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Plan Ahead to Save Money on Your Hawaiian Vacation

Updated on January 3, 2015
Island of Oahu  (Source: Cheryl Rogers)
Island of Oahu (Source: Cheryl Rogers)

Have you Ever Dreamed of Traveling to Hawaii?

Seeing the Pacific Ises was my childhood dream. When I visited in 2006, I realized I should never have been deterred by stories of how expensive it can be.

Sure, it's easy to spend money there. Its easy to spend money anywhere. But with careful planning, you still may be able to enjoy the trip of your dreams. I put together this Hubpage to help you do it!

Read on for a list "dos" and "don'ts" to help you make the most of your vacation to Hawaii. I have included photos and links to valuable vacation planning websites.

Island of Oahu  (Source: Cheryl Rogers)
Island of Oahu (Source: Cheryl Rogers)

Creative Ways to Save on Your Vacation to Hawaii

"Dos" and "don'ts" for your Vacation

If you've been dreaming of a Hawaiian vacation, you can stop dreaming and start planning. There's no need to let sticker shock deter you if you're willing to be creative, adjust your priorities and avoid tourist traps.

It took me half a century to get there, but when I did I realized some careful planning could make the trip more affordable.

Your most expensive items likely will be airfare and lodging, but prepare to drop a bundle on transportation if you island hop and rely on taxis.

Many people fly into the the island of Oahu, at Honoulu, and stay there. But if you wish to see the state's four main islands, including the Big Island, Mauai, and Kauai, you may find a cruise ship a good alternative.

By plane, or a ferry attempting to offer service from Oahu to Maui and Kauai, it is practical to see two islands without a lot of packing and unpacking.

Each island has its own flavor and interesting sights for those who like to explore.

Here's a list of some "dos" and "don'ts."

* Do some research and decide what you'd like to see before you book a flight. Direct flights are available to a few of the islands. If you have time and money, you can even go by cruise boat.

* Do shop carefully for reduced fares. Flights from the west coast can be half the price, so if you live on the eastern seaboard you can cut fares by driving to California if you have the time.

* Do consider working for an airline, if you love to travel. Another cheap way to see Hawaii is to work for a cruise line.

* Do consider camping in Hawaii's state parks and save big on overnight accommodations. Roughing it will save you big bucks. It may make an otherwise unaffordable trip affordable. It also may allow you to splurge on a helicopter ride above the islands, surfing lessons, boat rides or extravagant meals.

* Do set your priorities. What do you really want to see? Is it the volcanoes, the beaches, the parks, the city of Honolulu, or traditional landmarks like Pearl Harbor? What do you just have to do before you leave? If cost is a factor, you may have to make compromises. You may want to limit yourself to one island.

* Do plan on renting a car to keep transportation costs down and to give yourself the most flexibility.

* Do plan to visit during Hawaii's off season in the fall and spring to keep costs down.

* Do shop for bargains through travel agents and discount clubs.

* Do plan to bring your own snacks while sightseeing, or eat outside the tourist areas to keep costs down.

* Do buy your souvenirs off the beaten path.

* Don't spend all your time in the tourist areas. Plan to see Hawaii's natural beauty. View the volcanoes, the beaches, and drive around the islands.

* Don't go during rainy season between November to March to enjoy optimal sightseeing conditions.

* Don't wait to book until the last minute, when the bargains likely will be all gone.

* Don't expect to spend all your time on the beach. There's lots of other things to do inland.

* Don't overbook yourself. Allow time to relax and enjoy spur-of-the-moment activities.

* Don't regret what you did not have the time or money to enjoy. Maybe they'll be a next time.

What to See on Oahu

OAHU

Many folks fly into Honolulu and stay on the island of Oahu.There's plenty to do here, and, if you like the amenities big city life offers, you may well choose this option.

More than 377,000 people live in Honolulu, according to 2004 U.S. Census estimates, more than in any other Hawaiian city.

Here you will find highrises, jets, crowds, plus Pacific island breezes, tropical sun and surf.

A popular destination is Waikiki Beach, which offers lots of free entertainment like concerts, movies and parades, plus the comforts of home: Lifeguard, restrooms, Starbucks, Cold Stone Creamery, and Hawaii's version of a burger joint, where waiters and waitresses wear grass skirts.

To the south looms Diamond Head State Monument, a 475-acre state park and famous landmark formed by volcanic eruptions.

When our flight home was delayed by several hours, we headed for an unplanned respite at Waikiki and found it most hospitable. Camped out with our carry-on luggage at Kalakaua and Kapahulu avenues, we mixed right in with beachgoers enjoying the light aquarmarine surf that Saturday afternoon. We napped under coconut palms, went boogie boarding, swam, walked along the shore, took photographs, and one of us even hooked up to a free Wi-Fi Internet connection (it wouldn't work on our older model, though).

Compared to other islands, Oahu was action packed.

Donned in a grass skirt, a Hawaiian torch bearer made the rounds lighting torches along Waikiki Beach at dusk, adding even more romance to the tropical setting.

The beach was crowded compared to other beaches we'd visited on the less populated islands; the surf not quite as pristine. But if you want to be in the center of things, Waikiki is a good place to be.

Waikiki -- and the whole island of Oahu -- is served by The Bus, reportedly the best bus service on the islands. For a $2 adult fare, you can go from Chinatown to the beach, for example, a 45-minute ride. We paid $20 for a short cab ride from the airport to the Aloha Stadium, so we gave The Bus a try after that.

Shuttle or trolley service also is available to Waikiki hotels, Pearl Harbor, the airport, pier and shopping areas.

If you plan to spend any time here, and venture outside the Honolulu hub, your best bet may be to rent a car. Gasoline ran $3.50 a gallon or more.

If you are on a budget, eating at Waikiki Beach is not likely to be your most economical alternative. We spent nearly $100 at a hamburger joint for our party of six on a Saturday night.

Chinatown, at lunchtime, cost us a little over $30 for the same group.

Shopping at the Aloha Stadium's swapmeet, on the other hand, was one of the islands' bargains. Here we found some of the same Hawaiian styled clothing, jewelry, and other souvenir items -- even Hawaiian-themed fabric -- at considerably less than the asking price at other Hawaiian shops. Here, some of the merchants even bargained, although others let me walk and rehung clothing on the rack.

Check Chinatown for Oriental items; the prices were good there, too.

There are a number of popular tourist attractions which will keep you busy on the 600 square mile-island of Oahu, such as Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, about 10 miles east of Waikiki off Kalaniana'ole Highway.

Hauanama Bay is popular snorkeling spot and rental equipment and lockers are available on site. It is advised to arrive early in the day before the parking lot fills and cars are turned away. For the latest hours of operation and fees, call their recorded information line at (808) 396-4229.

Surfers will want to check the famous North Shore, where there are a number of favorite surfing beaches including Banzai Pipeline, Sunset, Ehukai and Waimea Bay.

Nearby is the Polynesian Cultural Center, advertised as Hawaii's top paid attraction.

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Check for Bargains for Your Vacation to Hawaii!

National Volcanoes Park  (Source: Cheryl Rogers)
National Volcanoes Park (Source: Cheryl Rogers)

What to See on The Big Island

THE BIG ISLAND

The Big Island is a good place to visit if you want to check out the volcanoes which made the Hawaiian Islands.

From the port of Hilo, we traveled about 30 miles on a tour bus to visit the National Volcanoes Park, taking in an 11-mile crater rim ride and walking through a lava tube formed during a volcanic eruption. The lava tube reminded me of a cave.

The 333,000-acre park includes parts of Kilauea and Mauna Loa, dubbed two of the world's most active volcanoes.

Preview the crater rim driver tour at http://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/craterdr.htm

When traveling in the park, heed warning signs about the sulphur gas escaping from underground. They look like billows of smoke, but the gases stink and it is not good to breathe them. Those with heart or respiratory problems as well as pregnant women and small children are advised to stay away from these areas.

Our tour included a lunch stop at the Volcano House, where a picture window allowed us to see the Kilauea Volcano and Halemauamau crater. The tour also stops at the Jaggar Museum, Nani Maui Botanical Gardens and Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory.

Also near Hilo is Mauna Kea, described as the world's tallest mountain at 13,796 feet above sea level. This is a tour in and of itself, but health and age restrictions due to the altitude make this inadvisable for some.

Astronomy buffs will want to visit more the Keck Observatory and the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy there.

For more information, visit the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy's website at http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko/visiting.htm#vis.

Any early morning trip can be quite cold, especially during the winter months, and the institute advises the weather is unpredictable and visitors should prepare for potential snow storms.

Those who want a tamer experience can pay a visit to Hilo's Pana`ewa Rainforest Zoo, a free attraction off Highway 11 run by Hawaii County. It is advertised as the only tropical rainforest zoo in the United States.

The Big Island, also known as the Orchid Isle, is the youngest island and has a land area of 4,028 square miles. Because of its sheer size, navigating around the island without a car can be costly. Bus routes and information is available at http://www.heleonbus.org/schedules-and-maps/kona-hilo-bus-schedule

Our cruise ship made two stops: Hilo on one side of the Big Island and Kona, famous for Kona coffee, on the other side.

Some folks may enjoy touring a coffee farm, but we opted for shopping at the port, which was serviced by a tender from the ship. I was overdue for a wide-brimmed hat to protect myself from the tropical sun; it was right there when I needed it.

Adventure-loving folks likely will want to experience the Captain Zodiac raft ride to Capt. Cook's Monument and Kealakekua Bay.

We booked an afternoon excursion, which followed our shopping and sightseeing downtown.

I was shocked to learn our seats were actually the side of this inflatable raft, but no one else seemed to mind. We were instructed to put one foot under the ropes and hold onto a rope behind us with one of our hands.

En route our captain, Deron Verbeck, surprised us by jumping into the water to take pictures of a school of 40-some scalloped hammerhead sharks. He said the sharks have not been known to attack humans.

I later learned Deron also is a competitive diver and holds a national record for free immersion.

"We seem to have a mutual respect for each other," he says of the sharks, "I don't mess with them and they don't mess with me."

When we arrived at the marine sanctuary, I was surprised to learn we were prohibited from going ashore. Not a particularly good swimmer, I was prepared to pass on the snorkeling adventure because I wear strong, corrective lenses. I wasn't going to venture in without being able to see where I was going.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The raft was equipped with snorkeling gear with prescription lenses strong enough even for me! I jumped in (with a float and fins) and I was amazed. The coral was beautiful and there I was, swimming with the tropical fish.

We had an hour to experience this tropical preserve before reboarding our raft and snacking on fresh pineapple, orange slices, drinks, cookies and Hawaiian potato chips.

Iao Needle    (Source: Cheryl Rogers)
Iao Needle (Source: Cheryl Rogers)

What to See on Maui

MAUI

One of the more popular tourist destinations on Maui is the Haleakala National Park, where tour operators take you to up the 10,000 foot summit to see the volcano.

The more adventurous can take the downhill bike ride at dawn, experiencing a scenic Hawaiian sunrise. Or you can take a sunrise bus tour, or sleep in and catch the same excursion at 8 a.m. or so.

We figured we'd rise early for this special occasion, but it was more than we were able to do. I had a 3:45 a.m. departure time stuck in my mind from the Internet and I glossed over the tickets quickly. The time had changed and we ended up getting up at 3 a.m. for a 3:15 a.m. meeting time! By the time I got there at 3:35 a.m. the tour was gone.

We decided against trying to track them down at that time of the morning, and booked the 8 a.m. excursion. Fortunately, there was space. I was disappointed to miss the sunrise, but I knew I needed the rest!

Even on our own time in Maui, we had plenty to do.

We booked surfing lessons in the relatively secure waters off Lahaina, the historic whaling town.

Lahaina also featured some interesting shops with clothing at great prices.

We made our own fun at the Iao Valley State Monument, a short taxi ride from the port. The pinnacle, which rises 1200 feet from the valley floor, was less than spectacular in my opinion.

But the 6-acre park afforded us a great opportunity to cut loose and enjoy a tropical jungle. We wore bathing suits under our clothing, giving us an unplanned opportunity to wade and pose for pictures in the middle of a picturesque jungle stream. This was an unspoiled paradise.

To some, it may have been just another park. But to us, it was a time to relax and enjoy the untamed beauty of our surroundings. I could almost picture Tarzan swinging through the trees across the stream on a rope. Well, almost.

We traveled by cab from there to the Maui Ocean Center, a museum featuring a water tunnel with excellent viewing of the native sea life. I have never quite seen fish the way I viewed them there. They seemed somehow more human with facial expressions that mirrored our own in ways I'd never experienced.

The museum also featured a nifty whale exhibit, which gave us a chance to learn about them even though we visited Hawaii in the off season.

The season runs from November through May, peaking around February.

Beach lovers will find lots to choose from on Maui, which boasts America's Best Beach for 2006, D. T. Fleming Beach Park in West Maui, a public park with picnic tables, restrooms and life guards.

Hamoa Beach in East Maui ranked ninth this year; Kaanapali Beach in West Maui was America's Best Beach in 2003.

The rankings are done by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research, who is also known as Dr. Beach.

A remote beach offering camping and hiking along an ancient trail to Hana is at the 122-acre Wai'anapanapa State Park in East Maui. The black-sand beach is recommended for swimming and snorkeling. For those who like to explore, there are freshwater pools in caves.

Maui is the second largest Hawaiian isle. It is 48 miles long and 26 miles wide at the widest point. Still, it was easy to rack up $200 in cab fares our first day there. So again, renting a car is likely to be your best bet if you want to travel any distance on your own.

The excursions abound and they are a good way to cover a lot of ground in a small amount of time. But they can be quite expensive, especially the helicopter excursions which can list for more than $300.

It was nice to do some things on our own at our own pace, like the Iao Needle, which wasn't far.

Another option is the bus service initiated in 2005 to connect central, south and west Maui. For more information, check out http://www.co.maui.hi.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/4353

What to See on Kauai

KAUAI

Kauai, the oldest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands, is known as the Garden Isle for its lush plant life. It is 33 miles wide and 25 miles long.

Residents will point out Hollywood has filmed parts of several movies here, including Donavan's Reef, Jurassic Park, King Kong and the beginning of the television show Fantasy Island.

Roaming chickens are part of the island's quaint rural atmosphere and country charm.

In Kauai, you can experience an unspoiled tropical paradise of lush foliage, tropical blooms and sparkling waters beside stark cliffs -- most of the land is devoted to conservation or agriculture.

We took in the Waimea Canyon, a 3,000-foot expanse known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The canyon is part of the Waimea Canyon State Park, an 1,866-acre attraction which abuts the 4,345-acre Koke'e State Park, whose woodlands make for great hiking and camping. Koke'e features the Kalalau Lookout overs cliffs and gorges to the Pacific Ocean.

We also saw Sprouting Horn, a sea-water geyser visible at high tide. It can spew as high as 60 feet, but it appeared much smaller during our visit. The scenery, however, was gorgeous, with tall pine trees offset by the bluegreen surf.

Our tour guide took us out for more than eight hours of sightseeing, which included a boat ride on the Wailua River, hula lessons, and a visit to Opaekaa Falls, named for shrimp once plentiful in the stream. Fern Grotto, a popular spot for weddings, was closed for repairs because of a rockfall after heavy rains in March.

We also enjoyed Kalapaki Beach, a short walk from the Nawiliwhili pier. The beach and shopping area can be accessed by free shuttle as well. Another free shuttle goes to another shopping area known as Coconut Marketplace.

I enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and could have easily spent more time on this quiet island hiking or kayaking.

I'd read beforehand of the famed Napali Coast and searched diligently for the best way to experience it in the short time our visit allowed. Hiking the Kalalau Trail was probably the most adventurous, but unless I wanted to give up my Waimea Canyon roundup tour, which I didn't, I lacked enough time (and probably energy) even to try the first two miles of the trek. It just took too long to get to Ke'e Beach at the end of the road along the island's north shore.

So I considered a raft or a catamaran, but in the end I realized perhaps the best way to experience the cliffs was from our cruise ship.

It wasn't part of the announced itinerary, but conditions permitted us to sail beside the NaPali Coast the evening of our departure from Kauai. I was on deck and ready with my camera.

I must have sacrificed some great photos of the secluded beaches there, but there is just so much you can do in a day and a half. From accounts I have read, portions of the 11-mile trail can be considered treacherous. For an unskilled on-again, of-again hiker, it was more of a challenge than I needed. And my camera was safe and dry aboard our large vessel.

NaPali Coast   (Source: Cheryl Rogers)
NaPali Coast (Source: Cheryl Rogers)

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Helpful Hawaiian Travel Books from Amazon.com

If you really want to go to Hawaii, and you are short on money, plan to see it on your own. There are lots of wonderful excursions that will take you up in the air over the islands by plane or helicopter, and plenty of sightseeing boats that will take you to interesting sights, but they all cost money. So if you want to go and can't afford the frills, do your homework. Find some books that will help you decide what you really want to see, and do it on your own. Get to Hawaii as cheaply as you can, with air discounts, driving to California and flying from there, or whatever it takes. Then plan on renting a car, borrowing a car, riding the bus, or even renting a bicycle. Map out your activities in advance, concentrating on places like the state and natural parks, and the beaches. See natural Hawaii. Live like the natives. Buy your food at the grocery and camp. You can make your dream come true!

Cheryl Rogers
Cheryl Rogers

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    • profile image

      Johne191 2 years ago

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    • Senora M profile image

      Senora M 6 years ago

      Cool lens. Been to Maui. Going to Kauai.

    • NorDac LM profile image

      NorDac LM 9 years ago

      Nice Lens, I especially enjoyed your Kauai section.

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      islandermom 9 years ago

      Great lens! I'm glad I stopped by. I live on Oahu and love it! Aloha!