Hawaii on the Cheap? Or where should we go for our 10-year anniversary
August 21, 2014 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Seeking options for Hawaii on the cheap or nominations for alternate holiday destinations for our 10-year wedding anniversary.

Husby and I will celebrate 10 years next May. We want to take a big trip and are beginning our brainstorming now.

I have never been to Hawaii and would love to go. Husband has been several times more than a decade ago (more like two decades ago) while in school for and working as a merchant mariner. He is convinced it is too pricey, crowded and annoying (though beautiful). I am convinced we can find a way to do Hawaii "our way," but I am open to other options.

For our one-year anniversary (which also served as out honeymoon) we spent three weeks traveling all around French Polynesia by boat. I'd like something of that caliber.

Things we like:
the beach
seclusion and privacy from tourists
quirky towns with interesting restaurants/shops
scuba diving and/or snorkeling
local food, local beer and local booze
exploring cities on foot

Places we have already been and loved:
Nantes, France
San Juan, PR
Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
French Polynesia
Palawan, Philippines

Our MO is to spend a night or two in a really, REALLY nice place or a bigger city and have a nice dinner and drinks, then seek out seclusion. (The exception here being the major European cities, of course.) We are not opposed to beach huts without AC, but in the case of Costa Rica we were so secluded there was really nothing to do and we were almost bored.

Husby is interested in Belize which I'm open to but I do want to be able to spend a day or two shopping/exploring a neat little city before setting off for the hinterlands. I think we are also open to Europe as long as there is water/beach, as we are hot weather people. I was considering Greece? Is it safe these days?

We'd love to go back to Puerto Rico (either Vieques or Rincon) but we were just there and were hoping to make this trip really special.
posted by Brittanie to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What is your definition of "on the cheap?"
posted by craven_morhead at 2:50 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

We found a little cabin on vrbo.com that was significantly cheaper than most of the hotels we were looking at, and it was on the North Shore of Kauai which is mostly natural, undeveloped beauty.

Following your MO, I would recommend that you spend a night or two on whatever island you fly into, in a nice resort in a city (and I'll leave that recommendation to others since I've never done that) and then fly to Kauai and rent a little place either on the North Shore or toward the southwest side of the island for the secluded nature part of your trip (the eastern side if the island around Lihue is kind of sprawly).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:57 PM on August 21, 2014

Go to Hawaii if that's what you want. I went to Waikiki back in the day and it was pretty touristy, I still had a good time.

Try other islands, and AirBnB for lodging options. Try Maui or Kauai.

Or, if you want a really off the wall suggestion, how about a Hawaiian cruise? I'm a cruise person and you may violently against it, and that's cool, but hear me out.

Cruises are giant resorts, so you get all the amenities of that fancy hotel, and it's ALL inclusive, so the price is fixed. You know exactly what the bill's going to be. Bonus: You arrive and unpack once, but you get to see a bunch of stuff!

Cruises don't have to be shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow humans. Husbunny and I had a wonderfully intimate vacation on Norwegian in the Owner's Suite. A HUGE room, with the ability to use the special, private VIP pool area. Frankly, I felt that we were alone on a yacht most of the time. We were invited to dinner with the Captain, a tour of the bridge and we met a lovely couple so we hung out a bit with them. You have as much or as little mingling with the hoi-paloi as you like.

Now, the cruising thing is just the room and the vehicle. When you do your island hopping, THAT'S when you get to go and do your thing. You'll have all day to explore the islands. You can go off on your own and explore as much as you like. Find a secluded beach, take a nature walk, find a funky roadside restaurant. There's plenty of time for all of that. Then return to the ship, have a nap, read your book, and plan your evening.

See if this might be a compromise you can live with.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:08 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For "cheap" I was thinking ~$150 a night for the place where we would spend most of the time. More for the fancy place (upwards of $300).

We are emphatically NOT cruise people.
posted by Brittanie at 3:18 PM on August 21, 2014

The Big Island is fantastic. It's got tourist stuff if you want it, in Kona, or Hilo on the rainy side (although Hilo's primarily a college town) but it's not as touristy as Maui or Kauai, and it is much easier to avoid tourists if you just want quietude and relaxation.

The Big Island offers you everything on your "Things we like" list, and there are also options for nice dinners if you want to have a celebratory night out for your anniversary if that's your thing. Check out VRBO for Captain Cook or anywhere around Kealakekua Bay, which has phenomenal snorkeling. If B&B's are your thing, my wife and I stayed here the first time we went, and it was a fantastic base for exploring the island.
posted by pdb at 3:34 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was considering Greece? Is it safe these days?

Greece is utterly amazing and I think it ticks all or nearly all of your "likes." I was last there is 2012 and felt incredibly safe (female, then 22, traveling solo). Highly recommend Crete. (Of course, the vibe may have changed since I was there, but I wouldn't have any safety concerns about Greece.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:43 PM on August 21, 2014

Iceland ring road?
posted by melissasaurus at 4:00 PM on August 21, 2014

Go to Hawaii, especially if you have always wanted to go!

Looking at your list, I think Kauai will meet nearly all of your requests: great beaches, lots of hiking, lush and jaw-droppingly beautiful nature, seclusion & privacy (especially if you go in the off season in May this shouldn't be too much of a concern), quirky towns with interesting restaurants/shops (like Hanalei town!), river kayaking, local food (poke/plate lunch/fruits/vegetables/etc), local beer and local booze (especially Koloa rum). The only thing is that snorkeling is possible but not as good as the other Hawaiian islands.

Our MO is to spend a night or two in a really, REALLY nice place or a bigger city and have a nice dinner and drinks, then seek out seclusion. (The exception here being the major European cities, of course.)

You could easily do this as a Oahu-Kauai-Oahu sandwich (booked as a multi city trip). Spend one night in Honolulu at a nice hotel, do cocktails/pupus/hula show at House without a Key, take in Waikiki beach, maybe watch the Friday night fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village (though the show is only 4 minutes), then go have a tasting menu at Roy's or Alan Wong's or Chef Mavro. Then fly back home the next day from HNL.

You can find many condos for two on Kauai that are budget friendly, especially in Princeville on the North Shore.

Here's my list of Hawaii-on-the-cheap tips, below.

Hawaii can be expensive when you take into account:
- Roundtrip airfare
- Hotel / condo PLUS accommodations tax (13.416%, 13.96% on Oahu), PLUS any parking or resort or cleaning fees
- Rental car (including all of the taxes and fees) and gas (more expensive in Hawaii than the Mainland USA)
- Any entertainment & activities (luau, snorkeling trip, whale watch, helicopter tour, surfing lessons, snorkel equipment rentals, etc. - all optional but nice if you can afford it)
- Food and drink
- Any shopping/souvenirs

But it doesn't have to be. Thoughts on making Hawaii affordable:

* Packages are going to be simpler, of course, but you might be able to get better deals going "a la carte.” For example, you might use book the rental car separately and watch for price drops. (This is also a good opportunity to look into Costco packages if you are a member.)

* Demand is usually lower in the shoulder seasons on Hawaii (May, Sept, Oct, Nov before Thanksgiving, Dec before Xmas). Also attractions, etc. will tend to be less crowded.

* Just make sure you avoid Thanksgiving week as some people make that entire week their Hawaiian vacation. Christmas break, mid-winter break, spring break, the summer can all be very very busy. Certain times on Oahu are popular due to Japanese holidays (ex: Golden Week during the last week of April). Prices shoot up and good accommodations book well in advance during these periods of heavy demand.

* People also often go to Hawaii during the winter months to escape lousy winter at home but also for the humpback whale watching. This drives up demand, especially on Maui, where the watching is said to be best, because of the shallow and warm water between Maui, Lanai, and Molokai (Auau Channel). .

* Use Google Flights to figure out the best dates to go using their calendar feature, and be flexible about traveling mid-week. Wednesday to Wednesday or something similar might end up being your best option.

* Sign up for the Alaska Airlines Visa card and get a $99 companion fare (before taxes and fees) with any coach round-trip fare. Great option if you live somewhere serviced by Alaskan Airlines / on the West Coast. Depends if you are short on funds but willing to take longer & possibly more connections to actually GET to Hawaii.

* If you or someone you know has an American Express card with some Membership Rewards points available, they can easily be turned into airline miles with major carriers. Know anybody with excess MR points?

* You can book a rental car easily yourself via DiscountHawaiiCarRental.com (click "Reserve Yourself”) aka DHCR. They are a middleman with the major agencies (Alamo, Avis, etc.) Re-check rental car rates periodically as they sometimes randomly drop. Do not pre-pay for your rental car, or pre-pay for gas. If you check frequently, you can probably find a good deal, or at least see the price drop. You can always re-book and get the lower rate for free. Sign up for the rental agency's loyalty program, too, you may be able to skip the check-in line. Check the fine print if you want a 2nd driver (sometimes this is free only through the loyalty program). You will want a rental car unless only staying in Honolulu on Oahu. (Even then, you might want to rent one for a few days or your whole trip.)

* Many people pick up and drop off at the airport (especially if renting a car outside Oahu); it can cost ineffective to try to take a cab to your lodgings, then pick up the car, return the car, and take a cab to the airport.

* Rent your car EARLY and not at the last minute as Hawaii can and does run out of rental cars--it's difficult to just "ship" more cars in. Last minute car rentals can also be very expensive. There's no penalty to book early and then cancel later if you don't prepay.

* Your credit card company may provide car insurance that is much less expensive than the rental agency’s.

* Get the smallest rental car that can fit your party and your luggage. Compact/economy will be fine. Parking spaces can be very small on Hawaiian islands.

* Are you a Costco member? If you are staying for a while and/or have a lot of people, consider shopping for groceries at Costco. Items are much cheaper at Costco than at the local shops on Hawaii because Costco caps its markups at 14 percent regardless of product or location, although freight is added to the prices in Hawaii. If you do go to Costco, make sure you check out some of their pre made Hawaiian foods (like kalua pork & poke), and some only in Hawaiian types of items. You can see a lot of them in this photo essay:

* You can also rent your car via Costco Travel. And it can be much cheaper that way. They are also a middleman with the big name agencies the way that DHCR are.

* Fill up your car's gas tank at Costco when on the island. Gas can be up to 30-50 cents cheaper at Costco (NOTE: they only take payment via debit, Amex, or Costco gift card only) on Hawaii. You can check for recent gas prices on Hawaiigasprices.com.

* Do you have Safeway supermarkets where you are? Bring your Safeway loyalty card OR the phone number of someone who is signed up, the loyalty program will work in Hawaii as well. Or sign up for Foodland's loyalty program as well while you're here. Foodland is a local supermarket chain. Your condo keys might come with the loyalty program tag already.

* One way to bring down the price is to rent a condo via VBRO.com. Many, many condo owners go through VBRO and rent out their units for much of the year when they're not living in them. Renting directly via an owner is usually cheaper than a management company and you can be assured of the exact unit you're getting. Never wire money, though, and scrutinize the reviews. Mind the minimum stay, accommodations tax, and any cleaning fees. Make sure the owner has a tax ID listed and someone who can be there if something goes wrong.

* Some condo owners will also give a discount or waive the cleaning fee for longer stays (like a week) so it is advantageous to stay longer. This is one of the way we like to keep costs down. OR they will waive the cleaning fee if you are filling a gap in the calendar…. HOWEVER, if there's something wrong with the unit, it's harder to switch or find somewhere else to stay.

* Not all lodging are located directly on or near a swimmable beach, so you can try to save money that way. You might be near but not on a nice beach that is good for walking but not swimming. Or you might be a short walk away from the beach.

* If you want to save money in Hawaii, overall, stay at a place that is not right on a beach or right near a beach. Beachfront and oceanfront, with a view, will be more expensive than across the street from the beach with no view or a partial view. This can be especially true on islands where the shoreline is not one long continuous strip of beach or where the shoreline is less built up/developed. A smaller supply of beachfront accommodations + demand = higher prices.

* Sign up for the Chase Hyatt Credit card and get 2 free nights after you spend $1000 in the first 3 months. The 2 free nights can be redeemed at various Hyatt hotels on Hawaii. If each of adult in your party signs up, you can earn even more free nights (for a standard room) and stack them together.

* Renting a condo can be cheaper much than a hotel room because you can buy groceries, make your own breakfasts and picnic lunches, use the grill to make dinner, make drinks whenever you want, have easy access to cold soda, and you can do laundry while you're there. If you pack right, you can make do with only carry on luggage, saving on checked bag fees as well, since you'll plan to do laundry while you're there. Most condos have a fridge, blender, toaster, microwave, stove, oven, utensils, plates and flatware, pots and pans, etc. as well as a few communal grills for the complex.

* Rent a condo that is a studio and not a 1 BR, if you are only two people, need only one bed, and don't really need that much room/door to the bedroom. The price difference can really add up if you're paying $40 more a night for a 1 BR unit.

* Regarding condos, it’s kind of like looking for an apartment…. not all of them have washers & dryers in the unit (sometimes it is communal for the complex and not conveniently located). Not all of them have air conditioning in the units, either. Not all of them have swimming pools. Sometimes they will have small, not-so-great pools due to proximity to the ocean. Some have great views; others not so much. Some units haven’t been updated (open kitchens, adding washer/dryers, marble counters, stainless steel appliances, etc.) in quite some time either. The better the amenities/views/interior, usually, the more expensive the unit.

* Go out and have cheap drinks and appetizers during various "aloha" or happy hours.

* Eat cheap and local. Take out and eat on your lanai (balcony/patio). Simple breakfasts of local fruit, bagels with lilikoi cream cheese, cereal, coffee, or cooking your own eggs/bacon/toast at your condo. I like to make French toast with Hawaiian sweet bread, coconut syrup, and lilikoi butter. Lunch can be a takeout Hawaiian plate lunch or an ahi poke bowl.

* And don't forget that watching the sunrise and sunset are also free!
posted by kathryn at 6:38 PM on August 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

We love love love staying at the Keaau Place Studios near Hilo. It's not secluded; it's located in a residential subdivision with 1 or 2 acre lots. But it's cheap and beautiful and clean and the Big Island is so diverse that you can have it all. $89/night for the rental; car rental was cheap cheap, and you can shop at the Hilo Farmers Market. I'm sure there are also more remote cabins for rent on the south side of the Big Island too, which seemed pretty quiet to me. And the Kona side of the island has all the fancy resorts.
posted by bluebelle at 8:54 PM on August 21, 2014

I recently moved to Hawaii and don't really find it's worth the money for tourists. In terms local food, nothing's going to be too exotic. In terms of towns, nowhere's going to be all that "quirky". You will find seclusion and hiking and paddle boarding and lots and lots of beautiful nature as others have mentioned (especially on the big island or really any island but Oahu, though even Oahu has it's own share of secludedness).
posted by defmute at 1:17 AM on August 22, 2014

« Older How to create Interstitial Ads?   |   How much noise is usual and/or acceptable in a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.