Money may not be issue for some TA reviewers and I noticed most posters don’t have much of cost info. So I’ll try to do that on this trip and skip most of redundant info that you get from previous posts. So this is very personal and related to my particular trip and may or may not reflect general Oahu experience. Also this may include some tips for family who may need to save as much as it can.
We are family of four with kids 12 and 9 years old. We’ve been to all other major Hawaiian island, but my kids have never been to Maui so I was planning for it. Unfortunately, I got really good airfare deal to Oahu right in the middle of our kids’ spring break and got “free” 7 nights at Embassy using Hilton points along with midsize SUV rental for $190 for the entire trip.
First I found $400/person airfare from delta direct flight from LAX Tuesday departure and arrival next Tuesday. But free room from Embassy was going to cost me 65,000 points per room. I didn’t have enough points for full 7 nights so I had to make a choice to split stay between Embassy and other hotel, possibly Turtle Bay in North shore ($200/night at that time for 3 nights).
With no reservation made, I waited for a couple of days to think about. Well, when I checked back, $400 airfare was gone. Little freaked out, I searched for other fares and came up with $460 Delta fare departing from Wed returning next Wed. $240 more than I could’ve paid, however, Embassy had an available room for 7 night free at 26000 points per night! Not only I reserved for 7 straight nights, but also saved many points enough for next trip in other place. At the end, cost for fare and hotel might have been about same but I had a lot more Hilton points left over and without inconvenience of moving lodging in the middle of the trip with kids. So being flexible can save a lot of money.
Also, another tip (for at least hotel point users) for getting room in a hotel for long stay when availability is tight is following. Say you need 7 night stay, and none is available. Try 2 or 3 stays in sequence at the same hotel. What I mean is look for first 3 night stay and if it’s available then look for second stay at the same hotel for following 4 nights. Embassy didn’t have Tuesday to Tuesday stay when I waited too long but I found out that I could’ve reserve room #1 from Tuesday to Saturday and room #2 from Saturday to Tuesday. You may have to pack your stuff and move to another room for #2 room but hey, better than nothing.
Oahu water at the end of March and early April were pretty cold this year. We’ve been to Hawaii 4 time prior to this but all in September and never felt that the ocean was too cold to get in. We had rash guards and all but still couldn’t stay in the water for snorkeling for more than 30 min for several days of the trip. (again this could be isolated incidence) Suggestion: check the weather and go different parts of Oahu or at least wait for the sun to come out, which we did.
There are many local Hawaiian food restaurants with dishes like Lua lua (lau lau?), Kaliu pig. We tried a couple of places and they weren’t really to our like. The pig was too salty, beef ribs were dry, and steamed Taro leaf dish was “dirt” taste like. This doesn’t mean you won’t like or there are no other dishes. On the other hand, we had our meals from shrimp and steak Trucks at Haleiwa, Kaneohe, Waimea, and Kahaku. They were all good with big portions. We also had Japanese ramen and donkatsu places. Ramen places are generally good but the donkatsu restaurant right at Embassy (supposed since 1927) was way over rated and expensive. We didn’t go any franchise or well known big restaurants. We live in Los Angeles / OC area. There are plenty Spagettie factories, Planet Hollywood, and Yardhouse kind of restaurants in California. Don’t be afraid to try different food even if you end up not liking it too much.
We saw a family giving away 2 boogie board at the beach to another family with small kids. That’s good way to dispose your Walmart purchases, but you may not be able to do that all the time and end up throwing big items like boogie board, chairs, snorkels, and umbrellas. We bought a cheap umbrella for $14 from a store and rented boogie boards and snorkel from Snorkel Bob. Renting gears are not necessarily cheaper than Walmart stuff but you do get quality stuff. My wife and I both wear glasses and prescription snorkels were excellent. Also boogie boards were $20 for a week and they also had beach chairs for $15 for week. Yes you can buy these at that price but why fill up landfill in precious island or dump trash in the ocean? That’s my take. I gave the umbrella and hydroperoxide bottle to rent car employee when I returned Jeep Wrangler.
Speaking of hydroperoxide, we rented kayak and also snorkeled in Kaneohe. Because reefs were so shallow, my son scraped his knee and was bleeding in several places. Because corals are “poisonous”, his cuts were swelling and getting worse, so we got a hydroperoxide from Walgreen and washed the wound a couple times. Bleeding stopped and he is ok. “poisonous” coral won’t kill you but they are living organism and may cause some trouble if untreated so make sure if you get a cut, you at least wipe with alcohol.
Kayak trips are great, but unless you are very fit or experienced kayaker, it could be very strenuous and daunting task to follow the guide for 2 to 4 hours. Also there are other parties who could affect your enjoyment or be affected by you. That’s why we always rent kayak even in our home town. Yes you may miss some spots and don’t get to hear all the info about the area but with my small kids, it’s better to go with our pace, enjoy the view and the water activities. Kaneohe in my opinion is so much better than Kailua but Kailua may have more option. In Kaneohe, we went to Heeia State Park and rented kayak. Ask for a small anchor so you can kayak and snorkel without your kayak drift away.
We wanted to hike Diamond head but failed. We got there around 9am and parking was already closed and there were so many tourists. We love hiking and did many in national park but Diamond head looked like an open market in a third world country. Later an employee at the park told me that afternoon is less crowded because even 7 am, there are buses and trollies dumping tourists. Make sure though, I think the park trail closes at 4 or 4:30pm. Drive out of Honolulu are to North or East side for better and much less crowd trails.
I wouldn’t do any tourist traps like Dole plantations or sunset/maitai cruises if you have kids in your family. There are other places and things to do in the Island. Sunset/Maitai cruises can have rough crowds and waves are rougher generally in the afternoon. We did 2 hour snorkel cruise off of Waikiki. Generally cheaper and waves are calmer. Snorkel wasn’t as good as in Hanauma or Shark Cove, but saw many turtles and it’s 20 to 30 feet deep. Sailing around Diamond head was pretty cool. My kids sat right in front of Catamaran enjoying speed, wind, and splash.
If you have 4x4, you gotta go to Secluded Cove and Hidden Beach. The waves were little rough but it was very beautiful and often no one’s around. We even saw whales from the shore. It’s very rough unpaved road with many pot holes so go slowly and don’t be a knuckle head like some local young folks that I saw going crazy. Try not to stay here for Sunset, meaning go there during day time and leave 1 to 2 hours before Sun starts setting. One so that you can get dinner from shrimp trucks or restaurants in Haleiwa and go to other beaches for sunset, two it takes longer to come back out than you think, and three, you don’t want to take any risk with your family being compromised when it’s getting darker and those “knuckleheads” driving the trucks rushing in…
I know my report is not organized by day but hopefully will give someone some idea about what Oahu is for family trip…