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Friday, January 30, 2015

Aloha, You Dumb Tourist - The Drawbacks of Paradise

Danielle diving with the sea turtles
Danielle diving next to a sea turtle in Napili Bay, Maui.
There is no such thing as a perfect paradise on Earth, but Maui comes pretty darn close. Warm ocean waters teeming with beautiful sea life. Breathtaking views from all over the island. Food so good you'll think you're dreaming. And enough zip-lining, boat-riding, parasailing, surfing, swimming, hiking, and sun-tanning to occupy adventurists of any age.

Ultimately—as our chill surf instructor would say—"It's all cool, bro."

Still, this paradise isn't without its drawbacks, and after ten days of writing and photographing and videotaping and tweeting and Facebooking and everything-else-ing the most delicious aspects of this tropical heaven, we thought it might be prudent to warn you about some of the drawbacks. So if you're thinking of visiting Maui, here are some of the things that tripped us up during our vacation (not that Maui isn't still one of the most awesomest places on earth!)

Bad Directions

For some reason the locals don't know how to give directions, so if you get directions, make sure they are very, very specific. Because sometimes "hang right and it's on your left" really means "turn right, drive two miles, you'll see a really complicated intersection with lots of touristy stuff, but if you turn left down the really narrow one way road that you can't really see because of the palm trees and keep your eyes looking to the left you'll eventually see a really small building with a tiny pink sign that says Hala-ooh-I-Can't-Pronounce-This-Word in minuscule print."

Other times it's as simple as, "See that sign that says, 'Do not enter'? Enter there." (No, seriously, someone said that to us, but, hey, it got us where we wanted to go.)

Beware the Tip Jar

Maui's tourism industry thrives off tips
Maui is all about tourism, which means most of the locals work in the service industry and thrive off tips. This gets especially irritating when you book a tour as part of a "package deal," like we did with our sunrise/bicycle/zip line tour. We had no less than five different people to tip—the bus driver who picked us up, the sunrise tour guide, the bicycle tour guide, the zip line guys, and the driver who took us back. We didn't have enough cash to tip everyone, but if we had that would've easily been $80 in tips to three different companies for one excursion.

Timeshare Discounts

Danielle and I wanted to go on a whale-watching tour, so we went to Boss Frog's, one of Maui's top tourism meccas for anything and everything you want to do. A Super cool dude named Mark said he had a great deal for us—a $140 dinner cruise on which we would see whales for $12 if we agreed to sit through a timeshare presentation for 90 minutes. Ninety minutes. That's nine, zero. Super Cool Mark told us if they didn't hold to that to let him know. Dinner, a boat ride, whales, all for $12? I can suffer a 90-minute blowhard, sure.

But the dinner cruise was a disappointment. It wasn't technically a "whale watching tour," so the captain wasn't obligated to go hunt down whales. We saw some way out on the horizon, but not as up close as the official whale-watching boats. The food was mediocre, the drinks were disappointing, and don't even get me started on the timeshare people who did not stick to their 90-minute promise—two hours and ten minutes later, we weren't happy.

Back to Super Cool Mark. When we told him about our disappointing experience he did us a solid and sent us on a whale-watching tour at 50 percent off the listed price. Thanks, dude!

Not All Beaches Are Created Equal

A rental car can take you from bad beach to awesome beach
If you go to Maui, rent a car. There shouldn't be any ifs, ands, or buts about it. Your own transportation is a must. Taxis are expensive. Buses are scattered. And you might have a hotel with a very rocky beach when there is a silky, sandy beach just two miles down the road. Fortunately a car came with our vacation package, and we used it every day.

Read the Fine Print

Like I wrote in Friday's blog, Cost-Saving Vacation Tips, having the best hotel wasn't a priority for us. We like to do stuff. The hotel was just a place to crash. Still, I knew my beach-loving wife would love a hotel room on the beach, so when I booked the hotel I was sure to note that I had chosen a room with an "oceanfront view." The room we got, however, did not have an oceanfront view. The hotel was an oceanfront hotel WITH oceanfront views, but not every room had such a view.

I doubt it was the intention of the hotel owners to be misleading in this way. It was likely Expedia's fault for not communicating to the hotel that we had selected an oceanfront room. When I showed the lady at the hotel's front desk my receipt for the room and that it very clearly said "oceanfront" she quickly and kindly moved us to a much better room with a majestic view of the Pacific. So be careful when you book to read the fine print, but don't be afraid to inquire about discrepancies.

Lost in Translation

Speaking of communication errors, we noticed several times there was a breakdown in communication between companies—whether it was between Expedia and our hotel, the timeshare people and Super Cool Mark, or the three different companies operating our sunrise/bicycle/zip line tour. It seemed like everyone was on their own schedules, but no one was on anybody else's. When so many cooks are stirring the pot there needs to be better communication.

That goes for websites, too. Three times we encountered situations where what we got was not what was offered on the website—not the least of which was Anthony's, a little hippie cafe that offered picnic lunches with rentable coolers on their website. When we stopped there on the Road to Hana, we found out that lunches were more expensive than the website listed, and cooler rentals were no longer an option. You had to buy one for $8. The food wasn't that great either.

Aloha ... You Dumb Tourist

The Shaka, or "Hang Loose" hand sign
Hawaii might be called The Aloha State, but real Hawaiians don't seem to say, "Aloha." Trust me, as a tourist, you'll get Alohaed at every corner, but if you start saying it back you'll stick out like a sore thumb. Real Hawaiians say, "What's up, brudda!" or "What's up, sister!" They're also fond of "Hello," "Hi," and the more modern, "Hey!"

Oh, and if you think about flashing the "hang loose" hand sign, it's ok. Everybody does it. But you're not in Southern California, so don't call it "hang loose." In Hawaii, it's the Shaka.

Get it? Got it? Good!


  1. Oh, this post made me laugh! My husband and I went to Kauai for my sister's wedding last year (and carried no expense back with us!). Many of the things you listed applied to us as well on that little island of Hawaii. The tip jar, the beaches (and yes...get a car!), lost in translation. Thankfully neither of us decided to uhm...shall I say...."sound like a native"? We are from the midwest and with our attire, I think they could tell we weren't from the area. Neither of us are beach bums and this trip was never on our radar. But we enjoyed it. Thanks for the fun post. It brought me back... :)

    1. Haha! Thanks Theresa for reading. We loved Maui, and we're very interested in checking out Kauai at some point. We hear it's less touristy, which might make for a better place to relocate... some day *gazes wistfully into the distance*