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Must do tours in Hawaii

optimist

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We will be going to Maui, Oahu and the Big Island the first two weeks of January. It seems that everything done with a tour company is a minimum of a hundred per person. With the two of us and our two grown kids, each activity will be between $400 to $500.

What should be do with a tour company and what can we do on our own?
On the big Island for example - Is the Mauna Kea stargazing doable on our own? seeing the lava at night? What about the ocean tours? are they worth it?
There seem to be a ton of snorkeling tours. Is there a huge advantage to going with them for snorkeling? What about whale watching?
My kids have never been to Hawaii. Is going to a luau worth it if you are mostly vegetarian and not going for the food?

I am having a hard time allocating the funds! If you have done this before, please give some guidance. Thanks!
 

chellej

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Our first trip to Hawaii we did the big island and we did not do any tours and still had a great time. We visited many beaches, rented kayaks and went to the captain cook monument, went to the volcanoe national park, snorkeled at several areas that you can access from the shore, went to the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.

I would get the big island revealed guidebook and you will find lots to do.

Also check out this site....they offer 1/2 off tickets the 1st of each month and we have purchased alot from them. Just keep in mind that you must do it at noon hawaii time on the 1st... the best tickets go fast
http://www.hawaiifun.org/Tickets.shtml

I would go to the polynesian cultural center on Oahu and do the night show....we did the luau here and it was good but the food was just ok. The entertainment books use to have a 1/2 price ticket....don't know if they still do or not
 
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optimist

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Thank you for the link. I will check it out.
I bought all three of the revealed books. They are very thorough and entertaining but I am honestly overwhelmed by the information. Especially the way the books are organized, by area, is confusing since I am not familiar with any of the names and at this point.

I think I have a handle on the activities not to be missed, I just don't know if it's worth the money to do it with an organized tour.
 

Passepartout

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When we travel to an area where there are just too many activities available to do given the time or money we have to spend, we simply pick one or two. Make it democratic- vote, or draw straws. It's hard to not do everything, and Hawaii, with it's very different islands and evolution and culture that took different paths is enticing to fill every waking hour.

Don't do it. Take some time to just walk through some gardens. Sit by the sea and watch the waves.

Do one activity per island. Maybe the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu, or Pearl Harbor. Perhaps Volcano Nat'l Park on the Big Island, Snorkeling at Maui.

Your preferences will be different than mine, but you get the idea. It gives you an excuse to go back. It also allows you and your family to remember back to the trip and separate the islands better, rather than a whirlwind of activity.

Two weeks will just about give you time to get on 'Island Time'. Let it happen and enjoy the trip. There's more to it than organized trips and dealing with tickets and concierges.

Just my usual $.02 worth.

Jim
 

klpca

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The only organized tour that I would gladly do a second time would be a snorkel tour on one of the zodiac boats. The ride alone is worth it. And it makes the snorkeling access so much easier than shore snorkeling. We've never been during whale watching season so I can't comment on that specifically, but I've loved seeing the whales up close in Mexico so that may be worth it depending on cost. Personally I'd pass on the luau unless you are just dying to see it. I didn't feel like it was good value for my money when we went. I haven't done any of the other tours so I can't comment on those.

We're always on a tight budget so we do lots of hiking. Additionally, Haleakea is easy to do on your own, even the sunrise if you want a memorable event. On Oahu we did Pearl Harbor on our own and really had a good experience. The "hike" up Diamond Head is fun and free (maybe you have to pay for parking? I can't quite remember). On the Big Island be sure to drive up to Pololu, and Laupahoe'hoe would also be an interesting side trip. Akaka Falls is easy. There are lots of fairly easy hikes at Volcanoes National Park. Make sure that you spend some time at the visitor center first and chat with one of the rangers. They will give you some great tips.
 

SmithOp

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There is plenty of good snorkeling off the beach, put a beach bag in the trunk and you will always be ready for a dip. Talk to the locals, they are always ready to share good spots.

Luau, you can catch free Hawaii culture events and not have to pay the big bux for a buffet. We were on BI this past week, free street fair in Kona had locals teaching hula and lei making, put on nice show.

Lava. The best way to see it is by helicopter, anything else you cannot get close safely and may be dissapointed you spent the time for a distant glimpse.

I always advise first time visitors take the circle island tour first full day, you will see a little bit of everything and can go back and spend more time on your own. These bus tours run about $75 each.

Dont buy trinkets in the stores, Hilo has a farmers market with plenty of local made souveniers, support the locals not the big corps selling junk made in China. There is a small one in Kona but the prices are better in Hilo, and its mostly locals shopping there. If you must get the Chinese junk, Walmart has the best prices.

Just my .02
 

DeniseM

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First of all, you really do not have to go on a tour for most locations. With a rental car, you can get everywhere on your own and save a lot of money. Anywhere a bus tour can go - you can drive your own car.

However, for self-guided driving tours, I think the best books (by far) are the the Driving and Discovering Hawaii books by Richard Sulliven. They are specifically written for self-guided driving tours and have very detailed maps and directions, and stop by stop descriptions of what to see and do on your own. You can buy them on the author's website at a nice discount. Buy the books, skip the bus tours, and you will save a ton of money and have a better experience.

Shore snorkeling in the best spots is just as good or better as an expensive boat trip, and it's free. The boats can be frustrating because you are dealing with a herd of inexperienced people and you are on a tight schedule. You can rent snorkel gear inexpensively from many local shops (we like Snorkel Bobs and Boss Frogs) and get a free map from the shop showing the best snorkeling spots. Don't rent at the resort - you pay top dollar there.

Just my opinion, but we would never take a helicoptor trip - Hawaii has one of the worst records in the industry for crashes due to unpredictable weather. One just crashed a few mos ago and everyone on board died.

If the lava is flowing, you can walk out too it yourself for free. Even if it's not, the Volcano Park itself is fascinating and well worth the trip.

Print out a map of each island and have refer to it while you are reading your guidebooks - you will soon become familiar with the different areas of each island.

Don't feel like you have to do it all on one trip - you will be back!
 
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Eagle7304

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I would recommend Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. Very moving and there is a boat trip to the memorial(so the kids get something)
 

DeniseM

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I would recommend Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. Very moving and there is a boat trip to the memorial(so the kids get something)

I would too - and you don't need a tour. In fact - it's free!

The way it works at Pearl Harbor is that people line up at the park gate starting about 6:30 a.m. for time stamped tickets. The ticket is for the launch that takes you out to the Memorial, in the middle of the bay. They only give out a certain number of launch tickets every day, and if you get there late on a popular day, you may not get a ticket at all. They open the gate around 7:30 and then you can go in and tour the museum, bookstore, etc. When it's your time for the launch, you line up for a mandatory film, and then you go out on the launch with your group. You are out there for 20 min. or so and then back to shore, where you can wander around some more if you want.

We visited in June or July and got there by 6:30 and there was already a line. When we first got there, it was cool and uncrowded. By the time we came back on the launch, about 10 a.m., you could barely move through the crowd, and it was hot and sultry. So my advice is to get there before 7:00 and beat the crowd and the heat.

A couple more things:

They have a dress code for visiting the memorial.

You cannot take ANYTHING into the park with you, including purses, backpacks, fanny packs, diaper bags, or camera cases. You can take anything that fits in your pocket and a camera, in hand - that's it. There is a "for-pay" place to check your stuff in the parking lot, but I personally wouldn't want to leave my purse out there - it's not run by the Navy. I locked my purse in the hotel safe, and just put my ID, credit card, and some cash in my pocket.

The park website - http://www.nps.gov/usar/planyourvisit/index.htm

If you really want a comprehensive Oahu WWII tour that includes transportation to Pearl Harbor, we really enjoyed this one -Home of the Brave Tours
 

optimist

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Thank you all. This has been very very helpful. I feel much less stressed now. I was reading another thread on the Big Island itinerary and looked up all those tours and it started making me very anxious!

Last time I was in Hawaii was 19 years ago so I don't how realistically we will be back any time soon! But it was good to be reminded not to stress about seeing it all...
 

suzanne

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Denise, thank you for posting info on Pearl Harbor and The Arizona. thats on our must do list for our trip next year. I did not know that you could not take anything with you. Purse will definately be left locked in hotel safe.

Suzanne
 

artringwald

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You could really enjoy your vacation without paying for any tours, but if your budget allows, here's some I would recommend.

Big Island - If you really want to see lava flowing at night, you're going to have to fly, or spend a long time driving in the dark. For those adverse to helicopters, a friend tried one of the small charter planes and was able to get a good view of the lava flows. Personally, I'm content to spend a day driving around the south side to get to Volcano National Park, head to Akaka Falls State Park, and head back through Waimea. The Mauna Kea stargazing is still on my bucket list.

Oahu - For the Arizona Memorial, I don't mind paying for a tour that picks you up in Waikiki. They make all the arrangements for tickets to the memorial and I've always enjoyed listening to the drivers talk story. I wasn't that impressed by the Poly Cult Center, but if you do go, be aware that since it's run by the Mormons, there's no alcohol or caffeine on site.

Maui - For an incredible sailing experience, I'd recommend the America II tour. I'd also recommend taking one of the snorkel tours to the Molokini crater. On either tour, you're very likely to see whales.
 

artringwald

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Luaus - I'd say skip it, but if you've never been, you should probably go to at least one. Of the three islands you're going to, the best one is probably the Old Lahaina Luau.

Here's some comments on luaus from one of Snorkel Bob's irreverent guide books.

Remember the luau on The Brady Bunch? Gosh it was swell, with the whole happy family sitting Indian style in a half circle (to make room for the camera) around their very own pig with an apple in his mouth and all these beautiful plants and Hawaiians waiting on them hand and foot.

It ain't like that. It's more show biz here. In one sense it's more low key than most people anticipate. For example, all the luau guests sit in chairs (usually the folding kind) at tables (also the folding kind), sometimes dining on table cloths (the paper kind) and sometimes not. That is, the mondo hunky Hawaiian guys you saw on The Brady Bunch, who carry the pig out in their inimitable, authentic, Hawaiian style have been replaced by a catering crew.

You got to remember though, they entertain sometimes 100-300 people an evening. For another example, you won't be served. All the luaus I, Snorkel Bob, know about are buffet.

Most luaus I, Snorkel Bob, ever saw, were a combination of South Pacific cultures with heavy emphasis on mai tai drinking (THEY'RE FREE!)**. I, Snorkel Bob, can get behind the boom ba ba boom ba ba boom and the coconut bras easy as the next guy, and bellow yahoo when the whole dance review comes out for the finale, because these people are good. It just ain't a luau, not really, I mean.

** Beware the dreaded mai tai. Those of you who ever experienced the I'll-never-do-that-again syndrome ain't seen nothing yet. It's not just the rum (distilled SUGAR cane), it's the pineapple juice (one of the heaviest concentrations of SUGAR in all of nature) and, for that extra sweet taste you love, the extra SUGAR. They go down like lemonade. The SUGAR rush is sweet. (May I have another.) The withdrawal and depression the next day (from the SUGAR) should be clearly anticipated and awaited in a room with a low ceiling, no rafters, no ropes.
 

DeniseM

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They make all the arrangements for tickets to the memorial

Just so you know, no one can get tickets to the Memorial in advance. They are only given out at the gate. They may have told you that they already had your tickets, but that's not how it works. The tours have to stand in line to get tickets, too. Perhaps they sent someone ahead to stand in line. Once you are inside the park - the Park staff takes over and it's free - the tour just provides transportation.
 

california-bighorn

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One tour you can do and just pay a small admission charge is the Iolani Palace. We have been going to Oahu for about 20 years and just visited the Palace for the 1st time last year. Sorry we never visited before.
As previously mentioned, you can do a lot of snorkeling from the shore on your own schedule and you don't need to use a tour company. An exception would be if you wanted to snorkel the Na Pali Coast where the only feasible way to get there and see everything is from a boat.
 

slip

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I second the "Home of the Brave" tour. It's nice because like Denise states with
all the rules at Pearl Harbour, you don't have to worry about it. They explain it
to you and take care of getting your tickets.

I would plan at least one tour because it is nice not having to fumble with maps
or books. Just let some one take care of all that for you and you can listen to
the tour, learn and enjoy.

Just don't fill up all your time. Slow down, get on island time and enjoy.:cool:
Plan on everything taking a little longer, slow down and enjoy your vacation.
 

Timeshare Von

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Regarding luaus, we've been to some where the mai tais flowed freely, but also others where you got a coupon for 1 or 2 free and then had to pay for any others. There was also one where nothing was free, besides soft drinks. Be sure to know what you get for the admission price before you commit/pay for it.
 

philemer

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You could really enjoy your vacation without paying for any tours, but if your budget allows, here's some I would recommend.

Big Island - If you really want to see lava flowing at night, you're going to have to fly, or spend a long time driving in the dark. For those adverse to helicopters, a friend tried one of the small charter planes and was able to get a good view of the lava flows.

There are also a few companies that will take you out in a boat, at night, to see the lava flowing into the sea. It sounds great but they charge around $170/per.
 

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Denise, thank you for posting info on Pearl Harbor and The Arizona. thats on our must do list for our trip next year. I did not know that you could not take anything with you. Purse will definately be left locked in hotel safe.

Suzanne

We did Pearl Harbor last summer, checked out the website so I knew to leave the purse in the room safe.

We rented a car at Enterprise, picked it up at 7:00 am ish and drove over. It wasn't crowded and had no problem getting tickets to the Arizona and Missouri. We stayed till after 1pm, my boys(9/14) loved it.

And it really wasn't as crowded as I was lead to believe.

You are going to the Big Island also? Do the Fairwinds II snorkle trip! We had a great time.
 

optimist

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You are going to the Big Island also? Do the Fairwinds II snorkle trip! We had a great time.


I just checked this out and it would be $516 for the four of us. Do you think it's worth it? For me, the food is not a big draw but if they would show me something I couldn't see on my own (like whales!), I could see spending the money.

$170 to see the lava flow is steep but I could never see that anywhere but Hawaii and by boat is probably the only way to get up close to it.

We will definitely do Pearl Harbor. I am sure we will do a luau in one of the islands so the kids can see what it's about. Unfortunately, we are not staying anywhere near the national park so we have to do a one day marathon to see that. Since we definitely will not go in a helicopter (fear of flying:eek: ), I am leaning towards a boat trip to see the lava flow.
 

lynne

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I just checked this out and it would be $516 for the four of us. Do you think it's worth it? For me, the food is not a big draw but if they would show me something I couldn't see on my own (like whales!), I could see spending the money.
\

If you want a catamaran for either snorkel or whale watch, Hawaii Ocean Sports did have a great promotion in December, $127 for two for any of their catamaran tours. I am not affiliated with this site and will be using them when we have family visiting the first week of January. Here is their website: http://www.hawaiioceansports.com/html/book_now.html
 

Twinkstarr

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I just checked this out and it would be $516 for the four of us. Do you think it's worth it? For me, the food is not a big draw but if they would show me something I couldn't see on my own (like whales!), I could see spending the money.

$170 to see the lava flow is steep but I could never see that anywhere but Hawaii and by boat is probably the only way to get up close to it.

We will definitely do Pearl Harbor. I am sure we will do a luau in one of the islands so the kids can see what it's about. Unfortunately, we are not staying anywhere near the national park so we have to do a one day marathon to see that. Since we definitely will not go in a helicopter (fear of flying:eek: ), I am leaning towards a boat trip to see the lava flow.


I don't think we paid $516 for the Fairwinds tour. We were there in summer so no whales(saw those this September in Bar Harbor ME) and it is just a half day snorkle trip.

We stayed at the Wyndham Kona Hawaiian, and went to Volcano Nat Park. Packed a lunch and made a day of it. It wasn't bad at all and I had a two boys in the car, though I lugged windbreakers all the way from OH for this day and DH left them in the villa!:wall:
 

PamMo

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The best tour I've EVER been on was a "doors off" helicopter flight over the lava fields on the Big Island. It was simply awe inspiring to see (and feel) the landscape being altered by flowing, bubbling rivers of hot molten lava streaming out of vents on the volcano. Boat tours and other helicopter tours around the islands were all great, but seeing the earth being born was something truly special.
 

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>>>$170 to see the lava flow is steep but I could never see that anywhere but Hawaii and by boat is probably the only way to get up close to it<<
This tour is not safe, so many things that can go wrong. If you google it on the" Island of Hawaii forum on Trip Advisor" you will see all the cons to this tour. Please think safety and mark this one off. Spewing lava, gas fumes, collapsing lava shelf, boiling water.....
Star Gazing on Mauna Kea is free at the visitors center. No need to pay for a tour.
Coffee Tours on the BI are also free.

On Maui I would take a boat trip to see whales. You will see more whales around Maui than the other islands.
Maui has many great beaches that offer wonderful snorkeling. So no tour needed for snorkeling.
There are so many wonderul things to do on Maui that will not cost anything except your time and gas: Iao Valley, Haleakala summit for sunrise, daytime , or sunset (stars are beautiful with the naked eye), UpCountry,Lavender Farm, Blow Hole, hiking(Kapalua costal Trail, many trails at the summit of Haleakala also a great trail, Pipiwai at Oheo Gulch past Hana), drive the road to Hana (take snacks and water this can easily trun into an 12 hour adventure if you stop and enjoy the sights and hike), snorkeling, beach time, visit Big Beach, drive south until the raod ends and drive through the lava fields Go to the free hula shows at Cannery Mall and Whalers Village.Watch the Cliff Diver, dive off Black Rock in front of the Sheraton at sunset. Enjoy the HUGE Banyan Tree at the harbor in Lahaina, eat shave ice topped with local fruit syrup with ice cream on the bottom(not free but very cheap compared to activities). Don't miss the sunsets and time on the lanai just enjoying Maui. Take binoculars with you and watch the whales from the shore or from your lanai. Sometimes they are so close you don't need the binoculars.
You don't have to spend spend spend to see and enjoy the islands. You can stay so busy enjoying the "free" things of Maui that you don't have time to do the paid activities.
 
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Liz Wolf-Spada

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Something we love on Maui is the Warren and Annabelle Magic Show. Warren is incredibly funny. It is a small cabaret type show and hysterical. We have gone both times we have been in Maui. You have to be 21, because they serve drinks.
We did a whale boat tour on Maui with Pacific Whale Foundation. We saw a few whales, but it was early in the season. They also have a discounted whale boat ride in the afternoon, but my friend gets seasick so we wanted to do the morning one. The discounted one is just the same as the others, but only $19.
Liz
 
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