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I want to visit Hawaii.....Where do I Begin?

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Hello I have never been to Hawaii. I want to go for my 30th birthday in October. I'm more into tthe beauty and culture of the island rather than alot of sporty activities. Where do I start? What island is nice for first timers? I know I want to see the big island, but I have no idea where to start. Any help will be appreciated...either by post, books, other message boards etc. Thanks :)

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    Buy the book "Hawaii for Dummies" - it has a short questionnaire that will aide you in deciding which island to visit (you may pick more than one). After you've decided, buy one of the "blue bibles" such as Maui Revealed, Kauai Revealed, etc.

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    Also, read the trip reports on this forum and also there was a long thread awhile back about "why I love Oahu" or "what I love about Oahu" that certainly covered a whole lot about THAT island. Check out your library, if you have one, and see if they have any travel videos on the islands. The Big Island is fabulous...well, they all are, it's Hawaii.

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    I like Honolulu on Oahu because there is a lot of history and sight seeing to do there, along with the natural beauty. You could combined that with the Big Island but I would want at least 1 week for each island so you won't be rushing around.

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    My husband and I took our first trip to Hawaii last year and we stayed on Kauai, the Big Island and in Honolulu. Personally, Kauai is my favorite - it is everything that I always thought Hawaii would be. It's beautiful and seemed so much more peaceful than the other places we visited. It was neat to see the Big Island, but if my husband's mother didn't live there, I wouldn't have any interest in returning. I like the beaches on Kauai better than those on the BI and in Honolulu and enjoyed the hiking on the North Shore. Honolulu was my least favorite area, but it was cool to hike Diamond Head. Someday I would like to visit the other areas of Oahu where it isn't so touristy and full of people. We aren't into going to nightclubs when we are on vacation, so we prefer the quieter areas. That said, I believe Honolulu has a lot of history and culture, so you may love it.

    My advice is to make a list of what is important to you (beaches, culture, nightlife, history, photography, restaurants, etc.)and narrow your search that way. I also second the advice to check out the book "Hawaii for Dummies" and the "Revealed" books on the individual islands. Do you want to rent a car or stay in one area? What is it that attracts you to the Big Island? There is so much great advice on this board, but you'll get more out of the search function here if you can narrow down your choices.

    Whatever you decide, you'll have a great time!

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    I would agree that if you are interested in the culture and history that Oahu is a good place to start. You have Iolani Palace and the Bishop Museum for just a couple of examples. Of course, there is Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial also. Waikiki Beach is a must-see, but if you also like a bit more relaxed atmosphere, there are beautiful beaches and more secluded areas out of Honolulu.
    That said, I agree that checking out some guidebooks from your local library is a good way to start to get an overview of the islands. The "Revealed" books are great, but they are of individual islands. If you want info all in one book, so that you can compare, try the Fodor's or Frommer's "Hawaii" guides in addition to the Hawaii for Dummies.
    October is a great time to go to the islands. The weather is good and there are fewer tourists, so prices are better.
    Happy Hunting!

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    List of things to do on Oahu
    These are some hints/suggestions for things to do and see on Oahu. Many of the websites listed are good for all islands.

    Arizona Memorial: (free) get there early, preferably by 8am. Opens at 7:30am. If you get there after 10am the lines can get long and you may spend 1-2 hours in line. Battleship USS Missouri and Submarine USS Bowfin are in the same area. These are about $15 each so you can go or skip them. Look for coupons in brochures for two for one. You can take pictures of them from Arizona Visitors Center and the Arizona tour ferry. Go on the lawn behind the Visitor's Center for great pictures. You can also walk around the Bowfin Memorial area for free without taking the tour. Its worth the time. The Swap Meet is only a couple blocks from here at Aloha Stadium.

    Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC): www.polynesia.com General Admission about $40, but I prefer the buffet package ($55) or the luau buffet package ($75). The evening 'Horizon' show is the best Polynesian show in all of Hawaii. It comes with all ticket price options. The higher priced ticket packages get the better seating for 'Horizons'. Also the earlier you get there, the better the seating is for 'Horizons'. The Ali'i Luau Show that is part of the luau package is also a good Polynesian show. IMAX, Canoe Pageant, Samoa and Tonga villages and Canoe ride are the best other attractions (these are included with any type ticket). Plan on this as an all day event. Get there by 1pm (earlier if possible), leave around 9:30pm. When I take visitors, I try to keep on this schedule: IMAX 1:30, Canoe Pageant 2:30, Samoa 3:00, Tonga 4:00, Canoe Ride around 4:30, regular buffet or Ali'i luau buffet 5pm and 'Horizons' at 7:30. The other villages are nice also, but there is not enough time for all of them. You will have time to do some shopping or looking around between the buffet or luau and 'Horizons'. Closed on Sundays. You can go back for free for two days. Check with PCC employees for instructions before leaving the Center if you want the extra days.

    Diamond Head Summit: Drive right into the crater and hike to the top. ($5 per carload or $1 each if you walk into the crater). I prefer to drive in. Awesome 360 degree view from the summit. Best time is around 8am or around 4pm. In between it can get hot walking to the top. Takes about 1 - 1 1/2 hours roundtrip.

    Punchbowl (National Cemetery of the Pacific): (free) While you are there, drive to the overlook area. Short walk to the summit that overlooks the entire city. If you have time, take the Mt. Tantalus/Round Top drive through a rain forest. Stop at the Puu Ualakaa State Wayside about 2/3 of the way to the top of the mountain. It has an awesome view of the city from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor. Punchbowl is near the bottom of Mt. Tantalus.

    Hanauma Bay: Snorkel. Its for any age. You can rent snorkeling equipment there or some places in Waikiki or bring your own. Closed on Tuesdays. Try to get there as early as possible. If you drive, the parking lot gets filled up by 9:00 or 10:00. ($1 for parking, $5 for each person). You can reserve snorkel tours with several companies. They provide equipment, transportation, etc. They seem to have better equipment than the park does. You can also take the city bus. But the first city bus doesn't leave Waikiki until 8:30 am. Website: http://www.co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/facility/hanaumabay/welcome.htm

    Byodo-In-Temple (Valley of the Temples): $2 each. Just past Kaneohe.

    Chinaman's Hat: (free) Kualoa Regional Park is just past Byodo-In-Temple. Nice for pictures, picnic, swimming.

    Swap Meet: You can buy almost any souvenirs here much cheaper than anywhere else. All items are new. Vendors wrap around the stadium twice. Located at Aloha Stadium near Arizona Memorial. Open Wed, Sat, Sun.

    Hilo Hattie's: Nice place to shop. Higher prices than swap meet, but not too much more on many items. Has good selection of clothing, candies and souvenirs. Check brochures for coupons. Can take free Hilo Hattie's shuttle from Waikiki.

    Ala Moana Beach Park: (free) Nice beach. Great sunset location in the winter. Walk all the way out to the end of Magic Island. Great view of Waikiki, Diamond Head, Ala Wai Boat Harbor (shown in opening scene of Gilligan's Island).

    Hike to Manoa Falls: (Free) You can drive right up to the trailhead and park for free. Or you can pay a few bucks in a nearby lot to have someone "watch" your car. One mile one way. Short hike through a rain forest also bamboo there. Treetops restaurant there (at the previous Paradise Park site) has a good Chinese buffet.

    Hike to Makapuu Point Lighthouse: (free) Great view from here. Easy one mile hike. In winter months (mid-November to mid-April) it's great for whale watching.

    Other Hiking on Oahu:
    http://www.hawaiitrails.org/ (good for all islands)
    http://www.backyardoahu.com/
    http://home.hawaii.rr.com/oahuhikingtrails/home.html
    http://oahuhiking.com/

    North Shore Beaches: Haleiwa, Banzai Pipeline (Ehukai Beach), Waimea Beach, Sunset Beach, Shark's Cove & Chun's Reef. Chun's Reef has sea turtles. Other nice stops for pictures in the area. Can be huge waves in winter. Good snorkeling at Shark's Cove and Chun's Reef in the summer.

    Other beaches: There are close to 100 beaches on Oahu. Besides North Shore and Waikiki beaches these are some of the better ones: Makaha Beach (west shore), Waimanalo Beach, Lanikai Beach, Sandy Beach, Hanauma Bay and Kailua Beach (east/Windward side), Ala Moana Beach Park (south shore). All public beaches are free except Haunama Bay.

    Dole Pineapple Plantation: On H-2 just past Wahiawa. Can visit on the way to or back from the North Shore. Nice gift shop to browse, but expensive. Go behind the center for pineapple exhibits and carp feeding pond.

    Kualoa Ranch: Several movies have been set here: (Jurassic Park, Mighty Joe Young and others), ATV rides, horseback riding, tours. Located across from Kualoa Regional Park.

    Waikiki: Beaches, shopping, dining, nightclubs, shows, some museums. Wide range in dining prices. $3-4 breakfasts, $6-10 lunch buffets, $20-$25 fine dining and anywhere in between. Best Waikiki shows: Creation: A Polynesian Journey, John Hirokawa's Magic of Polynesia, Society of Seven, Blue Hawaii (Elvis impersonator), many more to chose from. Many Waikiki shows offer cocktail show along with the dinner show. They seat you after everyone else has eaten. Regular price of shows around $40-$60. Cocktail show about $25-$35. There are several short free hula shows and other demonstrations in Waikiki daily. Check the brochures for location, days and times. Check brochures for coupons for shows/dining/shopping, etc.

    Downtown Area: Aloha Tower (take elevator to the top, nice view), Chinatown, Hawaii Maritime Center, Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum, other museums.

    Botanical Gardens: Oahu has many botanical gardens. Most are free, the others charge a few bucks. Haiku Garden in Kaneohe is nice and is a nice stop if you are taking an island driving tour. Located near Byodo-In-Temple (Valley of the Temples). Check brochures or get info on-line. Search: oahu botanical gardens

    Other: Sea Life Park, Zoo, Aquarium, dinner cruise, whale watching cruise, submarine tours, parasailing, helicopter tours, horseback riding, Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park, scuba, surfing lessons, other luau shows (Germaine's, Paradise Cove). Many other attractions, things to do. Check the brochures.

    Brochures: (free) Can be found in the airport baggage claim area or at hundreds of news stands throughout Waikiki, in hotels, in stores, and at some attractions. These are excellent "things to do and see" guide books (maps, attractions, beaches, dining, night clubs, etc.). There are a lot of coupons in these for dining, shopping, etc. The best brochures are: 'This Week on Oahu', 'Oahu Gold', '101 Things Oahu', 'The BEST of Oahu'. Some of these brochures can also be found for other islands (Maui, Kauai, Big Island) unique to that island. Most of these brochures also have on-line versions.

    Websites:
    www.thisweek.com 'This Week On Oahu' They will send up-to-date brochures for a few bucks. Also This Week Maui, Kauai, Big Island.
    www.spotlighthawaii.com 'Oahu Gold' They will send up-to-date brochures for a few bucks. Also Maui Gold, Big Island Gold, Kauai Gold.
    www.gohawaii.com This is the official site for Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. They will send a free brochure.
    www.101thingstodo.com
    www.visit-oahu.com Oahu Visitors Bureau, for free brochure 1-877-525-6248 (toll free)
    www.hawaii.com Good site for comparing hotel locations, prices, etc.
    www.hawaiiweb.com
    www.alternative-hawaii.com
    www.portaloha.com/SecretsOfHawaii
    www.alohatower.com
    www.honolulu.hawaii.edu/tours
    www.driveguidemagazines.com
    www.hawaii-hotels.com Compare hotels
    www.bookit.com Compare hotels
    www.alohafriends.com
    www.alohafriendshawaii.com
    www.honoluluadvertiser.com one of two main Honolulu newspapers, has dining & entertainment guides, TGIF calendar
    www.starbulletin.com one of two main Honolulu newspapers, also has dining & entertainment

    Automobiles: Oahu is the only island that you can get around by bus. Oahu has a good bus system, but a rental vehicle gets around a lot better. Parking in Waikiki can be a problem at times. If you plan on renting a car, make sure your hotel allows parking at the hotel or in a nearby lot or garage. Get the parking pass at the hotel registration area. Probably $8-$14/day to park at the hotel. You can get city bus passes at any ABC store in Waikiki for $20 for 4 days ($40/month). Or you can pay $2.00 per trip. There are also many shuttles, tour buses and vans and trolleys that go to many places (some are free).

    Internet Search Engines: Use Yahoo, Google, Dogpile or any other search engine to find information on any thing else on Oahu (or other island) that may interest you. Type in: hiking hawaii, hiking oahu, bed and breakfast oahu, condominiums oahu, botanical gardens oahu, oahu hotels or any other terms that will get you information.

    Hotels: Most hotels (or hotel chains) have their own 800 numbers and/or websites: www.outrigger.com www.sheraton.com www.ohanahotels.com, etc. Or you can use a search engine to find the website or use the search engine's yellow pages for the phone number.

    Entertainment Book
    Entertainment books for Hawaii and many other locations can be purchased online at www.entertainment.com. They cost around $35-$40 plus shipping or if you wait until mid-March, the price is reduced to about $25 (or less) with free shipping, $15 after mid-May. Expires November 1.

    Coupons include half price tickets for John Hirokawa's Magic Show. Hundreds of other coupons for reduce price luaus, shopping, dining, movies, attractions, etc. The Hawaii book also has many mainland coupons for hotels, car rentals, Universal Studios, Sea World, etc.

    Phone Cards: If you don't have a cell phone, the best phone cards right now can be found at Costco or Sam's Club. Right now they are only $.03/m, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no monthly charge. Can be used from pay phones ($.25 or eight units surcharge from pay phone), hotels, homes.

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    I would start by determining how much time and money you can realistically spend on your trip. This will go a long way to figuring out how many islands, etc. Just realize there is a lot of variety depending on where you go. The big island, which you have already chosen to see, certainly offers enough to fill a whole trip if necessary. have fun- the planning is certainly one of the best parts.
    and by october, you'll be a fodor's addict just like the rest of us!

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    You are getting lots of good advice.
    One site that has helped me suss out lodging options other than hotels is alternative-hawaii.com. One of the great things about Hawaii is that there is a wide variety of really great places to stay other than hotels.
    Have fun learning about and visiting the islands.
    -Bill

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