Hawaii Vacation Booked!

In this thread, I asked dopers their opinions on which islands to visit, places to stay, and activities to consider for a Hawaiian vacation my wife and I were considering.

I have now booked our trip, which was originally going to be in August, but is now September. I will provide some information here on my planning progress to this point, and some insights I’ve gained in the process.

The flights

I agonized over the flight details because (a) my wife and I wanted to fly business or first class, (b) the flight to Hawaii is so long; 11 to 15 hours, depending on how you fly, © it’s expensive, and (d) domestic first class generally sucks.

After spending almost a week researching flights, I almost decided to bite the bullet and fly coach as we simply couldn’t justify paying the exorbitant $5416 fare from Philadelphia (PHL) to Honolulu (HNL) or $5702 to Maui (OGG). After checking TripAdvisor, Travelocity, Kayak, Hotwire, Orbitz, and Priceline, and even the websites of the airline’s themselves, everything I found was between $5400 and $6000. I also called a couple of travel agents with no better results.

I then expanded my search to surrounding airports to see if first class fares would be more reasonable from alternate locations. Long story short, I settled on Newark Liberty (EWR) as it is the next closest major airport to me. I initially didn’t have much luck with Newark. I knew they had a direct flight to Honolulu through Continental, which was very attractive to me as it is only 10 hours and 40 minutes, but the price, at $3265 per person, was too crazy to consider, so I started looking at non direct flights, which were less expensive, but not by much, certainly not enough to justify the multiple stops and layovers.

Continuing my research, I found what I thought had to be a mistake; Delta was offering first class, round trip flights to Maui for $1682 per person out of Newark Liberty. Every other airline’s first class fares were at least $1200 more per person. Something had to be off. I searched for the same flights on other sites, and found pretty much the same information. I then went to Delta.com and, sure enough, they had the same prices. Not satisfied, I called Delta’s reservation line and spoke to a rep who confirmed the fare. It made no sense. I couldn’t find another airline with fares anywhere close to Delta’s. What frustrated me is I was (and still am) unable to find out why. I mulled over booking the flight for a few days. Although I was concerned that the clock was ticking on this fare, I couldn’t shake the thought that I had to be overlooking something. After a few days, the fares hadn’t changed. Daunted, yet tingling like a lottery winner, I finally went ahead and booked the flight. I now have 2 round trip tickets to Maui for the price Continental would have charged for 1.

Here’s the itinerary of the flight to Maui.

Newark (EWR) to Atlanta (ATL) on an MD88 (2 hours, 38 minutes)
Atlanta (ATL) to Honolulu (HNL) on an Airbus a380 (9 hours, 4 minutes)
Honolulu (HNL) to Maui (OGG) on a Boeing 717 (37 minutes)

There’s nothing special about first class on an MD88. It just has wider seats and a little more legroom than coach. Bleh. First class on Delta’s Airbus a380, however, has sleeper seats, and real first class amenities. I was pleasantly surprised because I was told, even by travel agents, that domestic first class on all airlines is significantly inferior to that of international carriers, and my personal experience flying for work bore this out. But I, and they, were wrong.

My flights back are even better.

Maui (OGG) to Los Angeles (LAX) on a Boeing 757-200 (4 hours, 59 minutes)
Los Angeles (LAX) to Atlanta (ATL) on a Boeing 777-200LR (4 hours, 25 minutes)
Atlanta (ATL) to Newark (EWR) on a Douglas DC-9-50 (2 hours, 3 minutes)

First class on the 777-200LR is amazing, with lie-flat sleeper seats in semi-surround pods. Again, I always thought this level of first class accommodations was not available on domestic carriers. Once again, I’m glad I was wrong.

Islands selection

Part of the process of selecting flights was determining which islands we wanted to visit during our trip. Based on advice from very helpful dopers, we decided to limit ourselves to 2 islands. We’d originally planned to make this a 7 day vacation, but lengthened it to 9 so we wouldn’t have to rush around trying to do and see everything we want to do and see. Even with the extension, however, we decided to stick to two islands.

After weeks of research, discussion, and a few arguments, we thought we’d decided on Maui and the Big Island as the two places we’d split our time between. But it wasn’t to be. We continued to discover ‘can’t miss’ activities and events on other islands, and found ourselves constantly back at square one. We knew one of the islands would definitely be Maui because of our flights, but it was a challenge selecting the second one. I wanted to do the Big Island because of Volcanoes National Park, but I really couldn’t see spending much more than 2 days there, 3 tops, which would mean 6 to 7 days in Maui, which I think would be a little too much. My wife wanted to do Oahu because of all the activities and the shopping, but we were both concerned about the crime and congestion. We both considered Molokai for a second, but knew we’d be bored after half a day of that, and Kauai is not exactly a hotbed of excitement either, so it was nixed as well. Ultimately, we decided that there’s no way we will have an opportunity to experience everything and, as we wanted to get the most out of our time there, settled on Oahu and Maui.

Making the flights work for our trip

Before I get to the painful, yet ultimately successful, search for acceptable island accommodations, I’ll briefly go over an adjustment I had to make, causing a loss I had to live with.

Once we settled on Oahu and Maui, we needed to then decide which island to visit first. This should have been a no-brainer. We’re flying into Maui, so Maui first, right? Well, no. We’d been reading a lot about a luau that grabbed our interest called the Fia-Fia. We found that this luau is only performed on Thursday nights at the Marriott Ihilani in Oahu. The challenge was our flight is arriving in Maui Thursday evening, so we’d miss it. To remedy this, we decided, since our flight itinerary had us changing planes in Oahu on our way to Maui, to simply skip the final leg and stay in Oahu. Now, if I’ve made sense so far, you should have three questions.

  1. Why didn’t I book the flight to Oahu in the first place instead of Maui?

  2. Won’t I lose my fare to Maui if I don’t use the ticket?

  3. Won’t my luggage be sent on to Maui even though I’ve skipped the flight?

Re: 1. Prior to booking my flights, I looked into flying into Oahu and out of Maui. No matter which airline I checked, or itinerary, or airport, or even season, the cost was $900 to $1500 more than for the flights I ultimately selected, even on Delta. Yes, I could simply have booked a round trip to Oahu, flown on my own a few days later to Maui, and then back to Oahu to catch my flight back to Newark at the end of my vacation, but that would have been very expensive as well because, for some reason, a round trip flight to Oahu is more expensive than a round trip flight to Maui, even one that has to land in Oahu first so one can change planes. The Delta airline rep said it was because HNL in Oahu is a much busier airport than OGG in Maui. That doesn’t make much sense to me as I’m changing planes in Oahu anyway, but there it is.

Re: 2. Yes, if I skip the last leg of my flight and stay in Oahu instead of going on to Maui, it is “likely”, notice the quotes, that I will be unable to reap any benefit from the Maui ticket. The Delta agent advised, however, that when I get to Oahu, to go to a ticket agent to see if I can get the ticket changed to a later date. She couldn’t guarantee it would be done, but said it wouldn’t hurt to ask, which is exactly what I plan to do. If I’m unable to work my chaaahms on the ticket agent, so be it. I’ll just buy a ticket to Maui for four days hence; they’re only $65, so no big deal.

Re: 3. We’re not taking any luggage, so nothing will be checked. My wife and I will have everything we need in our North Face Borealis backpacks that we will carry onto the plane. They’re small, light weight, and can easily fit into the smallest of airline overhead compartments, or even under the seat in front of you.

So, at this point, our complete flight itinerary looks like this:

  • Thursday morning, fly out of Newark, change planes in Atlanta, and fly into Oahu Thursday afternoon.
  • Tuesday morning, fly from Oahu to Maui
  • Saturday evening, fly out of Maui, change planes in Los Angeles, change again in Atlanta, and fly into Newark Sunday midday.

The search for Spo…um, I mean accommodations

Of everything we spent time researching for this trip, deciding where we were going to lay our heads at night was the most excruciatingly painful.

Oahu

Although we selected Oahu as our first destination, we immediately dismissed Honolulu. Almost everything I’d heard or read about the place, especially Waikiki, was bad. I know it sounds callous and insensitive but, when I’m on vacation, I want to be as far from poverty and crime as possible.

My wife’s a resort kind of gal. She lives for the pampering, the amenities, the views, aromas, and scents, and likes to be manied, pedied, coifed, and massaged into oblivion. You see my dilemma.

One of the first places we looked at was Turtle Bay resort on the North Shore. Nothing really bad about this place. It has most of the amenities my wife wants. From a personal perspective, however, the accommodations, although quaint and clean, are dated. Also, being on the North Shore, it’s as far from everything as one can get and still be in Oahu, which is not bad if you’re looking for that. I consider the prices for their accommodations, which start around $250 per night, to be quite reasonable. In the end, we never really considered Turtle Bay because of its distance.

A resort we actually booked and ended up canceling was the Marriott Ihilani. This seemed to have everything we wanted, a nice semi-secluded beach, very nice accommodations, spa packages galore, fantastic views, wonderful amenities, far enough from Honolulu so that you feel you’re on another island, yet close enough to get to in 30 minutes by car for the times you want the never-sleep excitement of the city. The Ihilani is not cheap. We booked the Pacific Suite, which was $849 per night, but man, what a suite, and that’s not their most expensive. The Pacific Suite is oceanfront, has a dining area with a table for 4, 2 lanais, 2 full bathrooms, 4 TVs, and 2 entrances. The Ihilani also had the Fia-Fia Luau we wanted to experience.

Most of the down sides to the Ihilani were really annoyances more than anything, but they added up. Staying at the Ihilani means you must rent a car, which is fine. I was planning to anyway. The annoyance in this regard is not only is there an extra $30 per day parking fee, parking is valet only, which means every time you need to exit or return to the resort, you’re tipping some dude to get or park your car. Not a big deal, but an annoyance. I told the reservations person that I’d be willing to pay a little more for the suite to not have to deal with all the tipping. She either wouldn’t or couldn’t accommodate me. Another annoyance is the nickel and diming. Everything is extra and everything is very expensive. $50 for buffet breakfast anyone? They charge for beach chair use, for umbrellas, for the internet, for cabanas. There’s even a $30 resort fee that covers, I think, a daily newspaper, some other needless things, and local calls. Local calls? I’m in Hawaii. Who am I going to call locally? And if I have to make a call, I have my cell phone. Really nothing is included in the cost of the room or suite. As annoying as that is, I guess I could have dealt with it if it weren’t for on-site timeshare agents who constantly try to entice you to purchase one of the Ko-Olina properties down the cove owned by Marriott, a huge Disney resort is under construction right next door, the Ihilani’s main restaurant is close Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, which is when we’d be there, and finally, the Fia-Fia luau is no longer at the Ihilani and there’s no guarantee it will be back. In the end, all the little things were a bit too much, so we canceled.

By this point, we were softening to the idea of Honolulu. I’d heard some really good things about the Halekulani so I checked it out. It’s expensive; their small rooms start around $450 per night, but it is exclusive, and has a reputation as a high-class resort. It also, however, has a reputation for unprofessionalism and rudeness. Their rooms, and especially their suites do look nice, but if an establishment’s employee rubs me the wrong way, I could very well say or do something I’d later regret. Best not to chance it.

We researched a number of resorts along the beach. I won’t mention most of them here but, suffice it to say, many of them have huge shortcomings, such as no beach at a marketed ‘beach front resort’, among other deceptions.

Something you don’t normally think about when contemplating a resort, we didn’t, is the possible presence of vermin. I’ve heard and read that a number of the resorts and hotels along the beach have roach infestation problems. If I read one review that mentions a roach problem I take it with a grain of salt. If I read 3 or more reviews of a single location with roach problems, some with pictures, I take it a lot more seriously. Many resorts didn’t get a first glance from me because of reviews with disgusting photos of insects. Sorry. Bugs are a showstopper for me.

Based on recommendations from one of my wife’s coworkers who was there last year and loved it, we researched and then booked a one bedroom suite at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The resort sits on 22 acres and has 20 restaurants, 5 swimming pools, and a ton of shopping right on the premises. Prices here are very reasonable, starting at around $175 per night for a positively Lilliputian 300 sq/ft room, but which is still an amazing price for resort accommodations in Hawaii. If my wife weren’t such a prima do…I mean such a deserving person, I’d go for one of those small rooms in a second.

We’re going to be in Oahu for four days. Because we will be staying in (color me surprised) Honolulu, I won’t have to rent a car. I figure we will be able to get just about anywhere we want to go by bus. By the way, you can get a four-day bus pass for unlimited bus rides for $25. Get more information at www.thebus.org

Maui

After our four days in Oahu, we’ll be off to Maui for 5 days. The first resort we considered in Maui was the Grand Wailea based on reviews and advice. It’s absolutely gargantuan. However, the more I read, the more the negatives became evident. Like the Ihilani in Oahu, Grand Wailea gets you coming and going. Everything, and I mean everything is an extra charge. I guess you can’t let that get to you if you’re going to Hawaii. It does, however, make you feel less than pampered if every time you turn around you’re taking out your wallet. At least provide the guest the illusion they’re special and offer a program where everything can be paid upfront, or part of the accommodations package. But what deterred me from booking at the Grand Wailea is how poorly the accommodations are maintained. We wanted to book a suite in the exclusive Napua wing. But after reading many reports from former guests about chipping paint, peeling wallpaper, stained carpeting, dated furnishings, and less than sparkling bathrooms, I couldn’t justify it and, believe me, I tried.

Our choice finally came down to either the Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton. My brother’s bank recently sent its Corporate Trust execs for a four-day congratulatory trip to Maui. It was actually some kind of national bank event as approximately 300 bankers from about 40 or so different banks were awarded the privilege. They all stayed at the Ritz Carlton. I think whoever managed the event for the banks booked half the resort. My brother said it was amazing. He’s extremely critical, of everything, so when he didn’t have a bad thing to say about the Ritz Carlton, my decision was made.

The very next day I called the Ritz Carlton and spoke with someone in reservations. I had so many questions, I was advised that it would probably be better if I spoke to the reservations manager as the rep was concerned about not having the information I wanted, or giving me the wrong information. Ultimately, my wife and I were able to speak with the reservations manager, whose name is Florence, and who has been amazingly accommodating and helpful the five times we spoke with her. She even gave us her cell phone number and said we could call at any time.

After Florence answered our seemingly endless list of questions, we finally booked an ocean front corner suite. It’s more money than I wanted to spend, but I was promised an amazing experience so I went for it. Sales hype you say? Possibly. We’ll see, I guess.

I was going to go into the activities we’ve tentatively planned for both Oahu and Maui, but this post is already too long, and it is way past my bedtime. I may post more info later.

<Stewie Griffin>Yes, yes, aromas and scents are the same thing. Feel good about catching that, do you?</sg>

  1. If you just choose not to show up for the HNL->OGG portion of your flight, you risk Delta canceling the rest of your itinerary. My uncle had this done to him when he disembarked in Atlanta (instead of continuing on to Hilton Head), and they would not restore his HHI->CVG return flights, even though he was a high ranking elite member. Savvy travelers have learned to deliberately do bookings like you did, and jump off at the layover instead of continuing on to the final destination, in order to save money. So airlines responded by putting teeth into no-shows. I’d only do this is the skipped segment was the final segment of my itinerary. So I’d caution you to be absolutely certain that they will keep your itinerary if you choose to skip the HNL->OGG portion.

  2. On May 5th, the Ritz Carlton Kapalua will be sold at auction. I don’t know what this will mean for you, but I’d be sure to call and find out. At the very least, you won’t be staying at the Ritz any more, so you probably won’t earn Marriott points if this is important to you.

http://www.mauinews.com/page/content.detail/id/547637.html

  1. It’s obvious that you’ve spent a lot of time trying to plan the “perfect” trip. The best part of being on the islands is relaxing, which is something that I think will do you a world of good.

Have only been to Hawaii once, for our 25th anniversary.
Loved Honolulu, with lots of things to do. Would go back there in an instant!
Loathed Maui and wouldn’t return there at gunpoint. Never been so bored on any trip in my entire life - and expensive to boot.
Honolulu at least had enough businesses to keep the prices competitive - Maui, on the other hand, just gouged you for everything.
Just my humble opinion.

Its cool that you’re going to Hawaii. I’m a little bummed out for you that you won’t hit the Big Island or Kauai, as they are absolutely gorgeous and quite a bit more laid back than Oahu or Maui. But that’s just my preference when I take a vacation: I have absolutely no problems sitting on a beach reading a book for hours on end. And as you say, you’ve got the little lady’s desires to accommodate as well.

Its a shame that the 9/11 attacks closed the Kolekole Pass. It was a great road to drive on with spectacular views.

That’s one way for you to kill a day, btw. Get a map of the island and drive all the way around it, stopping at various places of interest or to shop and eat. The Halona blowhole is pretty neat, as is hiking Diamondhead and touring the Punchbowl.

In fact, here’s a website that may help you find stuff to do should you need to fill time during your Oahu stay: http://www.portaloha.com/SecretsOfHawaii/index.htm

Thanks for that information. I just spoke to Delta about this, and they confirmed that, yes, if I were to just skip out on the last leg of my flight, my return flight would automatically be canceled, but if I do wanted to use the ticket to Maui at a later date or time, they can issue a change to the last leg of the trip to a later date, for which I’d have to pay a change fee, so it’s doable, and eliminates the need for me to have to purchase another ticket to Maui

You have no idea how disappointed I am to read this. Sigh. I just called the Ritz Carlton and spoke to the property manager Mark, who said although the property is being sold, it will remain a Ritz Carlton for the next 12 months, so the new owners will have to continue to operate the resort as a Ritz Carlton until at least May of next year. This is not the end of the world, I guess, but I am very concerned.

Relax? What is this strange word? :wink:

You’ll love the ritz carlton. We stayed there in February. We stayed in the “club level,” which cost about $100/night extra. It was worth it. They serve snacks, meals, fruits/vegs, and drinks (all you can eat drink) throughout the day, and the staff there is really nice and very professional. The property is so beautiful (our 2nd time back)–I think you’ll be happy with your decision.

I’m now wondering if the resort will be a Ritz Carlton in name only by the time I take my trip in September.

All I can say is that if I were a worker at a hotel that had been sold at an auction, I’d be looking for another job. And there’d be little incentive for that hotel to try and replace employees that leave. You know?

Honestly, if I were you, I’d look elsewhere. If your wife is into spas and pampering, I’d opt for the Four Seasons (which is nearer to the Shops at Wailea, Haleakala, and Hana). They are expensive, but they don’t nickel and dime you to death either.

Sorry to add to your confusion.

No, no. I appreciate your input and advice, so please feel free to offer up more. Had you not responded to my OP I probably would not have found out about the sale of the Ritz Carlton until it was too late to alter my plans.

As I said before, I think Four Seasons is the most comparable to the Ritz in terms of elegance and pampering. It’s in Wailea, which is a very beautiful, dry part of Maui, though a bit too somnulent for my taste, truth be known. And it comes with a hefty price tag, of course though FS doesn’t nickel and dime its patrons like the Grand Wailea. There is a nice upscale shopping center very nearby and lots of restaurants. Wailea also has a beautiful ocean front path that wanders for a mile or so along Wailea Beach, which is awesome for strolls or runs.

The downside to Wailea, IMO, is that it’s not near Lahaina. The first time we traveled to Maui, we stayed in Wailea and ended up traveling north to Lahaina 4 of the 7 days because most of our scheduled activities (snorkeling cruises, sunset catamaran ride, Warren & Annabelle’s (highly recommended), Old Lahaina Luau) were in Lahaina. And the 45-minute drive back to Wailea through the winding, dark roads is a killer because you’re still on mainland time.

Honestly, I personally prefer a bit more energy than Wailea offers (I’m not one to plop down at a resort and just sit there for a week), so since then we’ve stayed in the Ka’anapali area. In 2007 we bought a timeshare at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas North, which are beautiful units that are hybrids between an upscale hotel and a condo complex.

Ka’anapali is akin to a nice suburb. It has a nice energy to it during the day, but like most of Hawaii, really slows down once the sun sets. It has lots of restaurants and a nice walking path as well. However, there aren’t any true 5 star hotels in Ka’anapali. The closest is the Hyatt, which is very nice, but not as elegant as the Four Seasons IMO. However, it does have the advantage of being very near Lahaina.

Wailea is closer to the airport, Haleakala, and Hana. If those are on your list of must-do activities, then you should definitely consider staying there. If you have more Lahaina-based activities, then I’d lean towards Ka’anapali.

If you really want to get to other islands, and money doesn’t seem to be a huge issue, you CAN daytrip. So from Maui you can do a daytrip to Volcanos National Park - you go on a little plane early in the morning, land in Hilo, tour the park, then head back. With four of us, this sort of hop was out of budget, but with two, that is probably what we would have done.

Sounds like you’ve got it planned out. There are several threads here about what-to-do-and-see in Hawai’i. I’ve contributed to them now to the point that I consult them myself for my suggestions, and just reference them when people want to know what to do. You should check them out.

When we did our trip this was what we did. We stayed on Kauai and Oahu and did a daytrip to the Big Island. We had more than enough time to fly in, take a helicopter tour of the island, drive to Volcano National Park, hike for a couple of hours, tour the Macadamia plant and easily make our flight back to Kauai.