Hawaii offers everything 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 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. Top hotels have activities desks, concierge and valet service, room service, business centers, airport shuttles, bars and/or lounges, and perhaps a few more shops.
The advantages of a hotel stay 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 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 round-the-clock); 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.
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), a pool, and an on-site front desk or a live-in property manager. Condos tend to be clustered in resort areas. Some are very high-end, 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, and a private phone. Downsides are the lack of an on-site restaurant and the density of the units.
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 private phones are not always available. If you have to share a bathroom, we'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 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 and for long-term stays. "Vacation rental" usually means that there will be no one 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 phone; some come 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. The best bargaining can be had at hotels and resorts. If business is slow and you book directly, both places may give you at least part of the commission they'd normally pay a travel agent. Most hotels and resorts also have 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. 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, ask if they can throw in a rental car to sweeten the deal; believe it or not, they often will.
Booking with an Agency vs. Doing It Yourself
If you don't have the time to call places yourself, you might consider a booking agency.
A statewide booking agent for B&B's is Bed & Breakfast Hawaii (tel. 800/733-1632 or 808/822-7771; fax 808/822-2723; www.bandb-hawaii.com), offering a range of accommodations from vacation homes to B&Bs, starting at $65 a night. For vacation rentals, contact Hawaii Beachfront Vacation Homes (tel. 808/247-3637; fax 808/235-2644). Hawaii Condo Exchange (tel. 800/442-0404; www.hawaiicondoexchange.com) acts as a consolidator for condo and vacation-rental properties.
In the past we have gotten letters from our readers asking about the website Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com). It is a great website, but we do not recommend it because several of the owners do not have property managers on site or someone on call -- in case the plumbing goes out at 3am or you cannot figure out how to get the television to work. If you decide to use this site, be sure to contact the owner and ask if they have someone on call if there is a problem. If they do have someone on call, find out the details of how quickly that person will respond: Is the handyman or manager on some kind of retainer so he'll respond immediately, or will you be just another customer in line and he'll get to you when he gets to you? This is a small point but it could ruin your vacation.
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.