8 Tips for Visiting Hawaii on a Budget

Now that I’ve finished sharing all of our fun adventures in Hawaii I thought I’d do a quick round up of tips for those who might be planning a trip to this great destination.

1. Book early or late for the best rates, but also shop around.
The hubs did most of the planning for this trip and scored some great rates on both the hotel and rental car because we reserved them several months in advance.  It wasn’t until after the reservations were made that we realized the weekend we were in Honolulu coincided with the ProBowl, which significantly increased prices due to demand but because we had our reservation in so early the hotel hadn’t yet adjusted the rate and we got a better deal than most of the folks staying there during the same days.  The hubs also found an awesome deal on the rental car by going with a lesser known brand and searching the travel search sites for the lowest price.

2.  Research and read reviews to prioritize what you want to see and do.
We did a lot of research ahead of time to make sure we hit all the things we really wanted to.  I started with a list of things in each area that sounded interesting and ranked them to decide which made the must-do list and which were “if we have time” items.  Online travel reviews were a huge help in weeding out the tourist traps and finding lesser known but more interesting places or activities.

3. Decide what’s worth paying for and where you can save.
Although we’re always on the hunt for a bargain, sometimes its worth paying for an experience.  Don’t skip the once in a lifetime option just because it’s pricey.  Swimming with the rays and the submarine tour were expensive compared to other activities, but both are something we couldn’t do anywhere else we were traveling, so it made the price reasonable.  To balance those costs we opted to enjoy the hotel’s free entertainment options like fireworks on the beach and the garden tour.  Choosing the hotel’s luau saved us additional admission and parking fees required at some of the other local luau shows.  We also found free activities around town such as hiking to the ruins, enjoying public beaches on the North Shore and on the big island, strolling the Swap Meet and the Chinese New Year celebrations – although the last two did lead to a couple of additional well-priced purchases. 😉  And getting up early got us free tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial.  While on the big island we made the most of our minimal park admission fee visiting the lava tunnels, driving the park’s scenic roads, touring the art gallery and museum, attending a volcano presentation and a couple nights of volcano watching.

4.  Don’t over schedule.
Thanks to our research, we were able to plan out what activities we wanted to do each day, but we only planned one or two things for each day so we didn’t feel rushed or stressed to maintain the schedule. We also had a couple of “no plans” days in case weather didn’t cooperate or we just didn’t feel like doing what we’d planned that day which gave us flexibility to be spontaneous.  Having a flexible plan allowed us to be relaxed but still see everything we wanted to.

5.  Plan for traffic.
This is a critical tip if you want to make the most of your time in Hawaii.   Honolulu traffic can be intense and we weren’t interested in spending any of our vacation stuck in traffic so we opted to schedule our plans opposite of the traffic patterns.  Since we stayed downtown we would be heading out of town as the morning rush hour wrapped up and timed our trip back to the hotel to be opposite of the afternoon exodus from Honolulu.  While we still encountered traffic in both directions it was nothing compared to what we saw heading the other direction!

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6. Shop around for souvenirs.
We all end up buying some type of souvenirs on vacation, but you don’t want to pay more than you need to.  We found great deals on some of the same items we’d seen in shops around town at the Swap Meet and the Exchange (PX) at the joint military base had the same food gifts for a third of what the Dole Plantation was charging.  However, that doesn’t mean they have the best price on everything. The Exchange had the same shirt the hubs bought at a hotel shop for twice what he paid! So take your time and don’t feel like you have to buy something right away.

7.  Eat where the locals eat.
Restaurants in the trendy shipping districts are considerably more expensive than some of the local favorites that might be off the beaten path. While we enjoyed Buho, the rooftop Mexican cantina we found in downtown Waikiki, they were definitely priced for tourists visiting the high-end retailers nearby. In comparison, our visits to Nico’s, Teddy’s Bigger Burger and Fatboy’s were just as pleasing to our bellies but did less damage to our wallets. Each of these eateries were in areas where the locals live and work so we had to seek them out but it was worth the little bit of effort.

8. Bring home Costco pineapples.
One of the best parts of visiting Hawaii is bringing home a fresh pineapple. We originally planned to purchase some at the Dole Plantation but their prices seemed excessive so we started searching online to see if there was a cheaper choice. The hubs was concerned that dealing with agricultural customs at the airport would be difficult and wanted to buy pineapples once we got through security (where they check carry on agriculture items) but we heard they were just as expensive there as they were at Dole. Several online sources said the inspection was minimal and as long as your items were free of bugs or rotten spots there shouldn’t be an issue. So we bought 4 pineapples with Dole tags at Costco for less than what we would have paid for 2 at Dole, put them in the branded boxes we bought at Dole for a few bucks each and hand carried them on the plane. At the airport the boxes went through the x-ray machines without issue and even when I asked the agriculture inspectors if they wanted us to open the boxes they said there was no need. Making that stop at Costco saved us more than $60 and gave us a convenient opportunity to fill up the rental car’s gas tank at another discount while we were there so it was well worth the little bit of extra effort.

I hope these tips help you plan a fun and budget-friendly trip to the Aloha state!

Our Hawaiian Adventure – Part 7

We happened to be in Oahu during the Chinese New Year celebrations so we headed into China Town to check out the festivities and get some dim sum.  Unfortunately the restaurants my friend recommended were closed because everyone had set up shop out in the street fair.  So we wandered around taking it all in, including the dancing dragons in the main plaza.

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There were two dragons in this performance, but the golden one came to my side of the crowd and worked his way around the crowd as he moved to the beat of the drums.

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Many offered money to the hungry dragon.  Some he accepted gingerly, while others he played with for a bit!

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The cutest thing was seeing him duck down to little kid level to include them.

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Here’s the view those chosen to give an offering saw.  He looks a little fierce, yet friendly and cute all at the same time. 🙂

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There were huge crowds for blocks as everyone wandered the street vendors finding fun little toys and different types of Asian food to sample.  We’re not usually the type to enjoy being in a crowd, and the hubs wasn’t too keen on being in the midst of all this activity.  I knew he was hungry so we made finding dinner the priority.

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Luckily, we soon spotted this booth with a massive wok whipping up pancit.  We got two orders along with some lumpia and found a curb to sit on to enjoy it.  Although not the dim sum we had planned on, it was still yummy and satisfied our bellies so we were in a better mood to enjoy the scene.

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As the sun faded we caught another pair of dragons dancing.  This time it was a white and black dragon.  I liked the white dragon, who turned out to be female!

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We had heard that the swap meet at Aloha Stadium was a the best place to find good deals on Hawaiian attire so we headed out on a bright sunny morning to see what the merchants were offering.  We didn’t realize just how big the event was and only made it about half way around the stadium before we were ready to call it lunch time.  Along the way we found lots of Hawaiian shirts for the hubs, several maxi dresses for me, quite a few new pieces of jewelry and plenty of sauces, jams and other yummy specialties to take home.

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While browsing the booths we got a little hot and decided to try out the fresh chilled coconuts.  The guy cuts an opening right after you order and plops in a straw, so you’re good to continue browsing.  It was a bit awkward to carry, but the novelty of it was just as refreshing as it’s contents.  We ended up giving the empty coconut to a young boy who was waiting with his dad while his mom finished shopping.  It was the perfect toy for him and he giggled as he continuously picked it up and dropped it on the pavement.

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We also headed out toward the middle of the island to see the old ruins of the Royal Family’s summer retreat.  The road to the trail looked like a tunnel carved through the jungle.

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And the trail through the bamboo forest had a very similar feel.

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After a short, easy hike we came through the trees to find this.  There’s something that draws me to old things and the ruins were no different.  While the hubs took a break in the shade I checked out the crumbling walls from several angles.

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There were a variety of offerings left at the base of this sign.  I’m not sure if they were given to gods or ancestors or both, but it’s obvious there are a fair amount of visitors to the location.

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Inside the walls you could see how they had been smooth at one time.  And I spotted a studly mainlander through the doorway as I turned back around.

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We couldn’t tell if the large area of rocks in front of the structure were pieces that had fallen down over the years or if there had been some sort of wall or pathway here originally.

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Hot and sticky from our hike we decided it was the perfect choice to head back to the car and over to the Dole Plantation for another Dole Whip.  And we were right.  It was the perfect way to wrap up the afternoon and start the next round of relaxing!

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Next up I’ll share photos from the garden tour at the Hale Koa along with a few activities we did during our last days on the island so check back soon for that.

Our Hawaiian Adventure – Part 6

Today I’m sharing our visit to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. This was my number one must do while on Oahu and the hubs was in total agreement. We tried to buy tickets in advance online but they were sold out for the date we wanted. Luckily, after some research the hubs learned that they give out free tickets each day to the first 1,000 people in line. The catch is that although they open the gates at 7:30 am, the line starts forming around 6 am. So we made plans to get up super early and ended up being numbers 4 and 5 in line. It was one of the few days we had to get up early during the entire trip and was completely worth it because it meant we were in the first group of the day to visit the memorial. I highly recommend doing the first tour because you get to enter the memorial while it’s empty rather than fighting the departing crowd of the group before yours who are trying to board the boat you just took across.  Here’s the view of the memorial and the USS Missouri as we approached and docked at the memorial.

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Once aboard the memorial you can see the remains of the ship just beneath the surface although some portions are above the water line.  Oil spots are visible on the water all around as the vessel continues to seep these fluids, which they expect will continue for another 50 years.

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At one end of the memorial there is an opening over the ship for viewing.  This is the spot where divers add the ashes of former USS Arizona crew who choose to join their shipmates upon death.  To date, not one of the eligible veterans has refused this opportunity.  The day we visited someone offered a lei in honor of those entombed here.

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Beyond the opening is a room where the names of the entire crew are displayed on a wall.  It’s powerful to see just how many there were.  Those who perished with the ship or during the attack are listed on the main wall divided by service – Navy or Marine, while those who rejoined their crew upon death are listed on the smaller walls in front.

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As we prepared to leave the memorial I happened to look up and see the flag against a bright blue sky.  It was a striking scene as I thought about the attack, the lives lost and the countless acts of heroism that day and in the months following.

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There was also a beautiful view of the USS Missouri docked just a short distance away.  It’s a fitting addition to the memorial park given it’s rise from the attack and return to service including being the vessel where Japan’s surrender was accepted.  And it’s placement next to the USS Arizona is a quiet salute to the costly victory.  Across the channel in the other direction is today’s active joint military base, where usual activities were in progress, including a ship heading out of the harbor.

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Back across the water at the park we walked the trail of reflection, noting important landmarks along the way.  This sign showed a great aerial view of the memorial which gives a better sense of it’s positioning over the vessel.

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Along the walkway of viewpoints were signs with quotes from those present during the attacks, but the most moving was this poem Eleanor Roosevelt kept in her wallet during the war.  It’s one we should all consider daily, especially these days as many forget the sacrifices military service men and women give to allow their countrymen to safely enjoy their rights back home and around the globe.

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This map depicted the layout of the harbor the morning of the attack and next to it was a list of the vessels present, indicating which were destroyed or damaged.

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We toured the various displays in the museum area which showcased stories of those present in a variety of ways.  One of the most memorable for me was this one about the recovery efforts after the attacks.Sign

Experiencing the memorial and exhibits was something I’ll always remember.  While the environment is somber, it’s also a perfect showcase of America’s pride and ability to overcome.  That evening we attended a much more lively “must do” activity – a traditional Hawaiian Luau.  We decided to go to the luau at the Hale Koa where we were staying just because it was convenient, but I hear it’s one of the best around.  After seeing the show I’d agree.  The evening began with a welcome to the luau garden where musicians played traditional songs, guests enjoyed drinks and learned how to do Hawaiian activities like making lei’s, weaving palm fronds and swinging rhythmic balls.

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As the other activities died down one of the cast members came out to show how natives climb coconut trees.  This guy was a total hoot!  Full of energy and quick wit he was certainly the star of the show all night.  With a cloth tied around his feet for gripping he quickly hopped his way up one of the taller trees in the garden.

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He went almost all the way to the top!

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And he had jokes from way up there too!  Noticing that we were all taking pictures he decided to give a variety of poses.

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After the tree climbing there was a short fashion show on how long pieces of cloth were tied in different ways to create a variety of looks for both men and women.  And next was the call to dinner, via traditional conch shells.

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The men pulled the large roasted pig out of the underground oven and welcomed us into the seating area which was decorated with banana leaves and fresh pineapples – cut and ready to eat next to Hawaiian appetizers.  The seating area was a large area with both covered and open air sections.  Since the weather was nice we used the open air portion and had seats right up front next to the stage.  Our table was in the second row on the left in the photo below.  If you look closely you’ll see the hubs next to my empty chair.

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The cast performed a variety of dances using gourd moroccos and sticks to accompany the beat of the musicians.

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As we enjoyed the dancing showcasing each of the cultures around the Polynesian islands dinner was served.  There was a good helping of the roast pig, local beef, rice, a fried banana and sweet potato all topped with a pretty orchid.   We also tried Hawaiian poi which is a traditional local food.  I can’t say I’m a huge fan, but I did try it.

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The final act of the show was a champion fire dancer, who is only 17 years old!  It was such an amazing scene I only got this one picture as he began.

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Enjoying both of these activities on the same day was good planning and gave us quite the sense of living Hawaiian.  In my next post I’ll share our visit to China Town for the Chinese New Year celebrations, shopping at the swap meet and hiking to the ruins!