Family Hawaii

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How four can live as cheaply, and comfortably, as two

You'd do best to pass up the treasure hunts, pirate parties, and other children's activities of the top hotels, for they come at a pretty price: the cost of two adjoining rooms. For smart, budget-conscious families traveling to Hawaii, the condo is the key. In Hawaii, one-bedroom condos -- and there are thousands of them -- are usually large, always equipped for cooking, and most often refreshingly priced, sometimes costing considerably less than $80 a night if you stay for a week, far below what you'd pay in a hotel.

Apart from price and space (a cramped hotel room can seem smaller every day with active children), the specific advantages include a full kitchen (saving you dollars on meals), laundry facilities (generally right inside your unit), and extensive free recreational opportunities (swimming pool, tennis courts, picnic tables, barbecue areas) on the property. Most units have a pullout sofa bed in the living room so you won't have to pay for an extra bedroom for the kids.

I've scoured my beloved island-state for large, inexpensive, comfortable condos capable of accommodating an entire family cheaply, and as close to a beach as possible. Here are some island-by-island picks:

Big Island of Hawaii

On that huge sea -- surrounded land harboring Volcanoes National Park, black lava beaches, and actual Hawaiian cowboys, the best selection of affordable one- and two-bedroom condominium units is undoubtedly that of Hawaii Resort Management (P.O. Box 39, Kailua-Kona, HI 96745; 800/622-5348 or 808/329-9393; konahawaii.com). It currently offers more than 200 condominium units in its inventory, with daily, weekly, and monthly rates starting as low as $70 a night for a one-bedroom that sleeps four, just a short walk to the beach and complete with air-conditioning, full kitchen, pool, and ocean views. It also offers two-bedroom/two-bath units right on the beach, starting at $95 a night.

An alternate source? Knutson and Associates (75-6082 Aln Dr., Suite #8, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740; 800/800-6202 or 808/329-6311; konahawaiirentals.com) has several budget condominiums in their rental pool, starting at $525 a week for a one-bedroom in an oceanfront complex with pool, washer and dryer, and ceiling fans (no air-conditioning). Or seek out Sun Quest Vacations (800/367-5168 or 808/329-6488, sunquest-hawai.com) for its budget condos starting at $80 a night or $480 a week for one-bedroom units.

Maui

On ever-more-popular Maui, Bello's Maui Beach Homes (P.O. Box 1776, Kihei, HI 96753; 800/541-3060; bellomaui.com) represents seven different condominium complexes in Kihei, most with pools, ocean views, washer/dryers, and air-conditioning, which start as low as $55 in the off-season ($70 in the high season) for a one-bedroom garden unit within walking distance of the beach. In the West Maui area, contact Maui Beach Front Rentals (256 Papalaua St., Lahaina, HI 96761; 888/661-7200 or 808/661-3500; mauibeachfront.com). Although the company represents a broad range of properties, it does have some deals for this pricey area, like one-bedroom units (with full kitchen, swimming pool, washer and dryer, barbecue facilities) starting at $89. Two other small budget complexes on the west side, offering excellent rates for families, are: Hale Maui Apartment Hotel, (P.O. Box 516, Lahaina, HI 96767; 808/669-6312), with one-bedroom units that sleep up to five starting at $100; and Hoyochi Nikko (3901 Lower Honoapnlani Rd., Lahaina, HI 96761; 800/487-6002 or 808/669,-8343; mauilodging.com), with one- and two-bedroom units starting at $85.

Kauai

Kauai Vacation Rentals (3-3311 Kuhio Hwy., Lihue, HI 96766; 800/367-5025 or 808/245-8841; kauaivacationrentals.com) represents a variety of condos and homes all over the island. They have affordable one-bedroom condominium units in the popular Poipu area starting at $725 a week and two-bedroom, one-bath condominium units in Kapaa, a short walk to the beach, for $700 a week.

Families interested in the Coconut Coast might want to go directly to the Wailua Bay View condominium (320 Papaloa Rd., Kapaa, HI 96746; 800/882-9007; wailuabay.com). Not only is it located right on the beach, but rates for four people are as low as $110 a night. The property has a swimming pool and barbecue facilities, and all the units are one bedroom with a queen bed, queen sofa bed, full kitchen, washer and dryer, and air-conditioning.

And finally, those on the very most frugal of budgets who still want to experience the sun and waves that border the costly resorts of the South Shore should contact Kalaheo Inn (P.O. Box 584, Kalaheo, HI 96741; 888/332-6023 or 808/332-6023; kalaheoinn.com), located just a 12-minute drive from the golden sands of Poipu Beach. This newly renovated, family-oriented inn has full kitchens, TV/VCRs, free games and beach toys, and laundry facilities, with one-bedroom units starting at $55 and two-bedroom units from $75.

Oahu

On bustling Oahu, especially in the highly sought-after Waikiki area, there are no independent property rental firms representing an inventory of budget-priced condominium units. However, there are numerous older low-rise apartment buildings offering good value within a block of Waikiki Beach.

Aloha Punawai (305 Saratoga Rd., Honolulu, HI 96815; 808/923-5211; alternativehawaii/alohapunawai) has large one-bedroom units (which sleep up to five persons) just a half a block from the beach for $95 single occupancy and $10 per additional adult, with children free. These basic, comfortable units (immaculately clean) have small but complete kitchens, private baths, individual lanais, televisions, and coin-operated laundry facilities.

Just down the block is a similar older apartment/hotel, Kai Aloha (235 Saratoga Rd., Honolulu, HI 96815; 808/923-6723; e-mail: kai.aloha@gte.net, with full kitchens, air-conditioning, phones, televisions, daily maid service, and coin-operated laundry facilities. The one-bedroom units start at $85 for three people and $95 for four.

For larger, more luxurious units with added amenities (pool, exercise room, sun deck, volleyball and basketball courts, and putting green) two blocks from the beach, contact Paradise Management (50 S. Beretania St., Suite C207, Honolulu, HI 96813; 800/367-5205 or 808/538-7145; e-mail: pmchi@gte.net, which manages the Royal Kuhio condominium in Waikiki. These nicely furnished one-bedroom units (with free parking, a plus in crowded Waikiki) start at $105 a night.

Family touring & meals

Some other approaches to low-cost family vacations in the islands:

Book a rental car when you book your condo. "I know it sounds exaggerated, but car/air/condo packages can save you from 25 to 40 percent," says Margy Parker, executive director of the Poipu Beach Resort Association. Most condominium booking agencies have package deals with a four-door economy car for around $150 a week.

Food in Hawaii is expensive. Bring a duffel bag from home filled with packaged items for breakfast, lunch, and snacks (cereals, peanut butter, tuna, and paper goods). Then hit the farmer's markets, which are available on every island, and buy fresh tropical produce to augment your groceries. The visitor's associations on each island (see below) can direct you to the closest farmer's market and other discount food outlets (like day-old bread sales at bakeries).

For eating out, think picnics rather than restaurants. Kammy Purdy, the executive director of the Molokai Visitors Association, says that as a mother of four, she has often livened up family vacations by planning a trip to a different scenic spot (beaches, hills with panoramic views, waterfalls, etc.) for a lunch or dinner every day.

Don't waste a day of your vacation -- plan ahead. "The biggest problem I see is that people wait until they arrive to start finding out what activities are available," says James Metcalf, owner of Hawaii Resort Management. "I talk to thousands of people and it is surprising how many don't do any research or planning in advance." Metcalf suggests contacting the local visitor's bureaus for voluminous information about the island you plan to visit.

Look for free or nearly free activities. Check with the local visitor's bureau, the local library, or the local newspaper for family activities in the community. Pick up free visitor publications, not only for their listings of activities but also for their money-saving coupons on everything from macadamia nuts to snorkel gear rental.

More information

A wealth of information is available from the local visitors' associations on everything from free hula shows to finding ripe papayas at the closest farmer's market. For information statewide, contact the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, 2270 Kalakaua Ave., Suite 801, Honolulu, HI 96815, 800/GO-HAWAII or 808/923-1811, gohawaii.com.

For island information, contact:

Big Island Visitors Bureau, 250 Keawe St., Hilo, HI 96720; 800/648-2441 (recording only) or 808/961-5797; bigisland.org.

Maui Visitors Bureau, 1727 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku, HI 96793, 800/525-MAUI or 808/244-3530, visitmaui.com.

Kauai Visitors Bureau, 4334 Rice St., Suite 101, Lihue, HI 96766, 800/262-1400 or 808/245-3971, kauaivisitorsbureau.org. Also the Poipu Beach Resort Association, P.O. Box 730, Koloa, HI 96756, 888/744-0888 or 808/742-7444, http://www.poipu-beach.org/.

Oahu Visitors Bureau, 733 Bishop St., Suite 1872, Honolulu, HI 96813, 888/GO-HONOLULU or 808/524-0722, visit-oahu.com.

Jeanette Foster is a Hawaii resident (of 25 years) and co-author of numerous best-selling guidebooks to the islands.

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