For many, a visit to Hawaii is a dream vacation. Cost and distance conspire to force many to leave that dream on the bucket list, but for those fortunate enough to make the journey, Hawaii rarely disappoints.
I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune of visiting Hawaii twice over the last three years. The first time was with some of the agents and staff from Dreams Unlimited Travel (of which I am co-owner), and last year as part of our “Disney Beyond the Parks” series. While both of those visits were amazing and memorable, I kept feeling like I was missing something. I heard stories from others who extolled the beauty and grandeur of the other locales that make up the Hawaiian islands. There were those who said the Big Island (the island of Hawaii) was their favorite, while still others cast their vote for Maui – with its picturesque beaches and reputation for a slow-pace and quiet relaxation. Others said Kauai (pronounced Kew-wy-ee), the least populated of all the Hawaiian islands, was their destination of choice. It seems as though each of the islands has their fans, and while I enjoyed my two visits to Oahu, I really wanted to see what the rest of the islands were like, so I set about planning to see them.
On the occasions where I would think about a trip like this, I was daunted by one thought repeatedly – having to pack up and shuttle back and forth from airport to hotel to airport numerous times. In spite of the fact that I fly upwards of 70,000 miles a year, I DESPISE the process. I love the destinations and the experiences that await, but getting there is a pain. So, for this trip I decided on a week on Oahu followed by a 7-night cruise on board Norwegian Cruise Lines “Pride of America.” But that was the other part that had me worried – Norwegian Cruise Line is ‘hit-or-miss’ when it comes to service, and I’ve been spoiled for years by Disney Cruise Line (which, in my opinion is the best of them all).
Of course, as a Disney fan, Aulani – Disney’s resort on Oahu – has been the centerpiece of my previous visits and there’s no way I could visit Hawaii without spending at least a few nights there. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – without a doubt Aulani is the BEST resort in Disney’s portfolio. I’ve stayed at every Disney resort on both coasts, and the Disneyland Paris resort in France. None of them hold a candle to Aulani – and that’s saying something.
So, the plan was that I would spend the first week on Oahu’s fabled North Shore at the “Turtle Bay Resort,” followed by the 7-night cruise on Pride of America and a four night stay at Aulani.
WHEN TO GO
As with any vacation, figuring out the right time to visit is all important. Those that are free to travel off season will find better deals. From a weather perspective though, there really isn’t a great deal of difference in Hawaii month to month. Temperatures range from highs in the 80’s to lows in the 70’s pretty much year round. November – March is considered the rainy season, with an average rain 10 days out of the month. In terms of the popular times to travel, high season in Hawaii is generally from December – April. The slower season tends to run from April – June and September – November.
Getting to Hawaii is a major part of the expense most people incur in making this trip. Those living on the west coast have it a little easier (the flight is 5 hours) and a little cheaper. We flew direct from Atlanta for a 9 ½ hour flight to Honolulu. In July, the cheapest coach seat we could find was $1300 round trip. However, there are deals to be found, especially if you’re willing to travel off season (Nov-Mar). For example, a round trip non-stop flight from Newark, NJ to Honolulu can be had for as low as $800 per person in November. Kayak.com is a great resource for researching your flights. It will compare the published fare from most major airlines and give you advice on whether to wait before purchasing, or to purchase now. While there are a lot of suggestions out there about when to book your flight, most experts agree though that there is no shortcut. Finding the best airfare is about being vigilant. A great (free) resource is to sign up with for air fare alerts is AirFareWatchDog.com. The site will send you email alerts about changes in flight prices based on the criteria you set. You can set the alerts to tell you about specific city to city price changes, or receive alerts based on flights out of your local airport (regardless of destination), among other search criteria.
First and foremost, you MUST – I repeat – MUST rent a car to drive this amazing island. Oahu offers something for everyone. If you’re looking for bustling shopping and dining – Waikiki is for you. If beach time is what you’re after, you’ll find an infinite number of them (free of charge) all around the island – and these are some of the best beaches in the world we’re talking about here. Oahu’s fabled North Shore is a must-do. Whether it’s the roadside Shrimp trucks along the Kamehameha Highway (pronounced Kah-May-Ah-May-Ah) or spotting sea turtles on Laniakea Beach or experiencing the best shave ice in the world at Matsumoto’s in Haliewa (pronounced Hal-ey-eve-ah). That’s not to mention surfing – the North Shore is arguably the best spot in the world for surfing, with waves in the winter months as large as 35 feet! Of course, the Dole Plantation is another great place to stop and visit (and you can get a Dole Whip here as well). Just hopping in a car and driving around the island is an experience unto itself. By far, this is my preferred method of touring the islands. Just having the freedom to get into the car, drive around and discover great places to see, eat, shop and photograph is something you should not miss. Here are a few of my ‘must-do’s’ for Oahu (most of them I discovered just by driving around and happening upon them!).
- Ted’s Bakery – right across from Sunset Beach on the North Shore is Ted’s Bakery. This place does not look like much from the outside, but the food is amazing. You know it’s good because it is almost always packed with locals! They are famous for their Chocolate Haupia Cream Pies, but breakfast here is delicious and the Teriyaki Beef sandwich at lunch was so good I went back three times to have it while I was visiting.
- Haleiwa - The town of Haleiwa is arguably my favorite place to visit on Oahu. Not only is it home to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice (see below), but it also has an eclectic blend of shops and restaurants wrapped in the charm of a North Shore beach-side town. I experienced the best burger of my life at Pizza Bob’s restaurant here, and picked up some great coffee and souvenirs at the various shops that line the main road.
- Matsumotos Shave Ice - If you’re not familiar with Shave Ice, don’t feel bad. Prior to my first trip if you said “shave ice” I would looked at you funny. However, if you say ‘Shave Ice’ to a Hawaiian, you’ll see a broad smile come across their face. Shave Ice is a way of life in Hawaii and it’s just what it sounds like – ice that’s shaved (rather than crushed as in a snow cone). Various flavor syrups are added (even condensed milk) and no one does it better than Matsumoto’s. In addition to the awesome shave ice, they also have a great selection of very cool t-shirts for sale. It’s a great place for some souvenirs that won’t be found all over the island.
- Kualoa Ranch – if you ever watched the TV or seen a movie, then the chances are strong you’ve seen something that’s been filmed on the Kualoa ranch. Films like Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Hunger Games and many others were all filmed here – as well as the ABC television series Lost. There are a number of tours available here – ranging from a tour of filming locations, ATV tours, tropical garden tours and more.
- Dole Plantation - I don’t know that the Dole Plantation is a ‘must-do,’ but if you’re driving the island, it’s a fun place to stop and find some cute souvenirs and have a Dole Whip. There are a few activities here that kids might enjoy, including a ride on the Pineapple Express (a small train ride) and the Pineapple Garden Maze (which is regarded as the world’s largest maze). Each attraction has a separate admission fee.
- Pearl Harbor – This solemn and historic tour is by and large the most visited destination on Oahu. After viewing a required 23-minute documentary on the fateful events of Dec 7, 1941 – visitors are taken by ferry to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. This is an emotional visit for any American, regardless of age. Many of the crew of the U.S.S. Arizona remain entombed in the ship which sits just below the memorial. Oil from the ship continues to leak to the surface to this day. For me, the visit to Pearl Harbor was very emotional, and don’t be surprised to see throngs of Japanese tourists paying their respects. Tickets to the Arizona Memorial are free of charge, but it is suggested that you arrive VERY early in the morning to secure your space. The visitor center opens at 7am and the first tour to the Arizona starts at 8am. Most tickets are normally gone within an hour of opening, so plan to be there at 7am. You can also try to secure tickets online by visiting www.recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. You can also book a tour that will include the Arizona memorial from local tour companies. These tours tend to include things outside of Pearl Harbor (tours of Honolulu, etc) and are on the expensive side. While a visit to the Arizona Memorial is a major draw at the Pearl Harbor memorial, there are many things to see and do here. This could easily be a full day experience.
Next page – Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America!!