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.
The larger hotels and resorts offer supervised programs for children. By state law, hotels can accept only children ages 5 to 12 in supervised activities programs, but they often accommodate younger children by hiring babysitters to watch over them.
Nickel & Dimed
Several upscale resorts in Hawaii have begun a practice that we find distasteful, dishonest, and downright discouraging: charging a so-called "resort fee." This daily fee is added on to your bill (and can range from $12-$23 a day), 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 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. We are very opposed to this practice and urge you to voice your complaints to the resort management. Otherwise, what'll be next -- a charge for using the tiny bars of soap or miniature shampoo bottles?
Types of Accommodations
Hotels -- In Hawaii, "hotel" can indicate a wide range of options, from places with few or no on-site amenities to places with 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 resorts); 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 -- make 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 your own private place in which to enjoy a muffin and juice? Note that laundry facilities and private phones are not always available. If you have to share a bathroom, I'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. 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: B&B Etiquette
In Hawaii, it is traditional and customary to remove your shoes before entering anyone's home. The same is true for most bed-and-breakfast facilities. 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 the guest rooms (most also have nonsmoking rooms available), but the majority of bed-and-breakfasts forbid smoking in the rooms. If this matters to you, be sure to check the policy of your accommodations before you book.
Vacation Rentals -- This is another great choice for families and for long-term stays. "Vacation rental" usually means that no one will be 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 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
First, let's talk about rack (published) rates. I have organized the "Family-Friendly Accommodations" sections in the island chapters of our Frommer's Hawaii with Kids (www.frommers.com/bookstore/0764573853.html) by geographic location and prices. Very Expensive means most of the rooms are $300 and up per night for double occupancy; Expensive rooms are in the $220-to-$270 range; Moderate accommodations are in the $120-to-$180 range; and Inexpensive rooms cost $120 or less. Children often stay free in a parent's room; I've noted where this is the case. 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 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 families, the military, seniors, members of the travel industry, 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. I'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, also ask if they can throw in a rental car to sweeten the deal; believe it or not, they often will.
Using a Booking Agency 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 (tel. 800/262-9912 or 808/985-7488; www.bestbnb.com). This service charges $20. The owners 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.
Other great statewide booking agents are Bed & Breakfast Hawaii (tel. 800/733-1632 or 808/822-7771; 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; http://hawaiicondoexchange.com) acts as a consolidator for condo and vacation-rental properties.
What If Your Dream Hotel Becomes a Nightmare?
To avoid any unpleasant surprises, find out when you make your reservation exactly what the accommodation is offering you: cost, minimum stay, included amenities. Ask if there's any penalty for leaving early. Discuss with the property or booking agency what the cancellation policy is if the accommodation fails to meet your expectations -- and get this policy in writing.
When you arrive, if you're not satisfied with your room, notify the front desk or booking agency immediately. Approach the management in a calm, reasonable manner, and suggest a solution (like moving to another unit). Be willing to compromise. Do not leave; if you do, you may not get your deposit back.
If all else fails, when you get home, write to any association the accommodation may be a member of (the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, a resort association, or an island association). Describe your complaint and why the issue was not resolved to your satisfaction. And be sure to let us know if you have a problem with a place we recommend in our books!
Frommer's Favorite Family Hotels
Most Family Friendly: There is no contest. On the Big Island, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu (tel. 888/340-5662; www.fourseasons.com) not only offers a relaxing vacation in the lap of luxury, but the staff goes above and beyond its duties to pamper your kids. You can't get any better than this -- everything from a complimentary children's program, something for the teenagers, and kid-friendly restaurants.
When Price is No Object: No question about it: the Halekulani (tel. 800/367-2343; www.halekulani.com) is an oasis of calm amid the buzz. This beach hotel is the finest Waikiki has to offer. (Heck, I think it's the finest in the state.) The complimentary children's program is tops, the rooms are practically suites, and the service is superb.
When Price is Your Main Objective: I recommend two places. On Oahu, the Doubletree Alana Hotel -- Waikiki (tel. 800/222-TREE; www.alana-doubletree.com) is run by the Hilton Hawaiian Village and located within walking distance of Waikiki Beach. At this small boutique hotel, you get comfortable rooms and the kind of prompt service that you usually get only at twice the price. (Rack rates here start at $199.) On the Big Island of Hawaii, the best deal is the oceanfront Kona Tiki Hotel (tel. 808/329-1425; www.konatiki.com). Its tastefully decorated rooms, with private lanais overlooking the ocean, start at just $61 a night! Although it's called a hotel, this small, family-run operation is more like a large B&B, with plenty of friendly conversation around the pool at the morning continental breakfast buffet.
Best Suite Deals: The standout is The Fairmont Kea Lani Maui (tel. 800/659-4100; www.kealani.com). This is the place to get your money's worth; for the price of a hotel room you get an entire suite -- plus a few extras. Each unit in this all-suite luxury hotel has a kitchenette, a living room with entertainment center and sofa bed, an oversize marble bathroom with separate shower big enough for a party, a spacious bedroom, and a large lanai that overlooks the pools, lawns, and white-sand beach.
Most Peace and Quiet: Head out to the North Shore on Oahu for the Turtle Bay Resort (tel. 800/203-3650; www.turtlebayresort.com). The resort is spectacular: an hour's drive from Waikiki, but eons away in its country feeling. Sitting on 808 acres, this place is loaded with activities and 5 miles of shoreline with secluded white-sand coves. All the rooms have great views, there are tons of activities for the keiki (children), and there's even a romantic restaurant for an adults' night out.
Most Hawaiian: Tucked away on the Big Island is the remote Kona Village Resort (tel. 800/367-5290; www.konavillage.com), the best place in Hawaii if you want to stay in a vintage Polynesian village-style resort. The sublimely peaceful, eclectic Polynesian village, with thatched huts and various styles of Pacific architecture beside the big blue ocean, stands on 82 coastal acres of palms and tropical flowers. The authenticity and isolation of this oasis revive wounded urban souls, who swing in hammocks, splash like children in the bay, actually smile when spoken to, and move slowly with the calm and grace that come from great leisure. Why anyone ever leaves is a wonder.
Best Views: Every view in Hawaii is terrific, but on Kauai the Princeville Resort Kauai (tel. 800/826-4400; www.princeville.com) is set in one of the most remarkable locations in the world, on a cliff between the crystal-blue waters of Hanalei Bay and steepled mountains; you arrive on the ninth floor and go down to the beach. This palace of green marble and sparkling chandeliers recalls Hawaii's monarchy period of the 19th century. Opulent rooms with magnificent views and all the activities of Princeville and Hanalei make this one of Hawaii's finest resorts.
Best Beach: A tough category with so many contenders, but I'm going with the golden sand and generally calm waters in front of Maui's Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea (tel. 800/334-MAUI; www.fourseasons.com/maui.) This is the ultimate beach hotel for latter-day royals, with excellent cuisine, spacious rooms, gracious service, and beautiful Wailea Beach. The most kid-friendly hotel on Maui not only offers a complimentary kids' program year-round and an everyday activities center (daily 9am-5pm), but also makes the children feel welcome with extras such as complimentary milk and cookies on their first day. Children's menus are offered at all resort restaurants and even from room service.
Best Fitness Center & Spa: On Maui, Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa (tel. 800/888-6100; www.grandwailea.com) is Hawaii's biggest spa, at 50,000 square feet, with 40 treatment rooms. The spa incorporates the best of the Old World (romantic ceiling murals, larger-than-life Roman-style sculptures, mammoth Greek columns, huge European tubs); the finest Eastern traditions (a full Japanese-style traditional bath and various exotic treatments from India); and the lure of the islands (tropical foliage, ancient Hawaiian treatments, and island products). This spa has everything, from a top fitness center to a menu of classes, and is constantly on the cutting edge of the latest trends. On Kauai, the luxurious ANARA Spa at the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa (tel. 800/55-HYATT or 808/742-1234; www.kauai.hyatt.com) is the place to get rid of stress and be soothed and pampered in a Hawaiian atmosphere, where the spirit of aloha reigns. An elegant 25,000-square-foot spa, ANARA (A New Age Restorative Approach) focuses on Hawaiian culture and healing, with some 16 treatment rooms, a lap pool, fitness facilities, lava rock showers that open to the tropical air, outdoor whirlpools, a 24-head Swiss shower, Turkish steam rooms, Finnish saunas, and botanical soaking tubs. And, on Oahu, Ihilani Spa at the J. W. Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina Resort (tel. 800/626-4446; www.ihilani.com), is an oasis by the sea. This freestanding, 35,000-square-foot facility is dedicated to the traditional spa definition of "health by water." The modern, multistoried spa, with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls looking out on tropical plants, combines Hawaiian products with traditional therapies to produce some of the best water treatments in the state. You'll also find a fitness center, tennis courts, and a bevy of aerobic and stretching classes.
Best Room Service: Oahu's Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa (tel. 800-HILTONS; www.hawaiianvillage.hilton.com) not only has a great menu and prompt room service, but the entire megaresort is kid-friendly. The Rainbow Express is the Hilton's year-round daily program of activities for children 5 to 12. Wildlife parades about the restaurants, where kids 4 to 11 eat free.
Best Lagoon: My pick is Oahu's Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hawaii tel. 800/367-2525; www.mandarinoriental.com). The lush, tropical grounds at this resort far from Waikiki include an 800-foot crescent-shaped beach and a 26,000-square-foot lagoon (home to two bottle-nosed dolphins, sea turtles, and tropical fish). Views from the floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors are of the ocean, Diamond Head, and Koko Head. The resort offers a "keiki club" for kids, with activities ranging from lei making to snorkeling.