While I was a Hawaii neophyte until last year, I feel that the research I did prior to visiting and of course the week I spent there has helped me become pretty savvy on it. As I only visited Maui and not other islands, my tips are solely for Maui since in many ways the Hawaiian islands are extremely different. I talked about the many misconceptions people on the United States mainland have about Hawaii (you can read that post here) and hopefully these tips will help in giving you an authentic Maui experience.
1. Rent a car-When traveling I for the most part avoid having to rent a car since usually I am visiting major cities where driving can be a nightmare and costs for parking astronomically high. However, in a tropical destination like Maui where public transportation is very limited to put it nicely, a car is a must. Most people fly into Kahului’s airport which is on the western side of the island (not beach side), so unless you have extremely deep pockets for a long and expensive cab ride or you have other means of transportation, you’ll need a car to get to your accommodations. While the beaches on Maui are all incredible, you’ll want to see more than just the one near your hotel or condo and a car will allow you to do that. Honokalani Black Sand Beach is off the mainstream tourist path and so you don’t want to miss out on such an exotic beach. While there are plenty of organized tours that provide pickup service at hotels, a car gives you flexibility in terms of where you want to go and what you want to see. While tours are plentiful for the the famous Road to Hana, if you want to visit the Alli Kula Lavender Farm which is located in Upcoutry, the only way you’re going to see it is if you drive yourself.
2. Eat at Da Kitchen-I don’t remember how I first heard about Da Kitchen but I’m very glad I did. It’s a no frills, cheap restaurant that serves some of the best and largest portions of Hawaiian cuisine. When we arrived on Maui, we were of the mindset to head straight to our hotel. After the almost hour drive from the airport to the Kaanapali area and checking in, we finally sought out dinner around 10 PM Maui time. This was more like 3 AM for our bodies and by then we had been up for over 24 hours. While the restaurant we ate at was fine, I was too exhausted to eat let alone enjoy it. In retrospect, we should have stopped at Da Kitchen on the way from the airport to our hotel when we still had one last surge of energy after landing. There are two Da Kitchen locations on Maui, one in Kahului by the airport, the other in Kihei. We did eat there on our way back to the airport at the end of the trip. It is located in a strip center and was one of the few places we ate at during our trip that had more locals dining than tourists. D and I both ordered plate lunches, which consist of your main course along with two scoops of steamed rice and your choice of potato, macaroni, or green salad. Both of our portions were enormous and our only regret was that we had to waste what we couldn’t eat. So as I said, stop at Da Kitchen on your way to your hotel, especially if you have an in-room fridge for leftovers.
3. Grocery shop-If you stay in a condo all the better since you’ll have access to a fridge. However, if you’re staying at a hotel that has no fridge, you should still go to a local supermarket like Times and buy some non-refrigerated items for snacks. Trust me, constantly purchasing chips and other munchies from your hotel’s gift shop will add up fast. While groceries do cost a lot more than on the mainland, you’re still saving money purchasing there rather than at tourist facilities. Sandwich bread, peanut butter, crackers, chips, granola bars, bananas, apples, mangoes are all items you can nosh on without having to refrigerate them. Luckily for us our hotel was right across the street from Times, which was perfect since we didn’t have to drive anywhere to shop. (Another reason I would highly recommend our hotel to others.)
Condo balcony-perfect for watching a sunset or eating a snack…
4. Do your organized excursions research beforehand-Options for organized excursions on Maui can be overwhelming due to their sheer number. Even if you don’t book prior to going, I would still advise researching a couple of excursion operators to see how they are rated by previous travelers and also how they compare to others. The last thing you want is to have spent a considerable amount of money for an excursion only for it to be the most disappointing part of the trip. While I did book our Road to Hana tour prior to visiting, we decided to do a snorkeling excursion somewhat spur of the moment. We spoke with the concierge at our hotel to get her insider’s opinion on the various tour providers and she seemed frank and honest about each of them, as in she wasn’t trying to push us towards booking a particular one. While the outfitter we originally wanted to go with was no longer offering the tour we were interested in, we went with another that the concierge highly touted and we were definitely pleased. Although concierges are a great help when needing to book and arrange things, don’t go on their recommendations alone because you never know if they’re getting a kickback or not for pushing you towards a particular place.
When going on an organized excursion to someplace like Molokini,
make sure you know a little about the company…
5. Skip the luau-We were first time visitors to Hawaii and so we did the quintessential tourist ritual which is a luau. As part of our hotel package we had received a buy one get one free luau ticket so thankfully we did not pay full price to attend what turned out to be the most disappointing part of our entire trip. While luaus vary in cost, the more well known ones generally cost upwards of $90 per person (children are less) with various price levels in terms of seating for the entertainment portion. You can read my review of the luau we attended here but I would strongly recommend spending your money on either a really fancy meal (Merriman’s is fantastic) or an excursion instead.
Luau food-not the most memorable…