Hello all! I had a TR all typed out, but my computer crashed so this will be a shortened version although I'm happy to expand if anyone has any questions.. realized my first attempt would have been even more of a novel :)
First off would like to say thank you to TA advisers who helped answer questions and point me to useful info when we planned this trip. Even if I wasn't the one asked a question, I pretty much read everything I could when others posted so I appreciated all of the different viewpoints here. I though this TR might be helpful for others, who like us, only had a short time in Maui compared to the week, two weeks that others stay. So I changed the format of this TR to include a list of what we did in Oahu as well so you could see how that might impact decisions we made in Maui (i.e. less beach time!). The whole purpose of going to Hawaii was to see my husband's immediate family who is posted in the military, so Maui was a lovely bonus to getting to see our adorable little baby nephews again :)
Tuesday 4/8 - late arrival into HNL, rented through DCHR, $88 for 4 days total. Price had dropped twice since I booked in January - definitely keep checking!!
Wednesday 4/9 - Koko Head hike up the railway ties in morning, headed to Haunama Bay for a late picnic lunch and some snorkelling and beach time with the babies. Snorkelling was "ok" - definitely a little crowded so I liked Maluaka so much better in Maui when we went. Family time in the evening (and every evening).
Thursday 4/10 - Pearl Harbor day. USS Arizona early morning (had tickets reserved from 9:45 but there was room on a trip an hour earlier when we arrived so we took that one), headed to Pacific Aviation Museum and spent three hours there with a docent tour, awesome experience, highly recommend specially if you are a history or WW2 buff.
Friday 4/11 - lazy drive along North Shore (with a stop at a shrimp truck), then met family at Bellows Beach - they had a military cabin for the weekend so rest of the day was beach time and relaxation.
Saturday 4/12 - flew to Maui in morning. Picked up car from Thrifty - again, booked in January through DCHR ($129 - although this price never dropped, it went up so glad we booked!). Grocery shopped and checked into Condo by 12. Headed up to Haleakala, loved the views on the way up but weather didn't cooperate so no sunset, just grey clouds and cold/wet. Oh well - saw moonbows on the way down which still felt magical.
Sunday 4/13 - morning helicopter tour of the Molokai seacliffs in the morning (WOW - this was our splurge $$$ but it was definitely amazing!), meander over to Lahaina for a 2:30 whale watch with Ultimate Whale Watch and exploring Lahaina shops, people-watching... Since afternoon, obviously not as good viewing as morning but still loved being on the water and seeing the whales!
Monday 4/14 - road to Hana drive. Number one advice from TA - leaving early!! Was on the road from Kihei by 6:15 and boy was it nice to have the whole road to ourselves. Drove straight through to Oheo Gulch (ok, ok, we stopped for banana bread...) and hiked Pipiwai Trail starting around 9:15. Again, best advice from TA in terms of getting there early - mostly by ourselves and got to enjoy the falls for about 5 min before the "crowds" showed up. Drove to Lindbergh's Grave then headed back the way we came, stopping at Waianapanapa State Park - spent some time hiking along the lava trails and enjoying the views of the waves and black sand beaches. We were back in Kihei by around 6 pm. The three major stops we did (Oheo/Pipiwai, Lindbergh and Waianapanapa) were good enough for me and I didn't feel the need to keep stopping!
4/15 - last day on Maui. Decided to relax and rented snorkel gear from Boss Frog's and headed to Maluaka Beach. In the water by 9:15 and lovely, warm and calm - saw a ton of beautiful coral and fishes (no turtles although others on the beach reported them). Stayed for a few hours, grabbed lunch at the Makena Beach Resort then headed home to do laundry, pack, and meander to the airport for our 8 pm flight.
I can see why some say three days in Maui is too short, but because we had time on another island, I didn't regret the amount of time we spent there. I felt as if we got to see a lot and still relax (I recognize it's also personal style and preference!). It also made sense for us in terms of our budget when we originally booked (I put a budget breakdown below)! I would not however have only gone for three days TOTAL to Hawaii - 22 hours of traveling with layovers etc to/from Philadelphia is a long way. But for a week it was fine for us! I also work in education so I had four days off for Easter when I came home to sleep, relax and take care of life stuff... That being said, I agree with TA users who say to not try to overplan and realize there is something to do for everyone - had we stayed a week or two weeks we wouldn't have run out of things to do! So for us, since we had a short time, that meant snorkelling from the shore instead of booking an excursion to Lanai or Molokini, as well as relaxing on the last day instead of trying to get another whale watch in or go back to Haleakala.
Ultimate Whale Watch was a great outing and had we been there longer I would have booked with them again. Their speed made it easy to zip around the harbor when whales were sighted, and I didn't find the "bumpy" ride uncomfortable or scary. Their on-board naturalist was knowledgeable and fun and we learned a lot as well.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters was extremely professional and courteous throughout the booking process, and the pilot was full of really interesting info and tidbits as well throughout the trip. Both my husband and I lucked out and got to sit together in the very front so that obviously added to the experience. I am glad we did it, but again, if it hadn't been in our budget, I wouldn't have been devastated either - we would have found something just as awesome to do! But if you want to do it, I recommend Molokai or something you aren't planning on seeing by car (like Hana or Haleakala) to make it worthwhile (imho...). I am scared of heights but still loved it and got some great pics.
Road to Hana - I am glad I planned out the stops we wanted to do, as it was a long day, but again AWESOME advice about leaving early. When we were driving to Waianapanapa State Park after lunch, the road was more crowded and annoying and the morning would definitely have been less pleasurable if we had had the same kind of "traffic" on the way there. I felt as if Oheo Gulch, Pipiwai Trail and the black sand beaches/hikes at Waianapanapa gave me a good overview of the wide range of gorgeous sites. Just like the helicopter tour though... if we had decided not to do it, we would have not felt like our vacation was missing something, as we would have been able to fill it in with something else too :). My husband is very comfortable driving and the roads didn't bother him at all (although he had some choice words for everyone in large SUVs and trucks barreling down without yielding at bridges!).
Buying groceries and making sandwiches/picnic lunches and dinners helped save some money as well as let us be flexible with our schedules. Although since we went grocery shopping from the airport I made my husband wait in the car with the luggage in the trunk and he was pretty annoyed at "whoever on TA told me there are luggage thefts from rental cars" since he felt I was being overparanoid....
On an aside... I kept telling my husband that Hawaii reminded me of Iceland, of all places (my favorite trip last year!). Obviously, there is a temperature difference :) BUT they are both volcanic countries and I found some of the formations very similar!
We stayed in Kihei at the Kihei Alli Kai condos - third floor oceanview so watched boats go to Molokini every morning which was lovely. Would definitely get oceanview every time as it really added to the experience... really liked our condo, roomy (big lanais!!!) and great location across from Kam I which meant getting ice cream and watching sunsets almost every night... and the lunar eclipse as well! Since we were driving so much, maybe we should have stayed at Sugar Beach area to be closer to the branchoff points, but I don't think it made that much of a difference. We were next to Dolphin Plaza so there were a couple of restaurants, Boss Frog's for gear rental, ice cream and souvenirs all right there.
Again, thanks for everyone's helpful advice planning and I hope this is useful for anyone planning a short trip to Maui!
Cost breakdown - I know this is helpful for some when planning:
Flights from Philly to HNL, home from Maui - $850 for two (we used Southwest points to get to California then rechecked our baggage onto United.. hence our long layovers since I wasn't taking chances with missing flights and finding baggage) .
Accommodation cost - free in Oahu, around $400 in Kihei
Most expensive excursion - helicopter about $500 for two as a splurge activity we booked in March once we saved up a little more money after buying our plane tickets...
Snorkelling - $18 for two to rent for a day (got the nice snorkels), but free other than that.
Favorite parts - being on the water watching for whales in Maui, snorkelling at Maluaka, visiting Pearl Harbor in Oahu.
Car rentals - about $200 for both cars for the week (one on Oahu and one on Maui) - again, great advice from TA to book through DCHR and just keep checking for price drops. Got a Fiat in Oahu and a Nissan Sentra in Maui (not sure if that was thrifty's 'economy' or if they just ran out).
And to think I had reserved our vacation fund for Alaska this summer... a new year's eve fare sale from United for HNL changed that. Well, looks like we'll be planning for Alaska summer 2015 now!