Questions about Vacationing in Hawaii

My wife and I are planning a seven-day vacation to Hawaii sometime in July. Neither she nor I have been there before, and would like to know, from dopers who have, what the must-sees and must-misses are.

We’ll be taking a direct flight out of Newark (EWR) to Honolulu (HNL) and have a choice of flying either United or Continental. The duration of both flights is 10 Hours and 40 minutes. I don’t know if there are any differences between the airlines.

We were strongly considering flying first class but, as I’m sure you know, domestic first class and international first class are like night and day, and I can’t see spending an additional $4000 for slightly wider seats and a little more leg room. For the life of me, I don’t know how domestic carriers justify their first class prices for what little extra they provide. Both of my first class flights to Japan and England we absolutely luxurious, with sleeper pods, an amazing selection of hot and cold dishes, fresh fruits, snacks, and beverages that never stopped, a wide selection of entertainment options, and top-notch attention from the flight attendants. Contrast this with the first class flight I took for work recently from Philadelphia (PHL) to LAX, which was just a wider standard seat, a choice of sandwich wrapped in plastic, a fruit cup, some chips and a drink, and a somewhat frazzled attendant who made it obvious that she was just trying to get through her day.

I’ve read a number of older threads on the topic, but things may have changed, so I’d rather not go down blind alleys if I can help it. We’re thinking of spending the first few days at a resort in Waikiki, although we haven’t selected one yet, and then do some island hopping for the remainder of our time, coming back to Oahu on the last day for the fight back home.

On to my questions

  • My wife wants to do the resort thing, at least for a few days. We’d like something preferably at the beach, and with a Hawaiian/Polynesian atmosphere if possible. So what are the recommendations for first-quality, full-service resorts in the Waikiki area?

  • I’ve read a surprising amount of negative feedback about theft, e.g., items stolen from suites, pick-pocketing, muggings, etc… Is theft a real problem in Hawaii? My wife and I recently went to Bermuda and felt completely safe the entire time and had absolutely no concerns about our belongings at out hotel, or even walking through town at night. The more I read about Hawaii, however, the more concerned I become.

  • My wife’s a shopper, so I guess we’ll be spending what I hope to be a very little time at Ala Moana shopping center. Since we’re going there anyway, I was thinking about stopping in at Shirokiya and picking up a few bentos. How authentic are the Japanese food selections there?

  • I read somewhere that there are no bags allowed at the Pearl Harbor Memorial/Arizona Memorial. Is this true? What does one do with purchases made along the way? What if we’re on a day tour and have video cameras, water bottles, towels, etc… with us?

  • While in Honolulu, does it make sense to rent a car, or is public transportation available and reliable?

  • We definitely want to experience a hike through Volcanoes National Park to see Kilauea’s lava flows on Big Island. We will probably want to visit Maui as well. My wife said helicopter trips are out of the question. What’s the best, least stressful way, to get from Oahu to the other islands?

  • I’ve heard there is limited public transportation on the islands outside of Oahu. First, is this true? If so, is it easy to rent a car on Maui or Big Island?

  • I’ve read that there are good luaus and luaus that are a complete waste of time, and because my wife definitely wants to experience one, is there a way to find out which are considered better than others and why?

  • We’re not big seafood eaters, but I’ll try something at least once, especially if I hear good things. My wife’s not a native of the United States, but her tolerance for exotic cuisine is practically nil, so I’ll have no choice but to be somewhat practical. What are a few really good restaurants and foods we should try?

  • For long hikes, are a good pair of athletic shoes acceptable, or should we go the steel-toed, rubber-soled cleated boot route?

I’d love to hear other suggestions anyone has. I understand that 7 days is not a long time to spend in Hawaii, so I’d like to maximize my activities without making it too crazy.


I’ll address a few of your questions!

Crime is high, especially opportunistic property crime (stealing from distracted or unsuspecting tourists). It’s because poverty is also high, and the public school system is… Not doing very well. Don’t bother locking your rental car- just don’t leave anything in it that you don’t want grabbed.

I no longer care for Waikiki- in the last 20 years it has gotten crowded, dirty and not very aloha (I have been going to Hawai’i for almost 40 years now, fairly regularly). We always stay well away, preferring to be on the North Shore or out by Kapolei- try the JW Marriott Ihilani- you can drive to Waikiki but don’t ave to stay there! :slight_smile:

Rent a car- it’s just easier.

Luaus can be fun if you go with the flow, but yes some are pretty tacky. Paradise Cove on Oahu isn’t too bad.

A great medium-level hike on Oahu is up to Manoa Falls, although due to drought it’s been more of a trickle the last few years. Sturdy sneakers or Tevas are fine, but please remember the red dirt does NOT wash out. Ever. Another nice hike is inside the Diamond Head crater, going up to the top- the view is spectacular.

Check the USS Arizona memorial’s website for current bag restrictions. Whatever they say, obey.

Lots of different levels of shopping available! The kids and I love the swap meet at Aloha Stadium (Wednesday & weekends) for souvenirs, beach towels, sharks teeth and puka shells, etc, while you can’t pry my mom away from Maui Divers without yet another piece of gold coral!

All of this is advice for Oahu. I’ll probably think of more in a bit!

Shrimp trucks- justifiably famous. Fried shrimp and scampi are the usual offerings, plus other seafoods. You find them strung out along the North Shore highway- our favorite is Famous Kahuku shrimp, which shares a parking lot with Giovanni’s.

While on the North Shore, stop in for a shave ice at Matsumoto’s General Store. Yes, I know the line stretches around the building- it’s worth it.

The lovely Buddhist Byodo-In temple is a must visit- beautiful, peaceful and very photogenic.

There is an awesome turtle beach on the North Shore, you can get within 5 feet of giant sea turtles when they cone onshore for a nap!

If you fly United, you can get Economy Plus seats, which have a few inches more legroom. Continental (which is becoming United) is slowly upgrading to the same configuration. I’ve been to Hawaii maybe 7 times in the past few years for work: and let me tell you, these are very uncomfortable flights.

Are you like absolutely decided that you want to spend time in Waikiki? Because other than shopping, seeing Pearl Harbor, and having a beer at Dukes, Honolulu isn’t exactly the greatest destination in and of itself. The other islands have much better attractions, IMHO.

If you are going for one week, I would strongly urge you to pick one island other than Oahu and stay there. Even though flights between islands are very short, they really kill half a day of vacation time. Hawaii is about relaxing and going with the flow, not scheduling one’s self into a tropical bag drag.

Upon re-reading the OP, both flights out of Newark will be on a Continental plane. I’m sure it is a code share. Doesn’t matter which one you book.

I looked for Economy Plus online, but none of the domestic carriers mention it, including United. I’m absolutely not at all in love with spending 10 plus hours in a cramped economy seat. I just can’t justify the extra $4K for their version of first class. I had an Economy Plus seat on a recent trip to Paris and it wasn’t bad. I truly wish there were other options that make sense for my Hawaii trip.

Nope, I am not married to Waikiki. I just want to make my wife happy, and a nice resort will help fill the bill. If you have any other suggestions, I’m all ears.

Good point.

Yep. I kind of figured that, what with both airlines charging the exact same price with the exact same itinerary.

Well, that’s depressing. Thanks for the tip though. I guess I’ll have to be a little less care-free than I’d planned. :frowning:

Thanks. I’ll look up the JW Marriott Ihilani’s website.

Okay. This confirms what I’ve read.

Paradise Cove. Gotcha. I’ll check into it.

I hadn’t read anything about Manoa Falls, so thanks for the info.

Hmm, I may have to end up skipping this attraction. My wife has a list of necessities she won’t go out without, so I don’t see how we’ll be able to get past their bag restrictions.

Shopping is my wife’s middle name, so she’ll find this interesting.

After listening to what you ar looking for, and your apparent budget, the Grand Wailea on Maui is screaming out at me as the answer. It has got everything a resort could offer.

My personal favorites are the two hotels (keep forgetting their names) at Poipu on Kauai. But they are kind of smaller resorts, and not so much shopping on Kauai.

Re First Class: Check to see if United offers the ability to book two different cabins on the same itinerary. Delta allows this. This allows you to fly coach on the way out and FC on the way back. We do this whenever we’re able because I’m quite content reading and listening to music on the way out when I’m awake and traveling with the sun. However, on the redeye home, I want to sleep.

Note: Many airlines also allow you to fly into one Hawaiian island (e.g. HNL) and out of another (e.g. KOA) for around the same price as in/out of HNL. Don’t assume you have to return to HNL. Doing so will save you the cost, AND the extra hassle, of that last intra-island flight.

-Re Pearl Harbor aka USS Arizona Memorial: Last time I went, it was no bags. Just put some money and credit cards in your pocket and hang the camera around your neck. Hint: Arrive very early. In case you didn’t know, everyone has to take a Naval ferry over to the memorial, which is erected over the sunken USS Arizona. Instead of having people wait in a huge queue for the ferry, they hand out timestamped cards when you arrive. Best case scenario is that you’ll be given a timestamp that is no more than 90 minutes from the time you arrive, which will give you time to mill around the museum and grounds before or after. Worst case is that you’ll be given a timestamp that is seven hours later. So do yourself a favor and arrive early (~7:30am).

My ideal itinerary would be to get to Pearl Harbor at 7:30am, finish up by 11am, eat lunch next door at the food court at the USS Missouri HQ, then take an early afternoon Explorer’s tour of the U.S.S. Missouri. Finally, head to Punchbowl Cemetery before returning to the hotel for dinner. I did that (minus Punchbowl) on my first trip to Hawaii and it was one of my favorite days on Hawaii ever. Very moving.

-Re rental car. I always rent a car. I like to explore. HNL does have good public transportation, but buses = lots of stops and taxis = $$. Parking is expensive at hotels, however, ~$25/day, so figure that in before determining whether to rent a car for the week or just rent a la carte. Costco has the best rates (Alamo) that I’ve found.

  • The only way to get from one island to another is to fly. And even though you’re flying within the same state, you still have to deal with the same old hassle of flying – rental car return, luggage drop-off, TSA screening, flight, luggage pick-up, rental car pick-up, hotel check-in…You’ll be wasting no less than 5 precious hours of your vacation every time you decide to change islands. Which leads me to…

-There is NO WAY I’d visit three island in 7 days. In addition to the travel hassle, remember that check-out at hotels is generally 10-11am while check-in isn’t til 3 or 4pm. And since you don’t want to leave your luggage in your car (theft), you’ll be orphaned until check-in. I’d strongly advise limiting your island hopping to 2.

Personally, I’d do HNL (2 nights), then Maui or Big Island (5 nights).

-Volcanoes - If you want to see the volcano, be sure to fly into HILO and not Kona. Hilo is very wet and cool, so pack long pants and jackets. You absolutely must rent a car on Big Island or Maui. Don’t assume you’ll see flowing lava on Big Island – last time we went the lava was flowing through private land. Nonetheless, the volcano is very cool. If you spend anytime on Big Island, consider flying into Hilo (wet side/volcano) and out of Kona (dry side/resort area). It’s a beautiful 2-3 hour drive between the two areas. Alamo and National both allow you to rent a car in one city and return in the other without incurring a drop-off fee, but you have to reserve it that way.

  • Luaus. I’ve only been to the Old Lahaina Laua on Maui. While it was something fun to do with the kids, I wasn’t bowled over. Food was meh, drinks were watery, but the dancing was very good. I actually preferred the dancing at the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s free lounge show better.

-If you hike in the rain forests, best to pack hiking shoes as tennis shoes tend to be slippery. Otherwise, tennis shoes are fine.

-As far as other activities, it depends on what island you’re on. If you head to the Kona side of Big Island, I’d highly recommend the night manta ray snorkel. If you’re on Maui or Big Island, I’d recommend ziplining. On Maui, I’d recommend the all-day Triology snorkeling trip to Lanai or an early morning trip to Molokini on one of the smaller boats. I’ve also heard great things about the astronomy trip on Big Island.

I’d caution you against over-scheduling activities. I’d also caution you that because you’re staying just a short time, your body won’t fully adapt to Hawaiian time. Schedule activities very early Hawaiian time as 7am will feel like noon to you. Don’t be surprised if you’re up at 4am and in bed by 8pm most days. So make dinner reservations early – no later than 6pm. All that snorkeling, hiking, touring will be exhausting!!

USS Arizona – you don’t want to do this unless you’re there before opening anyway. I’m not a real fan of early mornings on vacation but we got there an hour before opening and there was already a huge lineup. We wore very light jackets with deep pockets for that day in order to deal with the no bags rule. Also we hit the gift shop first thing and acquired a shopping bag 
Of the three islands we visited I enjoyed Oahu the least.
I have never been to Maui but I absolutely loved Kauai. There are several very nice resorts but almost no shopping. It’s generally quiet and peaceful (except for the chickens). Waimea Canyon is accessed through the south west side of the island and is basically a more stunning version of the Grand Canyon. Napoli coast on the north side is definitely worth a dinner cruise around.
Helicopter tours of the islands are well worth it, particularly Hawaii itself.
Since you’re not going to July – I recommend a couple issues of I still subscribe, every couple of months I get a little dose of Hawaii goodness on my iPad.

I looked up Grand Wailea, and you’re correct, this is kind of what I’m looking for. I’m also very impressed with the JW Marriott Ihilani that Moirai mentioned, but now that I’m considering skipping Oahu, I’m happy I have an alternative.

I’m not seeing this offered, but as I refine my travel selections I’m hopeful better options will present themselves.

Now that is something I’m interested in, and wasn’t aware it was even possible. I will definitely check this out. Thanks!

Yeesh. This sounds like more hassle than I think I want to deal with.

I’ll have to play it by ear. If we end up spending any time on Oahu, and have four or five hours to kill, I may consider it but, at this point, I’m placing Pearl Harbor in the ‘Pass’ column.

Are there any vendors that rent convertibles that you know of? If I’m going to drive in Hawaii I want to do it in a sports car. :slight_smile:

I’m not in love with the prospect of spending five hours in the process of flying for a trip that takes 40 minutes. Isn’t (wasn’t) there a ferry that takes passengers, and their cars, to other islands?

I’d love to do a ten day trip. Unfortunately, being away from work for that many consecutive days would present somewhat of a hardship for my company, so I’ll have to make due for now. There will be plenty of long vacations for me once I retire. :slight_smile:

How about 5 on Maui and 2 on Big Island? Are there enough activities for such an itinerary?

Fly into Hilo. Got it.

The Fia Fia show at Ihilani on Oahu looks interesting and fun. I’ll check out the Hilton Hawaiian Village show. Thanks!

So good athletic shoes should be adequate then.

I love everything you’ve just mentioned. Snorkeling is a non-starter for my wife, but everything else sounds great!

Ah, that’s right. I forgot about the time difference. Something to keep note of.

Speaking of dinner cruises, are there any that you recommend? My wife would love to do this.

Another vote for Molokini Crater. It’s pretty awesome and you’ll make an additional stop on the way back to swim with green turtles.

We had a convertible to cruise the North Shore with. Lots of good memories there.

Tours around Kilauea were probably the best part of our trip.

We just got back from Hawaii–5 days in Kauai, Poipu Beach Hyatt Regency, and 5 days in Maui at the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua.

Both properties are amazingly beautiful, as are both entire islands. We went back for our 10 yr anniversary, after having spent our honeymoon in Kauai/Maui/Big Island. We skipped big island this time, because we hated it. We found it to be a big, boring black rock of an island vs. the two beautiful green islands that are Kauai and Maui. We also don’t bother with Oahu. We hear so much about how crowded it is, and these reports of high crime don’t surprise me. We flew out of Newark too–why bother flying 12 hours from Newark to go to a high crime area–LOL! If I did go to Oahu it would be for 1-2 days at the very most, just to see Waikiki Beach and maybe Pearl Harbor.

If you go to Kauai, you absolutely have to eat at the Beach House in Poipu (about 1 mile from the Hyatt). Most amazing sunset view in the world! And great food and drinks, too. We did have some rain in Kauai, which is a wet island, and I believe Feb is the wettest month there. (I think it’s drier in July.) Maui’s weather was perfect 24/7! Gerard’s in LaHaina is a great restaurant in Maui. It’s pricey, but if you’re thinking of flying first class, the restaurant is probably within your budget. 10 years ago we rode bicycles down Haleakala in Maui, which was an amazing experience. You go up pre-sunrise and it’s close to freezing, but by time you get down the mountain, you arrive at a beautiful beach and enjoy brilliant sunshine and 85 degree weather!

I am really suffering vacation withdrawal, so I must stop now. Enjoy your trip!! Feel free to ask for more information.


Most of the big ones (Alamo, Hertz) rent convertibles. I prefer an SUV on Big Island.

It was called the SuperFerry, but it’s been grounded by environmentalists since shortly after its maiden voyage. I think you are envisioning Hawaii like the Caribbean – where islands are grouped together and a short ferry ride away. Maui and Big Island are ~25 miles apart and I believe it’s almost 100 miles to Kauai. You can easily see, and take a ferry ride to, both Lanai and Molokai from Maui, but they’re minor islands and less than 10 miles away. It takes about an hour to get there via the ferry. Even if the SuperFerry was still operational, it woudn’t be quicker, or cheaper, than flying.

You’ll run out of time well before you’ll run out of activities. I’ve been to Hawaii 4 times and still have activities on my “To Do” list.

5 on Maui and 2 on Big Island sounds like a do-able itinerary. I’d fly into OGG and try to arrive in the early afternoon, if at all possible. Some flights arrive at 7pm or later, which basically means that you’re going to pay $350+ plus resort fees at a hotel where you do nothing but collapse into bed. And remember that 9pm on Hawaii is 2 or 3am Eastern time, so you’ll be too tired to much of anything. So if you can get in during the early afternoon, do it.

If you can’t, note that most of Hawaii shuts down with the sun. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many restaurants open at 11pm, so plan your meals accordingly.)

Here’s a sample itinerary:

Day 1 - Fly into OGG – Rent a convertible and check into your resort. The main resorts are 15 minutes (Wailea) to an hour (Ka’anapali) away, depending on traffic. Eat dinner, wind down at the resort pool or hot tub and head to bed.

Day 2 - This is an ideal day to do a bright-and-early activity, such as biking/sunrise at Haleakala, because you’ll still be on mainland time. The companies pick you up from your resort at around 3am so that you’re at the summit by sunrise (~5:45am, IIRC). Afterward, head back to the resort and enjoy the pool.

Alternative: Road to Hana (Personally, I hated this, but I get car sick.)

Day 3 - Snorkeling at Molokini or the all-day trip to Lanai. Or kayaking. Or ATV’ing. Or hiking at Haleakala. What to do?

Day 4 - Ziplining, followed by Iao Needle State Park. Old Lahaina Luau or Warren & Annabelle’s at night. I prefer the latter myself, but if you want to do a luau, OLL is reportedly the best.

Alternate Day 4 - Day trip to the other resort area, then sunset catamaran ride for your last night on Maui. Or dinner at Mama’s Fish House.

Day 5 - Enjoy breakfast at the resort. Head to the airport for a noon or 1pm flight on Hawaiian Air, if possible. Arrive at Hilo and check-in to your B&B at 3pm. Head to Volcanoes National Park to view the glow of the volcano at night. Dinner at Kilauea Lodge (reservations).

Day 6 - All day at VNP.

Day 7 - Enjoy your last morning on Hawaii. Most mainland flights depart in the early or late evening, and most depart from Kona. If this is the case, feel free to use this last day to drive to Kona. It’s a beautiful drive and takes about 3 hours without stops. Just be sure to indicate on your rental car form that you need to drop off in Kona. Since most hotels have check-out at 11am, this is a nice way to use the time when you’re orphaned.

We did this on our trip to Maui last year, because so many people said it was an incredible experience. Alas, the day we did it turned out to be one of the days in which the mountain top was socked in by clouds (we were told, once we got up there, that this apparently happens something like 10-15% of the time), and so, sunrise turned out to just be a gradual lightening of the gray fog at the top of the mountain. It was pretty disappointing (not helped by the bus driver who loved the sound of his own voice), but the weather wasn’t something that could be predicted or controlled.

We’ve done it twice. Once was rainy; once was glorious.

Since we’ve done the downhill, the rules have changed due to several fatalities by bikers who weren’t paying attention. Now, the companies reportedly drive everyone to the summit to see sunrise. Afterwards, instead of departing from the summit, they drive back down a few thousand feet to right outside the national park gates. From there, you bike down.

Like everything else, whether you think you’d enjoy it depends on the unique individual.

Thanks. I’ll check these two out as well.

We’re actually closer to Philadelphia than Newark. The only reason we’re considering flying out of Newark is no other airport in the NY/NJ/PA tri-state area has direct flights to Hawaii.

Yeah, and it looks like I won’t even be doing that, so less of a reason to deal with Oahu at all.

Thanks Frank. So, I’m guessing there are bicycle rentals?