I usually don’t aim to get hate clicks. Life is too short to make other people angry for no reason. I’m certainly not aiming for hate clicks now, but I wanted the title to be honest. I understand how “My Hawaii Vacation During COVID” looks. It’s probably an 8 of 10 on the Ted-(Can)Cruz-trip to escape the dangerous deep freeze and power outages of Texas last month.
I was hesitant to write about it at all, but in the end, I decided that it is best to be honest. This website is (partly) about my financial journey and a Hawaii vacation is a big part of that. However, before we cover the finances let’s get to the decision to travel during COVID. By now you probably know the drill. The three most important things during COVID (in no particular order) are:
1. Wear a Mask
2. No gather in groups
3. Don’t travel
One of my favorite quotes from Tom Brady is, “I didn’t come this far to only come this far.” I barely left the house for the first few months. Like most everyone else, I haven’t seen (non-immediate) family or friends in more than a year. While I’m near the bottom of the list for vaccines, it seems that I could get my turn within 2-3 months. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too long.
So why, despite all this, did I spend the last week in Hawaii on vacation? When assessing the risk, all of the following came into play:
- My Wife’s Expert Opinion
My wife’s a pharmacist with the US Public Health Service (USPHS). USPHS does a lot of good work, but this their thing. She’s led a team that authored a COVID report that went to the Vice President. I try to follow all the news and details about everything, but she knows many times more than me.
She was the one who came up with the idea to travel to Hawaii.
- Hawaii is One of Two “Safe” States
My wife said that there were only two states where we could go. Rhode Island had blocked just about every state. However, Hawaii has done extremely well limiting COVID. They have 10% of the case of Rhode Island, and a similar amount of people (~1,000,000). They have great testing, quarantine, and natural benefits like isolation (Pacific Ocean) and warm weather year-round.
We had originally planned to go to Lake Placid, but it would have required driving through several quarantine states. We took that off the table because then the kids couldn’t go back to school when the vacation was over.
- Planes are Cleaner than a Drug Lab
My wife explained that it is a better environment for making IVs than many IV labs. Having made those IVs as a pharmacy technician 20-25 years ago, I know that this is a big deal. It turns out that planes are circulating all the air through HEPA filters every 3 minutes. Not only are planes well equipped, but everyone had to have a negative test 72 hours before boarding. Everyone was required to wear to mask (except for eating).
Our plane was only about half full. My wife and one kid had the center four seats of one row. I and the other kid had the center four seats of another row. That happened both there and back. With the exception of the row in front of us and behind us, we had a good amount of distance.
The safest thing would obviously be to stay at home and never leave the house. With the kids having two weeks of no school, I don’t think that was likely to happen. As an alternative option, spending time in a state with 10% of the COVID cases seems like a defensible position.
Benefits of the Hawaii Vacation
It’s Hawaii. It’s vacation. Those benefits are a given in any year, but more so after the last year. I know that everyone has had to cancel travel. We canceled our March vacation last year as things were getting bad. (We’re also unlikely to be able to recoup our timeshare annual expenses, which we couldn’t use.)
Our kids have been fortunate to be in school this year. Private school has been a great value, especially this year. (It’s so much better than the end of last school year, paying thousands of dollars a month so I could run around a teach a 6 and 7-year-old different curriculums at the same time.)
However, the kids are also on a two week break. That’s a long time to be sitting at home watching TV and playing video games. Yes, I can try a version of my own COVID-19 homeschool, but the kids needed a break of some kind. I didn’t realize it until I was wearing a mask for 12 hours on the plane (plus all the time to and from the airport), but I’ve essentially only worn a mask for about an hour at a time to run a small errand like getting groceries. The rest of the time I’m at home. My kids have worn them for about 8 hours a day, almost every day. Maybe wearing a mask for long periods is something you get used to, but I now have a new respect for what they’ve been through.
My wife has been “virtually” deployed, which means she works from home, every day, even weekends. There’s been a little time off, but she’s running other pharmacist committees and other professional groups. Personally, I could have done without the vacation. I was stressed with deadlines and blogging before and after the break. (I’m stressed writing this now on Monday morning hoping to publish in a few hours.) Traveling always makes me stressed. I always say that flying is designed to make it as uncomfortable as possible so that you’ll pay for the comfort upgrades. For example, the cost to upgrade to first class was almost twice as much as the actual ticket itself.
This was also a unique opportunity. We had tossed around the idea of going to Hawaii again someday, but flying from Rhode Island with two kids is a whole different ball game than when my wife and I flew from San Francisco 13 years ago. I can’t remember what the price was, but it wasn’t very much. Now, the flight is twice is as long and we have twice as many people. I can’t seem to find what the non-COVID pricing would be, but I would guess that it would be between $800 and $1000 per person. At $3200-$4000 in flights, our vacation dollar goes a lot further elsewhere.
Hawaii became an opportunity because we got great pricing due to COVID-19… and it was one of the few places we could go and not have to quarantine either way.
Finally, we don’t live in an area of great diversity in Newport, RI. In fact, that is a big understatement, there is almost no diversity here. Hawaii is one of the few places in the United States with its own distinct culture. The kids can read about different cultures in a book or watch a YouTube video, but experiencing it “hands-on” is so much more valuable. There’s a big difference in the educational value of a week of Hawaii culture vs. watching reruns of Gumball on Cartoon Network.
The Costs of Our Trip
I don’t have all the numbers available unfortunately. My wife made most of the travel arrangements, and I’m writing this jet-lagged and close to when I usually publish my articles. However, I do know the following costs:
- Flight: $580/pp
- Hotel: $180/night
- Car Rental: $700
- Hotel Stay Before Flight: $120
- Meals: One billion dollars.
I’m exaggerating the billion dollars for meals. We could have done it a lot cheaper, but we went out a lot. The kids wanted to experience malasadas. (They didn’t want to experience Hawaiian plates for some reason.) We couldn’t cook much because of the hotel room. However, we were able to eat leftovers with access to a microwave. We also had cereal as the kids prefer that to almost anything.
The flight was $580 per person or around $2400. We were able to cash in some credit card points for one ticket. I don’t like to count that because it’s like cashing in a gift card – we’re making an exchange of someting that has value for a flight.
My wife was able to get us the military hotel on Waikiki in Honolulu. The Hale Koa Hotel is right next to the Hilton that costs $500 a night or more. We stayed for 5 nights – $900 with all taxes included. I suspect most people would pay $2000 or choose to stay in a cheaper area of Oahu.
The car rental was the big killer. My wife planned a lot of this trip at the last minute and just got a car because she knew
I wanted to stalk Jack Johnson we would want to see sea turtles on the North Shore. If we had to do it all again, we’d probably use a lot more ride-sharing. However, then again, that would increase the COVID risk. As it turned out my wife and kids took ride-share once in Hawaii. They woke up at 3 AM (due to the time zone difference) and went for a long, long walk to get coffee. The driver said he wasn’t going to get vaccinated, but my 8-year-old convinced him that his mother works with the experts and it is really safe and effective. I missed the whole thing, but I hear it was a convincing speech.
Finally, we paid $120 for a hotel the night before. There’s a hotel near the airport that includes parking (they shuttle you to the airport), so it’s actually cheaper to get to the hotel with free parking than it is to park at the airport.
Overall, I’d say we got about a $6,000 vacation for $4,000 (less if you count the points we used for one flight) not counting the meals. Yikes, even though it seemed like we were getting deals along the way, it still wasn’t cheap. That said, we had a lot of money in our travel budget after not traveling over the last year. We don’t have any plans to travel in the future either. If everything works out, we might take a road trip this summer.
What Did We Do in Hawaii?
We actually weren’t in Hawaii too long if you count the traveling. My wife had to be back for work the kids had to be back in case the school decided that quarantine was necessary anyway. We left on Sunday and came back on Friday.
Sunday – Due to the long flight and time change, it felt like nighttime to us. However, it was still early afternoon. We walked around the hotel and beach and then went to sleep around 6 PM local time (midnight our time). This is why my wife and kids became streetwalkers at 3 AM. (I had woken up at 11, worked a little, and went back to sleep.)
Monday – After my wife and kids’ journey to get coffee early, we went to an early breakfast and then drove to the Dole Pineapple Plantation soon after it opened. It was a bit of a drive as we had to go around the island to get to the north side. The place was packed, much more than it was 13 years ago when we were there. They have a big pineapple maze (like a corn maze), a train, and a garden. The train was a 90-minute wait in line, so we skipped that. Our whole family found the garden fairly boring. I think if gardens are your thing you’d like it? The 7-year-old and I did the maze while my wife and the 8-year-old opted to sample some pineapple and go through the gift shop. The maze took about an hour to get through and it got a little hot towards the end. My son wanted to do it all over again, but that wasn’t going to happen.
We went through the gift shop and I told my son that he couldn’t get the blue turtle at the pineapple store. There would be other places to get turtles, but this is about the pineapple. We all got Dole Whips. At age 7 and 8 my kids completed their quest to have Dole Whips at the only two places (to the best of my knowledge) that you can get them – Disney and Hawaii. They really have no idea how lucky they are.
Random side thought: Rhode Island recently changed its name from Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations to have sympathy with the negative connotations of “plantation.” The “Providence Plantations” were named in the 17th century to refer to being a “new settlement” and not related to any slavery activity. Somehow the Dole Pineapple Plantation is fine and no one has come after the company to change that name. It seems a little inconsistent to me.
After the Pineapple Plantation, we went to musician Jack Johnson’s town of Haleiwa to see some sea turtles and have a local lunch. The tide was high and there were no turtles. The lunch was good until a local chicken spooked my 8-year-old and jumped up and ate his lunch. Fortunately, he had chosen the nachos instead of his usual chicken tenders. That would have been awkward.
We got caught in a flash flood on the way back and everyone had a long day (having been up since 3 AM). We settled for a quick dinner at the hotel and everyone went to be early again.
Tuesday – We had a pool reservation for 11, but we once again woke up early. We went to Leonard’s for malasadas, which was a highlight of the trip for the kids. After watching Pokemon Sun and Moon, the kids have wanted to try the malasadas from Jessie and James’ food truck in the Alola region.
We decided to hike Diamond Head, a famous trail. My 8-year-old had a really bad attitude to start because he thought he would die. (He thinks everything will kill him.) Somehow he was able to turn it around during the hike as I held his hand and he talked about the souvenir he wanted after he completed it. Before long he was the most enthusiastic hiker of the whole group. He got very excited near the end when he saw the yellow steps that he recognized from the Pokemon anime.
I've been (mostly) offline for a several days – getting some time with nature.
Kids were proud to hike Diamond Head. The pot of gold at the end of the ? is Honolulu. pic.twitter.com/U3mJjckbMR
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) March 17, 2021
After Diamond Head, we went to see the Halona Blow Hole, but it wasn’t doing too much. Maybe the tide was too low. We went back for our pool reservation, which was great fun. The lifeguards were very strict, but not for any particular COVID-19 reason, just regular procedure like making sure that everyone is in an exact line for the water slide. My 7-year-old is a decent swimmer and can stand anywhere in the pool. I was with him and they still made him put on a life jacket for the 10-foot swimming distance from the water slide to get back in line. I guess that’s what you get at the military hotel.
We went to the Rainbow Drive-In for a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch which was fabulous. The kids wanted to go a local cat cafe because they had never seen one. I’m allergic so I got to watch them play with cats from outside. Most of the cats were their typical cat-selves and wanted to sleep with no interaction with people. While the kids had a lot of fun, my 8-year-old wants to open up a therapy dog cafe with older dogs. I think that’s a much better business idea than a cat cafe, but I’m biased.
We had dinner back at the hotel at a place called the Pool Bar. It has a great sunset view of the ocean. However, it only has three hot food options, chicken tenders, a pulled pork sandwich, and nachos. The kids didn’t like virgin lava flows, but my wife and I did.
Wednesday – We had another 90 minutes of pool reservation, this time in the morning. The water was colder and we ended up not using the whole 90 minutes. (In case you were wondering, they limit the number of people to around 50 or 75 for the big pool area during this time. It isn’t like one family at a local hotel.)
We went to the mall and its amazing food court for lunch. They had food from everywhere – but specifically over a dozen Asian restaurants. I couldn’t decide so I went with the Mokoloco. My son got tricked by an Americanized restaurant called Holy Cow. It’s really Korean street food (we had no idea) where he had a mozzarella stick on a stick wrapped in a sugar dough outside. It was the highlight of the day. We’re going to try to make them at home with the help of this YouTube video:
The kids also had shave ice (for some reason Hawaii doesn’t believe in the “d” in “shaved ice”) and that went over well too. The food was the big highlight for the 8-year-old.
After lunch, we went out to the beaches. We tried Makapu?u Beach, but the waves were too crazy and it was far too dangerous for our swimming level. We went a little further down the coastline and found a beach with plenty of people. The waves were still big and crashed on the kids quite a bit. I got them far enough out (they had life vests on) so that the waves wouldn’t break on them. We didn’t stay out too long though, because I realized that it would be a bad situation if I got tired and had to fight the current to bring them in. I got back and rested and my wife took them out, but the lifeguard quickly warned them that they should come back in. They were fine at the time, but we were a little out of place compared to the locals who had older kids who grew up with these waves.
Before dinner, we tried to make reservations for Hard Rock Cafe, but it was closed until Thursday. We tried another place, but it turned out to be more of a club/adult place rather than a family place. We walked around and found the Yard House, but it was a two-hour wait. Ruth’s Chris was available right away, but there was literally nothing on the menu my 7-year-old would eat and I didn’t want to spend $200 to hear complaining. We left. Literally, every place was a bust and we had walked two miles, so the kids were in a very bad mood at this point. So we went back to the hotel restaurant. We figured it would be easy since you have to be military to go there. It was still an hour wait and the host chewed us out for not getting reservations.
Finally, we ended up at the same Pool Bar as we did the night before.
Thursday – We went to the beach in the morning. For having a hotel on the beach we didn’t spend that much time at the beach because we were always out and about. It was rainy though, so we ended up back inside.
We went to go snorkeling with the turtles (one of my kid’s favorite animals). It was windy and rainy and the captain decided the ocean current was too strong to let the kids snorkel. We ended up seeing one turtle up close to the boat and another a bit in the distance. The youngest kid loved it anyway. We were able to get the price changed to the observer rate since we didn’t actually get to go snorkeling.
At dinner time we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. Yes, it is a tourist trap that we would typically avoid, but the kids had never been. Also, this was my last chance to find anything related to Jack Johnson. I struck gold as they had his autographed Sleep Through the Static CD and a full-size promotional surfboard. This CD had been in my car’s CD player for the last month or more. I wrote about the first track, All at Once, last year for Earth Day.
The kids loved Hard Rock Cafe and the gift shop had everything deeply discounted. I got a T-shirt for $10. My son got a $50 sweatshirt that was marked down to $15. We didn’t need new clothes
Friday – Everyone was adjusted to the time, so I was the first one to wake up for a change. We started packing in the morning and then went out to the beach for about an hour. That’s all we had until it was time to check out and get to the airport. At the airport, I wandered off on my own and bought my 7-year-old the blue stuffed turtle that he wanted at the Pineapple Plantation, it turned out that we hadn’t seen another one. I surprised him with it when we got home.
In the end, we ended up packing a lot into a few days. I would have liked to do a little more slow travel and relaxed a bit more. Like many vacations, some things didn’t cooperate, but we’re fortunate to have any kind of vacation at all.
This is a long article and I think it covers most of everything. Let me know if you have any questions about Oahu or traveling during COVID. And if you’ve read the 3500+ words this far and still want to leave a hate comment, you’ve earned it.
I love Hawaii and if I can’t travel there, I’m glad you and your family got to go. It sounds like you packed a lot into the time that you were there and it’s an experience your children will never forget.
Busy trip. It sounds like you guys had a great time. I think the travel expense was reasonable and the flight time wasn’t too bad. It’s worth it to get away for a while.
Funny thing, I’ve been to Hawaii a bunch of times and never had the masalada. It sounds good, but there was always other stuff higher on the list.
Lazy Man says
I’ve seen sugary bread at other places that are lot like malasadas. You should definitely give it a try next time you go.
I wish we could have stayed longer because that really helps the cost per day with the military hotel being relatively cheap.
Financial Samurai says
Lucky you guys!
Can you talk about where/how you got the COVID test before going so you didn’t have to quarantine? How do you get the test, upload it first, when do you have to get it, the cost etc?
I’m from Hawaii and I haven’t gone in a couple of years because I felt bad potentially contributing to the spread. But I plan to go in May, June, or July once everybody can get vaccinated.
Lazy Man says
That’s a great question. Hawaii has a good system. They partnered with a couple of national chains (CVS and Walgreens) along with a few others as trusted partners. That didn’t include the state of Rhode Island test which was free for us. We found this out in the week before we traveled almost by luck. We ended up going to a Walgreens where we were expecting to pay $120 per person. They do a 24 hour test and we had another back-up one-hour place (at the airport) if it didn’t seem like it was coming back in time. It’s a little tight, because you have to test negative 72 hours before (no later) and you have to get the test back before the flight.
Walgreens took our health insurance and didn’t charge us at all. I’m not sure if our insurance will notice and send us a bill, but for now we’ve escaped that charge.
Once you get the results, you can upload the PDF to a secure website that Hawaii has. They automatically scan it. You create a trip itinerary, upload a current picture, and fill out a bunch of questions. This gives you a QR code that you need to use to get in without having to quarantine.
We were fortunate that we knew a couple of people who went the week before us. I wouldn’t have known to upload my picture to the website. Lots of people were taking selfies and uploading right in the line.
They take everything very, very seriously.