Hawaii: Answers to 5 common travel questions

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012
Courtesy <a href="http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_Sunset-North-Shore-Oahu/photo/5266311/21864.html">alohamorrison/myBudgetTravel</a>

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.


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Earlier: Reader tips on where to eat and sleep in Hawaii

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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&mdash;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&mdash;under a variety of circumstances&mdash;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)