I often rant and rave about how much I love South Florida. After spending more than a week in Honolulu however, I’m afraid I’ve found my new favorite domestic destination.
O’ahu, Hawai’i is da business!
Sure it’s far. And it’s quite expensive. But man is it amazing!!!
My trip wasn’t exactly a fairytale vacation, as much as I tried, but I’m happy how the things I planned out actually worked. And therefore I’m excited to share the experience with others. If you are travelling with small children like I was, this is some advice you may be interested in (I know when I searched it wasn’t terribly straightforward to figure out best things to do and see, but here it goes from my point of view).
First things first… to pay for the flight I burned some airline miles. The cost: 20,000 each way, per person with American Airlines. Kids younger than two may fly free as a lap child. Older than 2 pay the full adult rate. It’s a long freaking flight, and in my case we had a connection in Dallas which was frustratingly tight. For some reason on our Dallas – Honolulu flight AA served sandwiches in addition to typical domestic freebies like chips and soda. I mention this because typically domestic flights don’t offer free food. But it seems AA matched what Hawaiian Airlines offers. I flew Hawaiian Airlines to Honolulu twice before, both on AAdvantage miles. First time I didn’t get to even leave the HNL airport transiting on a flight from South Korea to US, and second time I had an overnight layover (less than 24 hours in paradise) transiting from US to Australia, again flying Hawaiian Airlines.
Upon arrival we were determined to take a taxi to the hotel because it was cheaper than renting a car or booking some kind of shuttle. However, once we got our luggage I noticed the 10 mile ride to the city was to take over an hour because of rush-hour traffic, we ended up taking the $16/person shuttle bus. The last time I visited Honolulu and took a shuttle to my hostel I remember it costing more, but for whatever reason things have changed and now there are full size Roberts Hawaii buses running every 15 minutes serving the airport. As an aside there was a $7/person shuttle van stationed outside Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel but I wasn’t quite sure how they operated. Our bus was super convenient. Generally I would recommend the shuttle for convenience sake.
Another aside, we did rent a car. Twice! But I chose to do individual one-day rentals. Once in the middle of the trip to take a ride around O’ahu (North Shore) and another on our last day, to sightsee and drive back to the airport for our late night flight. The car rentals were expensive. First I booked a $50 van from Thrifty on Saturday (and a $60 SUV from Hertz on same day as a backup which I cancelled), and then a large SUV for $123 bux from Hertz which included two car seats on Friday the day of departure.
More about sightseeing later. But more importantly about our hotel choice. As mentioned previously Hawaii is expensive, very expensive! In 2016 when I overnighted in Honolulu on my flight to the Pacific I paid over $30 for a bed in a hostel. The hotel we chose for this trip was almost ten times as much! We chose Hyatt Place for three reasons: 1. Location was perfect, a block from Kuhio Beach and Honolulu Zoo, 2. Free breakfast which was delicious for the first three days but then it was repeated over and over which lost its appeal and 3. No $25/daily resort fee which most other hotels charged… which is very expensive!
Forgot to mention I booked the Hyatt thru Hotels.com and not directly. Why? Because it was cheaper and there were more perks. Hotels.com Rewards program offers One night free after Ten night stay. Which means after 10 nights at $275/night you get $275 credit towards another future Hotels.com booking. You don’t need to spend it on a single night, it goes towards your future hotel bill for that value which could obviously be multiple night booking. I bought Hotels.com gift cards to pay for our stay saving roughly 10% or almost $300 bux on the final bill. And used BeFrugal.com rebate site to buy gift cards and book the hotel, which yielded almost another $100 off. In all we saved roughly $700 on our pricey hotel. Was it worth it? The savings, yes! But the hotel could have cost less for what it was. That said all Waikiki hotels are overpriced.
Best part of the Hyatt Place it was convenient in many ways and I would highly recommend it. Of the 10 day vacation we only had 1 full day of rain which happened the day before we left so we got extremely lucky. But everything was walking distance from where we stayed and that was super convenient. The Zoo was close and we did it on a cloudy day until it cleared up and then kids went back to the beach. In fact most days we went to the beach twice a day. Kuhio Beach is amazing with perfectly still clear water because of a man made breaker, it was so awesome for me and the kids to go swimming in.
Food was amazing outside of the free hotel breakfast. Lots of Asian options. Plenty of American fast food too. Lots of different price points for food. I preferred the cheaper truck food options which were between $10 to $15 a plate. While the restaurants, like one of the Sushi places, or the traditional Hawaiian place Da Ono dishes were over $20 for anything bigger than pu pu’s (small tapas like plates). I’ll add some restaurant and food truck recommendations later on to this post.
Sightseeing wise, Waikiki Beach is totally walkable and we tried to walk a lot. For lunches and dinners and for shopping. There’s lots of luxurious stores and malls, much like a long Orchard Road in Singapore. But also some good hole in a wall places too. We walked as far as Ala Moana mall for its court, but also to get discounted supplies at Walgreens because closer supermarkets were not cheap for stuff like diapers.
Long distance sightseeing, I quite enjoyed our Saturday single day car rental to go the long way around to the North Shore. I took the cheap city bus to the airport, it was $2.75/each way or $5.50/day pass.. it took about an hour. Best part I didn’t have to worry about parking overnight, which again wasn’t cheap. The route we followed was simple, counter-clockwise around the island going east, northeast and then back the same way when we ran out of daylight. We saw the blowhole, the lighthouse, the Chinamans hat, macadamia nut farm, horse farm, green turtle beach, etc. Only the Dole plantation was missed out so we left it and the waterfall to the last day. Traffic was bad around rush-hour because of single lane traffic when not on the highway, but overall it was manageable. Speed limits are quite low around the island. Most highway speeds are limited to 45mph and I almost got caught speeding by motorcycle cops near the airport on our way back to catch the flight, that took me by surprise (the bike cops) so be careful.
I’ll fill this post in with details over time with more recommendations, but I definitely want to encourage others to consider Hawaii as a destination because it really is such an amazing place. I want to go back for sure…
PS. It snowed 6+ inches the day after we got home, so yeah… I wish we stayed longer.