Penny-pinching in Hawaiian paradise
There are deals to be found on a visit to Waikiki this season, from lodging bargains to free hula.
Seattle Times Travel staff
More details: www.gohawaii.com or www.visit-oahu.com
Don't worry, be happy (for an hour)HOW MUCH WILL YOU SPEND on mai tais on a Waikiki vacation? Plenty, if you don't keep an eye on the bar tab. A good budget-travel strategy is to make the most of Happy Hour. We surveyed hotel concierge desks to ask: "Who does the best Happy Hour on Waikiki?" Their tips:
• The sushi bar at the Marriott.
• The Hula Grill at the Outrigger, 4-6 p.m. daily, with $4.25 mai tais, $5 pot stickers, $3.50 Kona beers on tap.
• For $3 drinks, Moose McGillycuddy's on Lewers Street, 4-7 p.m. No view.
• The Chart House at Ala Wai Yacht Harbor.
• Nick's Fishmarket in Waikiki Gateway Hotel.
• Tiki's Grill & Bar at the ResortQuest Waikiki Beach Hotel. Great view.
Kawai Felicilda (closest) and Rachel Ann Matsuoka of Honolulu's Ka Liko O Ka Palai hula school demonstrate the Haleakala Hula during the free hula show on Waikiki Beach, Oct. 8, 2008.
After a Washington winter of too much snow and spirit-dampening floods, Hawaii is calling you — and the Aloha State's seductive "come hither" carries a "get lucky" price: The depressed economy has dropped airfares and spurred a frenzy of hotel deals.
A recent check found round-trip coach seats, Seattle to Honolulu, for around $300 in February and March — $100 to $200 off what you might have paid in recent years during this desirable season in the islands (when temperatures peak in the low 80s).
With an eye toward stretching my travel dollars until they squeaked like an out-of-tune ukulele, I spent a week on Waikiki not long ago and found these budget tips for those of you — like most everyone — with frostbitten wages and 401(k)s that have shrunk to 201(k)s:
Hunt for a hotel
Don't settle for the first come-on you come across. After a year when tourism from the West Coast to the islands dropped faster than a coconut from a tall palm, it's a buyer's market. Almost every hotel is offering incentives. For example:
• The beachfront Outrigger Waikiki (www.outrigger.com), home of the popular Duke's Canoe Club bar, offers a fourth night free (a common promotion).
• The Hyatt Regency Waikiki trumps that with a fourth night free plus daily full breakfast for two and a free room upgrade (http://waikiki.hyatt.com).
• The 3-star ResortQuest Waikiki Beach Hotel (www.resortquesthawaii.com) has standard rooms on special for $140 a night, $62 cheaper than the usual AAA rate — plus free breakfast.
Check more specials at www.gohawaii.com/deals">www.gohawaii.com/deals. Then after shopping the Web, call the hotel directly and negotiate the best price, or try your luck with a discounter such as priceline.com.
Always ask (nicely) for a free upgrade at check-in. If you're not visiting on a holiday week, chances are good the hotel's not full.
Consider a condo
Waikiki is elbow to elbow with lodging bargains. I searched homeaway.com and found a little gem of a private condo a block off the beach (www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p164387). For $85 a night, I got a nice lanai with a decent view of the ocean and Diamond Head. Full disclosure: I had to peek around the edge of the Hyatt parking garage to see the water, and the building itself was quite modest. But the unit was immaculate and beautifully decorated. Compounding savings: With a kitchen, I did a bit of my own cooking, shrinking the restaurant bill.
If you search carefully to suit your own taste, and check references on the rental agent, this strategy can really pay off, especially for more independent travelers.
Befriend a farmer
If you get a unit with a kitchen and you like to cook, don't miss the tropical bounty (and real bargains) of the Saturday morning farmer's market, 7:30-11:30 a.m. at Kapi'olani Community College on Diamond Head Road. Here you can score anything from Big Island abalone to North Shore avocados, plus exotic flowers for your table. It's a great place to chat up the locals, and they even serve breakfast. (Tip: Go early for good selections.) See www.hfbf.org/FarmersMarket.html.
Board a Bus
A rental car is more burden than boon on crowded Oahu. Parking isn't cheap. Instead of hitting the rental desk, hop on the Roberts Hawaii shuttle from the airport to Waikiki (30 minutes, $15 round-trip; www.robertshawaii.com/airport-shuttle). And the public bus system, called simply The Bus, is reliable and cheap, just $2 each way. It will get you to the farmer's market, Hanauma Bay, Pearl Harbor — just about anywhere. (It does go to the airport, but you can't bring luggage aboard.)
See some surfers
The Bus will even get you clear to the North Shore to watch surfers — some of the best in the world — and a day's outing won't cost much more than bus fare. Catch the Route 52 Wahiawa-Circle Isle bus from Ala Moana shopping center. Ninety minutes to the north, ask the driver to let you off at the North Shore Marketplace in Haleiwa so you can visit with "Hurricane Bob" Brown at his North Shore Surf & Cultural Museum (free admission, donations welcomed; 808-637-8888). Brown, a retired Air Force hurricane hunter and a deeply tanned encyclopedia of knowledge about ocean swells, can tell you where to see the most action. (Get a transfer so you can hop on the next bus for free.)
Hike the Head
A hike to the top of Diamond Head, the highest peak at the edge of a 300,000-year-old volcanic crater on the eastern edge of Waikiki, is one of the most adventurous outings you'll find this close to a major urban resort center. At $5 per carload (or $1 for cyclists or pedestrians), it's a cheap thrill, too.
But be forewarned: This is no ordinary walk in the park. The trail gains 560 feet in a little under a mile, with steeply snaking switchbacks, a 225-foot tunnel through solid rock, a flight of 99 steps straight up, and a final climb out through an old coastal-defense bunker that requires a sort of shimmying limbo maneuver. It's not for the faint of heart. But the top offers glorious views of ocean, city, a red-roofed lighthouse and emerald mountains.
Skip the daily tourist-led race to the top for sunrise (the park opens at 6 a.m.); start a half-hour later, passing the crowd on its way back down, and you'll have the peak almost to yourself — still in the lovely light of tropical dawn. (See www.hawaiistateparks.org, click on Oahu, then select Diamond Head State Monument.)
Hula for no moola
Plenty of Hawaii hotels stage fancy luaus for tourists, at a price. But if authentic hula dancing is your interest, you'll find no better than at the free hula demonstration at the center of Waikiki Beach.
The hula show happens every night but Monday at 6:30 under the spreading banyan tree just kitty corner from the Hyatt Regency hotel at the corner of Kalakaua and Uluniu avenues. Bring a straw mat and sit on the grass.
With the resurgence of interest among Hawaiians in old Hawaiian culture and arts, the hourlong show usually features students from various schools of hula from around Hawaii, and the dances are authentic.
It's another of many ways to enjoy paradise while pinching pennies. And I didn't hear one out-of-tune ukulele.
Brian J. Cantwell: 206-748-5724 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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