How to Travel to Hawaii Using Military Discounts

If you’ve ever visited Hawaii or even just thought about it, you spent money! As beautiful of a paradise as it is, wow is it expensive! My family was very fortunate to be able to visit the gorgeous island of Oahu this past month.  Taking a family of five to this island paradise is a major investment in fun and experience, so we looked to save any way possible.

 Along the Kamehameha Highway

Along the Kamehameha Highway

The first and major money saver was that we were able to secure a reservation at the beautiful Hale Koa Hotel along Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu. This was my husband’s first visit to the islands, although he’s traveled to every other corner of the Earth, and my first stay as a military spouse.  We stumbled upon the Hale Koa even though neither of us really had a clue what to expect. What a blessing!

1. The room discount is amazing!

Originally we booked a private condo through another company, but were able to slide into a reservation at the Hale Koa after asking to be put on a cancellation list. I’m so happy we did! They take reservations up to six months in advance, which I highly recommend, but we called only four months out. Even though we had to pay a cancellation fee for the other company, we still came out ahead with the room discount the hotel offered us. We learned that we could sponsor up to three additional rooms along with our own while we are staying there, so I guess we need to plan another trip soon! This is also something that anyone stationed on island can do without having to stay there.

2. There are so many amenities at the hotel!

First, to be located on the ocean at Waikiki Beach is unbelievable and each room has at least a partial view of the ocean. We were told we had a garden view and were totally fine with it. We couldn’t believe our eyes upon arrival that we could still see the sun come up every morning over the ocean from our balcony!

There is a mini Navy Exchange located in the hotel that has a little bit of everything you could need from clothes and some groceries to multiple souvenirs and more. We definitely did all our shopping there for gifts and also bought breakfast to go a number of mornings. 

There were multiple restaurants located at the hotel along with a few bars and one offered an extra military discount on drinks. The prices were a little expensive, but we were happy with every meal we had there. The kids’ favorite was wings and pizza poolside!

Speaking of pools, there are two on the property. One is for adults only and the second one, with a spectacular view of the ocean, is also for kids. It was a beautiful pool and very safe with multiple lifeguards keeping a close watch, much to the kids’ dismay!

3. There are multiple free things to do on island!

Although we felt like we could stay at the hotel the entire visit, we really wanted to see the island. We found a number of activities that didn’t cost us a thing.

 Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

The Pearl Harbor Memorial is free to the public but I was very glad we followed the advice on their website and arrived early. They open at 7 and only hand out a specific number of free tickets every day, so getting there early was key. It was a sobering visit to a horrible day in our history, but one that I feel is so important for all of us, including the kids, to experience.

We were told before our trip that we needed to eat malasadas, which are basically a Portuguese donut. There was, however, only one type of malasada that would do and that was from Leonard’s. We unexpectedly found them after trying to drive to a breakfast restaurant and we couldn’t get there because a 10k run shut down one of the main highways. On our way to a different restaurant (with a grumpy, hungry crew in tow), we saw the Leonard’s truck sitting in a parking lot. My husband flipped the jeep around and we screeched to a halt next to the truck. I jumped out with the kids in pursuit and quickly bought one of each type of malasada they had. Standing in the parking lot, I handed everyone a toasty confection of sugary goodness. It was heaven! Never again will I be able to eat a donut of any kind without thinking of the magical malasadas from Leonard’s. It is a must do!

Thank heavens our oldest is stationed there so he knew some excellent sights off the main path. A short drive outside of Pearl City into a regular looking neighborhood took us to the trailhead of Manoa Falls. This fantastic hike was about a mile and a half one-way and ended at a breathtaking waterfall. There the older boys jumped off the high rocks into the deep water and the younger two found a shorter jump. It did have some challenging hiking up and down tree roots but even our 9 year old princess made it on her own both in and out. We did have to promise ice cream after to help with complaining on our way out but all in all it was rather whine-free (although our 11-year-old talked nonstop the entire hike). This was another of thousands of examples of Hawaii’s stunning sights.

 Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay was also free with military ID, much to our surprise. This is another place you need to show up early. They also open at 7. Our on-island guide told us to get there early. That was the plan until alarm clocks went off! We didn’t leave until after 8:30 and as a result, there was no parking. We had to park down the road and walk up. Even though we had to wait in lines for quite a while and didn’t get in the water until after 11, we had a spectacular time. Between everyone snorkeling, we saw a sea turtle, a giant parrotfish, angelfish, a porcupine puffer fish and so much more! It was such a great time for all and didn’t cost us a dime!

 Shrimp Shack was awesome!

Shrimp Shack was awesome!

On the advice of a friend, we decided after snorkeling to take Kamehameha Highway along the coast of the island up to the North Shore to find the shrimp trucks. This wasn’t free since we obviously paid for a meal, but the drive itself was gorgeous! The sparkling turquoise water with small, white sailboats bobbing in the shallows followed by lush green forests where they actually filmed Jurassic Park took our breath away! The views were fantastic! Not to mention a delicious meal of shrimp from the Shrimp Shack! So much buttery, garlic goodness!

 North Shore

North Shore

Our weeklong visit ended much too soon and this has become a fast family favorite! This tropical paradise with killer views that go on forever mixed with amazing water activities and endless outside adventures fits our family perfectly. I am already counting down to our next visit, although I’m not sure when that’s happening, but this small chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean are my soul’s perfect destination.