Falling in Love Again ... with Kauai
Regardless of how much you’ve traveled, some destinations will capture and hold a special place in your heart. It could be the memories they evoke, the senses they awaken, the feelings they foster.
For my wife and I, one of those heartfelt places is Kauai. We first visited the Hawaii’s "garden isle" on our honeymoon more than a decade ago, and returned the same resort to celebrate five years later.
But ever since Hawaiian Airlines launched a nonstop route from JFK to Honolulu a couple years ago, I’d tracked the fare. First it was a shock to see it under $500, then it snuck under $450 and so on. For several months, we resisted the urge and did the sensible thing.
Hawaii just wasn’t in our plans.
But when the fare dropped to a jaw-dropping $365 roundtrip, we threw those plans out the window -- especially when we found out it was less than $15 more to connect over to Kauai.
Combine that with a Top 20 deal we had running at the Grand Hyatt Kauai -- a Conde Nast Traveler Gold List resort we had stayed at twice before -- and it was time to pack those bags. We had to act fast, the fare was very last minute, so off we flew just three weeks later.
Since we had last visited Kauai, a lot had changed in our lives -- our family has expanded, I started working for Travelzoo, we’ve moved from Chicago to the East Coast. But upon returning to Kauai this past spring, it was very comforting to realize that for us, very little had changed about Kauai. It still had that special place in our heart.
We made a conscious effort not to overschedule our five-night trip. After all, we’d already "been there, done that" for must-sees such as Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast. So we focused this trip on R&R, and trying some new things. We tried poke (pronounced POKE-y). We decided to stay on the north side of the island for a few nights at the St. Regis Princeville. We hit up friends for tips and recommendations on restaurants to try.
And after a few relaxing days in paradise, we were back in love with Kauai, and ready for our next trip.
Tips for your first (or next) trip to Kauai:
- When in Kauai, eat the pineapple. Every chance you get. It’s amazing.
- When visiting the Waimea Canyon, bring a light jacket even if it’s sunny at your resort. Rains come and go quickly on the garden isle, and while you’re hiking through a tropical forest it will rain. Drive all the way up to the observation point, you can peak down over the Na Pali Coast for a truly memorable view that photos don’t do justice.
- Go for poke where you see locals lining up out the door. That’s a good sign. And don’t forget to get some Kailua pork while you’re at it. They make a mean pig in Kauai.
- Although there aren’t as many resorts on the northern part of the island near Princeville, it’s worth the trip. We split our trip and stayed for two nights at the St. Regis Princeville, and the view from our room of Hanalei Bay was incredible.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get around -- there’s really only one main road on the island going north-south, and it’s mostly two lanes. You can generally get from Princeville in the north to Poipu in the south in about 90 minutes. Lihue, where the airport is located, is halfway in between. Despite being old pros at Kauai, we misjudged our return trip and had to make the costly decision to return the rental car without filling the gas tank because we were out of time.
- Go out to eat off the resort. Although the Grand Hyatt and St. Regis have great dining options, we had our favorite meals off the resort. The Tavern at Princeville Golf Course was a hidden gem not far from the St. Regis. You’ll pay a bit more to eat in Hawaii than you would on the mainland.
- If you’re planning a long-ish stay, check to see if the resort offers any deals with free nights. That can help bring the average nightly rate down for your stay. And if breakfast is included, a big first meal can cut down on your dining costs later in the day.
- Pack light and hit up the Walmart near the Lihue airport upon arrival to stock up on sunscreen, snacks and such. That will save you the airline baggage fees.
- Although I’m usually a strong advocate of nonstop flights, the 11-hour flight to Hawaii from NYC was just about my limit. In hindsight, we might have considered breaking it up with a stop in Los Angeles or San Francisco, even just to get off the plane and walk around.
- It’s worth joining hotel loyalty programs. By signing up for Starwood Preferred Guest (for free), we saved about $300 off the regular cost of a room at the St. Regis Princeville. And that’s without any status or points we could apply.