First and foremost, yes, it's possible to have a fabulous vacation in Hawaii and not have to take out a second mortgage. The next most common question readers ask is: "What should I do in Hawaii?"
Our response: How much time do you have, and what do you like to do?
The purpose of this section is to give you expert advice on the best things to see and do, and how to do them in an orderly fashion so you're not driving madly from one end of the island to the other.
Here's the best advice we can give you: Do not plan to see more than one island per week. This isn't the Caribbean, where islands are so close to each other that you can island-hop. With the exception of the ferry between Maui and Lanai, getting from one island to another is an all-day affair that consists of: packing and checking out of your hotel, driving to the airport (most island airports are a 30- to 60-minute drive from resort areas), dropping off your rental car, checking in (and standing in long lines) 90 minutes before your scheduled flight, flying from one island to the next, waiting for your luggage (sometimes the wait for the luggage is just as long or longer than your interisland flight), getting yet another rental car, driving 30 to 60 minutes to your hotel, checking in, and so on. Don't waste a day of your vacation seeing our interisland air terminals.
Also, don't max out your days. You're in Hawaii — which means you should allow some time to do nothing but relax. Ease into your vacation. Due to jet lag, you'll probably be tired your first day, and hitting the pillow at 8 or 9pm might sound good. Don't be surprised if you wake up your first morning in Hawaii before the sun comes up. Your internal clock might still be set 2 to 6 hours earlier than Hawaii's.
Finally, think of your first trip to Hawaii as a "scouting" trip. Hawaii is too beautiful, too sensual, too enticing to see just once in a lifetime. You'll be back. You don't need to see and do everything on this trip. In fact, if you fall in love with something in an itinerary, go back again.
One last thing — you'll need a car to get around the islands, so remember to plan for that expense, and with recent cutbacks in the rental fleet, book your car as soon as you book your airline. Oahu has an adequate public transportation service, TheBus, but it's set up for Hawaiian residents, not tourists carrying coolers, towels, toys, and other things to the beach (all carry-ons must fit under the bus seat). So plan to rent a car, but also to get out of it as much as possible. Hawaii is not a place to see from your car window. You have to get out to smell the sweet perfume of plumeria, to feel the warm rain on your face, to hear the sound of the wind through a bamboo forest, and to plunge into the gentle waters of the Pacific.