I finally got around to writing my “10 days in Hawaii with a 1-year old” trip report
. Here’s Part 1 – Kauai; you could find Part 2 – The Big Island here
- After reading Dan’s awesome Hawaiian trip reports we knew that this is the place to go. We knew that there’s no way we could afford a trip like this the ‘normal’ way. Thanks to Dan and DDF we were able to go on a trip that would have been more than $12,000 for absolutely free. I kept track of every single expense and in the end every last penny was covered by points. Final tally was 339500 points used (mainly MR and UR). More than 200K of those were sold to cover things that we couldn't use points directly for. In the end we got about 3.53cpm overall, which is great in my book and was definitely worth it.
- We were pretty scared about taking our 1-year old along, but we really had no choice. We just knew that we’ll have to keep a very open schedule and that we won’t be able to see or do many of the things we wanted. Since this was going to be our first time flying with her, we decided to do a ‘dry run’ with her on a very short flight. Thanks to this
deal we flew JFK-BOS for Chol Hamoed Sukkos. B”H, she behaved perfectly on both flights (even though we flew through the worst turbulence I have ever experienced). Even though we knew that this is nothing compared to the flight to Hawaii, this trip went a long way to calm our nerves.
- Finally November came along… We flew United EWR-LAX early Sunday morning. We got a free bag each with our United cards, and they thankfully didn't charge us extra even though all bags were overweight (note to self: make sure your scale is accurate BEFORE going to the airport
). There was a bit of confusion making sure that our bags were going to be transferred to AA for the LAX-LIH leg, but in the end another agent was able to iron it out for us. We had booked seats in rows A and C, hoping that we’ll be able to bring the car seat aboard. As soon as we got to the gate I asked the gate agent if she could do anything to keep the middle seat open, and she informed me that as soon as two people with a lap infant check in, the middle seat is automatically locked out, so we would have no issue. I guess if it had been a packed flight this wouldn't have been the case, but thankfully it wasn't and we were able to have the car seat on all flights except the return LAX-EWR leg.
- I had purposely booked a later flight out of LAX, to give us some time to klutz and for my daughter to be able to stretch and crawl around. We spent the entire 5 ½ hour layover in the Admirals Club lounge thanks to Amex Plat. This is the only lounge I've ever been to, so I really can’t compare it to anything else, but it was exactly what we needed. We got settled in a quiet corner, ate, relaxed, and chapped a nap. I just wish they had some kosher food there… Towards the end of the layover we found a great children’s playroom, which my daughter loved.
- We landed in LIH about 9 PM and went right to catch the shuttle to National. I really wanted a convertible, and knew that the Executive Aisle usually has a fair selection of them. Not wanting to risk it though, I reserved both a mid size and convertible. When we got there the manager took me to the EI, and lo and behold, not a single convertible. He apologized over and over, saying there had been a large group earlier and had taken all his convertibles. He offered to upgrade me to any car, which was very nice of him but I really wanted a convertible. Looking around desperately, I spotted a Chrysler 200 off to the side, kinda hidden behind a shed.
“What about that one?” I asked him. “Sorry, that one’s been specifically reserved and there’s no way I could give it away”. I smiled and told him to go inside and see who the one who reserved it is… A minute later he comes out of the office and hands me the keys, smiling from ear to ear, saying, “You know how to beat the system”. Of course I made sure that he actually put it on the mid size reservation
- We booked a condo in Princeville though HomeAway. It took us a while to decide if we wanted to stay on the North Shore or the South Shore. Our first choice was the GHK, but a) we didn't have enough points at that point, b) we had no status so we didn't really have much of a chance of getting upgraded to a suite, and c), we aren't really hotel people. Give us a condo any day…
In the end we decided on the North Shore in spite of the warnings about rain in the winter. From all our research we found that even when it does rain it usually doesn't last for more than a few minutes (which was takkeh the case in the end).
- The condo was great, and Princeville is awesome. Beautiful park-like setting, with the most stunning green mountains in the background. The condo complex was on a cliff over the ocean, and the view was amazing. Some of the neighbors told us that they've been seeing whales in the mornings, but unfortunately we didn't get to see any during our stay. We must have seen 30 rainbows during our stay, though.
- First thing Monday morning we headed to Lihue to stock up in Costco since it was closed the night before. There was a fair amount of kosher items – we stocked up on juices, snacks, and mountains of nosh. We also stocked up on diapers and baby stuff.
They didn't have everything we needed (such as kosher baby jars), so we went to Walmart down the road. There we found everything we had seen in Costco, for cheaper. Definitely a lesson learned… We were able to get baby jars and many more things.
- All the ‘real food’ we brought along. We had a suitcase full of frozen food, and another one with dry items (Meal Mart meals, crackers, tradition soup, etc). Some of the food had thawed a bit, probably during the long layover in LAX. Nothing was ruined, although the suitcase took a couple of days to dry out entirely.
- As has been discussed a million times here, get the Revealed books. Best $14 you’ll spend on your trip.
- We were of course severely limited in what we could do considering we had a baby in tow. Another baby issue was that everything took a long time – getting ready to leave in the morning was a gantza procedure. By the time we got to where we were going, it was already time for her nap… And then feeding…
My point is, if you’re going with a baby don’t expect to do much (but expect to get awesome pictures of them
- Based on Dan’s trip report, we brought along a cheap tent to use on the beach. We ended up getting this
one, which was an absolute piece of junk but was perfect for what we needed. It gave us shade and privacy, and kept us dry during a sudden downpour. It takes just a minute or two to set it up and tear it down. We ended up throwing it away before coming back home since it just wasn't worth it to clean all the sand out of it, not to mention that once you unfold it it’ll NEVER fit back into the included bag again (we ended up keeping it in a big garbage bag). I was afraid that we’ll have an issue fitting it into our suitcase since I couldn't find the folded length mentioned anywhere, but in the end it even fit into our small suitcase. Highly recommended as long as you understand that this probably won’t last past one trip.
- Helicopter tour – 5/5, $420. Easily the most expensive activity on Kauai, and easily the best. We went with Blue Hawaiian, as recommended by just about everybody. They’re also the only ones (as far as I know) to accommodate free lap children. See this
post for my pricing/overweight saga with them.
The flight was absolutely amazing. Our pilot was a retired air force helicopter trainer, so he knew a thing or two about flying
. You see sights that are otherwise pretty much inaccessible: the Na Pali coast, the interior of Waimea Canyon, and endless waterfalls. It hadn't been raining much on Mt. Waiʻaleʻale (which is weird, considering that it's the rainiest place on earth), so there were hardly any waterfalls in the crater. But it was still an amazing experience flying into the crater of an extinct volcano...
There’s two way communication between the pilot and passengers, so you could ask him questions if you want. Otherwise the pilot keeps up a running stream of commentary, telling you everything there is to know about what you’re seeing.
We had no issues with the baby at all. The pilot told us that she’ll be asleep ten minutes after takeoff, and boy was he right. The quiet (they have the cutest little pair of noise cancelling headphones you ever saw) and the vibrations worked wonders. She woke up the minute we landed.
We flew early morning – most of the island looks better in the morning than in the afternoon. The big exception is Na Pali – if that’s your main goal go with an afternoon flight. I personally wouldn’t recommend the middle of the day flights –the light is too harsh and there’s glare everywhere.
When you get back to their office they try to sell you a DVD of your flight for $25. Get it - it’s worth every penny. The chopper has four cameras (front, right, left, and one in the cabin), and the pilot chooses them based on what most interesting at any given moment. It records your entire flight, including the audio, so you hear all the narration, questions, etc. The actual video quality is quite lousy, but it does make for fantastic memories.
Some tips on helicopter photography: The best pictures are undoubtedly from a doors-off flight (Jack Harter offers those). Of course that's not always practical... The right side is best; you have a much better view from there. Wear dark clothing, as that’ll reflect far less. For a point-and-shoot camera use the P mode (or whatever the non-fully-automatic setting on your camera is called). That way your flash won’t go off by mistake, which would result in a picture of a white gob on the window instead of the Na Pali coast… Also use continuous mode if your camera has it – hold down the shutter button to take a couple of pictures in a burst. That way you have a much better chance of getting a sharp picture. It’ll also help you keep the rotors out of the picture. Remember the longer you zoom out the harder it is to get a sharp picture.
If you’re shooting with a DLSR, shoot in either A or AV mode (depending on the camera brand), the largest aperture possible (2.8, 3.5, etc.), and high speed continuous. Aim for a shutter speed of 1/1000 or faster; 1/500 will do in a pinch. The newer Canons and Nikons let you customize the ISO-AUTO settings to keep to a minimum shutter speed. This is the perfect situation to use it – for example set it to 1/1000 minimum, ISO 3200 max. This means that the camera will choose the lowest ISO it can and still keep you under 1/1000. Only if it can’t get a proper exposure at ISO 3200 will it then start increasing your shutter speed. This way you just set it once and you don’t have to worry about exposure at all.
As far as lenses go, a mid-range zoom works best. Too wide and you have the rotors in every shot; too long and you’re iffy even at 1/1000. The best option in my opinion is a 24-70 f/2.8 on both APS-C and full frame cameras. The standard 18-55 lens is also a good range. VR or IS is not necessarily gonna help you in a helicopter – those systems are meant to stabilize hand movement, not platform movement (which it the case in a chopper). Read your lens’s manual – it may be best to turn it off.
Absolutely, positively, don’t take more than lens (unless you're shooting with two bodies). You’re just gonna be busy putting them on and off and on and off and on and off. It’s not worth it – one standard zoom is all you need. There are no pictures to be had from a helicopter with 70-300 or 55-250.
A circular polarizer will go a long way on cutting down window reflections. Focus manually at infinity and tape the focus ring down; it’ll save you a headache.
- Hanalei Valley Lookout - 4/5: Right off the road, and is worth a quick stop.
- Ke’e Beach – 5/4. This beach is at the end of the road on the north shore (the Kalalau Trail starts here). Amazing views of Na Pali with stunning sunsets. During winter there are supposed to be dangerous rip currents and surf, so we pretty much stayed out of the water. It actually looked quite calm and there were people snorkeling (there’s supposed to be amazing snorkeling here), but we just relaxed and enjoyed the sunset. It was pretty full when we got there (about an hour and a half before sunset), but we went a bit to the right and found a very quiet area. We set up the tent and were treated to a stunning sunset to the left and a full rainbow to the right. Simply an amazing place.
- Tunnels / Makua Beach – 4/5. This beach is a drop tricky to get to. It’s connected to Ha’ena Beach Park, so all the road signs point to that, not Tunnels. You could either go to Ha’ena and park in the big parking lot with full facilities and walk to the left for 10-15 minutes to get to Tunnels (which we did). Not a very easy walk in the soft sand but still very pleasant. Or you could keep your eyes peeled for the tiny sign announcing Tunnels Beach. It should be about 1 minute before the Ha’ena parking lot. There’s VERY limited parking there.
The beach surrounds a beautiful bay with stunning mountains on the left side (Makana Peak, better known as Bali Hai). The further to the right you go (but before the beach curves back around) the prettier the view. We went to watch sunrise and it was spectacular watching the mountains slowly getting lit up. The beach was pretty empty then too.
Again, there’s supposed to be amazing snorkeling here during the summer, but the water was pretty wild when we were there.
- Queens Bath is considered a death trap in the winter; we didn't bother.
- Po’ipu Beach – 2/5. This is the main beach by the GHK and is supposed be insanely amazing (I think it was even named one of the top 10 beached in the world). Quite frankly, I found it extremely meh (that’s the official scientific term
). It was PACKED, dirty, and generally unpleasant. There were so many people sitting there it may as well have been Coney Island. We found a spot right by the water with space for our tent, so at least we got some privacy. It didn't take us too long to figure out why that particular spot had been empty; right under the surface there were these humongous boulders and you couldn't even step into the water.
- The tree tunnel down to Po’ipu is awesome.
- Kapaa Beach Park 3/5 – We stopped here for lunch one day while driving through Kapaa. Not a very pretty beach at all (lots of garbage on the sand), but nevertheless a nice spot for a picnic if you’re in the area. Staying on the top of the bluff (off the parking on Kauwila St.) let us keep both the sunbathers and the garbage out of sight.
- The Glass Shack in Kapaa – 1/5. We stopped in after lunch at Kapaa Beach Park. You could watch them hand blow glass, but it’s marginally interesting. According to Kauai Revealed, they have “prices for the rest of us”. Dunno about that… There wasn't anything really worth buying, in any case. The most interesting part was when they found one of those 6” poisonous centipedes the Revealed books warn you about, and they made a hadlakah with it on the glass-melting torch.
My wife did enjoy the place a bit more; she says she’d give it 2/5.
- We stopped by Snorkel Bob’s to rent fins and masks. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they stock fins in my size (18-21 shoe size depending on the brand). If you rent for four days you could keep it for a week. The best part was that we could rent it on Kauai and return on the Big Island. Final cost was $89 for the week for the two of us. We didn't end up snorkeling on Kauai, but did on the Big Island.
- Waimea Canyon, Polihale Beach, Barking Sands, Kalalau / Pu’u o Kila Lookouts, Spouting Horn, Wailua Falls: All these were on out to do list but sadly we didn't get to see them. That happens when you go with a baby – everything takes far longer, you have to stop all the time for naps, feeding, etc.
- Hiking, Kayaking, etc: Generally not possible / very hard with a baby in tow. Next time…
- Regarding Shabbos we got a psak that we have to keep Shabbos on Saturday, as well as keep D’oreisas on Friday. That meant that we booked our flights on Hawaiian to the Big Island for Thursday morning, which allowed us plenty of time for the LIH-HNL-KOA trip.
We left to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Of course, this being essentially a few hours before Shabbos for us, we got a flat on the way to the airport. I had never gotten a flat before, so I had to learn to change a tire on top of everything else. Where’s Chaveirim when you need them?
We finally made it to the airport and through security right as our plane left the gate. Now the real fun started – the next flight was booked solid, but the one after that would cause us to miss our HNL connection, and no one knew where our luggage was. None of the other carriers had any flights that would work out either. Hawaiian put us on standby (for free, thanks to Dan’s corporate booking), and luckily in the end we were able to take the next flight out.
We finally got to HNL only to find out that we missed our connection after all, and of course the next flight is also booked solid. At least they found our luggage - the agent informed us that it had made the original LIH flight, and "should be" on the way to Kona now. B”H, they were able to get us onto the next flight and we made it to Kona in time to collect our stuff (our luggage made it!) and drive down to the house we rented in Ocean View (about 3 hours from the airport).
Throughout these crazy few hours I kept on trying to reach my dayan to see if it’s possible to rely on Chabad in such a situation, so that we could take a later flight. Otherwise we were facing the very real possibility of being stuck in Honolulu for a two-day Shabbos without a speck of food or clothing. In the end everything worked out B”H… I found out later that the poor dayan and his wife were in the hospital having baby while this schlub on vacation was dreying him ah kup
- In the end we had an absolutely AWESOME vacation, all thanks to Dan and DDF. We also officially have the Hawaii bug now and plan on returning to Kauai in June IY”H. This time we’re leaving the baby… We hope to do and see everything we couldn't the first time around.
Thanks for reading!