Bringing a big family group to Hawaii on a tight budget was an adventure in and of itself. Ultimately, we found the best deals to be the hotel and airfare packages to Waikiki. Sure, its the most touristy spot, but with a few day trips to the North Shore, we had a terrific time. We used Funjet. Other tourists shared that they found great package deals using Costco. Oahu is the most budget friendly island.
Food in Hawaii is a little more expensive than here at home. We found some fun shortcuts, though. Musubi, that tasty Hawaiian treat made with sushi rice, teriyaki spam and seaweed, is a great grab and go lunch. We found Paia Fish Market to be a delicious, affordable dinner spot. It is a counter-order kinda spot, but is fresh and quick. Duke’s Lane has great poke. Outside of Waikiki food trucks abound and are a tasty way to try something out of the ordinary and made to order. Banan, behind the Outrigger Reef Hotel makes ice cream from bananas, with no dairy or added sugar. It is amazing! Budget Hawaii can be delicious!
For souvenirs, my oldest found books she loved in the Pearl Harbor gift shop. We found cool, handmade earrings, wood postcards, and art at a street fair; honey, chocolate, and macadamia nuts at farmer’s markets; and finally, sticker books, mugs, postcards, flower barrettes, t-shirts and kona nut bracelets are available every other block at ABC stores. Some of them have really good poke bowl restaurants (like Duke’s Lane) in the back. You will get all of your sunblock, cold beverages, and snacks here. Save your receipts! When you spend $100 there, you will get a free mug. They actually have some cute ones. Trust me, you will spend $100 here, if you buy liquor or have kids.
Transportation was the biggest surprise cost for a budget Hawaii trip. We took the bus from the airport to our Waikiki hotel. It is three dollars for adults and you must have exact change. Cash only. It took 40 mins. It was doable. We saw the real Honolulu on the ride – not that we were impressed. It is dirty and full of homeless people. Ride sharing would be faster, but Uber and Lyft are very expensive in Hawaii. Rental cars are not cheap. Our resort charged $40 per night for parking.
We found that the best way was to walk where we could, ride share where we couldn’t walk, and rent a car for a day or two spent at the North Shore. There are car rental spots in Waikiki. So rather than taking the bus or a pricey ride share to go back to the airport to rent a car, this was a much better option. From our hotel, my sister decided to take the bus to the Dole Pineapple Farm. She felt like the Farm was a rip-off and the bus ride ridiculously long (two hours).
First, let me mention the Go Oahu Pass. Unless you plan to do a bunch of the stuff on the pass, it is not really worth it. It could be, but you have to plan really well. Reservations for many things must be made in advance.
What tourist spots DID we find worth the money and the hype? Kualoa Ranch! Our group tried the zip lining, the Jurassic Movie tour, and the UTV tour. We all had a blast. The ranch is stunningly picturesque. Everyone should see Hawaii without all of the tourist hype and before it was built up. This is the place to do it. It is a splurge for the budget traveler, but one I would do over and over again.
Pearl Harbor was hot, but also well worth it. Everyone should stand on the USS Arizona Memorial to contemplate the sacrifice of our servicemen. You must reserve ahead, but the Memorial tickets are only $1. We got one audio tour for our kids to pass around and we found that kept all the kids, 5 years old to 20 years, entertained. The best bargain at Pearl Harbor is – You can enter the two museums in the front for free! They are well done.
Toa Luau was a bargain because it includes entrance to Waimea Falls. You won’t want to miss either the Falls or the luau. The only issue again is transportation. But if you plan to see Waimea Valley from Waikiki, rent a car, package the luau with the Waimea entrance fee, get there by 2:00 p.m. and enjoy the whole afternoon there.
Most hotels have free activities to take advantage of. Hula dancing, lei making, and writing your name in Hawaiian are a few great ones to try. A fresh lei is a fragrant souvenir. Everyone’s favorite part of Hawaii – the beach – is free! Try a few different beaches. That is the best freebie of all! Aloha!
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