Hawaii has one major interisland carrier, Hawaiian Airlines (www.hawaiianair.com; 800/367-5320), and a commuter airline Mokulele Airlines (www.mokuleleairlines.com; 866/260-7070). The commuter flights service the neighbor islands’ more remote airports and tend to be on small planes; you’ll board from the tarmac and weight restrictions apply. Check-in at least 90 minutes before your flight—especially Oahu or during holidays. You can get by with 60 minutes at the neighbor-island airports.
A Weeklong Cruise Through the Islands
If you’re looking for a taste of several islands in 7 days, consider Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com; 866/234-7350), the only cruise line that operates year-round in Hawaii. NCL’s 2,186-passenger ship Pride of America circles Hawaii, stopping on four islands: the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu.
Roberts Hawaii Express Shuttle (www.robertshawaii.com; 800/831-5541 or 808/539-9400), offers curb-to-curb shuttle service to and from the airports on Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai. Booking is a breeze (and 15% cheaper) on their website. SpeediShuttle (www.speedishuttle.com; 877/242-5777) services all of the major airports plus the cruise terminal. For an extra fee, you can request a fresh flower lei greeting.
Public transit is spotty—Oahu has adequate bus service, but even so, it’s set up for residents, not tourists carrying suitcases or beach toys (all carry-ons must fit on your lap or under the bus seat). TheBus (www.thebus.org; 808/848-5555) delivers you to destinations around the island for $2.50. If you’re traveling on a shoestring and have the patience of a saint, this could be a transportation option for you. Bus nos. 19 and 20 travel regularly between the airport and Waikiki; the trip takes about an hour.
The neighbor-island buses are even less visitor-friendly. One-way rides cost $2. The Kauai Bus (www.kauai.gov/bus; 808/246-8110) stops at Lihue Airport twice every hour, but connections to towns outside of Lihue are few and far between. On the Valley Isle, the Maui Bus (www.mauicounty.gov—hover over the “Services” option and then choose “Bus Service Information”; [tel] 808/871-4838) picks up at Kahului Airport every 90 minutes and delivers riders to a transfer station at Queen Kaahumanu Mall. The Hele-On Bus (www.heleonbus.org; 808/961-8744) on Hawaii Island visits the Hilo Airport every 90 minutes and Kona Airport once a day.
Bottom line: Rent a car. You will need your own wheels to get around the islands, especially if you plan to explore outside your resort—and you absolutely should. As discussed above, public transit is unreliable, and taxis are obscenely expensive.
That said, Hawaii has some of the priciest car-rental rates in the country. The most expensive is the island of Lanai, where four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles cost a small fortune. Rental cars are often at a premium on Kauai, Molokai, and Lanai and may be sold out on any island over holiday weekends, so be sure to book well ahead. In fact, we recommend reserving your car as soon as you book your airfare.
To rent a car in Hawaii, you must be at least 25 years of age and have a valid driver’s license and credit card. Note: If you’re visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, keep in mind that foreign driver’s licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you should get an international one if your home license is not in English.
At the Honolulu and most neighbor-island airports, you’ll find many major car-rental agencies, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty. Most of the islands have independent rental companies that operate outside of the airport, often for cheaper rates; check individual island chapters. If you’re traveling with windsurfing or other sports gear on Maui, check out Aloha Rent a Car (877/5452-5642 or 808/877-4477; www.aloharentacar.com). We highly recommend AutoSlash.com over other online car rental services. It applies every available coupon on the market to the booking, yielding surprisingly low daily rates. And if the cost of a rental drops, it automatically rebooks renters, again lowering the price.
Gasoline—Gas prices in Hawaii, always much higher than on the U.S. mainland, vary from island to island. Expect to pay around $4 a gallon, and as much as $5 a gallon on Lanai and Molokai. Check www.gasbuddy.com to find the cheapest gas in your area.
Insurance—Hawaii is a no-fault state, which means that if you don’t have collision-damage insurance, you are required to pay for all damages before you leave the state, whether or not the accident was your fault. Your personal car insurance may provide rental-car coverage; check before you leave home. Bring your insurance identification card if you decline the optional insurance, which usually costs from $9 to $45 a day. Obtain the name of your company’s local claim representative before you go. Some credit card companies also provide collision-damage insurance for their customers; check with yours before you rent.
Driving Rules—Hawaii state law mandates that all car passengers must wear a seat belt and all infants must be strapped into a car seat. You’ll pay a $92 fine if you don’t buckle up. Pedestrians always have the right of way, even if they’re not in the crosswalk. You can turn right on red after a full and complete stop, unless otherwise posted. Hand-held electronic devices are prohibited while driving.
Road Maps—The best and most detailed maps for activities are published by Franko Maps (www.frankosmaps.com); they feature a host of island maps, plus a terrific “Hawaiian Reef Creatures Guide” for snorkelers curious about those fish they spot underwater. Free road maps are published by This Week magazine, a visitor publication available on Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai.
Another good source is the University of Hawaii Press maps, which include a detailed network of island roads, large-scale insets of towns, historical and contemporary points of interest, parks, beaches, and hiking trails. If you can’t find them in a bookstore near you, contact University of Hawaii Press, 2840 Kolowalu St., Honolulu, HI 96822 (www.uhpress.hawaii.edu; 888/UH-PRESS [847-7377]). For topographic maps of the islands, go to the U.S. Geological Survey site (https://pubs.er.usgs.gov).
Stay Off the Cellphone
Talking on a cellphone while driving in Hawaii is a big no-no. Fines start at $297 and increase in school or construction zones. Save yourself the money; if you have to take a photo of that rainbow, pull over.