Flights Schedules: (All of this assumes a mainland US departure. We fly from DFW airport.) On the way over, its best to arrive earlier. Ideally, we like to arrive around 2pm. This gives us enough time to make a leisurely trip to the grocery store for supplies, drive to the house in Princeville, and make it onto the back lanai by sunset. The island pretty well shuts down after dark. In our experience, you can still get a cab if you arrive on a late flight, but forget about easily finding a good meal at 11pm. If you do choose a late flight, double check with your rental car company to make sure the counter will still be open so you can pick up your rental car.
On the return flight, the later the better. You’ll be able to sleep for most of the way back, and you’ll arrive early in the morning at your destination. In contrast, if you leave on a mid-afternoon flight, you will arrive at your destination or your connection late at night. In our case, if we take an early afternoon flight from Kauai, we arrive in LA with just enough time to catch the last flight out that night for DFW. If we miss that flight, we get to sleep in an airport.
Return Flights Arrive a Day Later: Keep in mind – and make sure you tell your spouse – you typically get back one day after you leave. Make sure you don’t make plans for the day after your flight – you’ll be arriving that day. (Don’t laugh, this has happened to us more than once.)
Flight Upgrades: If you’re wondering which upgrades are worth the bucks, here’s our advice:
Seat Upgrades: Consider paying a little more (typically around $30 if you’re flying American) for a slightly better seat on the way over. A window seat on the left side of the plane will give you the opportunity to see the whole Hawaiian island chain as the plane flies past. You can’t see it every time – it depends on the exact location of the plane and the cloud cover – but it seems like we’ve seen pretty amazing views more often than not.
Upgrading to First Class: When we fly first class, we like to make it count. We fly first class only on the flight over to Kauai, and not the return flight. The flight to the island is a daytime flight with all of the excitement of a once-in-a-lifetime experience behind it. You appreciate being served breakfast and mimosas. And since you’re awake, you benefit from the extra seat room. If you pick a late afternoon or evening flight on the way back, you sleep the whole way, so you’re not awake to enjoy being in first class.
The Best Upgrade, a Direct Flight: Few things are better than first class, but a direct flight is one of them (in our opinion, anyway). If you are choosing between upgrading to first class and a direct flight, go with the direct flight. We recently flew American’s new seasonal route from DFW to LIH. It was 8.5 hours long, but it didn’t really seem much longer than the flight from DFW to LAX – where we usually have our layover. To us, worth the extra expense.
Cab / Taxi: Hele Hale is an hour drive from the Lihue Airport. A cab ride will cost around $100 each way before tip. If you need to take a cab from the airport, we recommend pre-booking with Kauai Taxi Company. If you do not pre-book your cab, a taxi driver will be randomly assigned to you at the airport, and we’re not not entirely sure that some of those drivers should be allowed to operate a vehicle. Please note, if you do not pre-book your cab, you will need to call from the phone outside of baggage claim to order a cab. You cannot flag a cab from the curb.
Rental Cars: Most travelers will want to rent a car for the duration of their stay as many attractions are remote and do not offer bus service. You may find that some of the local rental car companies offer lower rates or better features, such as several free extra drivers, than the national companies (Rent-A-Wreck offers low cost rentals). However, be very wary of private individuals renting their car on Craigslist or Facebook - their insurance will likely not cover you if you get in an accident. Some rental cars seat up to seven people, so one car may work for even a large-ish group, especially if you don't have too much baggage.
Public Transport: If you are considering public transit for any portion of your stay, the nearest bus stop is at the Princeville Public Library, 1.3 miles from the house along a mostly paved, flat path. You can see bus routes at kauai.gov. The bus could provide fun day trips to Hanalei, Kilauea, or Kapaa.
North Shore Shuttle: All of the good stuff past Hanalei has been off limits for over a year due to flooding and road repairs. Beginning June, 2019 when the road re-opens, there will be very limited parking and a reservation process for spaces. There will also be a new North Shore Shuttle that leaves from Princeville Center that will cost $11 per person and will take you all the way to Ha'ena State Park at the "end of the road."
Walkable Attractions: Within a gorgeous 1.5 mile walk, you can find shops, restaurants, a gas station, grocery store, several gorgeous beaches (all require a 120' hike down to the water), and Queen's Bath. See more info on things to do nearby here.
Group Activities by Location: Clump your activities so that you spend more time seeing and doing, instead of driving. The island of Kauai is very small, so people underestimate how long it takes to get places. Keep in mind that Princeville is almost all the way on the north end of the highway. And, no, the highway is not a circle. So, the drive to Waimea Canyon takes around 2 hours one way, quite the commitment. Additionally, the speed limit never exceeds 50 miles per hour, and the highway goes through all of the towns, so there are frequent stops and slow-downs. Plan more carefully for trips south of Kapa'a as traffic tends to back up badly between Kapa'a and Wailua. See more about things to do here.
Schedule Tours / Guided Adventures: Before your trip, figure out what tours you want to go on, check the weather forecast, and call to reserve your spot. It’s best to schedule your tours for earlier in the trip. That way, if the weather is bad, and you need to reschedule, you can do so before you trip is over. Also, make sure you consult the map for driving times before booking your tours. Yes, there are great surfing lessons in Poipu, but there are also great surfing lessons in Hanalei, which will save you over 1.5 hours of drive time. Same goes for boat tours, helicopter tours, kayak tours, and more!
Be Careful: Many things to do in Kauai are dangerous, especially if weather conditions are bad. Even some of the major tourist attractions, like Queen’s Bath, can be extremely dangerous so do your research and be safe.
Take in the Sights: Everything is incredibly gorgeous in Kauai! Everywhere you look is the most gorgeous sight you've ever seen - the most beautiful parking lot, the most amazing gas station. Just taking a walk along the path right behind the house on the golf course is breathtaking. Be prepared to stop at the scenic overlooks.
Saving Time & Money on Errands
Saving Money on Groceries: You won’t want to do it. You’ll be tired and cranky from your flight, but if (after getting your rental car), you go directly to Costco and Wal-Mart to buy most of your groceries and alcohol, you will easily save hundreds of dollars. Food in the small grocery store by the house is easily 3 times more expensive than on the mainland (a can of tomatoes is literally $4). Don’t think “I’ll just head to the house today, pick up a few groceries at the store nearby for a quick meal, and go back to Costco later.” We’ve done this more than once. You’ll spend hundreds of dollars (not kidding) on basics for just a couple of meals, and then you’ll waste basically a whole day driving one hour each way to go to Costco. The prices at Costco seem comparable to mainland prices.
This is how we like to organize our grocery lists:
Costco: Sandwich Fixin's (deli meat, sliced cheese, bread), Breakfast Foods (Bacon, Eggs, Milk, Butter), Chicken, Ground Beef, Steak (SOOOOOOO much better and cheaper than anywhere else on island), Beach Snacks, Chips & Dip, Toilet Paper, Alcohol
Wal Mart: Condiments for sandwiches, spices, and anything pre-packaged that you need in smaller volumes. Paper towels.
Foodland: This is the store closest to the house. They have a remarkable selection for such a small store, but prices are high. Go here for things your forgot, or things that need to stay frozen. Also, go here for poke. It's some of the best on the island.
Farmer's Market: You'll be surprised to find that the produce in Foodland and Wal-Mart just isn't very good. Costco is about what you'd expect. But the best produce you'll find at the local farmer's market. Farmer's market prices are maybe 50% more than mainland prices. Here are some examples: $5 for a bag of spring mix, $3 for a bunch of beets, $4 for a huge avocado, $2 for herbs. The two closest and best farmer's markets are Hanalei on Saturdays from 9:30am-noon, and Anaina Hou on Tuesdays from 2pm-dusk.
Errands: One of the things we love about our place in Princeville is its proximity to all of the necessities. There are plenty of places you could stay on the island that are a 20 minute drive to anything - grocery store, restaurant, beach, shopping, gas station. Princeville Center is 1.5 just miles down the road (you could even walk: there's even a nice, mostly flat, paved path with amazing mountain and golf course views). There are several restaurants from fine dining to fast food, a gas station, a grocery store, boutique shopping, and even a post office.
Eliminating Errands & Chores
If you cannot (or don't want to - it's your vacation!) go to Costco after 12+ hours of travel, you might consider using a service to eliminate those chores entirely.
Kauai Island Shopping Service will do your grocery shopping for you, and stock your groceries in the house before your arrival. Their fee is 25% of the total, plus a flat delivery fee of $50. It was so nice not to have to go to the grocery store immediately after arriving at the house from our long flight. Kauai KISS will even go to more than one store for you - we asked them to shop Costco and another grocery store or some smaller items. Don't forget your toiletries, toilet paper, and beverages!
Worried about the house getting a little dirty after the first week? Don't want to clean it yourself? Just let us know! We can arrange for the house to be cleaned - even if you want the cleaner to come while you're away.