Five reasons airline fees up 50% year-over-year

Does your wallet feel a little bit lighter? A new USA Today analysis reveals that airline fees are on the rise, with some up more than 50 percent relative to a year ago. The study compares the extra fees (not to be confused with fares) of 13 airlines and shows just how important this revenue source is to the airline sector.

According to USA Today, “The numerous fees are a sore subject for many fliers, but their dissatisfaction hasn’t deterred airlines from bringing in record revenue from additional fees.”

The fees were good for $2.1 billion last quarter, with $893 million of it coming from checked bags and $600 million from changed reservations.

So, where did all this money come from? Here are five ways airlines have turned those extra charges into a big business:

1. First checked bag: most airlines in the United States hit you for up to $25 for the first bag you check, with only Southwest and JetBlue abstaining. Most charged $15 a year ago, according to USA Today, with four not playing this aspect of the fee game.

2. Change fee spikes:
a year ago, the most expensive coach change fee was $250, charged by Continental, Delta, United Airlines and US Airways. This year, it surged to $300, an increase of 20 percent, charged by American Airlines for some international flights.

3. Pay to call: still resisting the internet? Booking by phone costs an extra $35 on US Airways, while Allegiant Air hits you for a $29.98 round-trip booking fee and another $14.99 for “convenience.”

4. Preferred seating: United asks for up to $159 for preferred seating, which can give you up to five more inches of leg room. A year ago, it would have set you back only $119.

5. Get a receipt: Continental (for which this isn’t new) – along with American, Hawaiian and US Airways – have an extra fee for passengers who want a receipt after they have taken their flights.

[photo by Deanster1983 via Flickr]

Maui on a budget – tacos, trailers, and cheap cars


Staying in a trailer, driving a 2003 Nissan Sentra, and eating tacos from a roadside truck may not be the first visual that comes to mind when you think “Maui vacation,” but budget travel does exist on this expensive island. Most would-be visitors think the words “Maui” and “budget” are somewhat of an oxymoron, and for the most part, they’re right. But in this land of expensive lunches and overpriced trinkets there are buried bargains to be discovered. The island is a haven for rich retirees, and this culture drives the cost of just about everything with a price tag. If it’s expensive dining, golf, and shopping you want, Maui will surely please. But for those who can barely afford the plane ticket from the mainland, here are a few tips that might make your Maui dream vacation seem a little more like an affordable mainland getaway.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user adam*b)

Cheap eats

Each of the main towns has its own affordable eateries that can keep you on track with your food budget. Hawaiian tourists know that there is phenomenal cuisine to be had on the islands, but sometimes you just need a quick bite while on the go that won’t bite back at your wallet. Fast food staples like Taco Bell, Subway, and McDonald’s can be found in all the more populated areas. Prices are close to that of the mainland and these less-than-par culinary stops can save you, since a typical lunch at a local cafe could run you $15-$20 per person.

Jawz TacosIf fast food isn’t your style there are local joints that offer alternatives to cardboard burgers and mass-produced tacos. In south Maui, try Cinnamon Roll Fair in Kihei. A cup of joe and a gargantuan sticky cinnamon roll will only set you back a matter of dollars and start your day off right. For lunch, swing down to the Big Beach area and look for the food trucks. The Jawz Tacos van will satisfy your Mexican food fix, and they even serve alcohol if you’re in the mood for a mid-day cocktail. If you’re in west Maui head to Star Noodle in Lahaina. Grab a bowl of Udon for just seven bucks and get your belly filled for the entire afternoon.Dining in – Costco

As soon as you sit down to your first meal on Maui you realize that eating can be one of the most expensive things you do here. An age-old budget strategy is to load up on groceries and eat in the room when on vacation. While this is certainly the way to go for saving you some coin, groceries on the island will cost more than elsewhere in the U.S. The thing to remember is that most everything needs to be imported from the mainland, whether that be Asia or North America. A long ocean journey means that you pay a premium so things can be transported to the islands.

Costco saves the day when it comes to budget grub. The wholesale grocer somehow gets things to the island with minimal up-charge. They also buy local when possible so seafood is not only affordable but of amazing quality and taste. If stocking up for a two week stay, or a family to eat on, this warehouse of food can save a bundle. When leaving the airport in Kahului, Costco will be on your left as you exit.

Two-for-ones

Maui, and Hawaii in general, are expensive places to live. But not everyone who plants their flag on this remote island chain drives a Land Rover and eats lobster every night. Much of the population is made up of transplants from the mainland U.S. and other countries around the pacific rim. These people are the ones who make this island tick by working in the restaurants, guiding the tourists, and harvesting the sugar cane. Where do these people go out to dinner if they don’t have a platinum Diners Club card?

Many restaurants offer two-for-one deals that are quite popular. Some restaurants run these specials on certain nights of the week and pack the place with locals and tourists alike hunting for an affordable meal. Some hotels even pass out coupon booklets to guests that feature the local two-for-ones. There are also twofers that go unadvertised. Residents ask for them by name. If you find yourself in a restaurant, have already been seated, and are smacked with sticker shock when you open the menu, simply ask what their two-for-one special is. If they have one, you’ll be glad you inquired.

Economy car rentals

Put simply, taxis are not economical on Maui, and public transit buses offer little flexibility. When visiting the island for more than a day, just rent a car. Shopping around for online coupons is one way to cut your rental expense, but if you aren’t picky about what you drive there are other ways. Local renters like Kihei Rent A Car, for instance, will rent an older model car for less than $150 a week. If you don’t mind rolling in a 2003 Nissan Sentra, you can save some serious cash.

Choosing a rental car that gets good mpg will also help you stretch your island dollar even further. Gas on Maui is expensive and pump prices are often $1-$2 higher per gallon than they are on the mainland. Choosing an economy or compact car will keep you on track with your budget, not to mention give you an advantage with parking since the island is filled with compact spaces.

When renting a car on Maui, the rental agency will most likely try to scare the living crap out of you. We endured a five minute lecture on how our first-born child would be confiscated if we brought the car back with dings or scratches. Your best strategy here is to listen politely and then scan the car for all existing damage. Use the crude automobile sketch the company provides and make sure you find a scratch on all sides of the car. This will prove priceless when you bring the car back and the person who checks you in finds a gash in the fender that wasn’t recorded by previous attendants.

Lodging

Condos and resorts dominate the lodging landscape of Maui. But don’t reel too hard at the sticker shock you’ll experience at these high-end hotels. Consider mainland staples like the Days Inn. Directly on the beach in Kihei and convenient to shopping and eating, this clean hotel is a hidden gem. Catching a room for $100 a night is not unheard of here.

If you want to go even cheaper and create a unique experience for yourself, check out Maui Bamboo Beach Cabanas. It may be a mouthful but it will save you a pocketful. These trailer-like beach huts are tucked into a private setting near Makena Beach. You won’t be beach side or have an on site masseuse, but you will be looking at $65 per night, which is as cheap as it gets on Maui.


When planning your Maui vacation, budget travel is not impossible. Spending a few hours delving into the web for bargains and taking the time to research your local restaurant options could keep you from breaking the bank. Reading through travel guides like Maui Revealed and website like AndHawaii.com will help you prepare for your budget trip to Maui ahead of time and allow you to avoid some of the expensive spending pitfalls to be had on the island.

Big Island Hawaii: Get your adventure on

There’s virtually no limit to the adventures you can have on the Big Island of Hawaii. SCUBA, snorkel, watch whales pass in season, take a helicopter flight over the island, or view lava up close from a boat, watching the fiery rivers pop and hiss as they land in the ocean. On the Kohala Coast, many of the resorts offer easy access to some of the island’s most unique activities. For others, well…you’ll need to get a bit more creative.

Stand-up paddleboarding
Kona Village resort offers guests several options for traditional Hawaiian water-sports, including stand-up paddleboarding, through its Alaka’i program. Alaka’i means “ambassadors of the waves” and the staff here really do try to fulfill that role by teaching guests not just about the logistics of each activity, but also about its historical and cultural significance to the islands. The Junior Alaka’i program is geared for kids 10-17 and includes three days of lessons in activities like paddleboarding, windsurfing, free diving, and outrigger canoeing. Guests at the Four Seasons Hualalai can also use the equipment at Kona Village.

Elsewhere on the Big Island, you can rent a board from Hilo’s What Sup Big Island, where daily paddleboard rental is $65, or $75 for a half day with lunch and beginner lesson.



Outrigger canoeing

Outrigger canoes, traditional Hawaiian boats, resemble regular canoes that have an added support (called an outrigger) added to one side. These canoes can go quite fast, and are more stable in rough waters than regular canoes. As part of Kona Village’s Alaka’i program, guests can learn to paddle one, and once they have successfully learned to maneuver a six-person outrigger canoe, they are free to use one and two-person canoes on their own for the remainder of their stay.

On the Kohala Coast, the Fairmont Orchid also offers outrigger canoe excursions and Sky Blue Canoe offers lessons and rentals. A 90-minute tour is $65.

Surf lessons
It’s practically sacrilege to go to Hawaii and not take a surf lesson. The instructors at Kona Mike’s Surf Adventures are all certified in CPR , First Aid, and professional rescue. Group lessons start at $99 and private lessons are $150 and each lesson includes two hours of in-water instruction.

Horseback riding
Hawaii’s Big Island has a surprising number of cattle ranches, all thanks to a few cattle who were gifted to King Kamehameha back at the end of the 18th century. When, a few decades later, those cattle had reproduced and began to be a nuisance, King Kamehameha III recruited some Mexican cowboys, which the locals dubbed “paniolos”, to handle the problem. Today, paniolos still work the ranches, many of which welcome guests for daily horseback rides. Na’ alapa Stables at Kahua Ranch is one of these. Located less than an hour north of Kona, the ranch offers 2.5 hour rides for just under $90. The price is well worth it for the beautiful views down to the ocean from the ranch’s 4000-foot elevation.



Snow skiing
Snow skiing…in Hawaii? That’s right. Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano, reaches over 13,000 feet above sea level (and over 30,000 above its base on the floor of the ocean, making it the tallest mountain in the world, technically). The top of the mountain is home to an observatory and is the ideal place to do some serious stargazing all year round. And thanks to the elevation of Mauna Kea, Hawaii actually has snow several months of the year! There’s just one catch to skiing Mauna Kea: there’s no ski resort there. So intrepid adventurers have a friend drive them up the mountain, where they strap on their own skis and snowboards (or just grab a sled…or even a cardboard box) and ski or sled down the mountain. If you want to ski in Mauna Kea, you can sign up with Ski Hawaii, which runs group tours for $250 per person, or rents equipment for as low as $50 per day.

Big Island Hawaii: Four Seasons Hualalai hotel review

As a budget traveler, I’ve always been averse to spending much more than $150 per night on a hotel room. I’ve always figured, “it’s just a room” and that aside from a comfortable bed in a quiet, clean building, I didn’t really need more much. I never thought I would consider spending $500 for a single night in a hotel. But all that changed when I stayed at the Four Seasons Hualalai on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Located at the southern end of the Kohala Coast, right next to the Kona Village resort and just 15 minutes or so from the Kona airport, the Four Seasons Hualalai is so much more than a hotel. What you are paying for here isn’t just the room, it’s also the service, which goes so far above and beyond the standards at any other hotel I’ve ever stayed at, it’s easy to see why it was rated the top beach resort in the US by Travel and Leisure. Staff here aren’t just “available” when you come to them, they seem to anticipate your every desire, coming out of nowhere just when you need them, but remaining completely invisible when you wish to be left alone. Of course, the rooms and grounds are still pretty nice on their own.

The most basic rooms start at $595 per night and feature king beds and views to the ocean across the 18th hole of the golf course. Partial and prime ocean views are $750 and $895 and oceanfront rooms start at $1035 per night. It’s not cheap, but the hotel does offer the occasional deal, such as “stay four nights and get the fifth free” or “receive a $1000 resort credit for every six nights.” And here’s the best part: if a promotion goes into effect for the nights of your stay after you booked at the regular rate, the Four Seasons will honor the promotion for you as well, without you even having to ask.

From the moment you arrive at the Four Seasons, you know this stay will be special. As you pull up to the lobby, staff greet you by name (thanks to a message from the front gate guard who took your name upon arrival) and offer you a refreshing mai tai and cold towel while you check in. Then staff loads up your bags and whisks you to your room in one of the resort’s ubiquitous golf carts. Waiting in the room, you’ll find a glass of iced tea and a welcome tea cake.

Rooms feature comfortable beds decked out in soft, fluffy down bedding, flat screen tvs (many of which swivel so you can get the perfect view no matter where you are in the room) with DVD players, iPod docks, CD players, terry bathrobes, tea/coffee makers, L’Occitane bath products, aromatherapy turn down, and bottled water refreshed daily. Ground floor rooms also have private outdoor lava rock showers, and all rooms have either private lanais or balconies with screen doors so you can fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean.

But it’s the small touches that really make the room special. Each room is serviced twice a day – once for cleaning and once for turn down service. You will never see the cleaning staff pushing a heavy cart around. To increase morale and to keep the walkways of the resort free of unsightly carts, the cleaning staff services each room with only the supplies they can carry in a small tote bag. Did you notice the upright vacuum unobtrusively hidden under a vinyl cover in the back of the closet? Yes, there is one in every room for this very reason.

Each room has a mini-fridge for snacks, and staff will kindly keep your ice-bucket full of fresh ice. Wine and water glasses are provide, as is a corkscrew, which I found to be a wonderful touch, as it seems my husband and I are always scrambling to find one when we want to enjoy a bottle of wine in our room. There’s even a toaster hidden in the closet as well – and not because the Four Seasons expects you to make your own toast. To ensure that guests receive only piping hot toast, browned to their preferences, the room service staff will toast your bread as they set up breakfast. It’s a little touch that I never would have thought of, but now seems to make perfect sense.

There are four pools to choose from – the secluded, quiet adults-only pool (which is self-service), the snorkel fish pond (made partly of natural lava rock and stocked with thousands of fish and several manta rays), the quiet pool (also adults only and featuring a special mechanism to help lower disabled guests into the water) and the infinity-edge family pool, which has a nearby kiddie pool (complete with complimentary swim diapers, ice cream cart, and kid-sized lounge chairs) and looks out onto the beach. I spent most of my time at the family pool, where I was able to order food from the Beach Tree restaurant’s lunch menu and get a wi-fi signal.

Service at the pools is just as impressive as it is around the resort. As you walk towards the pool area, a staff member seems to appear at your side, holding a stack of towels and waiting for you to choose a lounge chair or cabana, where they will then spread out your towels for you. According to Ciro Tacinelli, the director of marketing, the standard of service at the pools is to check in with each guest once per hour. It seemed every time I thought I might want a cool drink, someone would arrive and ask me if I needed anything. Snacks are served at the pools twice per day and ice-water and sunscreen are available for guests. Should you decide to get out of the sun for a while, staff will hold your seat for up to two hours.

The ocean in front of the resort, though lined with a beautiful sandy beach where sea turtles often bask in the sun, is a bit rough for swimming and water sports. However guests are free to use the equipment at next-door Kona Village, where they can boogie board or learn to stand-up paddle board.

The guests at the Four Seasons seemed to be a mix of families and couples. Other than lounging by the pool or snorkeling in the ocean, there’s a spa, golf course, fitness center with climbing wall and tennis courts, cultural center, and a kids clubhouse to keep guests entertained. The kids clubhouse had games and activities for all ages – from a small playground for the little ones to computers, Wii games, and a pool table for older kids. Kids and adults all seemed to love watching the manta ray feedings held in the lava rock pool weekdays at 1pm. Many of the kids even got the chance to touch and feed the rays on their own.

There are three restaurants and two lounges onsite at the hotel, all of which operate on a credit system where charges can be directly applied to your room (though you can also pay with cash or plastic). The Pahui’a restaurant serves three meals a day, including a lavish $34 breakfast that includes spreads of fruit, cheese, muffins, cereals, granola, juices, oatmeal and salads, plus an omelet station and rotating specials. The day I had breakfast, there was a miso soup station, waffles, french toast, and a perfectly cooked eggs Benedict. Other options are available a la carte as well.

At each of the restaurants, the hotel takes care to use locally produced, organic, sustainable products whenever possible. Some of the fish served is raised onsite and oysters are mined from the waters just off the golf course. There’s an onsite herb garden and several varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown on the grounds and used in the restaurants. The hotel also composts much of its organic waste and waters the grass of the golf course with water from underneath the lava rocks.

Aside from the impeccable, attentive, anticipate-your-every-need service, what I loved the most about the Four Seasons Hualalai was that despite being fairly large (there are 234 rooms plus additional private houses onsite), it felt like a boutique hotel. The rooms are located in two-story buildings scattered around the area, separated by lush landscaping and rocky lava outcroppings. There were plenty of other guests there during my stay, but the space was never crowded. With four pools plus beach chairs, I never saw more than maybe a dozen people in each area. The restaurants were busy but not full, and in the fitness center, it was easy to find an empty machine to use.

And the staff certainly didn’t make me feel like I was one of hundreds of other guests. I was called by name and never had to wait for assistance. As I watched others in the lobby, at the pool, and in the hotel’s restaurants, I noticed the high level of service wasn’t limited to just myself. In fact, at breakfast one day, after a tiny bird landed ever so briefly on the table of a couple who had gone up to the buffet, I noticed the staff immediately swoop in and reset the table, just in case the bird had stepped on the silverware.

So, after a stay at the Four Seasons Hualalai, am I a budget traveler no more? Probably not. I still appreciate a bargain and really just can’t afford to spend over $500 per night on a hotel. If you can….well then you probably don’t need my convincing to stay at the fabulous Four Seasons. But if the price is one you can afford for just a few nights, maybe for a special occasion like a honeymoon or birthday vacation, I highly recommend starting or ending your trip at here. From the beautiful grounds and inviting rooms to the fantastic customer service, the Four Seasons Hualalai is a perfect paradise on the Big Island.

This trip was paid for by the Kohala Coast Resort Association, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

Big Island Hawaii: The Resorts of the Kohala Coast

The Kohala Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island might not look like what you imagine when you think of Hawaii. While the grounds of the many resorts that line the coastline are lush and green, once you leave the confines of the property, you’ll see a land that’s almost barren, dotted with tiny shrubs and long expanses of hardened black lava from the last eruptions of the now dormant Hualālai volcano. It’s not the jungle filled with waterfalls that you might have envisioned (for that, head to the Hilo side), but the otherworldly landscape is still beautiful.

If you want exciting nightlife or are traveling on a budget, there are better places to stay on the Big Island. But if you want carefree luxury, beautiful beaches, seaside golfing, and waiters at the ready to cater to your every whim as you relax by the pool, check out the resorts of the Kohala Coast.

Divided into four main resort properties, the Kohala Coast is home to eight luxury resorts. I had the chance to briefly visit them all and to stay in two, and I saw that each one has its own style, advantages, and disadvantages.

Waikoloa Beach – Waikoloa Beach Marriott and Hilton Waikoloa Village
Best for families with active children.

The Waikoloa Beach resort complex seems like a great choice for those who want to be able to stay busy without renting a car or leaving the resort complex. I can see spring breakers, older couples, and definitely families with young children loving the amenities, but if you want something that feels a little more intimate, I’d recommend you go elsewhere.

The Hilton Waikoloa Village is the largest of the eight properties in terms of number of rooms. There are over 1200 rooms on the 62 acre resort. It looks like it’s been picked up from Disney World and transplanted here to Hawaii. In fact, like Disney World, there is a tram system that transports guest around the hotel. There are four pool areas (one is adults only) with swim-up pool bars, waterslides, waterfalls, and lazy rivers. There’s a beach and ocean-fed lagoon for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and boogie-boarding, a fitness center, tennis courts, and golf course. The hotel offers a whole host of activities like hula classes, luau dinner, lei-making demos, pool parties, and live music.

The hotel also boasts the area’s only dolphin encounter, the Dolphin Quest. I had the chance to experience the encounter and while I thought it was well done, there really wasn’t the opportunity to “swim” with the dolphins as advertised. Instead, we donned life vests and stood in the water while we learned about dolphin commands and were able to pet the dolphin as it passed by. Then we floated in the water while the dolphin swam beneath us a few times and snorkeled as the dolphin swam around the small lagoon. I’d recommend the activity for kids, and suggest having a family member camp out on the shore and take photos – the ones sold in the gift shop are quite expensive.

There’s a nightclub for adults, several restaurants, spa, and onsite shops. Basically, it’s dream come true for a family managing hyperactive kids, and a nightmare for honeymooners looking for privacy.

Average rates range from $260 – $400, though they do offer specials that start as low as $199 per night, making this an attractive choice for families who want a full-service resort but are traveling on a budget.

The Waikoloa Beach Marriott offers some of the lowest rates in the area. Basic rooms rates range from $199 to $320 per night, and the resort also offers some great package deals that can help you save on car rental, golf and spa treatments. The resort looks like a typical Marriott with a bit of Hawaiian flavor added into the decor. There is a restaurant, lounge, coffee shop, and commissary onsite and the resort hosts a luau dinner. Several other restaurants and shops are within a mile’s walk.

There is an onsite golf course, fitness center, spa, swimming beach, nature reserve, and two pools.

Mauna Kea Resort – Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and and Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel
Best for couples,honeymooners and families with older children who want a swimming beach.

The Hapuna Beach and Mauna Kea hotels are owned by the same company and are located on the same property (though they front different beaches) but the similarities seem to end there.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel opened in 1965. At the time, it was the most expensive hotel ever built and was the favorite Hawaiian retreat of many celebrities. Eventually it grew outdated, so when it was damaged in an an earthquake a few years ago, the owners took the opportunity to close it down and do a complete overhaul, spending $150 million sprucing up the decor and reducing the number of guest rooms (making each one larger). The 258 guest rooms are now stylish with colorful accents and modern furniture. They have flat screen tvs, iPod docks, and L’Occitane bath products. The hotel features a pool, sandy beach, fitness center, two golf courses, 11 tennis courts, several restaurants, luau, spa, salon, shopping, and Hawaiian culture classes.

Guest rooms all have private lanais, and room rates range from $450 to $850.

From what I saw of the Hapuna Beach Prince Resort during my three night stay there, it needs some of the TLC that’s been showered on its sister resort. With a perfect location on beautiful Hapuna Beach and ocean views from every room, the hotel has a lot of potential. But the decor is outdated (peach walls, carpeted floors, and comforters that have started to pill), the amenities are basic, and while the hotels lacks any “wow” factor in the romance department (making it an unlikely choice for honeymooners), it’s also not ideal for families with young kids. The single pool is just a basic pool – no crazy waterslides of fun fountains – surrounded by lounge chairs and “reservation-only” cabanas.

My biggest complaints about the hotel were the outdated decor, the lack of any safety latch on the room’s doors (a concern because non-guests could access the property via the public beach), and the less than enthusiastic service I received from staff. The friendly and caring service I was told about by resort representatives (who themselves were the epitome of friendly) was no where to be seen. Upon arrival, I pulled up to inquire where self-parking was. The bellman told me, but didn’t mention that it was quite a walk from the garage to the front desk – a walk with no signage directing you where to go once out of the garage. After stumbling around with my heavy bags for a few minutes, I made it to the front door where the bellmen watched me struggle to the front desk with no offer of help. The front desk person didn’t crack a smile until she checked my name on the computer and when I later called with a problem with my Internet connection, the response was similarly apathetic. Especially for the price ($415 to $615 for single room, $1350 for a one-room suite) I expected better service and higher quality rooms

There are four on-site restaurants, spa, salon, and kid’s club at the hotel, but the big draw is the beach. Connected to Hapuna Beach State Park, it offers sandy white beaches, mild waves, and reefs for snorkeling. There are beach chairs available for use, but you have to sign for resort towels. As an added bonus, guests at the Hapuna can use the amenities at Mauna Kea.

Hualālai Resort – Kona Village and Four Seasons Hualālai
Best for honeymooners and those seeking privacy, luxury and romance.

There’s more I’ll say about Four Seasons later, but suffice to say, it’s nice. Really, really nice. But it’s Four Seasons, and the resort was recently rated the number one beach resort in the US by Travel and Leisure, so you probably already knew that. With four pools, a kids club, three restaurants, golf course, culture center and unparalleled service, it’s worth every penny of the pricey room rate (which starts at $500 per night).

Kona Village is the perfect place for honeymooners or anyone who wants to feel like they are on their own private island. The resort definitely delivers “barefoot luxury”. Assorted hale (huts) are scattered around 82 acres of lava, black sand beach, palm trees, and ancient fishing lagoons. Dirt paths connect the hale to the pebbly beach and to the three resort restaurants. There are also three lounges, including the Shipwreck Bar, built from the resort’s founder’s boat when it broke apart on lava rocks. Guests can arrange for private candlelit dinners on the beach, and the resort’s luau is considered one of the best on the island.

I was able to attend the Wednesday Night Hula Mana Luau, featuring authentic kalua pig (smoked in an underground imu), mai tais and entertainment. During the luau Hawaiian dancers perform hula, sing and chant, and tell the stories of Hawaiian history and culture. While the food didn’t floor me, I loved that the Luau was more than just fire dancers (though, there was a fire dancer) and hulu girls. The stories behind the dances and chants were presented well and included lots of insight into Hawaiian history and traditional Hawaiian culture.

There is a pool onsite, but with all the water-sports offered, you might not ever use it. The resort offers SCUBA certification and diving, snorkeling, stand-up paddle-boarding, outrigger canoe paddling, deep-sea fishing and surfing.

Rooms feature traditional Hawaiian patterned quilts, mini-fridges stocked with soft drinks, and twice-daily housekeeping service. They don’t have tvs or phones, which means staff member communicate with guests through notes left on the door. A coconut serves as a “Do Not Disturb” sign. Just leave it on the stairs and you’ll be left alone.

Rates that include three meals a day range from $700 to $1200 per night, but frequent promotions help bring the cost down.

Mauna Lani Resort – Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows and Fairmont Orchid
Best for families and couples looking for a luxurious, intimate setting that still offers lots of activities.

The Mauna Lani Resort complex hours both the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows and the Fairmont Orchid, two distinct hotels that are connected to each other (and to the surrounding shops and restaurants) but a system of free shuttles. Both offer luxurious rooms, beautiful beaches, and lots of family friendly activities.

The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel puts a strong emphasis on preserving Hawaiian culture and educating visitors about the ways and traditions of the Hawaiian people. Cultural tours of the historic royal fishponds (which date as far back as 250 BC) as well as the ancient petrogylph fields are led by the incredibly informative resident historian Danny Akaka. The resort is also quite proud, as justifiably so, of its green efforts. Condé Nast Traveler named it one of the world’s top luxury eco-friendly resorts for its solar energy innovations, which have resulted in the resort generating more solar electric power than any luxury resort in the world. Golf Magazine also recognized the resort for its environmental stewardship during the construction and use of its eco-friendly golf course.

Awards and accolades aside, the Mauna Lani has a lot going for it as a luxury hotel for families and active couples. There’s an onsite fitness club, free snorkeling equipment, and bikes available for riding around the sprawling property. The kids club includes a 9-hole kids golf course and an intro to snorkeling class. Each of the 343 guest rooms, which start at rates of $270 per night, has a private lanai, mini-fridge and flat screen tv. 90% of the rooms have ocean views. Two-bedroom bungalows also feature gas grills and private plunge pool. There is a spa, four restaurants, 24-hour room service, and guest laundry. Like other resorts in the area, the hotel also offers wedding packages, which start at $550.

The Fairmont Orchid is ideal for honeymooners and couples who want a luxury experience but still want a range of activities to choose from. It’s also great for adults who may be traveling with kids but still want a bit of romance in their vacation. The 540 guest rooms have AC, internet, private lanais, and are decorated in muted tones and with plush linens. 10 tennis courts, 24-hour fitness center and a 36-hole golf course keep guests busy, and a kids program with arts and crafts and educational tours will entertain the kids. The grounds, while quite large, still manage to feel intimate thanks to lush landscaping and romantic torches that light the way at night.

The Fairmont Orchid, like the Mauna Lani, works hard to be eco-friendly. The Fairmont is the only resort in the area that recycles 100% of its waste. It uses low wattage bulbs, landscaping is done with indigenous plants that are drought-resistant and require less watering, and herbs and produce grown onsite are used in the hotel’s seven restaurants. I sampled the sushi at Norio’s Sushi Bar and Restaurant, which uses “locally sourced, organic, and sustainable items whenever possible,” another way the Fairmont works to be eco-friendly in its practices.

One of the biggest draws of the Fairmont is its “Spa Without Walls.” This alfresco area offers guests the chance to have a relaxing massage to the sound of a trickling waterfall while a warm breeze blows on their skin. The massage I enjoyed was one of the best I’ve ever had. My masseuse was knowledgeable and made me feel comfortable, and the sensations of being outdoor made the experience even more pleasant.

Rooms at the Fairmont Orchid generally start above $500 per night, but some great promotions and discounts have dropped the prices as low as $199 per night recently, allowing guests to afford the hotels romance and luxury even on a small budget, and keeping occupancy rates as high as 79% even during low-season.

The trip was paid for by the Kohala Coast Resort Association, but the views expressed are entirely my own.