I spent a week on the island of Hawaii in 2016 and was blown away by this magical wonderful place! While I of course intend on visiting the other islands, honestly my expectations were far exceeded and would be very much happy to return time and time again. I'd like to share with you of my some experiences, must see spots, favorite highlights and helpful hints! I will preface by letting you know that as far as vacations go, I am more interested in doing and seeing things vs. hanging out on the beach and relaxing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy lounging but when I'm in an exotic place I want to get the most bang for my buck and experience all the destination has to offer. For most of my career in the travel industry I worked for an escorted tour company. The trips I experienced had pre-planned and included activities and touring throughout. The upside to this type of travel product is obviously not having to plan or evaluate the must-see places and just go along for the ride. This trip to Hawaii was quite the opposite as we rented a car and condo and conquered on our own. Much of my commentary and guidance is based on the popular guide book Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Daughty & Leona Boyd – HEREon Amazon. While I HIGHLY recommend this guide book it is very long, very detailed and I was not crazy about how it was organized. True to my procrastinating form I didn't start looking at the book until the flight over. I was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of information and countless must-see places (Real Gems is what they call them) to visit according to the book. Here is my quick overview, favorite places and tips from our week. Enjoy and please leave questions & comments below!
Please refer to the corresponding GOOGLE MAP
The Kailua-Kona Area:
Most tourists spend the bulk of their time on this side of the island and there are many accommodation options such as hotel & condo rentals. When you arrive at the airport in Kona, don't be alarmed by the landscape as it looks a bit dreadful! Lush bounty is aplenty as you move around this volcanic landscape. There are mind-boggling idyllic coves and beach paradises hidden and peppered along the coast.
In general, the guide book makes very good recommendations for restaurants. I will say the exception is in Kailua. They are pretty critical of the touristy restaurants right downtown. Yes they are all fairly pricey but we never had a bad meal. When I say pricey, I would compare the prices to any touristy hub in the US like Vail and Colorado ski towns, major cities, coastal hot spots, etc. Don’t concern yourself too much with picking one that doesn’t have a good review in the book. We REALLY enjoyed the spots with great views for happy hour & sunsets. There is a free parking lot right downtown and is close to everything. We never had trouble parking.
Restaurants we liked:
If you've rented a condo - try to eat at home or picnic 2 meals a day and that will save you some $. We did that and splurged a little on nice meals and mai tais for dinner & happy hour!
Get up early and get there if you can only spend the day. The better option is to plan one or two nights on the other side in order to make the most of your visit to the Volcano. The Kilauea-Iki Crater hike is ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. This is literally one of my most favorite things I've done in all my travels. Not kidding. It is about 3 miles and takes a couple of hours. We started from the main visitor center but drive over to the parking area near the crater and start your hike there. You can get a little guide book for the hike at the visitor center for a couple of bucks and it’s worth it. There are other awesome things to see at the park but we were so tired after the hike we didn’t do much else. Checked out the overlooks to the big crater and the steam vents and drove around but that is about it. You could really spend a whole day here! Bring picnic food, the only restaurant we found was fancy. UPDATE: there have been major eruptions and lava flow since I was there. Probably a lot more to see and a lot more that is inaccessible!
GENERAL TIPS, PACKING & RANDOM STUFF:
Check out these stunning, under-the-radar travel destinations!
Huahine, French Polynesia
With its lush forests and untamed landscape, Huahine is Polynesia’s best-kept secret. A deep, crystal-clear lagoon surrounds the two islands while magnificent bays and white-sand beaches add drama and solitude to their virtues. Huahine’s few residents are warm, welcoming visitors with great kindness. With its rich and fertile soil, the island provides farmers bountiful harvests of vanilla, melons, and bananas.
Where to Stay: Maitai Lapita Village
Maitai Lapita Village is perfectly situated for guests to discover the unspoiled island of Huahine. Lounge on the beautiful beach and watch spectacular sunsets over the neighbor island Raiatea or enjoy the serenity of the lily pond.
It’s said that Ireland, once visited, is never forgotten. The Irish landscape has a mythic resonance, the country’s history is almost tangible, and its people seem put on earth expressly to restore faith in humanity. History lives on in the gently rolling hills and placid lakes of Cavan. Vistors can tour the picturesque countryside and visit real castles, tall walls still standing after hundreds of years.
Where to stay:
Set deep in the Cavan countryside is the magnificent 19th century Cabra Castle Hotel. The hotel offers a range of luxury accommodations, from authentic, medieval-style Castle rooms, to the artisan-style accommodations of the Courtyard, featuring old stone walls and delightful views of the walled garden.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Located in the heart of the South Pacific, halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, this country of 15 islands is secluded and off the beaten path. The Cook Islands are renowned for their idyllic climate, white sandy beaches, and spectacular scuba-diving sites. The largest island, Rarotonga, features volcanic peaks, raiorest and coral reefs. North of Rarotonga is Aitutaki, nicknamed the Honeymoon Island, with crystal clear lagoons and superb beaches
Where to stay: Tamanu Beach
The land on which Tamanu Beach is built bears the traditional name ‘Are Tamanu,’ which means ‘house of the mahogany tree’. In keeping with its traditional name, Tamanu Beach has 22 premiere self-catering and individual bungalows featuring Tamanu floors and Cook Island style thatched roofs.
Located in the Mexican state of Colima along Mexico’s sun-drenched Pacific coast, Manzanillo’s two bays, Bahía de Manzanillo and Bahía de Santiago, offer a plethora of coral reefs, underwater shipwrecks and dive sites.
Where to Stay: Barcelo Karmina
Barcelo Karmina is an all-inclusive resort that pampers you in an enchanting paradise with eight lushly landscaped, inter-connected swimming pools, a kid’s club, three restaurants, five bars, along with daily and nightly activities and a private beach with water sports.
Hakone is a quiet town in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, popular as a day trip for Tokyo residents looking to escape the city. The natural beauty here is overwhelming, with soaring hills, thick cedar forests and an inspiring view of Mt. Fuji. Hakone is the perfect place for relaxation and sightseeing. Volcanic hot springs are common here, and the best way to take advantage of them is by visiting an onsen, a public bath built around natural hot springs.
Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort and Spa
The at-home comfort of a mountain lodge meets contemporary sophistication at Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort and Spa. Set in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, this hot spring getaway invites relaxation with serene spaces, plenty of nature, and warm hospitality.
River cruising is a LOVELY way to experience Europe! It has become extremely popular over the last decade and even more so in the last five years. Things have changed quite a lot in that time as well. Some aspects have presented challenges. However, most change have been great for the industry and for travel enthusiasts!
Recent changes include innovations in ship design, amenities and unique product offerings. But the biggest change is simply the unprecedented growth of the market. Demand has increased significantly and in response to the demand, the cruise lines are building new ships each year. As an example, a single company arguably flooded the market by releasing 12 new ships into the European river cruise market in 2015.
The positive result of increased product supply and competition is better service, amenities and sightseeing options for the travelers. This requires the cruise lines to handle challenges with ingenuity, innovation and stellar management strategies. Behind the scenes staff and management have been forced to adapt to larger operations. Most of this is good news for the guests enjoying the rivers!
Here is some insider info, tips, what to expect & ways to maximize your European river cruise experience:
Thanks for reading! HAPPY CRUISING!
Traveling soon? This post was originally written for traveling to Europe but most of this can be applied to worldwide travel! Packing and planning can get a little overwhelming but don't worry because here are some great tips, lists and packing advice! Here is a handy checklist too, CLICK HERE!
For cash you can bring US dollars and exchange at a money exchange office OR bring local currency from your bank. However, the most convenient option (and best exchange rates) is to bring a debit card and take out cash from ATM machines at your destination. Usually you will find an ATM machine at the airport when you arrive or right near your first hotel. Some people prefer to have a little bit of local currency prior to arrival but please note that most European airport money exchange counters are notorious for having horrendous exchange rates. When you use your debit card to withdraw cash from the ATM there will be fees (usually 1-2% for international transactions plus outside bank ATM fees, check with your bank). Even with the fees, the exchange rates are so good that it ends up being a better deal than exchanging money at a bank or a money exchange office. Try to estimate how much money you'll need for a few days, perhaps withdraw $100-$200 each time. You do not want to be carrying too much cash at one time but you do want to minimize the number of ATM withdrawals so you don't end up with a lot of fees. Always bring at least two cards and keep them in separate places in case you lose one. Credit cards are great too for larger purchases like shopping, excursions and nice dinners. Make sure your cards have chip technology. Be sure to know what is expected as far as tipping and gratuities on your trip. IMPORTANT!!! PLEASE BE AWARE OF THE ATM MACHINES YOU USE AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE EXCHANGE RATE - THIS IS LEGITIMATE: