Aloha! We’re back from our quick 5 day Waikiki getaway. This was an affordable vacation and we spent around $600. That’s pretty good for a family of 3 in one of the most expensive locations in the U.S. How did we do it? Well, I cheated quite a bit on this trip and we weren’t really that cheap this time. Mrs. RB40 was actually on a business trip and we just tagged along. Her employer paid for her hotel and transportation so our expenses were minimum. We still had a ton of fun and it was a perfect beach vacation for me and RB40Jr. Unfortunately, Mrs. RB40 only had one day off. 🙁 Next time, we’ll have to stay a bit longer so she can enjoy Hawaii, too. Alright, here is how we spent so little on our Waikiki vacation.
Getting to Waikiki
Here is a quick overview of how we got to Waikiki. First off, we took an Uber ride from home to the Portland international airport, then flew from Portland directly to Honolulu. Lastly, we took the city bus from Honolulu airport to our hotel in Waikiki.
Our flight was at 7 am and it was too early to take public transportation from home so we ordered an Uber car instead. I gave Mrs. RB40 my Uber referral code and she got $22 off her first ride. That’s a great discount to start our trip. We paid $3 for this ride.
*My Uber code – joeu792ue. If you haven’t tried Uber yet, you can use this code and get $22 off your first ride. We don’t use Uber much, but it’s been very convenient when we did.
Next is our flight. Mrs. RB40 was in Hawaii for work so her employer paid for her flight. I used my credit card reward points for RB40Jr and my tickets. The flight cost 85,000 points so that’s not too bad. We flew separately from Mrs. RB40, though.
Once we landed in Honolulu airport, we took the city bus to Waikiki. That cost just $4 for two of us and gave us a glimpse of Honolulu. Mrs. RB40’s coworkers got a rental car and they drove to the other side of the island to visit a work site that day.
Staying in Waikiki
This was a work trip so Mrs. RB40’s employer paid for the hotel for most of our stay. We stayed an extra night and that cost us around $150. Our hotel, the Aqua Oasis, is a solid 2 star hotel in Waikiki. It was a few blocks from the beach, but that was perfectly fine with me. We arrived around 11 am and it was a bit too early to check in so we left all our bags and went out to explore a bit.
Our room was ready by the time we got back at 1 pm and we got upgraded to a bigger room on the Penthouse level. Score! We even had a glimpse of the Pacific ocean. The staff was very nice and I enjoyed our stay here. This hotel also includes a basic continental breakfast so we didn’t have to go out every meal. All in all, I thought this hotel was a very good 2 star hotel.
Getting around Waikiki
We contemplated renting a car, but it was more trouble that it was worth. The hotel charged $30 per day for parking. That’s pretty expensive. I figured we’d rent a car for the day if we really wanted to go for a drive. I’ve been to Oahu before and have seen all the touristy sites around the island so getting out of Waikiki wasn’t a big priority for me. I didn’t think our 6 year old kid would enjoy driving around Oahu all that much either. He was perfectly fine exploring the 2 mile long Waikiki beaches and seeing the local sites. There are plenty of stuff for us to do in Waikiki. Next time we come to Oahu on vacation, we’ll stay on the North Shore and skip Waikiki completely. Also, Mrs. RB40 already went to the North Shore to visit her work site on the first day so she had no desire to drive anywhere on her day off.
Luckily, our hotel had a free shuttle which stopped at various Aqua hotels along Waikiki and Ala Moana shopping center and beach park. This was just enough for us. We took the shuttle to Ala Moana and the Waikiki Aquarium. Other riders were dropped off near Diamond Head so they could go for a hike. The upshot was that we didn’t spend any extra money on local transportation. Nice!
The driver was awesome, too. He gave us some really useful tips.
Waikiki Beach is 2 miles long and has many different sections so there was plenty to explore on a relaxing beach vacation. RB40Jr really enjoyed playing in the warm ocean. That’s a big contrast from our usual beach trips in Oregon where you wear your jackets and you can’t even go in the water. For us, the best time to enjoy the beach was before noon. The sun got way too hot once it was high in the sky.
Snorkeling – I got a full face snorkeling mask for RB40Jr and convinced him to try snorkeling at Prince Kuhio beach. There is a seawall enclosure there and it was the perfect place for little kids to try snorkeling. We saw a bunch of silvery fishes near the seawall so it was a cool experience. There weren’t any of the colorful reef fishes, though. We’d probably have to go out a bit for that. We’ll try snorkeling again when he’s a bit older. I also got an inflatable life vest to help him stay afloat. He can swim a bit, but can’t stay afloat for any length of time yet.
Stand Up Paddle board – I’ve been hankering to try one of these SUP for a while now. We see people paddle down the Willamette river all the time and it looks like a lot of fun. There are some stands on the beach that rent a SUP for $25/hour. That’s not too bad if you’re by yourself, but I thought we’d need a little more time than one hour. Luckily, our shuttle bus driver told us about Quality Surfboard Hawaii. We rented a SUP for $30 for the day and carted it to the Hilton Lagoon. The lagoon was a perfect place for us to learn how to paddle. RB40Jr rode with me and we had a great time paddling around. He also tried his hand at paddling me around and he did pretty well for a little kid. Mrs. RB40 also tried a bit, but her right arm was hurting so she didn’t do it for long. It was the perfect first SUP experience with a kid along. We fell off the board a couple of times and I was glad we weren’t in the ocean. Carting the SUP around was no fun, though. It was less than half a mile from the shop to the lagoon so it wasn’t too bad.
Fort DeRussy Army Museum – We had a good time at the free army museum next to the beach. RB40Jr enjoyed looking at the old and new guns and other army weapons. There were also 2 tanks near the entrance and an old Cobra attack helicopter on roof. The Cobra gunship was so awesome. Even an out of commission Cobra looked lethal.
Waikiki Aquarium – We enjoyed seeing some colorful sea life up close at the Waikiki Aquarium. The entrance fee was $12 for adults and $5 for kids, 4-12 years old. It was nice to get out of the sun in the middle of the day too. RB40Jr picked up a stuffed turtle in the gift shop for $15. That was the only souvenir we purchased on this trip so I’m okay with that. I highly recommend the Waikiki Aquarium for little kids.
Free music and hula – There are free musical and hula performances at various locations around Waikiki. At the Kuhio mound, they have a free hula show every Tuesday and Thursday around 6 pm. There are free musical performances and cultural activities throughout the day at the upscale malls – the Royal Hawaiian Center, the International Marketplace, and Ala Moana. It’s a cheap way to get a taste of the local culture. We didn’t go to a luau on this trip because I don’t think RB40Jr would appreciate it. We’ll go when he’s a bit older.
Shopping – Waikiki seems like a shoppers paradise. There are a ton of fancy shops there. Unfortunately, all the high end shopping experience is wasted on the RB40 family. We didn’t buy anything and didn’t even step foot in any store. It’s amazing how many high end shops are in Waikiki now. The new International Marketplace is a very impressive outdoor mall. It’s open and airy and has many trees throughout the bright and shiny space. I miss the old International Marketplace, though. It was more fun to browse the little stalls to see if you could unearth some treasures.
Our shuttle driver told us many of the vendors moved to Duke’s Marketplace nearby. This is on Duke’s Lane, one street over from the new International Marketplace. We walked by and saw a lot of kitschy stuff and clothes for sale. If you’re looking for cheap gifts, Duke’s Marketplace might work. I heard you should bargain here.
Fireworks – There is free fireworks show at the Hilton Lagoon every Friday around 8 pm. We went to the beach near Ft DeRussy museum and had a pretty good view. It was a nice quick show.
Activities we didn’t do on this trip
- Pearl Harbor – I don’t like to visit tragedy sites so we didn’t go. Maybe we’ll visit someday.
- Diamond Head – I’ve done this hike before and did not enjoy it. It was so hot! RB40Jr can go with his mom when he’s older.
- Waterfall hikes – Hiking to various waterfalls sounds interesting, but we didn’t rent a car this time.
- Driving around Oahu and visiting other towns and beaches – I was too lazy this trip and I didn’t think RB40Jr would enjoy it. Mrs. RB40 was busy working and only had one day off. We took her to try the SUP and she enjoyed that. I would have liked to visit Kaimuki, Kaneohe, and other smaller towns, but that will have to wait until next time.
Now the best part of the trip – the FOOD! I visited Oahu for the first time 20 years ago and the food felt ridiculously expensive. We (me and 2 buddies) had just graduated from college and didn’t have much money. I think we ate a lot of fast food and convenient store packaged food on that trip. We had a lot of fun exploring Oahu, but food wasn’t a memorable experience back then.
This trip seemed a lot different. Now, it feels like the food isn’t much more expensive than eating out in Portland. I guess Portland is a much more expensive city now than 20 years ago as well. Even the gasoline costs about the same. Our financial situation changed a lot over the last 20 years also. Now, I’m a lot more comfortable financially and I don’t mind spending some money when we’re on vacation especially since we paid very little for lodging and transportation. I checked out all the good cheap eats, though. Being frugal is a hard habit to break.
A couple of tips for US travelers. First, bring cash. Many of the cheap eateries only take cash. Two, eat dinner a bit early. Hawaii time is later anyway so it’s okay to eat dinner a bit early and take advantage of happy hour. We might as well take advantage of the discounts, right?
Marukame Udon – Wow, this udon restaurant always has a long line of people waiting to get in. It’s no wonder because the noodle is freshly made right up front, the soup is decent, and the price is very affordable. Don’t worry about the line because it moves surprisingly fast.
Marukame Udon is a cafeteria style noodle house. You grab a tray, order your udon soup, and pick up some side orders (mostly tempura and rice balls.) The udon starts at $3.75 for a plain bowl of noodle and goes up to about $8 with more stuff added. Not bad at all. I got a curry udon ($5.25), Mrs. RB40 got a Nikutama ($6.25), and RB40Jr had a bunch of sides. The curry udon was pretty good, well worth the price.
Musubi & Bento IYASUME – This is a hole in the wall takeout joint with a few branches around Waikiki. You can pick up a variety of musubi, onigiri, and bento from here and take them to the beach. The musubis are actually quite good because you can get one with more stuff added. Mrs. RB40’s favorite was the musubi with spam, egg, bacon, and avocado. Interestingly, RB40Jr’s favorite was a simple kombu onigiri (rice ball stuffed with seasoned seaweed.) We went by here quite a few times to get some snacks for our beach outings. It’s easier to snack at the beach rather than packing up all our gear to go find a restaurant.
Once I dropped by after 6 pm and all the bentos were discounted to $4. Pretty good deal. Cash only.
Steak Shack – The Steak Shack is a takeout place next to the Ft DeRussy beach park. Their steak plate was plenty of food for me and RB40Jr to share. I ordered medium rare and got medium. The steak was good and it was a terrific deal for $8.75. RB40Jr didn’t have much trouble chewing the steak so you know it’s tender. Some of the salad was a bit wilted, but that’s a minor complaint. Cash only.
Maguro Brothers – Yet another take out shack that serves up awesome food. We got a chirashi (sushi on rice) & poke combo and added an order of uni (sea urchin) on the side. There isn’t a place to eat so we took it back to our hotel. Everything tasted like it was caught that morning and RB40Jr was scarfing down sushi as fast as he could. This is the only place where I wish we could have eaten more than once. There were too many eateries to try, though. Don’t miss the Maguro Brothers if you’re in Waikiki. It is a bit hidden on Lewers Street. Cash only.
Ramen Bario – This awesome ramen restaurant is part of the Waikiki Yokocho, a food court filled with authentic Japanese eateries. The Yokocho is in the basement of the Waikiki Shopping Center, right off Kalakaua Ave. I wish we stayed longer so we could try all the restaurants here, but we settled for Ramen Bario because I read good things about it on Yelp.
I tried the tsukemen ($12), Mrs. RB40 had ramen ($11), and RB40Jr had gyoza ($5.) This was the first tsukemen I tried and it was fantastic. You’re supposed to grab some noodle on your chopstick and dip it in the rich concentrated broth. Tsukemen is big in Japan, but I’ve never seen it in Portland. I really enjoyed the tsukemen and still salivate every time I think about it. So Ono! I’m sure it was a sodium bomb, though. One ramen per trip was enough for us. You have to drink a lot of water when you go to a ramen restaurant so you don’t feel bloated afterward. This place automatically adds 15% for tip.
Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ – This yakiniku restaurant was right across the street from our hotel. The dinner menu wasn’t cheap, but the lunch specials were very affordable. We got 2 lunch specials ($12 each) and a side of gyoza ($5) for Junior. This was the first time we tried yakiniku at the table and it was a fun experience. I enjoyed grilling our meat and everything was delicious. The yuzu beef tongue was the best of the bunch. We also got rice, salad, and edamame with the meal so it was a great deal for around $30.
Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin – Tonkatsu is Japanese style deep fried pork cutlet. The dinner here is pretty expensive, but lunch wasn’t too bad. I got the mix katsu plate for $13 and it was a ton of food. The lunch special doesn’t look like a lot of food in the picture above, but I barely finished it. The mixed katsu plate has 4 different kind of katsu on it. The lunch also came with all you can eat shredded cabbage and rice. The shredded cabbage was great with the house sesame dressing and I had a 2nd helping. The tonkatsu was really good too. The breading was light and crispy, and it wasn’t greasy at all. The meat was tender and juicy too. I rarely order katsu when we go out, but I enjoyed this meal. It was delicious. This restaurant automatically adds 15% for tip.
Yauatcha – This upscale dim sum restaurant is on the 3rd floor of the new International Marketplace. We went for happy hour and sat at the bar. Yes, RB40Jr sat at the bar with us. This is different than Portland. I’ve never been to a restaurant that allow kids at the bar. They have $6 dim sum and $8 drinks during happy hour so it’s a great way to try some fancy dim sum.
RB40Jr had shui mai (pork and prawn dumpling) and xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings). Mrs. RB40 and I shared the shrimp shui mai, roasted duck pumpkin puff, crispy prawn dumpling, and har gaw. Everything was good and our favorite was the pumpkin puff. I’d say go with something you haven’t tried before if you visit Yauatcha.
The desserts are supposed to be really good too, but we were already stuffed. We had a big lunch earlier at Gyu-Kaku BBQ. RB40Jr didn’t eat much lunch there so he pestered us to eat dinner early. Oh well, we’ll make sure to save room for dessert next time.
All in all, we had many great meals in Waikiki. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to restaurants outside of Waikiki. I heard that the Rainbow Drive-in and Helena’s have very good Hawaiian food, but we’d need a car to get there. I think that’s okay, though. It’s good to save something for next time.
Back to regular life
It’s always tough to come back from a nice vacation. My early retirement lifestyle in Portland is almost ideal, but I already wish I’m back in Hawaii. The weather was great and there are so many good things to eat. Someday we’ll spend extensive time in Hawaii and see what’s it really like to live there. Being a tourist is different than living there. Honolulu’s traffic is pretty bad. We’d probably go with one of the smaller towns, though.
Anyway, RB40Jr has to go back to school tomorrow and he has soccer practice in the afternoon, too. I have to go back to the gym to work off those great meals. Life goes on.
Have you been to Waikiki lately? How do you like it there? I hope you didn’t go to the Cheesecake Factory. There are so many other interesting places to try. Mahalo for reading!