see as little or as much as you want. You also have the option to try food and drinks ashore and see highlights in each port (like volcanoes), and shop at local stores and galleries. Some ships also bring on board Hawaiian performers and craft instructors to teach you things like making leis. Our last cruise had a naturalist on board giving lectures on whales and other things you MAY see. The disadvantage to cruising Hawaii is that your time in port is limited so you may not get to all the highlights on a particular island.
If you decide to fly, you need to select which island you want to visit. Roundtrip air can be pretty expensive and, if you want to visit more then one island, you will need additional inter-island flights, also not cheap. Flying is the main transportation between islands as there is only one ferry service and it only connects Lahaina (Maui) and Lanai. Hotels are also fairly expensive as many of the hotels are upscale beach resorts. Food is more costly then what you you used to on the mainland, especially the upscale restaurants. If you don’t mind fast food, there are lots of options available to help keep costs down and Hawaii has some unique offerings not usual back on the continent. Because of the Asian influence you will see lots of sushi, and noodle places and don’t pass up visiting the food trucks.
Once you get over how expensive Hawaii can be, having several days to explore a particular island is a plus. You can walk, ride public transportation or hail a taxi but if you want to do a lot of exploring, renting a car is the way to go. If you book in advance, rental cars are actually not expensive but you will need GPS either in the vehicle or on your phone (our Verizon iPhones worked great for navigation). The islands are easily drivable but the long and unusual road names make navigation a bit of a challenge.
Whichever way you decide to visit Hawaii, plan your trip in advance so that you can get the most out of it. There is so much to see and do, it will be difficult deciding on priorities.
To get you started here are a few ideas:
- Visit the volcanoes on the Big Island and Maui
- Take a walk on Waikiki Beach
- Learn to surf and/or paddle board
- Have a Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation on Maui
- Go snorkeling among the 250 marine species that call the area home
- Sample coffee on Kona*
- Have a Hawaiian shave ice
- Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu
- Hike or bike one of the many lush nature trails
- Spend time on a beautiful beach
- Bring home Macadamias* or coffee
* Oahu also now has a new coffee grower and café located in the neighborhood of the Dole Plantation
**Hint: When you go shopping for Macadamia nuts visit the grocery and drug stores and save over the tourist stores. We visited the Mona Loa factory on The Big Island and their prices weren’t any better. Long Drug is the big Hawaiian drug chain and their prices are usually the best we’ve seen. They have also recently been acquired by CVS so if you have a CVS loyalty card be sure and use it and take your coupons and bucks with you.