Hawai’i, a vacation dream of a lifetime ….. or is it? Part 1
By Douglas E Crum
A few years ago I was talking with the governor of Hawai’i and I said to her “Governor, the problem with Hawai’i is that the wrong image is being conveyed. Tourists do not feel the Aloha Spirit while they’re here.” The feeling was then and is true even today, a different mentality. That mentality is “Welcome to Hawai’i, give me your money now leave!”
Don’t get me wrong. I love these islands, there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather live. However, we are at more than just a crossroads of Aloha on the islands. We are at the point where we need to rekindle the Aloha spirit.
I have a responsibility to tell you things you need to know, that you don’t know you need to know before coming here.
There are eight major islands in the state of Hawai’i. Each island is characteristically different. The islands are Hawai’i, Maui, Koho’olawe, Moloka’i, Lana’i, O’ahu, Kaua’i and Ni’ihau
Hawai’i (Big Island)
The biggest island is Hawai’i which is confusing because that is the name of the state. So, for us here in Hawai’i we refer to the island of Hawai’i as “Big Island”. If you ever go to the big island, immediately you notice it is like being on the moon. You can drive for literally an hour and see nothing but rocks, living grass that looks dead because it is brown, and goats. Occasionally you may pass a car that is going the other direction or maybe a bicyclist and that is about it. If you stay there in 1 of many hotels, stock up on snacks because it is a long drive to any store outside the hotel property. There is much to see, and I will write about that in another article.
Oahu is the most densely populated island in the state and is where Honolulu, the state capital, is located. If we go by the 2018 census, the population is around one to 1.3 million.
The island is exceedingly small, meaning that you could drive the entire island in a few hours. I will talk about that more under transportation. If you are visiting the island of Oahu, you will arrive at The Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) which is the largest airport in the State of Hawai’i and is in Honolulu. Depending on how you booked your flight here, you might include transportation to one of the major hotels in Waikiki from the airport. Unless you are visiting friends or family you will more than likely plan for sleep at either hotel, condominium, short-term rentals, or Airbnb’s. Waikiki is the crown jewel and is highly sought as a place to stay. It is near the Ala Moana shopping center and the one-mile strip of Waikiki proper. That strip is referred to as luxury row because of all the high-end retail stores. I would compare this more to Rodeo drive in California, for example. On both sides of that street called Kalakaua Ave is where you will find anything your designer heart desires. Ala Moana Blvd intersects with Kalakaua Blvd and connects Ala Moana shopping center to Waikiki. Along these streets are many hotels that make it easy to walk to either luxury row (Waikiki) or Ala Moana shopping center.
However, there is a downside to these hotels in this area. If your room is facing Mauka (mountain) then at night you hear an unbelievable number of police, ambulance, and fire trucks all night. If that does not wake you up, individuals that are unaware of what they are doing or just doing it on purpose will wake you. You hear calling and yelling and complaining to each other a good bit of the night. You will never understand or know why they are really yelling so much, but they do. Be prepared for nights that are not restful. If you were facing Makai (ocean) then you will only wake if police, fire trucks, or ambulance go to the harbor. There is some disruption from individuals yelling to the heavens, but I think not as much of recent. Having an ocean view is a double-edged sword. It is great because you have these amazing, beautiful views of the ocean. However, beginning about noon until sunset your room gets very, very hot so be prepared for that. The best air-condition cannot compete with the sun. Also, unless the moon is full, there is not much to see towards the ocean at night.
There are many programs available to get you from the airport to your hotel. Roberts Hawai’i seems to be one of the more efficient, streamlined, and organized and has been in business for 75+ years. There are cheaper businesses but also unreliable and unpredictable. Taxi is shockingly high. If you take a taxi from the airport to Waikiki, be prepared to spend around $40 plus. If you take a taxi to anywhere else, even across the canal but not in Waikiki, it is about half that. No idea why. There is much debate on this unusual pricing structure however nothing has been done to reduce that. There are individuals, as in private car rentals called Turo and you may know of others. Ironically, there’s no governing body that Turo answers to, so you’re on your own as far as any issues or complaints that you have. If you decide to rent a car, be prepared to pay in addition to hotel fees and resort fees you will also have to pay a daily parking fee ranging from $40 to $60.00 a night. Also, keep in mind when a car rental agency says that you return the car by 5:00 PM they mean 4:59:59. Other than the airport, the car rentals typically close their doors at 5:00 PM. If the car return is late 10 minutes they charge you for one more day. This is a big problem if you are returning it anywhere other than the airport, so keep that in mind.
If you decide to drive around the island, which is a wonderful experience, do not be misled by the appearance of a short distance. The Island of Oahu is only 44 miles long and 30 miles wide but driving from one end of the island to the other can take you hours depending on the time of day and traffic. We consider Honolulu one of the worst cities in the United States for driving. So, if you are going to rent a car and drive to the other end of the island, leave incredibly early in the morning. Driving Ewa Direction (west) in the mornings is not heavy traffic and driving Diamond Head direction (east) in the evenings is not heavy traffic. If you choose to drive during heavy traffic times, it is not uncommon for you to sit still for a long time.
One thing I did not mention is the City and County of Honolulu bus system. (The Bus)They are trying to switch over to a card only for on and off the bus. It is my understanding starting July 1, 2021; they are requiring you to have a passcard (Holo) if you’re going to ride the bus monthly. I am told that daily you still could pay for a one-day ticket which allows you for a certain fee on and off the bus as you desire. That rate goes up periodically. It's an EXACT change-only ticket. The bus driver cannot make change. Bus schedules change depending on the weekend or weekday and holidays. Typically, holidays are on a Sunday schedule. You can see the arrival/departure at www.TheBus.org If you are at a bus stop, you can key in the bus stop number and it will tell you when the next bus is arriving at that location. If you don’t know the route and how to get to your destination, you can use Google Maps or something else and just say driving directions and choose a bus icon and it’ll tell you which buses to take.
Food & essentials
I always say. Eat lunch in Waikiki for the experience but eat dinner somewhere else. Dinner prices are high in Waikiki unless you have a promotion meal. ABC stores are on almost every corner and that is great. If you shop at ABC stores, you pay a high convenience price for shopping there. We jokingly call it Tokyo prices. Near Waikiki is Ala Moana Shopping Center. If you want prepared food, there are 3 food courts in the Ala Moana Shopping center. Diamond Head side (east) 2nd floor is a food court near Macy's called The Lanai. In the center of Ala Moana 1st floor is a large food court. Ewa side (west) of the shopping center 1st floor is Shirokiya Japan Village Walk. All are nice fast-food types and depends on your taste. Prices are all over the place, so take your time when you order. If you go to the shopping center 1st floor and walk Mauka direction (away from the ocean) are 2 familiar stores. Target is about 1 block Mauka (north) and Walmart is 2 blocks Mauka (north) from the shopping center. Also, there is a Sams Club above Walmart if you want to buy snacks in large quantities.
Where do you sleep?
There are many hotels in Waikiki. You can use your favorite reservation site hoping to find the best price. There are also apartments that are managed by realtors and private individuals. It is a state law in Hawai’i that an owner living in another state must have a local contact here on this island. The reason being if you have any problems with the rental you have someone to call. You must be incredibly careful if you rent from an individual. Be aware of internet scams. Make sure someone will meet you in person and hand you a key. However, there are a group of local rental agencies that do not do that. They will give you a code for the door by e-mail with your confirmation. It has challenges. Private individuals renting apartments are difficult to make sure they are really owners and not a scam. I have read many stories of people that pay in advance arriving on the island only to learn internet fraud has scammed them. They have nowhere to stay. Sadly, this happens a lot. My point is to be sure that you know who you are renting from if you rent from an individual. DO NOT send cash in advance. Regardless of who you are renting from, be sure that you know what it includes. Is everything included except for parking or is that included? Are there resort fees? Are there Internet fees? I always called this the dating phase. Everyone is excited and everyone is always happy to have you rent from them and you are happy to find a place to stay. But in the end reality sets and here we are complaint after complaint about hidden fees.
It’s an island, so there're many beaches to go to. You should know that nowhere in the state of Hawai’i is their private beaches. There is something called the vegetation line which is the highest that water goes on shore at high tide. That line is the vegetation line and up to that line is a public beach. If a hotel or a property tells you that’s our private beach, that is simply not true. Along Waikiki, there are many areas for the beach, mostly behind hotels and a military museum. Also, there is Duke Kahanamoku lagoon behind a large hotel. That lagoon is public property and is a public park. It may not look like it's public, but it is. Some prefer a little more beach so I suggest you go to magic island or Ala Moana Park which is a park across from Ala Moana shopping center. It has a large beach area and park.
There also is a place that has a breaker wall and a small lagoon. You can take small children (Keiki) there and the waves from the ocean do not intimidate them. Others like a more private area, not as many people, not as many tourists, and that is on the other side of the island. Just drive to the other side of the mountain and find your spot. Remember, on the islands you are awfully close to the equator so the burn time of your skin can be fast, 15 to 17 minutes. Wear a lot of sunscreens and track your time. You should take with and drink lots of fluids. If you have never spent much time in the ocean, understand that even if you are very strong swimmer undertows can take your life quickly so be careful about undertows. The Islanders have high respect for our animal life and our ocean life, so approach nothing that lives in the water assuming it is for yours to entertain, especially monk seals. They are protected with a passion.
There are many historical places to visit on the island of Oahu depending on you.
Iolani palace completed in 1882 and is the only official monarch residence in the United States of America. They have audio and docent-guided tours. Please go to their website to schedule the time. I know the docent-guided tours fill quickly. https://www.iolanipalace.org/
Bishop Museum — was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. She was the last descendant of the Kamehameha family. The Museum has on display an extensive collection of Hawaiian objects and royal family heirlooms of the Princess as well as objects, documents, and photographs about Hawai‘i and other Pacific island cultures. https://www.bishopmuseum.org/
Polynesian Culture Center — is advertised as the most paid attraction visited on the island. It’s an all-day visit to the Culture Center that celebrates the cultures of the Pacific Islands. If you are staying in the Waikiki area, you will need to plan your day for travel time there and back. It will take a while to drive there. https://www.polynesia.com/
Pearl Harbor — The two saddest places on the island are Pearl Harbor and the airport when you leave Hawai’i. If you have time, I recommend you go to Pearl Harbor and enjoy the day. I am including the website for you to do some research. If you want a no effort tour, you can book that with many travel companies that will pick you up in Waikiki and take you to Pearl Harbor in a Private Coach, drop you off and bring you back home afterward. If you’re more of an adventurer, you can ride The Bus from Waikiki that drops you off right at the gates that go into Pearl Harbor. You would take a similar city bus to come back to Waikiki. There’s an ongoing issue about entrance tickets because some of the local tour companies buy tickets in advance making it limited for adventurers. You can go online and reserve or purchase tickets, then pick them up when you get there. Be sure you have tickets for entrance before you arrive. If you have the time, go there. https://pearlharbor.org/
Crime in Waikiki
Crime in Waikiki is one of the most debated topics and ignored or overlooked as being a problem. But nothing is ever a problem until it happens to you. For a long time, leaders in the city and community were raving about decreasing crime in Waikiki. However, is not the truth. A colleague of mine and I had been challenging that and we have evidence to defend our disposition. Our reference is nothing other than the crime map from the Honolulu Police Department. We continue to say not only is that evidentiary, but we also know that many of the crimes are not even filed. I will show you a crime map URL below. The point is, you are on vacation, but your mind cannot be. It is called situational awareness. When you are walking, you need to be aware of everything around you. Who is walking behind you? Who is walking beside you? Who is walking in front of you? I am not saying this to be paranoid; I am saying this to be aware of who is around you. It is a beautiful island; you can walk everywhere on our sidewalks especially from Waikiki to Ala Moana however you need to be aware of everything around you please. Bicycling is not allowed on the sidewalks in business areas but everyone who rents one from Biki Bikes does not read the disclaimer when renting. They also ride on the sidewalks as they do in their own hometown. Here it is not legal but sadly not enforced often. Be aware that on a rental agreement from Biki Bikes you agree that if the bicycle is stolen that you will pay them $1200 to replace it. Keep an eye on your bicycle if you rent one.
Coming to Hawai’i is a dream of a lifetime. So, make the best of it. Understand the island that you are going to and what it offers for you. Be sure you are aware of arrival times and how you get from the airport to where you are sleeping. Unless you are a real adventure, you should not take that for a chance. As far as where you are staying for sleeping be at a hotel, condominium, Airbnb, or a Timeshare, be sure you understand the address and how you get into the apartment. Read your documentation carefully. I have seen people take an hour to get in their room because they read nothing before they got here. One thing I have noticed that many people who have an old-style combination lock that looks like a contractor's lockbox have four numbers in a row. After you open the lock, change that number after you close it because people who do not live in the building will walk by, check doorknobs and check combinations, so be sure you change that after you open and remove the key. If you are renting a car, do not put any valuables in it while you are here. After you park the car, if you cannot carry it with you, do not leave it in the car or it will be stolen. On car rentals, there are barcodes on the window that says, “Hi I am a tourist steal from me” so leave nothing valuable in the car. If you are going to the beach, keep your valuables in a safe in your room. Even if you are just married, wedding rings may be stolen, or you could lose them in the ocean. Colder temperature will shrink your finger and the ring will slip off. Believe it or not, I see people take their valuables and roll them up in the towel like this is some security mechanism. The thieves that steal from everyone on the beach have a spotter and a person who will steal your items, so do not take them with you if you do not want them stolen. Take a beach towel and a way to secure your phone and look for a waterproof or some special package. If hiking is your thing, then do some research before you come here. Please remember if you are hiking, do not stand on the edge of a cliff and take a selfie. It cost about $15,000 to recover your body when it falls to the bottom. Understand the island you are going to and the things you want to see. Plan your time more than you usually do. Oahu is exceedingly small is very compact here but difficult to navigate. I always say Honolulu is one-way streets and you cannot turn left so do not be afraid to use your GPS on your phone. Just make sure you have the adapter to plug the cell phone in the car. You can eat in Waikiki in the evenings, but it is awfully expensive. There are many places that have possibly, COVID excepted, are common for live music and hula dance. I do not know if that is going to be this time so check it out before you go there if you expect entertainment. You should map the places you want to see in advance whether its historical locations or parks or hiking trails and find out what the hours are and see if they are open every day. I will follow up with a Part 2 or more if interest is there but for now. I’m signing off.
We hope to see you soon.