So Hawaii is a bucket list destination, right? A major trip years from now when you can maybe afford it? Think again! With Southwest starting service to Hawaii later this year, airfares should come down to the point where it’s far more accessible, and actually doable for a 3-4 day trip when your kids have a day off school or you need a break.
My 7-year-old daughter and I just returned from a quick trip to Oahu, sponsored by InterContinental Hotels and Resorts and Holiday Inn Express Waikiki, and we had a great time. It made me realize that Hawaii truly is affordable now, and will only become more so with increased flight competition.
So what did we do? As much as we could fit in. And yes, we saved a few things for next time. You could easily spend a week on Oahu and not get everywhere, so you’re sacrificing a little by only traveling over for a few days. But it’s also an island. You’re supposed to be relaxing! Our highlights included:
My daughter loved parasailing when we were in Honolulu a year and a half ago, and it was her one major request this trip. We walked over from the Holiday Inn Express, joined eight others and headed out to sea. The wind was strong, which made for a slightly bumpier boat ride, but it was easy to get us into the air. So much fun! And there’s a great view of Waikiki and Diamond Head from the top.
Note: Hawaiian Parasail recommends arriving 30 minutes early, but that’s really not necessary. It only takes a minute or two to check in. They build in a lot of time to prevent late arrivals, and in case people have trouble parking. If you’re walking over, time it to arrive maybe 5-10 minutes early.
Kualoa Ranch and the East Coast
We wanted to explore outside of Waikiki and the hotel recommended driving over to Kualoa Ranch. While it’s technically a working cattle ranch, it’s far better known for all of the movies shot there, and they even have a private beach/island. We drove over in the morning, taking the long way around the coast (at the suggestion of every hotel employee we spoke with!) so that we could make pit stops at Hanauma Bay, the Halona Blowhole and Waimanalo Beach. We loved the drive – well worth the slight detour. At Kualoa we had signed up for the Secret Island Beach Activities in the morning and the Jurassic Jungle Expedition Tour in the afternoon. We loved both. At the beach we were able to kayak, paddle board, swing, play ping pong, swim and explore. Then after a quick lunch we jumped into an open-air safari vehicle for the jungle tour and got to see a portion of the ranch, including where Jumanji, Kong: Skull Island, Jurassic World, 50 First Dates and other movies were filmed. Would highly recommend this to all Oahu visitors! They also have horseback riding and ATV tours.
Waikiki Aquarium and Diamond Head Luau
Waikiki and luaus go perfectly together! The hotel recommended the Diamond Head Luau since it’s not far from the hotel, it includes admittance to the Waikiki Aquarium,and it’s farm-to-table (we’re foodies). It was a great suggestion. The aquarium was fun, and my daughter loved the luau. The fire dancers, especially the 10-year-old performer, were her favorites. And the food was excellent.
The Beach and Sunset
We explored a large portion of Waikiki Beach between the Holiday Inn Express and the Waikiki Aquarium. We actually never went over during the middle of the day, since our Kualoa Ranch beach experience satiated us, but we walked along the beach to/from dinner two evenings. And we loved watching sunset from Magic Island – per the suggestion of Sebastian at the front desk. FYI, from the hotel it’s an easy 10-minute walk to the beach.
We loved the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki. It’s a great location, right in the middle of everywhere we wanted to go – from Magic Island and the Ala Moana Mall to the parasailing dock to the stores and restaurants of Kalakaua Avenue. Parking is easy, and access to/from the H-1 is stress-free. But beyond the location and the excellent staff (see my post on their True Hospitality), we loved all there was to do at the hotel. We played shuffleboard, giant chess, and mini-golf. We watched the huge koi fish off the lobby. We swam. Our downtime was never really down!
What We Didn’t Do
Everyone in Hawaii has a favorite place to get shave ice. The recommendations we heard most around the hotel were Matsumoto’s and Waiola. And close to Waiola, there’s Leonard’s Bakery, with its famous malasadas. I was up for a short car trip, but my daughter wasn’t. So we got shave ice a few minutes from the hotel instead. It was excellent, but we’ll definitely check out the recommended places next time.
And because we had hiked up Diamond Head before, we didn’t do it this trip. But it’s a fun excursion, even for short legs.
Where We Ate
The hotel recommended several restaurants and we enjoyed them all: Roy Yamaguchi’s Eating House 1849, in the International Marketplace, Town, a farm-to-table restaurant roughly a 10-minute drive away, and Genki Sushi in the Ala Moana Mall. Genki was fun with it’s conveyer belts and bullet train sushi delivery. For lunch we ate at The Street in the International Marketplace one day – a collection of very good food truck-style eateries. We also ate at Tanaka, only a few minutes from the hotel, since my daughter loves Japanese udon and tempura. Nicely authentic! Breakfast and coffee every day were at the hotel – included with all rooms. We loved it.
Airfare right now is in the $450 range through February, and then starts climbing as you approach the major school breaks. Run some fare searches and take advantage of the cheapest times if you can. Also look into using frequent flier miles. We play the mileage game and fly free as often as we can.
The Holiday Inn Express Waikiki starts at $141/night for up to four people. I just ran several date searches and found rooms under $150 during every one of my hypothetical booking periods. That includes breakfast.
Our rental car was $84/day, which is high. Because Hawaii. But it’s easily possible to get by without a car. There are buses/shuttles from Waikiki to virtually every part of the island, and every major activity.
Meals can be as cheap or expensive as you want. Honolulu has every major chain restaurant as well as a lot of great local places. Our room at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki had a refrigerator and microwave, so we easily could have brought back and reheated leftovers.
Kualoa Ranch was $85.76 for the two of us for the Secret Beach, and another $85.76 for the Jungle Expedition Tour.
The Diamond Head Luau was $159 for me and $89 for my daughter. A splurge, but enjoyable, and the food was excellent.
Parasailing was $60/person for a 600′ line.
What else did we miss? What should we do next time?
Next time you have to get shrimp on the North Shore, definitely get some shaved ice at Matsumotos! I have been twice and haven’t made it to Hanauma Bay yet, so that’s on my next time list!
Eric Stoen says
I know! My kids only like to be in the car so much, and when there’s enough to do around Waikiki and that part of the island for a few days, it’s hard to convince them to head to another part of the island. I can fit in maybe one day of road tripping every time we go over.