Aloha. Take me to your lounge chair.
August 19, 2016 5:32 PM   Subscribe

I am about to have my first pure vacation in about 10 years. And I want to do it in Hawaii. Travel-savvy MeFites, please help me make this one good. Difficulty rating: there's a "someone new" involved.

So I haven't really had a vacation in 10 years. Combination of the freelance life, studies, lack of funds. Now, I'm about to.

After completely running my mind and body to the ground after a series of high-pressure gigs, I just need to de-compress in paradise-on-earth. And I'm thinking Hawaii is that place.

I'm no stranger to travel, but 1) I don't know the first thing about Hawaii and 2) there's an added complication - in the midst of all my craziness, I actually met someone, and we're planning this together.

(Real briefly - said person and I unexpectedly hooked up during her short visit to my town; neither of us knew what had happened exactly but neither were displeased; she left a couple days later, back to her town literally on the other side of the globe; we've been IM'ing, texting, Skyping since - for about 2 weeks. She's never been to Hawaii either. We both came up with this idea at the same time. She has no prior knowledge either.)

So... back to Hawaii. So just assume I KNOW NOTHING. Like, nothing at all about anything about this U.S. state other than leis, luaus and pineapple. Here's what I'm looking for:

- EASY. No complicated travel routes. No difficult-to-reach places. No commandeering the local culture. This has to be smooth like butter on corn.

- RELAXING. One day, when I'm old and successful, I will learn everything I can about the indigenous Hawaiian culture. Now is not that time. I just want paradise. Relax on a hammock. Sip on Mai Tais. Forget the insanity that I waded through for the previous 6 weeks.

- STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL. Yes, I guess all of Hawaii is probably this. But I need to put this on this list. A lot of therapeutic value can be obtained from this simple fact.

- SOMEWHAT SECLUDED. No crowds. No waiting in lines. No jockeying for position. None of that.

- NOT THE MOVIE VERSION. Yeah, no flame shows. Just want the best that nature has to offer, with amenities.

So any suggestions for this world-weary guy with possibly a new future to look forward to? Help a guy out.
posted by war wrath of wraith to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (18 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
An all-inclusive resort on Kauai.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:38 PM on August 19, 2016 [11 favorites]

We stayed at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on the Big Island's Kohala Coast for our honeymoon and it was wonderful! The service was so friendly and attentive. We would spend hours just lazing around reading on their comfortable lounge chairs, getting drinks from the beach bar, taking a quick snorkel (and seeing lots and lots of fish) then rinse and repeat. Highly recommend.
posted by peacheater at 5:41 PM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have never been there (I'm not rich) but the Four Seasons at Wailea on Maui is a standard "I want the best and I'm willing to pay for it" solution, from what I've seen.

Edit: it's hard to go wrong in Hawaii. The most secluded island is Lanai, then Kauai. The Big Island is fabulous (it is my favorite) and so is Maui, although Maui will have some crowds here and there, but it is so very beautiful.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:16 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Kauai. There are lots of VRBOs if you like that, and there are resorts. There are some direct flights or you can stop in Honolulu. Very quiet. Beautiful beaches, also some mountain hikes. No large town.
posted by kerf at 6:21 PM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My husband and I have stayed at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, near Mauna Lani as suggested by peacheater, on the Big Island. It's got a lot of what you're looking for - easy, gorgeous, hammocks, Mai Tais, plenty to do if you want to do stuff, but also great places to chill by the water and read - but, at least by our standards, its not secluded because it's still a big hotel.

If you want secluded (and super super stunningly beautiful), I think you want the North Shore of Kauai. We love it there. We generally rent a house rather than staying at a hotel/resort (we like to go for days without having to talk to anyone other than each other), and I also like the flexibility of cooking/don't mind doing it on vacation. If you prefer the hotel experience, there's the uber-fancy St. Regis in Princeville or the condo-plus-restaurant Hanalei Colony Resort. But if you're up for more seclusion and slightly more work, I'd really strongly suggest a VRBO in Hanalei (cute town with restaurants you can walk to, but never feels crowded) or Haena (farther north, even more secluded, have to drive to restaurants).

Pretty much wherever you go in Hawaii, you'll want/need to rent a car. It's not hard. My number one tip on that point is, if you're flying in with your someone new, have one of you get the luggage while the other one goes to get the car - way more efficient, way fewer lines to wait in. But get a car even if you're planning on hanging out on the beach most of the time - Hawaii in my experience is not walkable/public-transitable, and it's really nice to have the flexibility to say "We're feeling more energetic today - let's go try that cool hike we heard about!"

Also, keep in mind that Hawaii is rainy. The more pretty greenness around you, the more often it rains. That's why the big resorts are located in places like the Kohala Coast on the Big Island (super dry, almost desert-y up to the water) and lots of awesome secluded rainforest hiking is on the North Shore of Kauai where it rains a ton. If you really want constant sun, plan accordingly and stay on the sunny side of whichever island you choose. But Hawaii rain is gorgeous, generally pretty fleeting, and hasn't ever stopped us from having fun.

I don't know when you're planning to go, but try to avoid the high season, if you can. That's summer (lots of families with kids out of school) and winter (when it's cold in most of the US), especially Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's. If you do go during the holidays, expect to pay a lot more and have bigger crowds. Also try to avoid Golden Week, when a lot of Japanese tourists head to Hawaii.

The best guidebooks that we've found are the the Ultimate [Island Name]/[Island Name] Revealed books - here's the one for Kauai, but I think there's one for each island.

I have lots of specific recs for Kauai if you want 'em - some of them are here. MeMail me if you want more.
posted by bananacabana at 6:28 PM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

The Princeville/Hanalei/North side of Kauai is rainier, but lusher and with fewer people than the Poipu side. I've been to Hawaii a dozen times and the Princeville side overlooking Hanalei Bay (where South Pacific was filmed) is my favorite. I hate crowds and Maui is at the bottom of my list.
posted by cecic at 6:43 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Absolutely the Princeville/Hanalei Bay side of Kauai. It's not commercialized at all, and it's stunningly beautiful.
posted by Barnifer at 6:48 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You just described my honeymoon in Kauai. We stayed at Hanalei Colony Resort. It was not luxe, but it was great. If you want luxe and don't mind paying for it, stay in Princeville. Either way, the answer is Kauai North Shore.
posted by samthemander at 7:10 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would suggest Kauai too. It ticks alot of your boxes.

In terms of easy, It's a pretty simple island to get around (its pretty much one big C shape, with a couple crossings off that. There's not much to it)., that's really what you make it. It's not honolulu, so no bustle. The population is pretty small, and is therefore pretty low key overall. It's pretty goddamn beautiful, and in terms of seclusion, all but the biggest

As for the 'movie version' this is easily avoidable. Just don't do those things, and you'll be alright.

I will kind of echo Greg Nog's advice. There are a couple fucking awesome things about hawaii that I didn't expect, and they were all food related, and not something I sought out (but had I known...I would have sought them out instead of stumbled over them).

Number one at the top of that list was Haura's Saimin. Saimin is kind of the Hawaiian hybrid of ramen, and it's awesome. The ambiance of the place is perfect in every way, and if there's a better hangover breakfast on earth, I haven't run into it yet. I have fever dreams about this place.

The farmers markets are year round pretty much. They're low key and awesome. Cheap, awesome mellow lunch.

Also, you should get yourself some plate lunch. Find yourself some lau-lau, anywhere. This was the one food thing that I did seek out after we had it on day one. I didn't have a single bad plate lunch. It was all awesome. This is Hawaiian soul food, and hot damn if it doesn't recharge your batteries, I don't know what will.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:32 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

You really can't miss with Hawaii. Do be advised about variations in weather; I love sitting on a lanai in January or February watching rain come down, and dashing out to the beach when the sun appears. If that's not your thing, choose your location accordingly.

One really big plus is having an access that doesn't involve a big hike through a hotel. I'd pay more, or take an otherwise worse room, to achieve this. A beach cottage or similar is incredibly nice. The first time we stayed in a cabana type of thing, it was a random upgrade, and the difference was amazing.
posted by BibiRose at 8:21 PM on August 19, 2016

I've done both Kauai and the Big Island/Kona (grandparents had a condo at the Mauna Lani in the 90s) and I think Kauai is closer to your list. I prefer the Big Island myself (because of Volcano's Nat'l Park and driving up to the summit of Mauna Kea) but both are great. Kauai is a great introduction to Hawaii but if you never visit the Big Island, you are missing out. But on your first trip choose one or the other, not both. Skip Maui and Oahu for sure.
posted by gen at 2:15 AM on August 20, 2016

Your criteria suggests a resort. I'll offer Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island as another option. Fly into Kailua-Kona airport, have them pick you up, and then never leave the property. Great pool, nice beach, several restaurants. The only drawback is it's very expensive, over $1000 / night for a random weekend in October when I just looked, although I'm sure there's a way to get a better price.

I also think Wailea in Maui is a good option. Either the Four Seasons or any of the other hotels nearby on the beach. I've stayed at the Hotel Wailea which was quite nice but is not on the beach. They offer a shuttle service, and the property itself is very nice, but for what you want I suspect being on the beach will be better. Note Maui has many different kinds of experiences; I'm specifically recommending Wailea. The nice thing about the hotels there is they're all walking distance so you can enjoy restaurants, etc at several of them with little hassle.

From your description, you don't want Waikiki / Honolulu. It's a nice place too but very much a city experience.
posted by Nelson at 7:11 AM on August 20, 2016

Response by poster: Amazing answers - I'd never even heard of Kauai before I started this thread, and now it's the only search term I'm using... Thanks, Mefites!

One side question: Does anyone know how it works if you get a full package deal from one of these sites (Orbitz, Priceline, etc.) which are priced per person, but only want the room for the other person? In other words, I'm flying in from the East Coast of USA, she's flying in from East Asia - I don't need the full package for her, but if I can find a good deal for me, I'll go for it. I didn't see an option to "exclude flight" for one person though.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 7:23 AM on August 20, 2016

If you don't go to Kauai you are doing it wrong. Maui is a close second but not really. Avoid Waikiki at all costs unless you want to feel like your in the seedy parts of the Vegas strip.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:42 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding jasondigitized above me. I would absolutely recommend Kauai and would specifically steer you away from Oahu. The North Shore of Oahu is lovely, and very Kauai-like. But the city part of Oahu is anything but relaxing.

Be aware that if you go in the winter, the north shore may not have swimmable beaches because the waves are usually high that time of year. Consider staying toward the South part of the island (Poipu) in winter.
posted by cnc at 10:43 PM on August 20, 2016

If you're in Kauai, go to Foodland and get poke from the deli. They have kulolo there once a week and you should snag it when they do; you're not going to find it anywhere else. Groceries are expensive there, and I found Foodland to be the best place (and not creepy, like the Safeway it's next to).
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:05 AM on August 22, 2016

Oh, one thing: traffic in Kauai is horrible. Not bad drivers -- people are very nice -- but there's a lot of cars on not a lot of road. So when you're home now, thinking "we'll just zip down the road to this beach, then go over there for lunch, then zoom over there..." take in mind that all driving takes one thousand times longer than you think it will.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:08 AM on August 22, 2016

Suuuuper quick Hawai'i 101: There are eight main islands and they are, in approximate size order from biggest to smallest, Hawai'i (aka the Big Island), Maui, O'ahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Ni'ihau, and Kaho'olawe (you can't go to the last two). O'ahu is where Honolulu is, so even though it's the third biggest, it's the most crowded. (Sorry if this sounds obvious, but it's the kind of thing that doesn't come up much unless you're specifically researching Hawai'i.)

I grew up on O'ahu, and while I wouldn't necessarily recommend Waikiki for a relaxing paradise vacation, the North Shore is much calmer, much less touristy, and (to me) much prettier than the southern part of the island. I've heard good things about Turtle Bay Resort if you were interested in a package deal.

I won't rehash the Kauai, Maui or Big Island recs here (although you couldn't go wrong with any of them) but I will throw in another possible candidate: Molokai (the little one shaped like a shoe).

Molokai is mostly passed over by visitors, but it's super laid back and stunningly gorgeous. It's got all of the gorgeous waterfalls and nature as some of the other islands do, but you won't be fighting traffic or other tourists for everything. I've stayed at Molokai Ranch before, and there's all sorts of awesome recreational activities and it's super close to the beach.
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:18 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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