Seems like everyone and his/her/their brother is here today and gone to Maui.
Hawaii is a prime destination this summer for all the obvious reasons and then some. Sunshine, sand and mai tais are the siren call for some who’ve long been waiting to get on a plane. And the state’s strict entry requirements appeal to those more hesitant to drop the mask and get out of town. Hawaii is perceived to be safer than other destinations, although COVID cases are rising given the proliferation of the Delta variant. Here’s the Maui County graph for new cases this past week per The New York Times:
Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach is always crowded in the summer, but I’ve never seen it busier than it is this July. Should you bother to go? Absolutely. But be prepared to jump through a number of, um, hula hoops. We figured it all out bit by bit but here is the primer I wish I’d had to work with when we planned our trip.
First things first:
Book your trip and your travel as far ahead as possible. Forget those bargain offers from a year ago. However “transitory” they say inflation may be, it is with us now and everything is super expensive. And for you spontaneous types, don’t even think about showing up without lodging reservations – the CE saw someone at the reception desk at our hotel inquiring about a room and the answer was “zero vacancy”.
Once you’ve got a flight reservation and a roof reserved over your head, get your restaurant reservations lined up. In the past, we used to wander over to Hula Grill and put our names on a fifteen-minute waiting list to sit in their sweet sand-side tables. Last week that waiting list, if they would even take your name, could be two or three hours long.
Here’s the CE at the Hula. “Table for 15, please?”
The quandary is this: hotels are fully open and fully occupied. Restaurants were allowed to go to 75% capacity on July 8 – but there’s a Catch 22: they have to be able to maintain the six foot distancing rule. Thus, the 75% capacity is more like 50%.
I started calling restaurants early in May to request reservations for our trip. Hula Grill was already almost booked through the end of July at that point. I thought we would be able to fill in the gaps once we arrived but it wasn’t easy. Oh, and don’t count on room service – due to COVID there is currently no room service, at least at the Westin Maui where we stayed. Their Hale Mo’olelo beach bar and the adjacent deli turned out to be a lifesaver for our group.
Another option is to dine at odd hours – if you don’t mind eating dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon you might be able to get a table somewhere. Or try someplace like Monkeypod Kitchen at Whaler’s Village, where it’s first-come, first-served since they don’t take reservations. I was never able to score a reservation at Leilani’s or Duke’s, but by setting an alert on the OpenTable app, I did get a table for two one night at the Hyatt Regency’s Sonz Steakhouse. Japengo at the Hyatt is a tougher reservation but so worth it – the sushi and the view are superb.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. You can’t fight for a place at the table until you’ve made it to the island. And they don’t make it easy. Even with the slightly more relaxed rules as of July 8, 2021, you still have a lot of work to do. Bookmark the travel.hawaii.gov web site because you will be spending a lot of time there prior to your trip.
As soon as you have your flight reservations you can create an account on the web site and, if you’ve had the jab, upload a copy of your vaccination card.
If you are unvaccinated, you will need to peruse the list of “trusted travel partners” to find an accepted testing source. You will have to have the COVID test (note that ONLY NAAT or PCR test results are accepted) AND receive your results all within 72 hours of your flight.
Keep in mind that the tests can be pricey – last quote I saw was $140 – and that things can go wrong. One of our family members was belatedly told that “the test vial was damaged”, had to race to take a second test and literally did not get the test results until they were standing in line to board their airplane.
I was feeling just a bit too smug about my own preparedness for the trip. I’d long since uploaded my vaccination info, packed plenty of masks and was ready to settle in for the five-hour glide over the Pacific. What I had failed to comprehend, however, was the pursuit of the wily Hawaii wristband. You can’t get in without it.
For some reason, I thought we just showed up at our departure gate and it would be issued. No, no, no. The last, and possibly most important hoop, a hoop of fire to rival any Polynesian warrior dance, is the completion of the Health Questionnaire on the web site within twenty-four hours prior to your flight.
Yes, I know it says so right there on the web site. How I faltered I do not know, but I was not the only one. Many people on our flight were completely clueless about the wristband requirement.
If you’ve paid attention and complete the questionnaire a few hours in advance, you will calmly await the arrival of your coveted QR code in your email. It will look like this:
If you screw it up like I did and rush to get it done while standing in line for your wristband at the airport where the wi-fi is funky and connectivity is slow, you will sweat bullets (and, in my case, a few tears) awaiting that elusive email. Fortunately, ours arrived in the nick of time. No piece of jewelry I own could seem as valuable at that moment as the hard-won wristband:
If you don’t get your wristband before you board your flight, you will have to procure it when you reach the airport in Maui. There were at least a hundred people in line for it when we arrived. What a way to start your vacation…ugh!
Last hoop: we had to show our wristband and our QR code – with the obligatory green checkmarks indicating our “exemption” at our hotel check-in. That hurdle accomplished, we were finally, officially on vacation.
One last thing on your checklist – don’t forget to take your masks. They are required for entry to some restaurants and most retail stores. I would say maybe 15% of the guests at our hotel were wearing masks on the elevators and even outside.
Just remember to remove your mask when your mai tai arrives…you’ve earned one by the time you make it to Ka’anapali!