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This is a long trip report but my philosophy on trip reports is to write everything on a destination in one shot as opposed to dragging it out into dozens of annoying installments. I’m always open to suggestions and criticisms though, so sound off in the comments. Posts like these take days to write so your feedback is appreciated!
It’s not much of a secret that I have a bit of a love affair with the Hawaiian islands.
$87 was the cost for my hotel and airfare on my first trip in 2006. I’ve been back 5 times since.
In this post I’ve included activities and pictures from 5 trips to Kauai.
Why go back to the same place so many times? I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many far-flung corners of the world but there’s no place where I’m in as good of a place of mind as Hawaii. The air is fresh, the people friendly, the water warm, the scenery extraordinary, and last but not least as a US state it has nearly all of the creature comforts of being back home. You can really appreciate our wondrous world when in Hawaii.
We got back from Kauai and Maui 2 weeks ago, it was our first big trip since Talia was born. Talia was 4.5 months at the start of this trip and Rafi was 2.5 years old.
More on the trip after the jump…
Previous trip reports:
-Hawaii Trip Notes: Oahu (2009)
–Hawaii Trip Notes: Kauai (2009)
–The Hawaiian Islands (2011)
–Traveling To Hawaii…With A 5 Month Old (2011)
And one of these days I really ought to write up a trip report on Maui and The Big Island.
DDF forum threads:
–Hawaii Master Thread: General Questions And Which Island To Visit?
–Big Island Of Hawaii Master Thread
-Kauai Master Thread
–Maui Master Thread
-Oahu Master Thread
It is criminal to go to Hawaii without reading the revealed book for the island you’re going to. I only wish I could get a fun to read book like Kauai Revealed for everywhere in the world.
One thing not to worry about in Hawaii is the weather forecast. It’s usually wrong. Besides if you don’t like the weather just drive a bit. On the small island of Kauai you have some of the wettest and some of the driest spots on this planet.
Flying with kids:
While we brought Rafi along as a lap-child to Hawaii when he was 4.5 months old, we weren’t about to do that again. Long-haul travel is far more enjoyable when your child has a seat, and it’s safer as well.
Until your kid can move around, flying is relatively easy. Once they hit a year old they don’t want to be cooped up and they can’t yet be distracted by technology, so it makes flying a challenge until they’re old enough to be distracted.
Talia sat in her Chicco Keyfit 30 infant carseat on the flight and she was incredible. We were debating whether to have Rafi sit in his convertible carseat or not but we decided to bring it onboard because he knows how to open airplane buckles very easily. We have a travel sized Cosco Scenara convertible carseat which is a absolute must have.
We pushed Rafi through the airport with a GoGo Babyz Travelmate and Talia’s carseat was attached to our UppaBaby Vista. We don’t have a double stroller, we just use the rumble seat when Rafi isn’t interested or can’t walk himself.
We brought along toys like mess-free Color Wonder markers and paper, an etch-a-sketch, and we picked up an Android tablet before the trip for him to play games on and watch music with kids safety headphones while flying. I don’t normally believe in giving a 2 year old a tablet just like that, but on a plane anything that will keep him happy and save us from getting looks from other passengers is worthwhile.
I loaded the tablet up with some his favorite music videos like Benny Friedman’s Yesh Tikva, 8th Day’s Yalili and All you got, Lipa’s Hang up the phone, and the Yeshiva Boys Choir’s Kol Hamispalel. I used Tubemate to save them on the Tablet from YouTube to be used in offline mode on the plane and MX Player to be able to lock the video while he watches it.
I also put on some games such as Cookie Bake that he just loved as well.
The flight there was an incredible success, people even commented on how well our kids traveled. Then again with 56 flights under his belt Rafi has been on more flights than some adults have…
The last true first class to Hawaii:
United is discontinuing their 3 class first class service to Hawaii, so that is something I wanted to try out. That meant flying to Kauai from Cleveland via Houston and Honolulu. The cost to do that was a whopping 55,000 United miles per passenger in saver first class, by far the most I’ve ever spent on a domestic one-way ticket. But hey, you only live once and you can get more than that by opening a single United credit card!
A quick search shows a smattering of 3 cabin first class saver award space between Houston or S. Francisco and Honolulu in March.
Our flight from Cleveland departed at 6am which meant waking the kids up really early. Luckily it wasn’t too painful and you can’t really worry about messing up a kids schedule when you’re flying them 5 timezones away.
The Houston E concourse United Club has a great kids room where Rafi got to let out some energy and climb on the furniture without bothering anyone else. Most of the old Continental lounges have kids rooms, you just have to ask the front desk to let you into them:
Then it was onto our 8+ hour flight to Honolulu. First class on this 3 cabin 777 has 3 rows of a 1-2-1 configuration. Sure it’s really dated, but the seats were very comfy:
The footwell is generously sized in all seats which makes sleeping comfortable. There is video on demand…from the 80s. There are lots of different available movies on cassettes that you insert into your seat’s player and watch on the tiny screen:
Throughout the flight there were snacks and movies for the first class cabin to choose from:
Domestic kosher meals usually stink. The caterer for this flight was Borenstein’s. As usual the first course was served frozen solid. Nothing like trying to eat frozen fish or couscous…
There was a choice of chicken or beef. The chicken was edible but the beef with carrots and peas looked and tasted like a La Briute shelf stable self-heating meal:
After a stopover and change of terminal in Honolulu, we went on our 3rd flight of the day to Kauai. Then it was off to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt in the sun-kissed city of Poipu on the south shore of Kauai.
Grand Hyatt Kauai:
I used a status match to get the Hyatt diamond challenge with 4 confirmed suite upgrades. You can use 25,000 points for a free night or with Hyatt’s new points and cash award a room is just 12,500 points plus $150. You can use a confirmed suite upgrade on points and cash awards as well! We stayed 6 nights which earned a 1,000 point diamond amenity, 1,000 points per night with the challenge, and 6.5 points per dollar spent.
In the past they have upgraded me to an Ocean Suite, which is the same thing as a garden suite but on a higher floor and with a nice balcony to watch the ocean. This time they wanted $150/night extra so I passed on that. Note that cellular service can be spotty on the ground floor.
Rollaways and cribs are free. Laundry facilities are free but soap is not, so bring along some Tide Pods.
The Grand Hyatt underwent a renovation since we last stayed there in 2009 and they did a great job sprucing up the rooms. They also switched from Hyatt’s generic toiletries to custom made Coco Mango toiletries that are just awesome. I’ve been using the leftovers since I got home. The Hyatt Grand Bed setup that they have is incredible as well.
The Anara Spa at the Grand Hyatt offers free spa access for diamond members, so you can use an outdoor lava shower, steam/sauna rooms, or the spa pools even without a treatment. They had an unadvertised special on Super Bowl Sunday for 20% off treatments that can be done in an outdoor bungalow, so be sure to call and ask about specials.
This was our 3rd time staying in the Grand Hyatt. On our last trip to Kauai in 2011 we stayed on the north shore of Kauai in the S. Regis Princeville using Starwood’s awesome free resort night promotion that they had run that summer.
On my first trip to Kauai before I was married my family had rented a condo in Poipu using VRBO.com We had gotten $150 flights to Hawaii back then (though it involved driving to Detroit to fly) and a condo is definitely the way to go for large families (I’m the oldest of 6 boys).
In total I’ve been to Kauai 3 times before having kids and 2 times since. Obviously many activities don’t work out well with kids so it was nice to have done many of them beforehand. When we go now it’s more about relaxing than trying to find new things to do.
Pictures of the Grand Hyatt Garden Suite:
Japanese style toilet with heated seat and built-in bidet:
You’ll never lack coffee in your suite:
The grounds of the Grand Hyatt Kauai are truly stunning:
Here are the views you get from the balcony of an ocean suite:
It’s the pools here that are really awesome. I do wish they kept them a little bit warmer as they can be a bit chilly at times. On the upper level is an adult pool as well as a lazy river pool where you can hide behind waterfalls. Then you can take a waterslide or stairs down to the lower pools or the saltwater lagoon. My beef with the lagoon is that the imported sand feels more like rocks…
1 of several hot tubs hides out at the upper pools:
Make your way down to the lower pools via waterslide, ramp, or stairs:
Rafi loved shooting hoops while I held him up near the basket at the lower pools:
The saltwater lagoon stretches on and on. There is daily free scuba lessons in the lagoon and people even kayak in the lagoon:
There are several water stations by the lower pools. I’m not sure why they aren’t also at the upper pools.
The hotel says that they have a dedicated fruit cutting station for all fruit in the hotel:
Tropical animals abound:
Shabbos and kosher in Hawaii:
Shabbos in a hotel has its challenges. Here is what we needed to do to shabbos-proof our room:
1. Enable VIP mode on A/C unit in both suite bedroom and living room which deactivates the balcony door sensors. To do that:
-While you are holding “display”
-Press “off”, then
-Press “Up” arrow
-Then release “display”
2. Tape sensor located by the front door with a paper towel. Not really sure if this sensor did anything but did it anyway.
3. Tape closet ceiling sensors with paper towel so that the motion light doesn’t go on when you enter.
4. Unplug japanese style toilet warmer/bidet.
5. Put valuables in safe, put on do not disturb sign, and tape the door unlocked so that the electronic key won’t be required for entry. I place a piece of cardboard over where the lock would normally enter, thus enabling you to open the door at will. Just deadbolt it at night!
Some authorities hold that you need to keep 2 days of shabbos when in Hawaii, so talk about that with your Rabbi before you go.
Meals in Hawaii are always a challenge but there are lots of options.
1. Make your own food and freeze it several days beforehand . Even with the long flights it stays frozen in the belly of the plane.
We’ve brought foods like French Toast, Burgers, Calzones, Meat Sauce, Deli Meat, Shnitzel, Brisket, etc. They all freeze fine.
2. Buy double wrapped food from a place like Pomegranate.
3. Buy food from Oahu Kosher, Chabad of the Big Island, Chabad of Maui, etc.
4. Buy food from local grocery stores, Costco, WalMart, etc.
As Diamond members the chef there agreed to give us daily kosher breakfast from Oahu Kosher in lieu of the standard kosher breakfast:
The waffles and pancakes weren’t bad but the hash browns, aka latka, may have been the best part. Normally these are $15 each from the kosher menu at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. We also got daily bagels that are normally $5.
In the past we just used a double burner to heat up food, boil pasta, make soup, etc.
For the first time on this trip though we had a toaster oven picked up from WalMart in Kauai by a DDF member before our trip.
It was a huge convenience. It easily was able to warm up 4 Pomegranate sized meals, something that would be quite the challenge with the double burner.
For one night we had dinner from the Oahu Kosher menu in Tidepools:
View from a table at Tidepools:
A delicious challah roll ($4) with good minestrone soup ($8):
Sesame chicken ($35) was decent. Again, these are frozen meals that are reheated. (The following week in Maui we had this dish shipped fresh from Oahu. It was significantly better):
Same story with the French Roast ($35). You’re probably better off ordering it fresh from Oahu Kosher than eating it reheated from the Grand Hyatt. However the stocked items at the Grand Hyatt are convenient if you just want to have one dinner in a stunning setting:
Mushroom Potato Knishes ($12) were very good:
Brownie ($8) was very good:
The Boston Cream Pie ($8) may look like a train wreck, but it was absolutely delicious:
Shipwrecks Beach at the Grand Hyatt is just OK. Poipu Beach is a world-class beach and is just a 3 minute drive away.
At Poipu Beach you can snorkel with massive green sea turtles or see a Monk Seal chilling on the beach:
Kauai has some great farmers markets where you can get delicious homegrown pineapple, rambutan, passion fruit, and other goodies for a fraction of the price you’d pay back home.
We went to the Friday afternoon market in Lihue and the Monday afternoon market in Koloa. Be sure to arrive when they open as they sell out quickly!
You can even get an avocado bigger than your hand:
S. Regis Princeville.
Let’s take a step back to my 2011 trip and compare the Grand Hyatt to the S. Regis Princeville.
Most rooms in the hotel do not have balconies. As a SPG Platinum member we were upgraded to a junior suite, which was just a longer room. We were offered a balcony suite for $150 per day but turned that down.
Rafi was given a S. Regis branded plush whale upon checkin.
The S. Regis offers more personal service and has a more luxurious feel than the Grand Hyatt. It also offers views that are unparalleled. However it rains much more on the north shore and in the winter time the oceans up north can be dangerous to swim in. While the temperature in Hawaii doesn’t change much between the summer and winter, it is rainier in the winter. I still prefer winter trips as I find vacations to warm places to be more enjoyable when escaping the cold. The trick is finding the dry places to stay in and the south shore of Kauai is definitely drier.
However plenty prefer staying in the more luscious northern half and the Chabad shul can be found up north in Princeville as well.
Personally I found the service to be a bit too much in your face. They seemed to be trained to find something in common with each guest. Coincidentally, several employees magically had children with the same exact birthday as Rafi. I also prefer using the ice machines in the hallway than having to call a butler to get ice. And no, I don’t need a butler sorting through my underwear and I’m not sure what else they’re there for. I guess I’m not the target market for that service.
Junior suite living room is the same room as the bedroom:
The glass in the bathroom can frost over with the touch of a button and serves a real function (the view!) unlike the glass in the Mamilla Jerusalem:
View from the room:
The pools were very nice but can’t compete with the Grand Hyatt:
The beach setup is much nicer than at the Hyatt and the beach crew will set you up nicely:
The views from just the hallway are incredible here:
Kauai has plenty to do for the thrill-seekers, from ATV to zipline to ultralight aircraft flying.
But there’s also plenty to do on the cheap.
Driving to Polihale feels like driving to the end of civilization. But when you get there you’ll just be in awe at the sheer magnitude and tranquility of this miles and miles long beach with golden sunsets. If you have a 4WD vehicle you can even let some pressure out of your tires and ride up the 100 foot tall sand dunes.
Most of Polihale is unswimmable but Queen’s Pond offers a natural reef that calms down the waves 100 feet offshore and makes for a surreal place to dip your toes into the water:
At the other end is the awesome drive to the north shore where one-lane bridges abound in the lush scenery:
At the end of the road up North begins the most famous hike in Hawaii, the Kalalau Trail. I’ve yet to hike it, but one day I’ll conquer it. Permits and camping gear are required:
Wet and dry caves near Hanalei might not house a dragon but are fun to take a peak in:
Chickens and other birds are everywhere you go on Kauai:
Kipu Falls used to be accessible to all, but nowadays it seems that they don’t want tourists coming as some have died jumping in. Others drive-up falls like Wailua and Opaekaa are more accessible:
I pulled off Highway 50 after Malhuia Road onto a dirt road to take a phone call. This being Kauai the mundane dirt road led to this:
Waimea Canyon is known the the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Be sure to bring a jacket as it can be cool up here. From here you can view the canyon, the Na Pali coast, the forbidden island of Niihau, and go on countless hikes. A 4WD vehicle definitely comes in handy up here.
Kalalau Valley as seen from Kalalau Lookout:
With a 4WD vehicle you’ll access to tons of dirt roads which can lead you to a hidden oasis like this:
When in Waimea keep your eyes on all sides. Look at the canyon on the right and you’ll miss the small waterfalls off the road on the left:
Enjoying a hot meal in Waimea. La Briute meals such as Cheese Ravioli can be made edible by adding your own sauce and Parmesan cheese:
In 2009 my wife and I went on the all day Nu’alolo Trail / Cliffs / Awa-‘awapuhi Grand Loop Hike. The images and shared adventure from this hike are still frozen in my head:
From paved Makaha Ridge Road you can get some nice views before hitting a dead end at the military buildings at the end of the road:
The real payoff is taking a 4WD vehicle along unpaved Milolii Ridge Road. The driving will be bumpy and difficult at times and you will lose cell phone coverage but the views at the end are unreal. You can walk along the edge for as long as your nerves will carry you:
On our honeymoon trip we made the mistake of taking a “cruise” of Na Pali. While that might be a good idea in the summertime, this was winter and that meant very rough waters and a departure from the south shore instead of the more optimal north shore.
But while half the ship was throwing up I was snapping away:
Discounted gift cards:
Rather than a cruise you NEED to take a helicopter ride of Kauai. If you’re going to splurge on one activity this is it. Everyone walks off the helicopter with a look of pure ecstasy. There’s just so much beauty here, and almost all of it can’t be seen except by air.
Costco in Kauai sells discounted activity gift cards. On this trip they had 20% off gift cards for Blue Hawaiian Helicopter, Princeville Ranch Zipline and Horseback, and Holoholo Sightseeing and Snorkeling Cruises.
The gift cards say that Blue Hawaiian’s normal rate is $240 with tax and Costco sells $100 gift cards for $80. If you book in advance you can get a discount or if you book at the last minute ask for a 15% discount which will drop the price to $200 or just $160 with the Costco gift cards. And don’t forget to fill up on gas while at Costco where it’s significantly less than everywhere else on the island.
I hesitate to post pictures as they’re just an embarrassment to what the ride is really like, but at any rate:
Kayaking the Wailua River to Fern Grotto and then hiking to Secret Falls is definitely something you don’t want to miss:
Well that scratches the surface of Kauai, there are countless more things to do that I could talk about but I think I’ve rambled on enough already.
After 6 nights in Kauai we spent 7 in Maui. That’s up next!