TRAVELER: Stacy Armstrong
WHEN: January 2017
ISLANDS VISITED: Maui and Kauai
OVERALL EXPERIENCE: Yes, Hawaii IS as amazing as you have heard! My husband and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon; it was the perfect destination for both of us, as it had an abundance of beach and sun for me to lay around and relax and plenty of excursions and activities that interested my adventurous husband.
LOGISTICS: We booked everything through CostcoTravel.com. It was nice to take care of the flights, hotels and rental cars all at once, especially since we had never been to Hawaii and weren’t sure where we should stay. Our 8-night vacation cost right around $5,000 for the two of us. If you choose to book separately, keep in mind that you will need a rental car in Hawaii. We flew from Washington DC (IAD) with a stop in San Francisco (SFO) and then on to Maui. Halfway through the trip we took a Hawaiian Airline flight from Maui to Kauai (we learned the hard way that they limit your carry-on weight along with the size). On the way back we flew Kauai to SFO and then back to IAD.
HOTELS: On Maui we stayed at the “Ka’anapali Beach Hotel” on Ka’anapali beach; this hotel declares that they are the most “Hawaiian hotel in Hawaii” as they are independently owned and proud of their Hawaiian heritage. I will say that all the staff we met at this hotel were very nice and accommodating, which made for a good experience. The pool and beach access are nice as well, and overall, this hotel is located on a good part of the island. The negatives include the outdated rooms and the almost impossible to navigate parking garage where we saw several car accidents take place. All in all, I do not think I would stay at this hotel again, but we did learn a lot more about the Hawaiian culture, including attending a luau and a lei ceremony right on the hotel’s grounds.
On Kauai we stayed at the “Koa Kea Resort and Spa”, which was the most welcoming, luxurious and beautiful hotel either of us have ever stayed at. They provide complimentary valet, they walked us straight to our room at check in and provide a walk through of all the amenities. It was 5-star treatment the whole stay, and I think they truly listen to what their guests want/need. We were greeted with some nice welcome gifts, which included champagne to celebrate our honeymoon, and we also had complimentary wine, local macadamia nut candy and received complimentary bottled water each night. The only negative is there isn’t beach access right in front of the hotel, but there is a nice beach about 300 feet away in either direction in front of the neighboring resorts.
ACTIVITIES: We were lucky enough to be in Maui during Whale watching season and went out on a whale watching boat with the Pacific Whale Foundation (cost about $95 for the two of us, and we opted to rent binoculars for an additional $10). They leave from Lahaina and take you out on the boat for 2 hours. The crew did a great job entertaining and educating about both the local geography and about whales, we were lucky enough to see a bunch of whales when we went out on the boat! I will caution any one prone to motion sickness to pop a Dramamine before getting on the boat, because it does get pretty choppy when they turn the motor off. Also, if you have time before or after whale watching, make sure to stop by the Banyan tree in the center of Lahaina; it is the largest in the US and is quite a sight!
We did some snorkeling on both Napili and Kapalua Bay – both were great- and we fell in love with this area and already scoped it out for a future trip to Maui! We rented our snorkel gear from a place called Snorkel Bob’s for about $10/day per person, but I think they offer week rental deals as well. I would say Kapalua was the best snorkeling beach and Napili was better for swimming. Next time I want to bring a go-pro to capture all the beautiful sea life!
We attended the Luau at our hotel; if this is something you are interested in attending, make sure to do some research ahead of time because a lot of the places offering Luaus only offer them once a week. It was $80/person for hotel guests and I believe $120/person for those not staying at the hotel. This was a great way to learn about the Hawaiian culture! That price included as many drinks as we wanted, a buffet of traditional Hawaiian food, which I thought was just ok (my husband liked it), and a pretty cool show with both hula and fire dancers.
On Kauai we took a helicopter tour of the island with Blue Hawaiian; this was a pretty expensive excursion at about $220/ person. It was a very unique experience because most of Kauai is uninhabited and without roads, so seeing the island from the helicopter was the only way to do it. The terrain is very hilly and there are many waterfalls, we were also able to spot a couple of whales as we flew over the coast. The pilot pointed out different areas famous for movie sets – we flew over the areas used to film: Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park, to name a few. The adventure was definitely a costly one, but worth the money in my opinion. The people at Blue Hawaiian are very professional, friendly, and knowledgeable about the area. Ask your hotel for tips and contacts at the various tour companies.
WHERE TO EAT: On Maui we really liked a place called “Star Noodle”, they specialize in an Asian fusion cuisine, which I thought was a nice change from the standard Hawaiian food. The other place that we enjoyed on Maui is called “Mama’s Fish House”. I will caution that this place is very expensive ($20-25 appetizers and $40-70 entrees), but you can’t beat the view and the food was very good! Mama’s is located near the airport so we checked it out as our trip was winding down. You will want to make a reservation to both places, at least a couple of weeks in advance, to make sure you get a table!
On Kauai, I would recommend “Brennecke’s Beach Broiler” for an affordable, casual happy hour spot. This place was very close to our hotel, and it was a great place to enjoy some happy hour drinks and food and watch the sunset. The coconut shrimp is really delicious, and was a great deal since it was part of the happy hour! We also stopped by a place called “Puka dog”. They are known for offering a Hawaiian style hot dog; they offer a grilled polish dog or a vegetarian protein option, they stick the protein into a hallowed out King Hawaiian roll and have a variety of mustards and fruit relishes to choose from. Really tasty, really unique, and you can only get it at this one location!