Aloha Trippin’ Midwest Mam readers!
Welcome to the third and final installment of Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s Oahu series. We’re going to have some fun chatting about the island’s top tourist attractions and determining if they are the right match for your “vacation personality type.”
The words “Tourist Attraction” might conjure thoughts of the dreaded “3C’s.”
Crowds, Cost and Commercialism.
But here’s something I’ve learned about Oahu’s top tourist attractions:
-COST: Many are free or low cost; others can be pricey, but provide guided tours, specialty meals or high quality, live entertainment.
-COMMERCIALISM: Not so much. With this much natural beauty, authentic culture and meaningful history going for it, flashing lights and billboards only get in the way.
-CROWDS: Sure, you’re sharing Oahu with other people. But many places are designed to accommodate plenty of tourist traffic. If crowds are your greatest deterrent, take advantage of the time change and arrive at opening.
Your vacation personality type: You love amazing views from great heights, aren’t scared of some exercise or sweat and don’t mind crowds.
Cost: $5 per car or $1 per pedestrian
This extinct volcano was once a military station. Now over 3,000 people visit each day to take the .8 mile hike to the edge of the crater and gaze over stunning views of Oahu’s coastline.
Wear comfy shoes. Portions of the hike can be narrow, uneven and quite steep (especially at the end).
Many little stop-off points along the way allow people to take photos or rest.
Don’t be intimidated. Even though it’s a bit of a hike, there were people of all ages and sizes on this hike, from seniors to babies in carriers to chubby travel bloggers.
Just pace yourself, and you’ll get there.
And yes, it’s crowded. Especially at the top.
Without a doubt, bring water. You will be sipping it at every stop along the way up.
While it’s open until 6 p.m., the last hikers are allowed to start their journey no later than 4:30 p.m.
2) Kualoa Ranch:
Your vacation personality type: You enjoy guided tours through jaw-dropping landscapes; you are a Hollywood movie buff; you don’t mind sharing tours with multi-lingual crowds and guides; you love a variety of tour/transportation options.
Cost: Varies. Anyone can swing by the ranch at no cost, but tours start at $45 on up.
If you’ve seen any of the Jurrassic Park movies, you’ve already sampled the scenery at Kualoa Ranch. This place is the go-to spot for Hollywood blockbusters featuring a tropical setting or exotic backdrop.
While it’s somewhat commercialized to draw tourists, the scenery is unspoiled and jaw-dropping all the same.
Each tour has its own mode of transportation. Dress accordingly, because what may be appropriate for a boat or bus tour won’t suffice for a horse or ATV ride.
Keep in mind if you’re on an ATV or horse, you’re not going to be racing about freely with the wind on your face. Instead, you’ll be part of a long line-up of guests with a guide setting the pace.
Kualoa Ranch is extremely popular with Japanese visitors, so don’t be surprised if Americans are the minority on a tour. No worries! Either way, guides are provided for both languages.
If you’re there for the ranch’s cinematic connection, you’ll want to select one of the movie tours.
Your vacation personality type: You love stunning scenery; great snorkeling; beach lounging.
Cost: $7.50 plus $1 to park; 12 & under free
Formed inside a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay is considered one of the best locations for snorkeling. Past crowds have threatened the pristine marine ecosystem, but enhanced education and tighter management have turned things around.
If you are super thrifty and hate crowds, get there at the 6 a.m. opening. We not only skipped the required video and entry fee, but we got to watch the sunrise over the Bay!
The parking lot does fill up; you can wait in line with the other cars to get a spot or try alternate transportation options.
Even if you are early and skip the educational video, remember to AVOID physical contact with the coral (it’s a living thing, after all) and respect all the marine life. We saw some guy actually standing on the coral in the middle of the water. And everyone else on the beach agreed he was an idiot. Don’t be that guy.
While you’re packing your beach bag, include a small cooler of drinks and snacks. While they sell food at the top of the hill, once you hike/shuttle down to the beach, there are no food vendors at the beach. Oh, and no big coolers allowed.
You can rent snorkel gear, but if you plan on doing any other snorkeling, I suggest you bring your own. Grab a swim shirt and water socks while you’re at it.
Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday. Check out their FAQ page for more details.
4) Waimea Valley:
Your vacation personality type: You love leisurely strolls through lush, green surroundings; always dreamed of swimming in a waterfall; want to learn more about Hawaiian culture.
Cost: $16 adults; $12 students and seniors; $8 kids 4-12
Ancient Hawaiian history, sacred religious traditions and natural beauty are all part of the Waimea Valley story.
The entry point has shops, dining options and a variety of colorful, feathered locals wandering about.
There’s a calendar of special events, which includes a Farmer’s Market every Thursday at 2 p.m.
You can purchase a shuttle ride to or from the falls. But I think the mellow 1.5 mile roundtrip walk was my favorite part. Wide paths are stroller friendly.
You are permitted to swim at the waterfall with a life vest (rental available) if conditions are suitable. Call (808) 638-7766 to check first if swimming is important.
If you’re interested in Hawaiian culture or botany, consider taking one of the corresponding complimentary walking tours.
Your vacation personality type: You love history and interactive cultural demonstrations; enjoy relaxing for a bit while taking in a big stage production; are looking for an excellent luau option; are up for a little retail therapy with a cultural twist.
Cost: $72-$240 (depending on age and ticket package); some free options (see tips)
“PCC prides itself on being historically and traditionally accurate, which is why our Aliʻi Luau is award winning and one of the best luaus in Hawaiʻi,” Rachel Sipes, public relations, explained in an email to Trippin’ Midwest Mama.
While the Polynesian Cultural Center is famous for its luau, you can easily spend an entire day here as you travel through time to experience the heritage and culture of six different island nations. You’ll want to set aside plenty of time to experience the many interactive demonstrations, exhibits and shows.
The night show that follows the luau, “Ha: Breath of Life,” earns rave reviews, and if your schedule is tight or you already have dinner plans, you still can consider show-only tickets like we did ($67 for adults, $55 ages 4-11). No, you won’t find them online, but you can purchase them at the box office or check with your resort concierge.
Hukilau Marketplace, at the entrance of the Polynesian Cultural Center, is free to the public. Here, you’ll find charming array of shops, restaurants, live entertainment and local craftspeople. Even if you have no tickets, it’s really just a fun place to spend a laid-back evening.
Sports fans will also want to swing by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which is also open and free to the public.
6) Pearl Harbor:
Cost: Free, unless you purchase a tour upgrade option.
Your vacation personality type: You’re a war or history buff; you want to pay your respects to our nation’s fallen heroes; you want a better understanding of the events that led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and what followed.
For many visitors to Hawaii, Pearl Harbor is at the very top of their “must see” list. Pearl Harbor allows guests to thoughtfully reflect on the series of events of that led to the US entering WWII while paying their respects to the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in a surprise attack by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Many visitors to other Hawaiian Islands fly into Oahu for a day just to visit this historic site.
Only 1,300 tickets are released per day, so they often sell out. You can either purchase 2 months in advance, or wait for the 24-hour window when the park releases additional tickets. While it’s more of a gamble, during both of my recent visits, we were able to secure the 24-hour tickets.
Many resorts offer Pearl Harbor tours at a higher cost with transportation included. If you can drive or Uber there, secure your own tickets and visit at your own pace, I really don’t see the point of spending the extra money.
Your free ticket includes campus/museum access, a short film, and a US Navy operated boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial. Upgrades include a headset/audio tour or access to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. These can increase your cost significantly, but make for a full day of activities.
If you only have a couple hours, opt for only the free USS Arizona tour; however, I also recommend the audio tour upgrade (only $7.50 extra) to hear personal, first-hand accounts from the survivors who experienced it.
If the conditions aren’t accommodating, there’s chance your boat will sail by the memorial site rather than dock. That actually happened to us on my second visit, and I won’t lie. It was disappointing, but the visit was still worthwhile.
Years ago, there may have been issues with noisy, clueless tourists behaving less than respectfully at Pearl Harbor; that has changed. Tour guides and the film make it clear that this is a place for thoughtful, respectful reflection.
Travel light, because bags of ANY SIZE aren’t allowed. If you can’t fit it in your pocket, leave it behind. However, in a pinch, there is storage available at $3/bag.
There’s a reason these six sites are at the top of a tourist’s itinerary. From historical significance to dream-like scenery, each has something special to offer visitors who make the journey to Oahu.
The good news is that with proper planning, visiting them doesn’t haven’t to break your budget or cause undue stress. And each experience can be adjusted to fit your schedule, whether you’re looking spend a full day or a couple hours.
Guess what? This concludes my 3-part Oahu series. Mahalo for joining me on my Oahu adventures! Hope you enjoyed tagging along as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you.
You can find links the the other two here:
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If you have any questions, comments or advice of your own to share, please leave a comment! I love to hear from my readers.