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.
Types of Accommodations
Hotels -- 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 (rather than the shopping arcades that most resorts have these days). Top hotels also have activities desks, concierge and valet service, room service (though it may be limited), 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). Hotels are often a short walk from the beach rather than right on the beachfront (although there are exceptions).
Resorts -- In Hawaii, a resort offers everything a hotel does -- and more. You can expect such extras as direct beach access, with beach cabanas and lounge chairs; pools (often more than one) 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 around the clock); an activities desk; tennis and golf (some of the world's best courses are at Hawaii's resorts); ocean activities; a business center; children's 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. Hawaii has dozens of incredibly expensive resorts that are way out of our price range. But we have found some places that offer resort amenities at a reasonable price.
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.
Condos -- 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, so be sure to ask), a pool, laundry facilities (either in your unit or in a central location), and an on-site front desk or a live-in property manager. Condos vary in price according to size, location, and amenities. Many of them are on or near the beach, and they tend to be clustered in resort areas. While there are some very high-end condos, most are quite affordable, especially if you're traveling in a group that's large enough to require more than one bedroom.
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 (versus the privacy of a single-unit vacation rental).
Bed and Breakfasts -- Hawaii has a wide range of places that call themselves B&Bs: everything from a traditional B&B -- several bedrooms (which may or may not share a bathroom) 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. Would you prefer conversation around a big dining-room table as you eat a hearty breakfast, or just a muffin and juice to enjoy in your own private place? Note that laundry facilities and private phones are not always available.
The advantages of a traditional B&B are its individual style and congenial atmosphere. Bed-and-breakfasts are great places to meet other visitors to Hawaii, and the host is generally happy to act as your own private concierge, giving you tips on where to go and what to do. In addition, they're usually an affordable way to go (though fancier ones can run $150 or more). The disadvantages are lack of privacy, usually a set time for breakfast, few amenities, generally no maid service, and the fact that you'll have to share the quarters beyond your bedroom with others. Also, B&B owners usually require a minimum stay of 2 or 3 nights, and it's often a drive to the beach.
Tips on B&B Etiquette: In Hawaii, it's customary to remove your shoes before entering anyone's home. The same is true for most bed-and-breakfasts. Most hosts post signs or will politely ask you to remove your shoes before entering the B&B. Not only does this keep the B&B clean, but you'll be amazed how relaxed you feel walking around barefoot. If this custom is unpleasant to you, a B&B may not be for you. Consider a condo or hotel, where no one will be particular about your shoes.
Hotels, resorts, condos, and vacation rentals generally allow smoking in guest rooms (most also have nonsmoking rooms available), but most B&Bs forbid smoking in the rooms. If this matters to you, be sure to check the policy of your accommodation before you book.
Vacation Rentals -- This is another great choice for families and for long-term stays. "Vacation rental" usually means that there will be no one on the property where you're staying. The actual accommodation can range from an apartment in a condominium building to a two-room cottage on the beach 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 (which can be either a complete kitchen or just a kitchenette with microwave, refrigerator, burners, and coffeemaker), on-site laundry facilities, and phone; some also come outfitted with such extras as a TV, VCR, 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.
Bargaining on Prices
Rates can sometimes be bargained down, but it depends on the place. In general, each type of accommodation allows a different amount of latitude in bargaining on their rack (published) rates.
The best bargaining can be had at hotels and resorts. Both regularly pay travel agents a commission of as much as 30%; if business is slow, some places may give you the benefit of at least part of this commission if you book directly instead of going through an agent. Most hotels and resorts also have kamaaina (local) rates for islanders, which they may extend to visitors during slow periods. It never hurts to ask about discounted or local rates; a host of special rates are available for the military, seniors, members of the travel industry, families, corporate travelers, and long-term stays. Also ask about package deals, which might include a car rental or free breakfast for the same price as a room by itself. Hotels and resorts offer packages for everyone: golfers, tennis players, families, honeymooners, and more. We've found that it's worth the extra few cents to make a local call to the hotel. Sometimes the local reservations person knows about package deals that the toll-free operators are unaware of, and vice-versa, so it's best to try both numbers and compare what you're quoted. If all else fails, try to get the hotel or resort to upgrade you to a better room for the same price as a budget room, or waive the parking fee or extra fees for children. Persistence and polite inquiries can pay off.
It's harder to bargain at bed-and-breakfasts. You may be able to negotiate down the minimum stay, or get a discount if you're staying a week or longer. But generally, a B&B owner has only a few rooms and has already priced the property at a competitive rate; expect to pay what's asked.
You have somewhat more leeway to negotiate at vacation rentals and condos. In addition to asking for a discount on a multinight stay, also ask if they can throw in a rental car to sweeten the deal; believe it or not, they often will.
Using a Booking Agent Versus Doing it Yourself
If you don't have the time to call several places yourself to bargain for prices and to make sure they offer the amenities you'd like, you might consider a booking agency. The time an agency spends on your behalf may be well worth any fees you'll have to pay.
The top reservations service in the state is Hawaii's Best Bed & Breakfasts [ST] (tel. 800/262-9912 or 808/985-7488; fax 808/967-8610; www.bestbnb.com). This service charges $15 to book the first two locations and $5 for each additional location. Barbara and Susan Campbell personally select the traditional homestays, cottages, and inns, based on each one's hospitality, distinctive charm, and attention to detail. They also book vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.
For vacation rentals, contact Hawaii Beachfront Vacation Homes (tel. 808/247-3637 or 808/235-2644). Hawaii Condo Exchange (tel. 800/442-0404; http://hawaiicondoexchange.com) acts as a consolidator for condo and vacation-rental properties.
Frommer's Favorite Affordable Places to Stay
Royal Grove Hotel (Oahu; tel. 808/923-7691; www.royalgrovehotel.com): This small, family-owned hotel, with plenty of old-fashioned aloha, has the bargain of Waikiki. For $45 (about the same price a couple would pay to stay in a private room at the hostel in Waikiki), you get a clean room in the older Mauka Wing, with a double bed or two twins, plus a kitchenette with refrigerator and stove. And it's only a 3-minute walk to the beach.
Backpackers Vacation Inn (Oahu; tel. 808/638-7838; www.backpackers-hawaii.com): If your dream of Hawaii is staying on the North Shore of Oahu where monstrous waves roll in during the winter, this multi-accommodation property is for you. It's not just for backpackers (although they do have dorm beds starting at $20 and private rooms for $66). This North Shore property has oceanfront studios, which sleep four, starting at $96, and other oceanview homes at budget prices.
Kona Islander Inn (Big Island; tel. 800/622-5348; www.konahawaii.com): This is the most affordable condo in Kailua-Kona with studio apartments beginning at $80 a night. These plantation-style, three-story buildings are surrounded by lush, palm-tree-lined gardens with torchlit pathways that make it hard to believe you're smack-dab in the middle of downtown. The central location -- across the street from the historic Kona Inn Shops -- is convenient but can be noisy; but at these rates, you can afford earplugs.
Kona Tiki Hotel (the Big Island; tel. 808/329-1425): Right on the ocean, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Kailua-Kona, is one of the hottest budget deals in Hawaii. Although it's called a hotel, this small, family-run operation is more like a large bed-and-breakfast, with a continental breakfast buffet served by the pool every morning. The price? Just $61 to $75 for a double, or $84 for a room with kitchenette.
Makai Inn (Maui; tel. 808/662-3200; www.makaiinn.net) This small apartment complex located right on the water (okay, no white-sand beach out front, but what do you want at these eye-popping prices that start at $75 a room). The closest white-sand beach is just a 10-minute stroll, and the center of Lahaina town is a 20-minute walk away. The units are small (400 sq. ft.) but clean and filled with everything you could possible need for your vacation: full kitchens, views of the ocean (in most units), separate bedrooms, and a quiet neighborhood.
Pineapple Inn Maui (Maui; tel. 877-212-MAUI, ext. 6284; www.pineappleinnmaui.com): This charming inn (only four rooms, plus a darling two-bedroom cottage) is not only an exquisite find, but the prices, at just $99, are terrific. Located in the residential area, with panoramic ocean views, this two-story inn is expertly landscaped in tropical flowers and plants with a lily pond in the front and a giant saltwater pool and Jacuzzi overlooking the ocean. Each of the soundproof rooms is professionally decorated with a small kitchenette (fridge, coffeemaker, toaster, and microwave), comfy bed, free wireless Internet access, TV/VCR, and an incredible view off your own private lanai.
Kamalo Plantation Bed-and-Breakfast (Molokai; tel. 808/558-8236; www.molokai.com/kamalo): This lush 5-acre spread includes an ancient heiau ruin in the front yard, plus leafy tropical gardens and a working fruit orchard. The plantation-style cottage is tucked under flowering trees and surrounded by swaying palms and tropical foliage. It has its own lanai, a big living room with a queen sofa bed, and a separate bedroom with a king bed, so it can sleep four comfortably. The kitchen is fully equipped (it even has spices), and there's a barbecue outside. A breakfast of fruit and freshly baked bread is served every morning, all for just $85 for a double.
Kauai Country Inn (Kauai; tel. 808/821-0207; www.kauaicountryinn.com): Run to the phone right now and book this place! Hard to believe that nestled in the rolling hills behind Kapaa, this old-fashioned country inn exists. Starting at $95, each of the four suites is uniquely decorated in Hawaiian art deco with a touch of humor -- complete with hardwood floors, private baths, kitchen or kitchenette, your own computer with high-speed connection, and lots of little amenities. Everything is top drawer, from the furniture to the Sub-Zero refrigerator.
Victoria Place (Kauai; tel. 808/332-9300; www.hshawaii.com/kvp/victoria): Hostess Edee Seymour lavishes her guests with attention and aloha in her spacious, skylit, U-shaped house that wraps around the swimming pool and garden of bougainvillea, hibiscus, gardenia, and ginger. There's also a secluded studio apartment ("Victoria's Other Secret") down a private path. Edee's breakfasts are truly a big deal: at least five different tropical fruits, followed by something from the oven, such as homemade bread, scones, or muffins -- all for just $90.
Frommer's Favorites Especially for Families
Aloha Punawai (Oahu; tel. 808/923-5211; www.alternative-hawaii.com/alohapunawai): Here's one of Waikiki's best-kept secrets: a low-profile, family-operated (since 1959) apartment hotel just 2 blocks from the beach and within walking distance of most Waikiki attractions. The Aloha Punawai offers some of the lowest prices in Waikiki ($95 for studios and $105 for a one-bedroom); if you stay a week, prices drop even more. And the location is great, just across the street from Fort DeRussy Park and 2 blocks to Grey's Beach -- the same great beach facing the luxury Halekulani and Sheraton Waikiki hotels.
Schrader's Windward Marine Resort (Oahu; tel. 800/735-5071 or 808/239-5711; www.hawaiiscene.com/schrader): Nestled in a tranquil, tropical setting on Kaneohe Bay, only a 30-minute drive from Waikiki, this complex is made up of older cottage-style motels and a collection of older homes with budget prices starting at $72 for a one-bedroom, $127 for a two-bedroom, $226 for a three-bedroom, and $446 for a four-bedroom.
Volcano Guest House (Big Island; tel. 808/967-7775; www.volcanoguesthouse.com): If you're planning to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, here's the place to bring the family. A mother herself, Bonnie Gooddell has completely childproofed her house and installed a basketball hoop in the driveway; her truckload of toys will keep the kids happy for hours. You can make yourself right at home in Bonnie's freestanding two-story guest cottage, which comes outfitted with everything, even down to extra wool socks for cold nights. And at $85 for two plus $15 for each of the kids, it's easy on the family budget.
The Spinnaker (Maui; tel. 808/662-3200; www.makaiinn.net): This residential complex on a side street in Lahaina offers extremely affordable one- and two-bedroom budget apartments offered only by the week, but at prices that families can afford ($500 a week for the one-bedroom or $600 a week for the two-bedroom). All units have full kitchens, phones, television, and all the comforts of home. There is a pool in the complex and a whirlpool and barbecue area. There's no maid service, but at these prices you can clean up on your own.
Wailana Kai (Maui; tel. 800/541-3060; www.bellomaui.com): Bello Realty, which has searched out the best deals in Kihei, has added this renovated, two-story, 10-unit one- and two-bedroom apartments to its collection. With one-bedroom units starting at $85, this is a deal that will not last long. It's located at the end of a cul-de-sac street and just a 1-minute walk to the beach. All units have full kitchens, concrete walls (soundproof!), and the second floor has ocean views. Also on property are a small pool, coin-operated laundry, and a barbecue area.
Moanui Beach House (Molokai; tel. 808/558-8236; www.molokai.com/kamalo): If you're looking for a quiet, remote beach house, this is it: a two-bedroom beach house, right across the street from a secluded white-sand cove beach. The A-frame has a shaded lanai facing the ocean, a screened-in lanai on the side of the house, a full kitchen, and an ocean view that's worth the price alone, which is just $140.
Nihi Kai Villas, Poipu Crater Resort, and Waikomo Stream Villas (Kauai; tel. 800/325-5701; www.grantham-resorts.com). Here's a deal for you: These three wonderful Poipu properties with large, perfectly wonderful one- and two-bedroom condos a stone's throw from the beach -- from just $89 a night! What you're not getting is new carpet, new furniture, new drapes, and a prime location on the sands. What you are getting is a clean, well-located, well-cared for unit at a bargain price. The sofa bed in the living room allows even the one-bedroom condos to sleep four comfortably. Such on-site amenities as swimming pools, tennis and paddle courts, and barbecue and picnic areas make these value properties an even better bargain.
What's your favorite place to stay in Hawaii that still leaves some cash in your wallet? Tell us on our Hawaii Message Boards today.