Kauai offers a tremendous variety of accommodations, from ritzy resorts to simple bed-and-breakfasts. Before you book a room, read this section to find out what each option typically offers. We've included tips on how to get the best rates.

Types of Accommodations

Hotels -- In Hawaii, the term hotel can indicate a wide range of options, from accommodations with few or no on-site amenities to those with enough extras to qualify as resorts. Generally, a hotel offers daily maid service and has a restaurant, on-site laundry facilities, a pool, and a sundries/convenience-type shop (as opposed to the shopping arcades that most resorts have). Top hotels also provide activities desks, concierge service, business centers, 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 -- due either to thin walls between rooms or to loud music from a lobby lounge late into the night.

Resorts -- In Hawaii, a resort offers everything a hotel offers and more. What you get varies from property to property, of course, but expect facilities, services, and amenities such as direct beach access with cabanas and chairs; a pool (often more than one) and a Jacuzzi; a spa and fitness center; restaurants, bars, and lounges; a 24-hour front desk; concierge, valet, and bell services; room service (often round-the-clock); an activities desk; tennis and golf (some of the world's best courses are at Hawaii resorts); ocean activities; a business center; children's programs; and more.

The advantage of staying at a resort is 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. 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 -- usually a fully equipped multibedroom apartment -- make this a great choice for families. Condominium properties in Hawaii are generally several apartments set in either a single high-rise or a cluster of low-rise units. Condos generally have amenities such as some degree of 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. The advantages of a condo are privacy, space, and conveniences -- which usually include a fully equipped kitchen, a washer and dryer, a private phone, and perhaps your own lanai or balcony. The downsides include the absence of an on-site restaurant and the density of the units. (The condo may be more private than a B&B or hotel but not quite as private as your own cottage, villa, or house.)

Condos vary in price according to size, location, and amenities. Many of them are located on or near the beach, and they tend to be clustered in resort areas. While there are some very high-end condos, most tend to be quite affordable, especially if you're traveling in a group that's large enough to require more than one bedroom.

Bed & Breakfasts -- Kauai has a wide variety of places that fall into this category, everything from the traditional B&B -- several bedrooms in a home (which may or may not share a bathroom), 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 book matches your own mental picture of it. 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? Laundry facilities, televisions, and private phones are not always available at B&Bs. We've reviewed lots of wonderful places in this guide. If you have to share a bathroom, we've spelled it out in the reviews; otherwise, you can assume that you will have a private bathroom.

There are a few things you should be aware of before you book your first B&B. You do not have the "run" of the house. Generally there is a guest area, which may have a small refrigerator for the guests' use, places to sit and read, and perhaps a television. You are not renting the house of your hosts. And generally they do not allow cooking (especially in their kitchen).

The lower rate at B&Bs can be attributed to no daily maid service. You might have to make your own bed, and unless you are staying 3 or 4 days, your sheets will not be changed.

Due to Kauai County restrictions, most of the B&Bs do not have certified kitchens, so they can only bake, not cook breakfast. Several hosts are very clever and have recipes for "baked French toast" and "baked" eggs, but generally expect a continental breakfast.

The advantages of a traditional B&B are its individual style and congenial atmosphere. B&Bs are great places to meet other visitors, and the host is generally very happy to act as your private concierge, offering tips on where to go and what to do. In addition, B&Bs are usually an affordable way to go (though fancier ones can run $250 or more a night). 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. In addition, B&B owners usually require a minimum stay of 2 or 3 nights, and it's often a drive to the beach.

Vacation Rentals -- This is another great choice for families as well as for long-term stays. The term vacation rental usually means there will be no one on the property where you're staying. The actual accommodations 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 are the kinds of places you can settle into for a while. They have kitchen facilities (sometimes a full kitchen; sometimes just a microwave, minifridge, stovetop, and coffeemaker), on-site laundry facilities, and phone; some have such extras as 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 the lack of an on-site property manager, no organized ocean activities, and generally no maid service. Often, a minimum stay is required (sometimes as long as a week). If you book a vacation rental, be sure you have a 24-hour contact so that when the toilet won't flush or you can't figure out how to turn on the air-conditioning, you'll have someone to call.

Home Exchange -- If you are interested in trading your home on the mainland for someone's home in Hawaii so that you can both have an inexpensive vacation, the best book to read first is Home Exchange Guide: How to Find Your Free Home Away from Home, by M. T. Simon and T. T. Baker, published by Poyee Publishing (2901 Clint Moore, no. 265, Boca Raton, FL 33496; tel. 561/892-0494; www.poyeen.com). This step-by-step guidebook first helps you determine if home exchange is right for you. It then helps you develop a strategy to get the word out. You'll utilize "surefire ways" to have a successful home exchange on both sides.

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 its rack (or published) rates.

The best bargaining can be had at hotels and resorts. Hotels and resorts regularly pay travel agents as much as 30% of the rate they get for sending clients their way; if business is slow, some hotels might give you the benefit of at least part of this commission if you book directly instead of go through an airline or travel agent. Most also have kamaaina or "local" rates for islanders, which they might extend to visitors during slow periods. It never hurts to ask politely for a discounted or local rate; a host of special rates are also available for the military, seniors, members of the travel industry, families, corporate travelers, and long-term stays.

Ask about package deals, which might include a car rental or free breakfast for the same price as a room. 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 reservationists know about package deals that the toll-free operators are unaware of.

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 get them to waive the parking fee or the 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 bargain down the minimum stay or negotiate 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, so expect to pay what's asked.

You have somewhat more leeway to negotiate on vacation rentals and condos. In addition to asking for a discount on multinight stays, also ask whether the condo or vacation rental can throw in a rental car to sweeten the deal; believe it or not, they often will.

Using a Booking Agency vs. Doing It Yourself

Sometimes you can save money by making arrangements yourself -- not only can you bargain on the phone, but some accommodations may also be willing to pass on a percentage of the commission they would normally have to pay a travel agent or a booking agency.

However, if you don't have the time or money to call several places to make sure they offer the amenities you'd like and to bargain for a price you're comfortable with, consider using a booking agency. The time the agency spends on your behalf might well be worth any fees you'll have to pay.

The top reservations service in the state is Hawaii's Best Bed & Breakfasts, 571 Pauku St., Kailua, HI 96734 (tel. 800/262-9912 or 808/263-3100; fax 808/262-5030; www.bestbnb.com). The fee for this service starts at $20 to book. The staff personally selects the traditional homestays, cottages, and inns, based on each one's hospitality, distinctive charm, and attention to detail.

For vacation rentals, contact Hawaii Beachfront Vacation Homes (tel. 808/247-3637 or 808/235-2644; www.hibeach.com) or the Parrish Collection Kauai (tel. 800/325-5701 or 808/742-2000; www.parrishkauai.com). For those willing to go it on their own, Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com) offers a wide range of vacation rentals. Just be aware that there is no one guaranteeing your experience since you are renting directly from an owner, who may not have an agent on site to help you deal with problems with your unit. If you decide to go this way make sure you have the name and contact info of someone who can come to your unit and solve a problem like plumbing backing up at 8 pm.

Nickel-&-Dime Charges at High-Priced Hotels

Several upscale resorts in Kauai have begun a practice that we find distasteful and dishonest, charging a so-called "resort fee." This daily fee is added on to your bill for such "complimentary" items as a daily newspaper, local phone calls, use of the fitness facilities, and the like. Amenities that the resort has been happily providing free to its guests for years are now tacked on to your bill under the guise of a "fee." In most cases you do not have an option to decline the resort fee -- in other words, this is a sneaky way to further increase the prices without telling you. The only way that this obnoxious fee will ever be rescinded is if you, the consumer, complain, and complain loudly.

What to Do If Your Dream Hotel Turns Out to Be a Nightmare

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, ask lots of questions when you make your reservation. Find out exactly what the accommodations entail, particularly the cost, minimum stay, and included amenities. Ask if there's a penalty fee for leaving early. Read the small print in the contract -- especially the part on cancellation fees. Discuss the cancellation policy ahead of time with the B&B, vacation rental, condominium agent, or booking agency so you'll know what your options are if the accommodations don't meet your expectations. Get this in writing so there are no misunderstandings later.

When you arrive, if the room you're given doesn't meet your expectations, notify the front desk, rental agent, or booking agency immediately. Approach the management in a calm, reasonable manner, and suggest a constructive solution (such as moving to another unit). Be reasonable and be willing to compromise. Do not make threats or leave; if you leave, it may be harder to get your deposit returned.

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.