Hawaii: Answers to 5 common travel questions
Here's an interview with Rachel Klein, editor of Fodor's Hawaii 2010. Klein is also the Hawaii expert for Fodor's 80 degrees, a Web tool that lets you find a warm-weather escape best suited for your personality based on 20 criteria.
1. Which island should I go to?
Oahu is sometimes referred to as "one stop Hawaii" because it offers visitors a sampling of experiences and activities that can be found on all the other islands. Those interested in history won't want to miss Pearl Harbor and the Bishop Museum.
Maui is a popular pick for honeymooners, as its beaches are considered some of Hawaii's most beautiful and the resorts of West and South Maui are spectacular. The breathtaking views on Maui's Road to Hana are sure to inspire romance.
Kauai offers a more secluded, slower-paced island vacation on its splendid, lush Napali Coast, sunny South Shore beaches, and the sleepy quaint town of Hanalei.
The Big Island is a good choice for families, as there are tons of active adventures with a scientific spin, including visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and taking a trip to the top of Mauna Kea to see some of the world's largest telescopes at the Keck Observatory.
Molokai and Lanai are your best bets are for those truly looking to get away from it all.
2. What's the weather like?
There isn't a bad time to visit Hawaii when it comes to warm weather, as temperatures hover around 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round on all the islands. However, the change in seasons can bring more or less rain; in winter, some beaches become unsafe for swimming due to currents and tides, and hiking trails tend to become flooded. Also, each island has its own unique weather patterns based on elevation and other factors, meaning that you may find rain in one spot and brilliant sunshine just a short distance away—something to consider if you plan to rent a convertible.
3. What are some special Hawaiian activities for kids?
Aside from water activities—snorkeling and body-boarding being two popular choices—and outdoor adventures such as zip-lining and mountain tubing that are available around the islands, most of the larger Hawaiian resorts have cultural programs for kids. Everything from storytelling about Hawaiian mythology to native craft-making is often part of the experience. There are also luaus to attend on every island, some more authentic and others more of a show, but most are very kid-friendly.
4. What are some of the best one-day itineraries I can take on each island?
On Oahu: You'll be up at dawn due to the time change and dead on your feet by afternoon due to jet lag. Have a sunrise swim, change into walking gear, and head to Diamond Head for a hike. The climb is fairly strenuous—think lots of stairs—but it affords spectacular views of Honolulu, Waikiki, and the ocean. After lunch, nap in the shade, do some shopping, or visit the nearby East Honolulu neighborhoods of Mo'ili'ili and Kaimuki, rife with small shops and good, little restaurants. End the day with an early, interesting, and inexpensive dinner at one of these neighborhood spots.
On Maui: If you don't plan to spend an entire day hiking in the volcanic crater at Haleakala National Park, this itinerary will at least allow you to take a peek at it. Get up early and head straight for the summit of Haleakala (if you're jet-lagged and waking up in the middle of the night, you may want to get there in time for sunrise). Bring water, sunscreen, and warm clothing; it's freezing at sunrise. Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the various lookout points in the park. On your way down the mountain, turn right on Makawao Avenue, and head into the little town of Makawao. You can have lunch here, or make a left on Baldwin Avenue and head downhill to the North Shore town of Paia, which has a number of great lunch spots and shops to explore. Spend the rest of your afternoon at Pa'ia's main strip of sand, Ho'okipa Beach.
On the Big Island: Take a day to enjoy the splendors of the Hamakua Coast, or any gorge you see on the road is an indication of a waterfall waiting to be explored. For a sure bet, head to beautiful Waipi'o Valley. Book a horseback, hiking, or 4WD tour or walk on in by yourself (just keep in mind that it's an arduous hike back up, with a 25 percent grade for a little over a mile). Once in the valley, take your first right to get to the black-sand beach. Take a moment to sit here: The ancient Hawaiians believed this was where souls crossed over to the afterlife. Whether you believe that or not, there's something unmistakably special about this place. Waterfalls abound in the valley, depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Your best bet is to follow the river from the beach to the back of the valley, where a waterfall and its lovely pool await.
On Kauai: Start your day before sunrise and head west to Port Allen Marina. Check in with one of the tour-boat operators—who will provide you with plenty of coffee to jump-start your day—and cruise the iconic Napali Coast. Slather up with sunscreen and be prepared for a long—and sometimes big—day on the water; you can enjoy a couple of mai tais on the return trip. Something about the sun and the salt air conspires to induce a powerful sense of fatigue—so don't plan anything in the evening. The trip also helps build a huge appetite, so stop at Grinds in Hanapepe on the way home.
5. What are some Hawaiian "street foods" I must try?
For something easy, inexpensive, and very local, try a "plate lunch," which usually consists of a main entrée (often meat-based), a scoop of macaroni salad, and two scoops of rice. Also cheap and filling is Spam musubi, a Hawaii-only version with the canned ham topping the traditional Japanese rectangular seaweed-wrapped rice snack. Everyone will love "shave ice" (note: not "shaved ice," which if uttered will immediately let people know you're a tourist), a plastic cone filled with extremely finely-shaven ice, sweetened with food coloring and often topped with a scoop of ice cream plus a dusting of tart li hing power, made from dried plum. Also don't miss the great fresh fruits, baked goods, at roadside stands and weekly farmers markets.
See Budget Travel's hand-picked vacation package deals for Hawaii
Earlier: Reader tips on where to eat and sleep in Hawaii
Click fast: 99-hour sales in the Caribbean & Mexico
It's high season in Mexico and the Caribbean, which means people are flocking to the warm sand and sun down south—doesn't that sound nice, especially with this huge snowstorm moving across the country? The good news is that deals don't disappear during the high season—sometimes, you just have to dig a little to find them. One strategy is to sign up for online newsletters, which often offer exclusive savings on packages and hotel stays. If you're looking for deals just in the Mexico and Caribbean, try signing up for CheapCaribbean.com's newsletter. CheapCaribbean.com has these 99-hour sales that happen so fast, even we have trouble keeping up with them. The sales happen weekly, starting on Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern and ending Friday at midnight. You can save up to 70 percent on vacation packages in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Riviera Maya in Mexico, and plenty more. And now, if you sign up for the CheapCaribbean.com free newsletter, they'll release the sale to you in advance. So you get a few hours' head start on all the other people hoping to book. Currently, the "Groundhog Day" 99-hour sale features packages like a 7-night stay with airfare to the Barcelo Maya Caribe and Beach resort in the Riviera Maya, starting at $799 per person. Next week's theme is Valentine's Day, followed by Mardi Gras. Not sure where to go? Our Nonstop Caribbean tool shows all the nonstop flights to the Caribbean from major U.S. cities, so you can get to the beach faster. And for more trip ideas, check out our Real Deals section, currently with 148 deals to destinations around the world, from $24 a night.
Super Bowl travel, without a super-high cost
Want to travel to see the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday, but don't have thousands of dollars lying around to pay for the ticket and trip to Miami? Don't worry: You don't have to settle for watching the big game from the couch. You can spend the weekend in an atmosphere just as exciting—and not nearly as expensive—as the one in south Florida, with a getaway to the homes of the two teams competing. Both New Orleans and Indianapolis are welcoming travelers with deals on food, lodging, and activities. Best bets for both Omni hotels in both cities are embracing the competitive spirit with the Go Indy, Go Big Easy package, featuring rooms starting at $144 (in honor of Super Bowl 44). Under the promotion, if the Colts win, the fans staying at Indianapolis's Omni Severin Hotel will get their room free Sunday night, compliments of the Omni Royal Orleans in New Orleans. And if the Saints win, the fans staying at the New Orleans Omni stay free Sunday night, courtesy of the Indy Omni. (There's also a friendly wager between management at the two properties: If Indianapolis wins, the GM of the New Orleans hotel will have to parade around the French Quarter in Colts gear, cheering for his rival; if New Orleans wins, the GM of the Indy hotel will have to do likewise in Mardi Gras attire at the city's Soldiers and Sailors Monument downtown.) The celebration will continue into the next week: If the Colts win, the Indianapolis Omni will send Indy-style Just Pop In popcorn (in Colts colors) for guests to enjoy at the New Orleans Omni; if the Saints win, the New Orleans hotel will send king cakes to guests at the Indy Omni. Another wager pits the Indianapolis Museum of Art against the New Orleans Museum of Art: If the Colts win, NOMA will loan Claude Lorrain's 1644 painting, Ideal View of Tivoli, to IMA. If the Saints win, IMA will send J.M.W. Turner's work from 1800, The Fifth Plague of Egypt, to NOMA. Big Easy deals The Marriott New Orleans is offering the Finish Strong package starting at $179 a night, including accommodations, two Saints hats, and a game-day snack pack with a Saints cooler, four Abita beers, and a large bag of Zapp's Who Dat? chips (to book, use rate code SPE). During the game, the hotel's bar will have food and drink specials, as well as giveaways, prizes, or drawings for every touchdown New Orleans scores. Saints' fans can watch Sunday's game in the French Quarter with a team legend at Deanie's Seafood, which is hosting a Flying Pigskin Party. Former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert will be broadcasting his pre- and post-game radio shows live from the restaurant, where $125 gets you an all-you-can-eat prepared menu and an open bar throughout the game. Visitors to New Orleans will also get a taste of Mardi Gras. It's the first weekend of the festival, and six parades are set for Saturday (parades previously set to roll during Sunday's game have been canceled or rescheduled). And regardless of the game's outcome, fans can cheer on Saints quarterback Drew Brees as the king in the krewe of Bacchus's parade on February 14. (See full Mardi Gras details at the New Orleans tourism Web page.) Also while you're in town, check out the Audubon Nature Institute, which is giving fans wearing Saints gear half-price admission on Saturday and Sunday to its zoo, aquarium, and insectarium. Here's a roundup of other hotel deals in New Orleans for the weekend, up to 40 percent off in some cases. And for more on what-to-do and where-to-watch specials, keep an eye on the convention and visitors bureau website, which is being updated as new offers come in. Indy specials For die-hard Colts fans (or just those who want to bask in the football frenzy), you can't visit Indy without a trip to the Colts-themed Blue Crew Sports Grill, which is packed with Colts memorabilia dating back to the arrival of the team in 1984 and, fittingly, has a horseshoe-shaped main bar. This weekend, the bar is bringing in a huge heated tent with tables, TV monitors, and a beer draft truck, with live entertainment both Saturday and Sunday before the game, as well as drink specials and prize giveaways. Expect an authentic fan experience: The owner of the bar is the president of the Indy Blue Crew, a group of super-loyal Colts fans and expert tailgaters. Those wishing to get a little gambling in and to possibly make the vacation pay for itself can head over to Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, northeast of Indianapolis, which will raffle $500 every 15 minutes during the game. Also, all-day Sunday, Mellow Mushroom, a pizza shop in nearby Carmel, is offering 18% off all deliveries and takeout orders, in honor of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who wears #18. This weekend also coincides with the city's Devour Downtown Winterfest, which lasts through Saturday. More than 40 participating restaurants are offering three- or four-course meals for $30 each. ELSEWHERE Both Super Bowl cities are welcoming travelers with deals on food, lodging, and activities. Check out their tourism websites: New Orleans and Indianapolis. AdLand has archived the top Super Bowl ads since 1969
Belize: Answers to your vacation FAQs
Here's a Q&A; with Eric Wechter, the editor of Fodor's Belize, 4th edition, and Lan Sluder, the author. Wechter is also the Belize expert for Fodor's 80 degrees initiative, an interactive planner for finding a warm-weather escape best suited for your personality. Why are airfares to Belize so high, and how can we find cheaper flights? Air service is somewhat limited and is mostly from a few hubs in the United States. To find the most affordable flights, stay flexible on your dates, avoid peak holiday travel (around Christmas and Easter), and sign up for Internet specials and e-mail fare alerts on the airlines flying to Belize—currently Continental, American, US Airways, Delta, and TACA. Another option is to fly into Cancún, which usually has good air deals, and bus to Belize. We want to spend time at the beach and also in the jungle. Where should we go? On a first and relatively brief visit to Belize, sample the best "surf and turf" by splitting your time between one of the popular beach areas—Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Hopkins, or Placencia—and the rest in the Cayo, which has the largest concentration of popular mainland activities. Is Belize a safe place to visit? The best answer is "Yes, but…" Most visitors say they feel quite safe in Belize (except, they say, in some areas of Belize City). Tourist Police patrol areas of Belize City, Placencia, Ambergris Caye, and elsewhere, and many hotels and jungle lodges have security guards. Out of the hundreds of thousands of visitors, the numbers who are victims of any kind of crime is perhaps a few hundred. So, while this is still a developing country, enjoy yourself and follow standard travel precautions: Don't wander into areas that don't feel safe; avoid deserted beaches and streets after dark; and don't flash expensive jewelry or cash. Be aware that there have been a few carjackings and robberies on remote roads or at little-visited parks and Mayan sites; travel in a group or with a guide to less popular places. Got any tips for visiting the Mayan Ruins? Altun Ha, the ruin closest to Belize City, gets crowds of cruise ship day-trippers; so if you go, try to avoid days when there are several cruise ships in port. On your visit to Tikal (in Guatemala), stay at one of the three lodges at the park if possible—you'll be able to visit the ruins early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when howler monkeys and other animals are active and most day visitors have left. What about mosquitoes? Pack plenty of bug juice with DEET. Mosquitoes are especially bad around Cerros and at the ruins near Punta Gorda. How physically fit should I be to enjoy an adventure vacation in Belize? Adventure vacations commonly are split into "soft" and "hard" adventures. Hard adventures, such as strenuous jungle treks and extended caving trips, usually require excellent physical conditioning and previous experience. Most hiking, biking, canoeing-kayaking, cave tubing, snorkeling, brief cave tours, and similar soft adventures can be enjoyed by persons of all ages who are in good health and are accustomed to a reasonable amount of exercise. A little honesty goes a long way—recognize your own level of physical fitness and discuss it with the tour operator before signing on. I want to try something fun and different, but not too challenging. Any suggestions? An activity you'll find in few places outside Belize is cave tubing. You drift down a river, usually the Caves Branch River in Cayo District, in a large rubber inner tube. At certain points the river goes underground, and you float through eerie underground cave systems, some with Mayan artifacts still in place. The only light is from headlamps. Where are the best areas for spotting exotic birds? Once you see toucans at Tikal or the hard-to-find motmot in the Cayo, you're sure to get caught up in the excitement of searching for some of Belize's 600 species of birds. Many Belizeans know all their local birds and where the best places are to find them. Crooked Tree, Chan Chich at Gallon Jug, the New River and New River Lagoon near Lamanai, and much of the Toledo District in the Deep South are wonderful areas for bird-watching; keep your eyes peeled to the treetops and don't forget your binoculars. Of all the incredible outdoor options, what's one experience I shouldn't miss? Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) is more than a caving experience. It's a visit to the Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. You'll see ancient Mayan artifacts and human skeletons. While not cheap (a guided, full-day tour starts at $82, or BZ$160, per person) and requiring a little hiking and swimming, the ATM trip is one-of-a-kind. Many visitors consider it the highlight of their entire Central American experience. Due to the risk of damage to the cave and to the priceless Mayan artifacts there, we're not sure how much longer the Belize government is going to permit access to ATM. Go, while you have the chance. You won't regret it. MORE Belize travel tips from a pro, Josh Berman On the Chocolate Trail in Belize
FedEx and UPS win as airlines hike checked bag fees
Travel CBS newsman Peter Greenberg has a saying. "There are only two kinds of airline bags—carry-on and lost." Peter always ships his bags to his domestic destinations, instead of checking them in on flights. It's convenient, of course. Both UPS and FedEx will pick up your luggage at your home and deliver it direct to your hotel. But it is too expensive, right? Often, yes. Especially at the last-minute. But given that the airlines just hiked their fees, shipping is more appealing than ever. Even Arthur Frommer, a man who needs no introduction, thinks that shipping is no longer a frivolous thing."Some travelers are giving serious thought to shipping their luggage ahead by Federal Express or UPS. It isn't that these shipping fees will be less than $50 or $70. But the greater convenience of traveling with just a small carry-on may support that decision; travelers with no heavy luggage are more disposed to using public transportation for the trip from airport into town (or vice versa) in place of expensive taxis." So when does it pay to ship instead of check your bags? Airfarewatchdog did the math, comparing the cost of shipping—under a variety of circumstances—with the cost of checking a bag. The key lesson: If your bag (or baggage collectively) weighs more than 55 pounds, it is generally just as cheap to ship your bag as it is to check it in. It's more convenient, too. Says Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica: "As long as you avoid overnight service and ship by ground, we found that the worst case in many scenarios, that of checking or shipping a single average sized bag, is that shipping cost about the same as paying most airlines to check the bag. But shipping has advantages nonetheless: better tracking, better accountability if something is lost, less loss incidence, and less schlepping. But when you get into heavier or oversized bags, shipping wins hands down over checking, cost-wise. And when you ship, you often don't need to send your belongings in a suitcase at all. If you're staying in one place, a box will do just fine." Here's an example: One 25 lb. suitcase plus one 35 lb. suitcase for one passenger. Chicago to Orlando. Delta would charge you $55 to check the bags.* FedEx and UPS would charge you $41 and $45, respectively. Cheaper and easier. *(We're assuming you paid the checked bag fees online when you bought your ticket, $23 plus $32). How about a single, smaller bag? Surprisingly yes on many routes, if you're willing to ship your bag at least two business days in advance. Consider a New York to Chicago route. I just checked on my own and found that UPS Ground, 2-business-day service between New York and Chicago is $27 each way. FedEx Ground is about $20 each way. Delta charges $23 each way for your first checked bag, and $35 for your second. But in many other cases, it's still far cheaper to check your bag. See chart for full details. But keep in mind that, as of today, JetBlue doesn't charge for your first checked bag. And Southwest doesn't charge for your first or second checked bags. Thank goodness at least a couple of airlines aren't nickel-and-diming us to death. EARLIER Update on checked bag fees (10-plus comments)
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