Hawaii offers all kinds of accommodations, from simple rooms in restored plantation homes and quaint cottages on the beach to luxurious oceanview condo units and opulent suites in beachfront resorts. Each type has its pluses and minuses, so before you book, make sure you know what you're getting into.
In Hawaii, "hotel" can indicate a wide range of options, from few or no on-site amenities to enough extras to qualify as a miniresort. Generally, a hotel offers daily maid service and has a restaurant, on-site laundry facilities, a pool, and a sundries/convenience-type shop. Top hotels also have activities desks, concierge and valet services, room service, business centers, airport shuttles, bars and/or lounges, and perhaps a few more shops.
The advantages of staying in a hotel are privacy and convenience; the disadvantage is generally noise (either thin walls between rooms or loud music from a lobby lounge late into the night). Hotel locations can range from oceanfront to a short walk from the beach. Be sure to check if this is important to you.
Nickel-and-Dime Charges at High-Priced Hotels -- Several upscale resorts in Hawaii engage in a practice that I find distasteful and dishonest: charging a so-called "resort fee." This daily fee is added to your bill for such "complimentary" items as a daily newspaper, local phone calls, and use of the fitness facilities -- amenities that the resort has been happily providing free to its guests for years. In most cases, you do not have an option to decline the resort fee -- in other words, this is a sneaky way to increase the nightly rate without telling you.
In Hawaii, a resort offers everything a hotel does -- and more. You can expect direct beach access, with beach cabanas and lounge chairs; pools and a Jacuzzi; a spa and fitness center; restaurants, bars, and lounges; a 24-hour front desk; concierge, valet, and bellhop services; room service (often 24-hr.); an activities desk; tennis and golf; ocean activities; a business center; kids' programs; and more.
The advantages of a resort are that you have everything you could possibly want in the way of services and things to do; the disadvantage is that the price generally reflects this. And don't be misled by a name -- just because a place is called "ABC Resort" doesn't mean it actually is a resort. Make sure you're getting what you pay for.
The roominess and convenience of a condo -- which is usually a fully equipped, multiple-bedroom apartment -- makes this a great choice for families. Condominium properties in Hawaii generally consist of several apartments set in either a single high-rise or a cluster of low-rise units. Condos usually have amenities such as some maid service (ranging from daily to weekly; it may or may not be included in your rate), a pool, and an on-site front desk or a live-in property manager. Condos tend to be clustered in resort areas. There are some very high-end condos, but most are quite affordable, especially if you're traveling in a group.
The advantages of a condo are privacy, space, and conveniences -- which usually include a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, a private phone, and more. The downsides are the standard lack of an on-site restaurant and the density of the units (vs. the privacy of a single-unit vacation rental).
Bed & Breakfasts
Hawaii has a wide range of places that call themselves B&Bs: everything from a traditional B&B -- several bedrooms in a home, with breakfast served in the morning -- to what is essentially a vacation rental on an owner's property that comes with fixings for you to make your own breakfast. Make sure that the B&B you're booking matches your own mental picture. Note that laundry facilities and land-line phones are not always available. If you have to share a bathroom, I've spelled it out in the listings; otherwise, you can assume that you will have your own.
The advantages of a traditional B&B are its individual style and congenial atmosphere, with a host who's often happy to act as your own private concierge. In addition, they're usually an affordable way to go. The disadvantages are lack of privacy, usually a set time for breakfast, few amenities, and generally no maid service. Also, B&B owners typically require a minimum stay of 2 or 3 nights, and it's often a drive to the beach.
B&B Etiquette -- In Hawaii, it is traditional and customary to remove your shoes before entering anyone's home. The same is true at most bed-and-breakfast facilities. If this custom is unpleasant to you, a B&B may not be for you.
Hawaii also has a very strict no-smoking law (no smoking in public buildings, restaurants, bars, retail stores, and the like), and more and more hotels, resorts, condos, and vacation rentals generally do not allow smoking in the guest rooms (those hotels that still do allow smoking all have nonsmoking rooms available). The majority of bed-and-breakfast units already forbid smoking in the rooms. Be sure to check the policy of your accommodations before you book.
This is another great choice for families and for long-term stays. "Vacation rental" usually means that there will be no manager on the property where you're staying. The actual accommodations can range from an apartment to an entire fully equipped house. Generally, vacation rentals allow you to settle in and make yourself at home for a while. They have kitchen facilities (at least a kitchenette), on-site laundry facilities, and a phone; some also come with such extras as a TV, VCR or DVD player, and stereo.
The advantages of a vacation rental are complete privacy, your own kitchen (which can save you money on meals), and lots of conveniences. The disadvantages are a lack of an on-site property manager and generally no maid service; often a minimum stay is required (sometimes as much as a week). If you book a vacation rental, be sure that you have a 24-hour contact to call if the toilet won't flush or you can't figure out how to turn on the air-conditioning.
Using a Booking Agency vs. Doing It Yourself
If you don't have the time to call several places yourself to make sure they offer the amenities you'd like, you might consider a booking agency.
A statewide booking agent for B&Bs is Bed & Breakfast Hawaii (www.bandb-hawaii.com; tel. 800/733-1632 or 808/822-7771; fax 808/822-2723), offering a range of accommodations from vacation homes to bed-and-breakfast inns, starting at $65 a night. For vacation rentals, contact Hawaii Beachfront Vacation Homes (www.myhawaiibeachfront.com; tel. 808/247-3637; fax 808/235-2644). Hawaii Condo Exchange (www.hawaii-condo.org; tel. 800/442-0404) acts as a consolidator for condo and vacation-rental properties.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.