Hey all, this is Travis…Natalie asked me to write up this post to share our recent amazing Hawaiian adventure with you. We were blessed to spend 7 days exploring the beautiful beaches and tastes of the island of Oahu. The summer trade winds had set in by the time we arrived, providing a nice ocean/island breeze the entire trip. With a mix of sunny skies and scattered clouds, the occasional rain shower kept the humidity high (65%-75%) throughout the trip! But upper 80s with humidity was bearable and even a welcome change from the desert heat we are accustomed to during our Arizona summers! This was a trip we had wanted to take for many years and now that we are back, we wanted to share the experience with you, including some of the sights we saw, places we visited, restaurants we tried, and money saving tips we implemented to make a trip like this more budget friendly! Before you dismiss Hawaii as unaffordable, stick with me and read on…Hawaii doesn’t have to “break the bank.”
First, and most incredibly, we stayed for free…yes, you read that right…FREE!…and not in a run down flea-bag motel…but in an incredible resort and amazing ocean view hotel! We were able to do so by saving up travel points on our credit card. More info at the end of the post, for those who are interested. We also saved money by taking advantage of free hotel breakfast food, when available, eating (most days) only twice (late breakfast, early dinner), and supplementing our meals with snacks from the local supermarkets. Eating out can get expensive fast! If you are planning a trip like this and you prefer eating out, expect to spend (minimally) $20 per person, per meal at sit-down style restaurants. If you go the vacation rental or condo route (with a full kitchen), you would be able to plan and shop for meals much more affordably! When it comes to attractions, these can also get very expensive. See more later in the post about GoCity and the GoOahu passes we utilized! They saved us hundreds of dollars on attractions!
Here is a day-by-day breakdown of our trip! Look for our MUST-TRY food items, our MUST-SEE attractions (in our own humble opinions) and our $AVING$ TIP$ on how to make a Hawaiian vacation a more affordable reality.
Day 1: We flew from Phoenix to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines (for more info about that, see “Airline” below). Upon arrival, we headed straight to our hotel, the Hilton Waikiki Beach. We were pretty hungry and so we ate in the restaurant right in our hotel…MAC 24/7. Little did we know at the time, but this restaurant was famous for one of our favorites…breakfast all-day…including their amazing pancakes (and pancake challenge)! We all enjoyed pancakes and bacon…GF Mochi pancakes for the girls, and 5 lbs of blueberry and cream Pancake Challenge madness for Kaden. If you love pancakes, then MAC 24/7 is a MUST-TRY! After our 3pm (Hawaiian time) breakfast, we hit Waikiki beach, just one block away, and soaked in the rays of the Hawaiian sun with the waves and sand at our feet!
Day 2: We were up early for free breakfast at hotel ($AVING$ TIP$)…yes, there are hotels that offer free breakfast in Hawaii! Once we were finished, we were off on our first excursion up the coast to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Their amazing 3-hour Airbnb Native Island Cooking Experience awaited us to start our day! I will tell you right away, that this experience was, hands down, the favorite experience for our entire family on this entire trip…is was a MUST SEE/TRY experience! Creasepaul, our host, shared his incredible Samoan heritage and cooking expertise with us, as we learned how to prepare native island foods, such as taro, green bananas, breadfruit, palusami (coconut cream dish wrapped in taro leaves), chicken and fish, and cooked them in a traditional Samoan umu (ground oven), which consisted of rocks we heated with fire. Once heated we placed our food on the hot rocks, covered the food with more hot rocks, and then covered the umu with leaves and blankets to steam-cook our meal! While we waited on the delicious food to bake, we weaved our plates and watched Creasepaul weave a basket to serve our food in! He even weaved a headband for Brylie! The experience was more than we ever could have imagined and something we will always remember! And to think this was just our first 3 hours at the Polynesian Cultural Center! After our lunch with Creasepaul, we continued our day with watching several island shows…the center is divided into “islands,” with 6 different Polynesian cultures represented: Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Aotearoa, Tonga, and Tahiti. Each “island” has performances throughout the day, which gave us a flavor of the culture and history of each of these Pacific islands. Later in the afternoon, we attended the PCC’s luau performance and ate dinner at the Ali’I Luau, which included pork, ahi poke’, and so much more island deliciousness! Finally, we concluded our evening with one of the best live shows we’ve ever seen…the “Ha: Breath of Life” fire show, which told the story of Mana, an island boy…his birth, family, life, and more. The show had music, dancing and even blazing fire torches and spears! It was truly a memorable day and complete experience at the Polynesian Cultural Center!
Day 3: Again, we started with free breakfast at hotel ($AVING$ TIP$) and then headed to Waikiki beach. While we were there, a couple walked up and offered our kids 2 boogie boards and an inflatable tube for free, as they were leaving the next morning! The beach was beautiful and the waves were a little bigger than the day before, which was exciting for our kiddos! This was also our hotel transition day, so we hung out at the beach until noon, checked out and headed to our resort, the Hilton Hawaiian Village! We checked in and grabbed a late lunch at CJs New York Deli (on property). Next, we were off to the beach again, this time at our new resort, where another couple approached and offered us two beach chairs because they were leaving the next morning! Amazing! We headed out to explore the resort’s marketplace, and not feeling too hungry for dinner, we opted for some pineapple Dole whip and pineapple smoothies for a light snack! Dole whip is a MUST-TRY if you enjoy pineapple! It can be found all over the island! I’m sure everyone has their opinion on the best, but at the end of the day, every Dole Whip we tried was good…just go get some!
Day 4: We headed out early and sought out a recommended breakfast place called Eggs-n-Things. We really loved their waffles and pancakes, and especially their Hawaiian-style Loco Moco! Next, we were off to the Waimea Valley, which was the first time we used (activated) our GoOahu passes from GoCity! Our admission to Waimea Valley was included on the passes. After a short 1 mile hike, we were rewarded with the incredible scenery at Waimea Falls. It was stunning!…and the best part was that we could swim right up to the waterfall! For lunch, we drove into the little town of Hale’iwa. This north shore gem is known for its souvenir shops and food trucks! For lunch, we opted for Hale’iwa Bowls…a MUST TRY food truck for a cool, fruity açaí (or rich, peanut-buttery) bowl! As we continued to explore this North Shore town and coast line, we decided our beach stop for the day would be Laniakea Beach. We had been hoping, and were not disappointed, to find that Laniakea Beach was covered with Green Sea Turtles! We saw at least a dozen of these gentle giants, both swimming in the surf and sun-bathing on the beach right next to us! It was surreal to be so up close and personal with such beautiful creatures! After hours of beach time, we headed back into Hale’iwa for some famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck! I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious it was…but if you are a shrimp lover, this food truck MUST TRY is a show-stopper! With scattered rain to drive in and out of on our way back to Waikiki, we learned on Day 4 why one of Hawaii’s nicknames is “The Rainbow State,” as we easily saw over a dozen rainbows, including several full rainbows and even a full, double rainbow!
Day 5: This day literally started at dawn. It was day 2 of using our all-inclusive GoOahu pass from GoCity, which included snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve! I cannot recommend this experience enough! Hanauma Bay is a Hawaiian State Park and protected marine life nature preserve. Each day, attendance is first come, first serve, which is why getting there early is essential! We were able to snorkel across the rocky reef and see hundreds of species of fish and other marine wildlife…is was surreal and is a MUST-SEE attraction if you ever visit Oahu. The best day to go is Wednesday…the water is clearer as the park is closed to the public on Tuesdays. After we finished snorkeling, we headed off to brunch at MAC 24/7 (yes, again…that is how good the pancakes were)! Next, we used our GoOahu pass to rent a paddleboard! This was such a fun experience and something new we had never done! We all took turns paddleboarding around, splashing in the water (and dumping each other off)! We ended our day, again, on Waikiki beach at Hilton Hawaiian Village resort, soaking in some final rays and wading in the waves. That evening, we had dinner at Blue Water Shrimp and Seafood Market and Round Table Pizza, both in the resort’s village.
Day 6: We started off the day in bed. We were exhausted. The fun in the sun and activities were starting to take their toll. We brunched at Eggs n Things and then headed out for Sea Life Park, which was again part of our GoCity pass. Sea Life Park was a fun, family-friendly venue, that included various shows (dolphin, sea lion) and ocean life displays. The GoOahu pass included our “premium” experience here at Sea Life Park…a chance to swim with a dolphin! We were in a group of about 12 people. Each of us had the opportunity to let our Dolphin, Kiki, take us for a lap around the pool, get a kiss on the cheek, and perform tricks right in front of us, with his trainer. It was such a neat experience that we loved and will remember forever! Finally, we ordered carry-out at Flour and Barley Brick Oven Pizza, which was delicious, and headed back to crash for the evening!
Day 7: It was time for a new breakfast venue…Hallie did some searching and found a restaurant called The Nook Neighborhood Bistro. It was a quaint little diner, hidden away in a small plaza in the heart of Honolulu and only 10 minutes from our resort. The Nook is definitely a MUST-TRY restaurant! The girls had mochi waffles, while the boys had scones with sausage and gravy! The food was amazing! Next, we were off to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet…$AVING$ TIP$…buy your souvenirs here! For $1 per person (kids free), this event (every Wednesday, Saturday, & Sunday) is truly a swap meet where you can negotiate prices and get great deals on many of the same souvenirs (leis, jewelry, t-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, and more!) that you see in any souvenir shop…just way more inexpensive! You know we love budget-friendly and this is where we scored most of the souvenirs from our trip! Next, because it was literally 5 minutes away, we headed over to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Unfortunately, trips to the platform above the USS Arizona had been suspended due to platform repairs. We still spent a good hour, just soaking in the somber and humbling scene, taking photos and talking with our kids about the ultimate sacrifice so many men and women made on that fateful day, December 7, 1941. We all truly felt blessed to be able to visit this historic site, knowing its significance in the history of America and our freedom. Later that day, we headed out for one last beach hurrah, at Sandy Beach, a favorite of local surfers and boogie boarders in the summer, known for its huge waves and strong currents. Because the water was so rough, we pretty much stayed out of the surf and just watched the locals brave the waves…that and because the lifeguard told us it wasn’t safe (for us) to be in the waves since they’d already rescued 10 people that day! We must have looked a little too touristy to handle “Break Neck Beach!” But we did seize the opportunity to take some fun family photos! That evening, we headed back to the resort for dinner at Blue Water Shrimp (again), one last Dole Whip treat, and a movie in our room.
Day 8: We packed up our room, headed off to the airport, said “aloha” to Hawaii, and boarded our flight home. It was an incredible trip, packed with good food, good memories and more fun than we could have imagined!
More on the $AVING$ TIP$ and details of our trip…
GoOahu/Go City Pass: ($AVING$ TIP$) GoCity has passes available to many cities around the USA and around the world! When you purchase a pass, you have the option of building your own experience, based on the exact activities you want, or purchasing an all-inclusive pass. Regardless, you are receiving discounted admission on the activities and attractions on your pass! There are two ways to use the pass…printed passes, or by downloading the app on your phone. We had the app on our phone, which was super convenient, easy to use and recognized by all the vendors at the attractions we went to! For our family, we chose the GoOahu All-Inclusive 3-day pass, which allowed us to try as many different activities as we wanted over a 3-day span, all included in the price of the pass…our passes had over 35 activities to choose from! There were so many things we wanted to try, but didn’t have time for! If we were to go again, we would probably opt for a pass with a longer use time…maybe a 5- or 7-day all-inclusive pass…because there were so many amazing things to do! The passes were great, easy to use and such a budget-friendly way to do so many fun activities on Oahu! With our GoOahu Passes, we selected all of the following activities from the all-inclusive pass:
- Waimea Valley
- Waterfall Hike
- Stand Up Paddleboard
- Sea Life Aquarium Admission
- Premium Experience: Sea Life Park Dolphin Encounter
- Hanauma Bay Snorkling
HHonors Credit Card: OK more about the points we earn for free hotel stays…it takes time & patience to make this happen! We have a Hilton HHonors American Express credit card. It has no annual fee and earns 3-5 points for every dollar you spend. My personal disclaimer…we do not carry a balance forward on our credit card and only spend on it for the items we regularly purchase that are budgeted for. This card has been an easy way to earn points toward free reward stays in hotels around the world. We also take advantage of the fact that as Hilton HHonors members, when you book with points, the 5th night in many of their resorts/hotels is free (pay points for 4 nights, 5th night free). In the end, we had enough points (about 300K) to stay 2 nights in the Hilton Waikiki Hotel and 5 nights in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort – Waikiki Beach! If you want more info on the credit card, here is a link. And yes, disclaimer that if you sign up here, we will get “refer-a-friend” points for it (from up to 4 of you per calendar year)! LOL!
Hawaiian Airlines: I researched flights for quite sometime and found that Hawaiian Airlines was very competitive with all other airlines (who didn’t let me choose my seats)! If you ever fly to Hawaii, spend a few extra dollars (for the 6+ hour flight)! Hawaiian Airlines has personal seat monitors on all their flights to/from the US mainland, and they still provide a complimentary (delicious) in-flight meal (sandwich and chips), but seriously…I didn’t even know that was a thing any more! Their customer service from gate to plane trip to gate was probably the best I can recall on any airline since I flew first class (due to a ticketing error) when I was 12 years old! Seriously…two free movies and a Friends episode later (or writing up a blog post on the way home) and we were touching down! Best flying experience we’ve had in 20+ years!
Ground Transportation: ($AVING$ TIP$) – Renting a car (plus parking) can get very expensive in Hawaii…nearly $1K+. “The Bus” is public transportation that goes all over the island, and for a flat fee, you can ride it unlimited daily throughout your stay. Also, many of the attractions we participated in with the GoOahu passes, will actually pick you up right at your resort.
Links to our Oahu adventure:
- Aloha Stadium Swap Meet
- Flour and Barley Brick Oven Pizza
- GoCity Pass
- GoOahu Pass
- Hale’iwa Bowls
- Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort – Waikiki Beach
- HHonors Credit Card
- Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel
- Laniakea Beach
- The Nook Neighborhood Bistro
- Pearl Harbor National Memorial
- Polynesian Cultural Center
- Polynesian Cultural Center: Ali’i Luau
- Polynesian Cultural Center: Ha Breath of Life Show
- Polynesian Cultural Center: Native Island Cooking Experience
- Sea Life Park
- Waimea Valley