Travel Smarter: Your Hawaii Questions Answered

AAA Travel Counselors who specialize in trips to Hawaii answer all of your Hawaii questions to give you the lowdown on booking and preparing for your trip to the Aloha State and what to expect once you’re there.

Photo: iStock

Dreaming about a trip to Hawaii? We sat down with three AAA Travel Counselors—Malou Livelo of Daly City, California; Linda Baehr of Walnut Creek, California; and Margaret Haas of Redding, California—to answer your Hawaii questions so you can make this dream trip a reality.

BEFORE BOOKING

Vacation Now: How do I know if a trip to Hawaii is right for me?
Malou: If you’re looking for a tropical destination with unlimited outdoor activities, both water- and land-based, and friendly local people, then Hawaii is right for you.

Margaret: Hawaii is America’s tropical paradise. It’s perfect for travelers who want it all—plenty of fun in the sun, water sports, hiking, sightseeing, road trips and cultural immersion.

VN: Should I visit more than one island on my trip, or stay in one place?
Malou: I always suggest that first-time visitors staying seven days or fewer visit just one island. You’re able to experience more and make the most of your time without having to rush to the next destination.

Margaret: For travelers who have more than a week to spend in Hawaii, visiting more than one island is a great plan. If you’ve never been to Hawaii, plan to spend at least three nights in Waikiki; from there, you can visit the nearby World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and enjoy the famous Waikiki Beach. Then get a true island experience by visiting one of the outer islands. I recommend no fewer than four nights on an outer island so you can see all the unique sights and do all of the unique activities there.

VN: Is cruising an option in Hawaii?
Linda: Yes. You can cruise roundtrip from San Francisco on a 15-day sailing. Or you can fly to Hawaii and go island-hopping aboard a weeklong cruise to various Hawaiian islands.

VN: What is each island known for? How do I decide which islands to visit?
Malou: Deciding which island to visit can be a tough choice. For first-timers, I recommend Oahu, which is known for the world-famous Waikiki Beach, the North Shore and the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Oahu is also the most popular destination in Hawaii. Travelers looking for a quieter Hawaii experience will enjoy Maui. There, you’ll find Ka’anapali Beach, one of the best beaches in the world, as well as the state’s highest peak in Haleakala National Park, plus world-class snorkeling and even opportunities for whale-watching from November to March. Kauai is famous for Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Margaret: Hawaii—the Big Island, as it’s called—is famous for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visiting the charming town of Kona (the namesake of Kona coffee), viewing petroglyphs and ancient Hawaiian fishponds or going deep-sea fishing are all popular activities on the Big Island. I also recommend adding the Dolphin Quest dolphin attraction at the Hilton Waikoloa and a visit to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens to your list. Kauai is truly the Garden Isle; it’s best known for its lush rainforests, tropical gardens and the dramatic Napali Coast, which is only accessible by boat. Kauai is also less inhabited, so it tends to be a bit quieter and more laid back. Molokai is the least visited of the islands. With fewer flights and only a handful of options for accommodations, it’s a bit more difficult to get to, but it could be perfect for you if you’re looking to get off the beaten path.

VN: When is the best time to visit Hawaii? How far in advance do I need to book?
Linda: The weather is Hawaii is usually 82 degrees year-round with occasional showers, so it’s a great destination any time. The best prices are usually available in May, October, early November and early December. December and January typically have the most rainfall, especially in Kauai. Holidays are a popular time to travel to Hawaii, so book early—at least six months out and up to 340 days in advance—for all holiday travel.

Malou: Although Hawaii is a year-round destination. Spring and fall are the best times to find smaller crowds and better prices.

VN: Can I find great deals on travel to Hawaii if I book last minute or in the off-season?
Malou: Yes. The off-season offers better deals, but keep in mind that booking last-minute often means your airfare will be more expensive.

Margaret: Finding a good deal is possible if you’re flexible on dates and interested in traveling during the off-season. 

Photo: iStock

PRE-TRIP PREPARATION

VN: What are some must-see Hawaii activities I should plan to do on my trip?
Malou: Each island has unique activities, but snorkeling, attending a luau, shopping, hiking, golfing or just being a beach bum are fun wherever you stay.

VN: Should I plan on booking activities before I leave for my trip?
Margaret: 
If you have your heart set on a particular activity and are able to commit to a day and time, it’s best to go ahead and ask your AAA Travel Counselor to book the activity before you leave for your trip. You may also want to consider making dinner reservations for restaurants on your must-try list. 

Malou: Booking activities, such as snorkeling or a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center, can also be done once you get to Hawaii, if you want a bit more flexibility in your schedule.

VN: Do I need to pack anything specific for my trip?
Malou: Bring more than one swimsuit and plenty of sunscreen. If you are packing in a carry-on and have limited space for liquids, you can always purchase sunscreen at the resort.

Margaret: Don’t forget a good pair of walking shoes. Water shoes are also highly recommended, as are hats.

Photo: iStock

ON THE TRIP

VN: How will I get around if I plan to leave my resort? Can I rely on transportation from the companies I book activities with, or should I rent a car?
Linda: Transfers and public transportation are the most economical way to get around in Honolulu and on most of Oahu. On the other islands, most people rent cars to get around. Keep in mind that some resorts have parking fees. If you plan on staying on the resort for most of the trip, you can use Uber or transfers instead of renting a car.

Malou: Rental cars are not recommended if you’re staying in Waikiki because of traffic and high parking fees. Instead, we can arrange transportation to and from the airport. Companies you’ve booked excursions with will usually offer pickup at your hotel or a central meeting place within walking distance. But if you want to explore other parts of the island, you could always rent a car for the day.

VN: What kind of souvenirs should I keep an eye out for? Are there things I can’t take back with me to the continental U.S.?
Margaret: Pearl jewelry and local handmade goods—particularly Hawaiian quilts, hand-carved items and saris—are popular souvenirs. You can also shop for true Kona coffee and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. Bringing fruit or meat home in your luggage is illegal, but you do have the option to ship certain things—such as tropical flowers and pineapples—to the mainland. Plus, in August 2016, the reimagined International Market Place—an open-concept destination for shopping, dining and entertainment—opens in Waikiki. This new hotspot will be the perfect place to experience modern Hawaiian life and pick up fun souvenirs along the way.

Malou: I love bringing home Hawaiian cookies from the Honolulu Cookie Company and Big Island Candies. Candies, especially the ones from the Dole Pineapple Company, are also good gifts. Try the li hing mui (salty dried plum) candy and powder with fresh pineapple. Unfortunately, you’re generally not allowed to bring fresh fruits, vegetables or plants to the continental U.S. There are certain exceptions, though, so check TSA’s website for details.

VN: What happens if weather interferes with one of my scheduled activities?
Margaret: If the weather is severe, the activity will be canceled. However, if there are just scattered rain showers, which are common in the tropics and rarely last more than 30 minutes, the activities will take place as planned. Activities that are canceled can usually be rebooked for another day.

Malou: No need to panic. Hawaii has so many fun activities; you can always rearrange your schedule and find other ways to explore the islands.

VN: What beaches should I visit?
Margaret: Don’t miss Waikiki Beach on Oahu. You may also enjoy a trip to Sunset Beach, where the surfing competitions are held. On Maui, there are too many beautiful beaches to mention them all, but some of the most popular spots are Ka’anapali Beach, the beaches in Wailea, and a small crescent beach on Napili Bay. I recommend the Hapuna Beach State Park or the beach by the Mauna Kea Resort on the Big Island. (Arrive early; there are only 40 parking spaces for the general public.) Between Kona and Waikoloa, there are also many beautiful off-the-beaten-path beaches; they’re best reached with a four-wheel drive vehicle. In Kauai, only some beaches allow swimming, for safety reasons. Check out Poipu Beach, which is the best for swimming, or state beaches with designated swimming areas.

VN: I want to attend an authentic luau. Do you have a favorite to recommend?
Malou: I enjoyed the luau at Paradise Cove Luau, but the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu is very popular with AAA Members.

Margaret: The Old Lahaina Luau is my favorite in Maui. But if you’re visiting Oahu, Germaine’s Luau and Paradise Cove Luau are two of the most popular options.

The expert Travel Counselors at AAA can help you plan a perfect vacation to Hawaii. Call 877-396-7159 or visit your local branch to learn more.

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Rose Stadt, AAA Travel Counselor, Vallejo, Calif.

More and more people want to customize their escorted trips with longer stays in certain cities or visits to specific sites. I make sure the independent pieces fit seamlessly with the tour.

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