Our first trip to Kauai took place on December 14-28, 2000, so I'm no expert on Kauai. However, some of my observations could come in handy for those of you visiting the island for the first time in winter. I strongly recommend you research any vacation destination, and a good place to start is with epinions.com, where I was able to garner information about our accommodations, what to see and do, and how to make the most of our time.
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We booked our family vacation back in February, at a time when Aloha Airlines had newly introduced service to Hawaii from Oakland, CA; and I had some time to research information about our accommodations. Our plan was to book a three or four condo units with extended family the first week, and after everyone left to return home for Christmas, my husband, my 7 year old son and I would move over to a more upscale resort for the second week, figuring we'd need a break (and boy, did we). I thought I did a good job in researching our accommodations, and booked three, two bedroom condos at a Pahio Resort (Bali Hai) in Princeville and a week at the Marriott resort near Lihue for just us. Had I known then, what I know now about location and winter ocean conditions, I probably would not have booked condos in Princeville (I'll explain later).
As it turned out, none of us ended up in Princeville, as upon check-in, we learned the resort neglected to inform us (prior to our arrival) that our units we unavailable (go figure...still under construction). To say the least, I was fit to be tied, as I had read so much about the beauty of the Princeville area. For the first night, we were all placed in Pahio Condos, in different locations - not our idea of a family vacation. The next day we learned we had very little options, and accepted three large condos between Lihue and Kapaa at the Pahio Kauai Beach Villas. Thinking our trip was ruined, I made numerous phone calls, without much luck. So we all packed up and moved. Although our condos in Princeville were very nice, none had ocean views. Infact, there were no beaches within walking distance (which I didn't realize when I booked our accommodations). The very upscale Princeville community consisted of condos and homes with stunning golf course views. A few had spectacular cliff views, and the nearest beach was a 5 minute (make that 15 minutes with kids) drive away. Not a bad location had we come in June. Unfortunately, during the winter months, the north and west facing coasts get pounded with 10-25 feet surf. Great for surfers, but not for those of you looking to swim or snorkel.
Our new accommodations were somewhat smaller, but they were in the same resort complex, and they were all ocean front (which made making the move a little easier)! It's location turned out to be better suited for what we wanted to do. I am still fuming over the issue of not getting accommodations in Princeville, but by the end of the week we all realized the move was for the better.
If you are planning a trip to Kauai between November and March, you should keep the following in mind:
1) Although the weather was perfect (we encountered only two short showers in the pm), it's cooler than I would have expected (about 75-78 degrees in the sun, and in the low 60's at night). Bring a sweater for the evenings and more than just shorts for the kids.
2) The ocean water temperature is in the low 70's, and not very inviting. The kids spent more time in the hotel's jacuzzi!
3) The beaches near Princeville are breathtaking, but the surf was too high to allow the kids in the water. Some of the best dive and snorkel sites are located on the north and west ends of island; unfortunately, all too rough to enjoy.
4) If you plan to see most of the sites the island has to offer, a more centrally located resort should be your choice. The Kauai Beach Villas turned out to be about a half hours drive to either end of the island. It's location was perfect, as we were close to grocery stores, restaurants and what little night life Kauai has to offer. Had we remained in Princeville, the several trips we made to Poipu on the south end of the island, would have been a 90 minute or more one way trip with kids!
5) The same holds true, in my opinion, about the south end of the island, where the beaches and snorkeling were the best in the winter. To get to other locations from Poipu would have meant long commute times, something we were not wanting to do.
Some examples of what we did included the following (remember, we had two weeks on the island):
Kayaking the Wailua River and hiking to a secret waterfall (just the most awesome thing we did) and Fern Grotto. Easy for kids too.
Snorkeling at Lydgate Park near Kapaa (very shallow with lots of fish)
Snorkeling in the Poipu area.
Scuba Diving with Sea Sport Divers in Koloa.
Hiking Waimea Canyon - too challenging for young kids.
Hiking the Kalalau Trail (on the north end of the island) - 2 miles in - too challenging for young kids.
My husband went golfing at Princeville Makai Course - quite expensive (just under $180 for 18 holes).
Visited waterfalls, a light house, and many beaches along the coast.
Attended a Luau at Gaylords at the Kilohana Plantation. The food was better than expected. The entertainment was okay (we've been to other Luaus, and none impress me that much. But the food was the best, hands down.)
Played lots of volleyball at Kalapaki Beach - the only place on the island with regulation courts, maintained by a local club at the beach in front of the Marriott Hotel (my husband used to play competatively many years ago and still does)
Visited a Guava Plantation on the way to Hanalei (worth going to see).
After visiting the Waimea Canyon (aka the Grand Canyon of the Pacific) we drove to Polihale beach, known for it's huge surf and beautiful sunsets.
Returning from Polihale beach, we stopped at Hanapepe Town for lunch and ice cream.
Tour the Kilauea Lighthouse. Worth seeing the view. We were hoping to see whales (which were out there, just not when we went).
Visited the Spouting Horn near Poipu. We bought freshwater pearls here at the jewelry stands near by...they had the best prices (I was told they did, but I had to see for my self, as we drove back here a second time!)
Snorkeling at Lawai Beach (near the Spouting Horn) - the best place this trip, with good visibility and lots of fish. Water was a little rough - not for beginners.
See the Christmas Light parade in Waimea Town - a must for little kids.
Christmas Buffet at the Marriott - the best buffet I had ever been to.
Many of our activities were combined with others, but as you can see there is a lot to do here. I wasn't impressed with the snorkeling or the scuba diving, as the visibility wasn't the best. I'm told the best time to do that is in the summer. We did a lot of driving, and found it helped to book our rental car far in advance for the best rate.
Please continue to keep in mind that my recommendations only apply to a winter vacation (as I have never been here in the summer). We had a great time, and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Kauai in the winter. Just be sure you look carefully at what you plan on doing. If you are looking to stay at a beach front resort, with no plans to do much else, but swim and snorkel, I'd recommend Poipu. If you are looking to golf for a week, head to Princeville. Otherwise, I'd recommend looking into a more centrally located condo or resort. As it turned out, the move we made was the best thing that could have happened. Please refer to my resort reviews for more information on our accommodations in Kauai. Thanks for reading.
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