A friend of mine from high school recently visited Hawaii for the first time, and I was curious what type of impact it would have on her as compared to other travel destinations. So please welcome Chrissy to the discussion.
I have traveled a great deal in my life, including all over the continental United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. I have done cruises, hotels, condos, resorts, campgrounds, you name it. But this past vacation we opted for Hawaii. People who have been to Hawaii kept telling me how unbelievable it is, how it will ruin you forever, blah, blah, blah. I mostly thought they were exaggerating about a really great vacation. I have been to the beach in the Pacific and Atlantic, and I really could not see how Hawaii would be so different.
Now, having spent twelve glorious days in Hawaii, I understand. Hawaii will steal your soul. I have been home for almost two weeks, and I am already plotting when I will go back. It is the first vacation since I was a kid that I actually shed a few tears when we were leaving, and I did not get that “good to be home” sense when I arrived back in Cleveland. Nope. It is not good to be home, it is good to be in Hawaii.
I strongly encourage you to add Hawaii to your bucket list and make it happen. The sooner the better. Here are some things I learned along the way in planning and going on this vacation.
Finding lodging in Hawaii can be a little overwhelming. It is almost like going to a foreign country, making it hard to know where places are in relationship to the ocean, airports, and common attractions, etc. Websites for house rentals are not as user friendly as say, going to the Carolinas. If you have never been to Hawaii, I would recommend using a travel agent.
I spent countless hours combing the internet, doing research and trying to figure out the best options and at the end of the day, I went with a travel agent.
Many credit card companies offer travel services and will let you use points towards your vacation, which is the route we went. American Express helped us choose lodging and really narrowed down our options making the planning process much less overwhelming. There is so much out there, it is hard to know what is a tourist trap and what is not, so having a person familiar with Hawaii really helped.
We opted to spend one night on Waikiki beach as it is a popular Hawaii destination and it is close to Pearl Harbor, which was our reason for choosing Oahu as one of our islands. One night in Waikiki was really plenty for us.
Honolulu is very commercialized and crowded. The beaches are packed from all of the resorts, there are tons of restaurants and shops, and it is almost like a beach version of New York City. Honolulu is fun to see and be a part of, but not if relaxation is your vacation purpose.
Waikiki is more about shopping, nightlife and restaurants – very fun for a little bit, but not a place I would want to stay for an extended period of time.
Pearl Harbor is grossly underrepresented online. It is shocking to me how such an important part of American history can be so poorly represented online. The National Park website gives you ticket options and allows you to make reservations, but does not tell you any information about its setup, so it is confusing to know what to buy and how much time you will need.
The Park Service can also only accept a certain amount of visitors per day, so it is possible that if you do not get your tickets in advanced, you will not get in! I tried calling the phone number given by the National Park for ticket reservation, but it rings to the mainland, and the women I spoke to had never been there, so she had zero information for me. It was frustrating. By the time we decided what we thought we wanted, the tickets were sold out – this was weeks before we even left for Hawaii, and we did not realize how quickly that would happen.
However, there are a great deal of tourist companies that get a handful of tickets each day to sell. This is what we ended up doing since the park itself was sold out. It was twice as expensive as buying directly from the park and they did not give us enough time to do everything the package included.
Essentially, what we think of as Pearl Harbor is a large oval shaped park. You walk into the middle, to your left are 2 small museum buildings (probably the size of your average Starbucks); one containing facts and information about what lead up to the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the second information about the aftermath of the attacks. Past that, is an area where they coral people taking the shuttle boat over to the USS Arizona.
The USS Arizona Memorial can only have a limited amount of people at a time and the only way to get there is by boat. You have to have a ticket and a time slot. Once you are over there, they give you roughly 15 minutes to see the ship and view the memorial inside.
On the right side of the park is the shuttle area for the USS Missouri where the peace agreement for WWII was signed and the USS Bowfin. The USS Bowfin is on site also. The whole park is fairly small, and as I said, there is a shuttle to the USS Missouri, it is at a separate location and takes about 10 minutes to get there from the USS Arizona. Our tickets included the boat over to the USS Arizona, with the audio headset tour and the USS Missouri along with a city tour of Honolulu.
We had 5 hours to do this and it was not even close to enough time. Even though the park is very small, there is a great deal of information to take in. Visiting Pearl Harbor is very emotional and somber, much more than I had anticipated, given I was not even alive until some 30 years after the fact. However, it is not an experience like the one you read about in history class or saw in the movie.
I was moved to tears many times and could easily have spent all 5 hours just at the two small museums. The USS Missouri could also be 5 hours by itself. It is a huge ship with a lot to see. I would recommend the tours offered on site, as it is a ship rich in history and you miss a lot if you do not have a guide.
We did not get to spend enough time at Pearl Harbor, and I would go back to both locations. Essentially, if you are going there, book your tickets as soon as possible and get the two-day passport offered by the National Park. It is your best option to see everything, and you will certainly need both days. I felt like we got cheated in this aspect as we barely had time to scratch the surface of the information offered.
In addition to one day in Oahu, we opted to stay on Maui for the remainder of the vacation. We were told that Maui was the most laid back island, and not overly commercialized, which was why we chose it as our primary location.
There is so much to do on Maui, you could easily entertain your family just staying on that island for 12 days or more. Maui also has an “island life” feel about it. Everyone was extremely nice and easy going. It was not too crowded, but there was still a lot to do and see.
We wanted this to be a relaxing trip, so we did not want to spend a ton of time at airports hopping from one island to the next. Though the airports in Hawaii are small, they are standard airports and you will spend the usual amount of time going through security, baggage claim, etc.
We stayed in a condo as opposed to a hotel, which was really nice. Very quiet, a private beach and with having a kitchen – we did not have to eat out every meal. Food, be it from restaurants or the grocery store, is very expensive on Hawaii. We were definitely able to save a good amount of money by grocery shopping and cooking our own meals. The grocery store is still considerably more expensive than the Midwest, however there is a Costco on Maui, and the prices there are more consistent with what we are used to. Even though we had to buy larger portions, some things were still a better deal. The leftover, unopened food we had, we donated to the Maui Food Bank. All of the fire stations collect for the Food Bank, so it was an easy stop to make on our way to the airport.
Maui is rich in history and culture. You can walk the shops of Lahaina and see the banyan trees and historic courthouse, hike the trails to the Twin Falls, drive up Haleakala, take the road to Hana, stop at Mama’s Fish House and so much more just on that island. It will be an experience unlike any you have ever had, and while it may seem nearly impossible to think about going now, once you’ve gone, it will seem impossible not to go back.
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See our Pearl Harbor post for additional information about the area.