Oahu Travel on a Budget

Ko'Olena Lagoons

Here are some tips on making an Oahu trip enjoyable and affordable at the same time.

1) AQUA hotels are great for people on a budget. People are complaining on TripAdvisor about the hotel, but I think they were expecting a little too much for what they were paying. Its not a 4 star caliber hotel — closer to a 2 or 3 star.

We recently stayed at the Aqua Palms, which is located right across from the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Internet access is complimentary (usually a $10 fee at other hotels), along with a daily continental breakfast (bananas, apples, oranges, muffins, croissant or pastry, coffee, and juices. The rooms were clean and the microwave/fridge is a nice touch. Bed was comfortable with 6 pillows and there was also a sleeper sofa in the room. There’s a 32″ flat screen LCD TV with a good variety of channels. Parking in the Aqua Palms structure is a bit tight, I suggest getting a smaller car if you plan on staying at the hotel. The corners around the structure are really tight and there are lots of scrapes on the walls. There is also complimentary coffee in the lobby, which is great in the evenings. Its one of those automatic coffee machines that grinds the coffee beans. Stick with the city view rooms since the diamond head view rooms are blocked by 3 hotels. The pool is small, so we didn’t spend any time there. As for location, it is across the street from the Hilton resort, where you can do some shopping and watch fireworks on Friday night.

For dining around the Aqua Palms, the Wailana Coffee shop is good for the money. Breakfast all day and prices are very reasonable for Waikiki.  Todai is located across the street if you are craving for all you can eat sushi. $30 for unlimited sushi — had a lot of poke and sashimi. Seems to be a little bit better than mainland Todai locations.

Todai Sushi Buffet

2) Buy your own GPS on the mainland before going to Hawaii. With GPS prices coming down to the $100 level, you are better off bringing one to Hawaii rather than renting. I picked my Mio C230 GPS for $80 after using a coupon, so its definitely worth every penny. The reason you will need GPS is because a lot of streets in Waikiki are one way and sections may be coned off during rush hour traffic. GPS isn’t 100% accurate though, sometimes it will leave you driving in circles.

3) Parking is very expensive in Waikiki. Hotels charge between $15 – $25 per day, so its something you will need to budget for. Kalakua ave. has a lot of good restaurants and fancy stores, but public parking is tough to find. We found a flat rate parking garage for $8 on Koa Ave. that was reasonable. There is also post office parking near the International Marketplace. Some restaurants will validate parking if its located in a hotel. Otherwise, take the bus from your hotel to Kalakua since there are a number of stops throughout Waikiki. Parking outside of Waikiki is fine.

4) Cheap souvenirs. We found really great deals at the Aloha Bowl Swap Meet on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Its located in the parking lot, which spans around the entire stadium. Lots of good deals on clothing, cheap t-shirts, tons of souvenirs, snacks, plants, and more. A lot of souvenirs were 50-75% off regular prices. Admission is $1. Bring a hat since it gets warm walking around the stadium.

Souvenirs at Aloha Bowl Swap Meet

5) Walmart and Costco. The Waikiki Walmart is located right in the middle of the city. Great prices on snacks, drinks, and anything you might have forgotten to pack. This time we bought our Hawaiian Sun drinks at Walmart since there was no way we could drink the 24-packs from Costco. Snorkel gear selection is good, with some nice US Divers mask/snorkel sets for $30-$35. Its worth the extra money since the snorkel closes up automatically if submerged. Buy a cooler and put the drinks in there to save $$.

If you are renting a condo, Costco is a great place to stock up on food. They now have the poke and sashimi grade stuff in a deli case, so you don’t have to buy 1-2 lbs of it at a time. We usually pick up gifts here before we fly back.

6) Airfare and hotel combos save money.  We booked a flight from LAX to Honolulu with 6 nights hotel at Aqua Palms for $600 / person. Airfare alone was $500 / person roundtrip. You can use the savings from the airfare and hotel to spend on food and souvenirs. You can try finding deals on Travelzoo.

7) Hawaiian Plate Lunches = Good value. I really like eating the Hawaiian plate lunches, especially ones with SPAM (not the junk mail)  The best one I had so far was at Ted’s Bakery. I ordered Ted’s bento box, which has fried chicken, spam, mahi mahi, bbq beef on top of furikake rice and cabbage. The bbq beef was really good, well marinated in teriyaki/korean BBQ sauce. I liked the spam, which tastes something like sausage and ham. Fried Mahi mahi was good and the fried chicken had a tasty coating of fried goodness. And it was only $9 !!! Only minor downside is that it took 20 minutes to make, but it was worth it! What a deal. For dessert, we had the classic Chocolate Haupia pie. YUM! Coconut + chocolate = Hawaiian!  So, if you are in North Shore, definitely check out Ted’s Bakery if you are looking for a place to eat. I’ll elaborate more on high end cuisine in a future post.

8 ) Shrimp Trucks.  There is one on the way to Kailua on Hwy. 72 called Ono Shrimp. They had a steak and shrimp combo plate that was good, especially after snorkeling all morning in Hanauma Bay. Steak was tasty, shrimp was good since you didn’t have to peel them. $10 for the steak plate, $11 for the steak and shrimp combo. Drinks were reasonable at $1 each. We also went to one near Turtle Bay in North Shore called Romys.  The Garlic shrimp was good, but a bit pricey. The shrimp plate was $13 and drinks were $2.50 each. Romys uses their local pond to catch their prawns, so its fresh. But I think next time we’ll drive out to the original Giovannis instead, since it was the first one. 8)

9) Shaved Ice. Matsumotos General Store in Haleiwa, 66-087 Kamehameha Hwy, offers really good shaved ice for a reasonable price. We got the Matsumoto special one with Coconut, Pineapple, Lemon, and vanilla ice cream on the bottom. They also have good azuki beans too. Spend the extra 25 cents for the cool shaved ice holders, less messy. $2.50 for the large shaved ice w/ ice cream, 25 cents extra for the holder. The lines can get long, so try to visit earlier in the day.

10) Car Rental Discounts. You can find coupon codes for discounted car rentals at: http://www.carrentalsavers.com

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