To luau or not to luau? Your Hawaii tips

By Marnie Hunter, CNNPublished 7th May 2012
Pricey tourist trap, cultural experience, or both? A handful of readers took issue with a recent suggestion that Hawaii visitors skip the luau in a list of Hawaii do's and don'ts.
And the luau was just one topic in the stream of suggestions commenters offered for making the most of a trip to the Aloha State.
Here are some of the tips. Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts below.
DO NOT skip the luau, say multiple commenters, in response to one author's advice to give it a miss.
"Shame on you. Don't go to a luau? For goodness sake, how else can tourists connect with even a small part of Hawaiian culture?" asked a commenter with the handle Stanley Steamer.
"Just try to find one given by a church or as a fundraiser for a community organization -- it will be completely authentic," commenter Etian said.
"If you really want to go to a mainstream luau, try the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui or our second choice, the Polynesian Cultural Center's on Oahu," sankoji02 added.
Another reader also votes for the Polynesian Cultural Center, writing, "It's equal part comedy act, culture museum and hands on activities like learning to hula, playing native games, crafts, etc."
DO NOT leave your belongings unattended on popular beaches in Honolulu, "not even long enough to just dip your toes," cautioned reader James C Gray. Another commenter, Kolohegirl, agrees with this advice, especially in Waikiki, but added, "This is NOT true on the outer islands. You can definitely take a dip away from your stuff and it will still be there when you get back."
DO skip Waikiki altogether, some commenters say. "Avoid the 'famous' beaches like Waikiki," wrote commenter Henry Miller, who uses the tagline "professional curmudgeon."
"I lived on Oahu for a lot of years and found the northern and western beaches to be a whole lot less crowded and a whole lot more pleasant."
DO check out the free-to-watch surfing contests in late November and December, Lise Quinn recommends.
DO take a night dive with the manta rays in Kona on the Big Island, commenter ProfLogie advises. "Even if you can only snorkel it is like a scene from another planet. Surreal."
DO ride or drive along the road to Hana. Be warned: The legendary route to the historic town on Maui's eastern coast has 620 curves.
DO NOT forget to stop along the way to Hana (it'll help stave off car sickness). Kolohegirl girls suggests taking a hike or having a picnic overlooking the waterfalls. "This is one mistake the tourists always make -- thinking that they have to jam to Hana. The road to Hana IS the adventure."
DO try parasailing. "Go as high as they can take you, it's the best thing in the world," a commenter with the handle AndreaMilnes wrote. "I've been doing it off Kona since I was little."
DO snorkel at Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui. FLken recommends the Pacific Whale Foundation expedition that includes a stop to swim with sea turtles.
DO drag yourself out of bed before the crack of dawn to see the sun rise from almost 10,000 feet above sea level on the top of Haleakala, Maui's highest peak.
DO marvel at the Big Island's volcanoes. "Make the drive down to see where the lava flows into the sea, at night. It is an amazing experience," HandBananas wrote.
DO consider big-box stores for bargains on souvenirs. One commenter suggests the Sears at Ala Moana mall in Honolulu for Aloha shirts. "Biggest selection I've seen!" Another reader recommends local Goodwill stores for Hawaiian shirts priced from $5.
Commenter HandBananas points visitors to Wal-Mart for Kona coffee and macadamia nuts. "Yes, I know it is Wal-Mart, but it is a lot cheaper than the 2 million ABC stores you find on every corner."
DO NOT use your time in Hawaii to showcase your Hawaiian shirts. "I've been told by a few locals that only tourists and hotel workers wear Aloha shirts," says commenter Martin McCreary.
DO try the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet in Honolulu if you're looking for a more unique shopping experience.
Many commenters endorsed the idea of renting a condo instead of staying exclusively at luxury resorts, and some had other lodging suggestions.
"DO consider a B&B when staying in one location less than a week," a commenter with the handle Paul Below advised."A B&B can be a more local and less expensive alternative to a resort hotel."
DO look into camping. "I said screw the hotel and camped my entire time in Maui," commenter iEatSpam wrote. "There are camping grounds all over the island and hardly anyone uses them." Ray LeBlanc agrees, writing, "Free 3 nights in National Park ... site overlooking the ocean ... humpback whales going by ... trails to a waterfall. Magical."
DO rent a car, says one commenter, who also recommends the Andrew Doughty island guidebooks.
"DON'T expect to walk up to a restaurant in Waikiki during peak dining times and get a table with an ocean view," Martin McCreary said.
DO make reservations.
Cultural cues
"DO take time to enjoy the cultural gems of the islands" such as the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, says RobertInAtl. A little understanding of the history of Hawaii makes visiting the islands more meaningful, he says.
DO say "aloha" and "mahalo," advises commenter Dana Bass, from the Big Island. "Aloha" is used instead of "hello" and "goodbye," and "mahalo" means "thank you."
DO slow down and smile, Bass urges. "And most importantly, bring the aloha back to the Mainland with you."
Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts below.