Make the most of your special getaway to the Hawaiian islands
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IMPORTANT MAUI WILDFIRE INFORMATION: On August 8, 2023 West Maui experienced a catastrophic wildfire. As of writing in late August, more than 100 lives have been lost, as well as the historic town of Lahaina. West Maui is closed to tourism, but the rest of Maui remains open and the Hawaii Governor, Josh Green, is asking vacationers to return to the island to support the economy as the island recovers from this immense tragedy. Find the latest information at Hawaii.gov.
While getting to Hawaii can be a long haul, once my family arrived in Maui in April 2021, it felt like a dream come true. After months at home during the pandemic, this Hawaii vacation was extra special.
The temperature was perfect every day thanks to trade winds that keep the air comfortable. We watched the humpback whales from the shore, (humpbacks spend the winter in the warm Hawaiian waters before returning to the North Pacific; peak whale watching season in Maui is January to March) and sea turtles greeted my husband as he surfed friendly (beginner) waves off of Kaanapali Beach. The dining was delicious, the sand soft, the surf soothing.
I’ve also traveled to Kauai with my family and Oahu but that was years ago. I compare the three later in the story.
Tips For a Hawaii Vacation
Reserve Rental Cars Well Ahead
Hawaii was always pricey, but rental car rates went up significantly during the pandemic, due to limited supply. As soon as you have travel dates, book your rental car. Don’t pay ahead – you should be able to cancel your car until the day of arrival. I like the website AutoSlash for quickly comparing rates between companies. I’ve used it many times and always found great discounts. They are just a comparison site – you will book directly with the rental agency.
If you’re a Costco member, I’ve recently been finding good car rental rates through Costco Travel.
Once you book, you can always monitor to see if the price drops and rebook if it does.
Reserve Dining Ahead of Your Trip
Dining reservations are booking up weeks ahead in Hawaii. (Capacity has declined due to some restaurant closured and a shortage of staff.) I recommend you make at least a few dining reservations well before your trip. And please cancel the ones you decide not to use.
This is especially true for Luaus which should typically be booked two months ahead.
Most restaurants are using the OpenTable reservation system because they don’t have enough staff to take reservations by phone. If you can’t get a reservation, many restaurants will seat a certain number of walk-ins each night. Do call ahead to confirm hours, which are fluctuating due to staffing issues. Go early.
Support Small Business
The pandemic has been very difficult for Hawaii which is very reliant on tourism. There are many ways to support small, local businesses. We went to a farmer’s market to buy some of our groceries and tried many of Maui’s delicious food trucks. There are excellent small grocers, bakeries, restaurants and coffee shops that offer wonderful food experiences.
Enjoy Local Foods
Hawaii has delicious fresh fish and seafood, incredible produce and traditional dishes you may have never heard of or tried such as Poi, Poke and Kalua pork. Make sure to try the shave ice – it’s nothing like shave ice I’ve had elsewhere.
Reserve Visits to Natural Landmarks
Pack Your Patience
The crowds have returned to Hawaii and you will need to be patient as many places are short-staffed. In some cases excursions and venues have limited capacity so things book up quickly. Remember that travel during a pandemic may come with delays and unexpected events. Be patient and flexible.
Consider Off-Season Travel
If you are concerned about the crowds or costs, consider traveling during the low seasons – April & May and September to early November. Off-season travel can be more relaxing and affordable. It also benefits the destination by easing the strain at busy times and supporting local businesses throughout the year.
Which Hawaiian Island Should I Visit
I’ve been to Oahu, Kauai and Maui; the Big Island is where I would like to visit next. They are all special and lovely. For more nightlife choose Oahu, Maui would be second. Maui has great snorkeling (especially at the Molokini Crater, which requires a day trip) but the Big Island is supposed to have great snorkeling as well, on the northwest coast. The Big Island seems ideal for outdoor adventuring. If you like luxury, Maui’s Wailea area and the island of Lanai will offer more upscale hotels, dining and service.
All that said, Kauai is my favorite. I would return in a heartbeat. But there are some practical considerations. Kauai is called the “Garden Isle” for a reason. It is the rainiest of the islands in winter, with December getting the most rain. If you are traveling in winter and would be disappointed by multiple days of rain, you may want to save Kauai for travel in the drier months of April through September.
Whichever island you choose, this truly special place with its unique culture and incredible beauty will be a wonderful vacation. I hope these Hawaii travel tips help you prepare for the trip so that once in Hawaii, you can relax and enjoy yourself. Hawaii is definitely worth the effort.