Monday, July 6, 2009

Destination Wedding Locations: Maui, Hawaii

One of the best things about a destination wedding or honeymoon in Hawaii is the "no muss/no fuss" nature of this location. There are no passports to worry about, and no currency exchanges or calculations needed to convert silver Bug-a-Boos into dollars.

That is not to say that Hawaii, which is technically part of the United States, is in any way a sane and rational place. Any place that derives 113 percent of its income from tourism can be expected to be a little on the looney side. And we definitely discovered this when we visited the fiftieth state to scout out sites for this book.

First, we offer a run-down of the different islands and why we think Maui is the best. Hawaii is comprised of six islands, each with its own "spirit," as the travel brochures delicately put it. Let's take stock.

OAHU: TOO CROWDED. Home to Honolulu and Waikiki, this island was probably a nice place to visit about fifty years ago. If we want to see urban sprawl, we could stay at home.

KAUAI: RECENTLY BLOWN AWAY BY HURRICANE. While the tourist hotels are in the process of being rebuilt (as of this writing), Kauai still has one fatal flaw—its dinky size and lack of amenities limited night life) makes a visit any longer than a day or two seem too long.

HAWAII, MOLOKAI, AND LANAI: TOO RUSTIC. The drive-through volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii are spectacular and both Molokai and Lanai offer nice scenery, but this brings us to the biggest disadvantage of a Hawaiian vacation: too many islands, too little time.

While the idea of cramming as many islands into your trip sounds intriguing, the reality of plane hopping is less exciting. True, the average flight time between islands is just fifteen to thirty minutes, but the wait at the car rental place can be twice that.

As we mentioned earlier, the whole state of Hawaii has a somewhat loopy disposition. We noticed this on our arrival at the Maui airport. As some kind of sick Polynesian joke, the natives have decided not to put any signs at the airport to direct you, the tourist, to such popular hang-outs as the beach and the hotels. We discovered this oversight when we took a wrong turn and ended up in a top-secret naval base with the cryptic name "U.S.S. O.O.P.S."

Fortunately, the island of Maui is only forty-five miles wide. So, if you take a wrong turn, you run into that friendly directional locator called the Pacific Ocean. Despite this quirk, Maui offers the best scenery and activities for destination brides and grooms. For variety, Maui also has a couple of 10,000-foot dormant volcanoes. From secluded black sand beaches to bustling tourist towns, Maui is our pick as one of the best places to plan a destination wedding and honeymoon.

Wedding Logistics
It's pretty easy to tie the knot on Maui—Hawaii has no waiting period or residency rules for marriage licenses. As a result, nearly three thousand couples tied the knot there last year. There is a rubella blood test required for the bride if she has not been immunized for this disease (the test can be performed anywhere in the United States or Canada). If you have been immunized, Hawaii will accept a certificate from a U.S. or Canadian doctor as proof. (As a side note, the test is waived for brides who are beyond child-bearing age).
No health tests are required for the groom. You must apply for a license in person from a "marriage license agent." Call the Department of Health (808-243-5313) for the latest list of agents. The cost for a license is $16.

Local Bridal Customs
The traditional Hawaiian wedding gown is a holoku, a white gown which the bride accents with a crown of orchids. A red sash is the most remarkable part of a groom's attire, which is usually a white long-sleeve shirt and pants. Another tradition: the groom arrives at the ceremony site in a canoe—neat touch.

Best Time to Go
While Maui has really become a year-round destination, high season is still December, January, and February. Hotels and beaches are most crowded then. The crowds taper off after high season, hence, a nice time to visit is late April to June. October and November (before Thanksgiving) are also low seasons.

As for the weather, the "rainy" season is in the winter, especially January and February. Even so, the western part of Maui (where most of the resorts are) only sees about fifteen inches of rain a year. A stray shower can hit at just about any time, but usually the weather is nice—summer temperatures in the 80s, and 70s in the winter. Hurricane season, as those in Kauai found out recently, runs from June through November, though storms usually seem to veer away from the islands.

Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
The best deals on Maui are the package deals that many hotels, resorts, and condos offer. Most include a three- to seven-night stay, car rental, and even a "romantic dinner for two" in some packages.

' We found the best deal was to rent a "condo—the luxury of having a kitchen gives you the option of avoiding sky-high prices for meals if you wish. Most condos have the same amenities as hotels, including housekeeping, a concierge, and more. We stayed at the Ka'anapali Alii (800-642-6284) condo complex where we could even order room service from the hotel next door.

We stayed at the condo for four nights (five days) for about $ 1100 per couple, including car rental. At the Grand Hyatt at Wailea (800-233-1234) down the coast, a three-night package runs $1200. The hotel has a world-famous swimming pool and a stained-glass wedding chapel that hosts at least two weddings a day. As far as other packages went, most condos on Maui seemed to start at $1000 for seven days. Hotel packages, especially for the prime resorts, were slightly higher.

Airfare fluctuates with the whims of the major airlines. Check to see if it's cheaper to fly to San Francisco first, stay the night and then fly on to Maui. We found this to be more reasonable than a nonstop flight from the center of the United States, since many of the airlines offer super-low fares from California to Hawaii.

The food on Maui (as- on the rest of Hawaii) is incredibly expensive—about 30 percent more than the mainland. Expect to shell out $25 for breakfast for two, $40 for lunch, and $75 to $100 for dinner. On the upside, the Pacific Rim cuisine is absolutely incredible—be sure to ask your concierge for recommendations on the latest "hot" eateries.

What Makes it Special
The beaches are the stars here, of course. But if you want to venture beyond the surf, there are several interesting day trips. The road to Hana, a fifty-five-mile drive that will take you a very long three hours, is a favorite for seeing waterfalls and sheer cliffs that drop to the ocean. A helicopter ride (about $100 to $200 per person) is a fantastic way to take in remote waterfalls and the Haleakala crater (a dormant volcano that rises 10,000 feet above sea-level). A quick warning: look out for hucksters on the street offering "discount" coupons for helicopter rides, scuba diving, etc. What's the catch? You must attend a several hour "sales presentation" for a time share or condo deal.

Insider Travel Tips
The six-hour plane ride from Los Angeles will tire you out, so expect to spend much of the first day recuperating and acclimating to the time change. If you want to explore the more rustic parts of the island, rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Also, you'll need reservations to get into most of the popular restaurants—we relied on our concierge for recommendations and were never disappointed. Ka'anapali and Lahaina (resorts on the northwest side of the island) have a younger feel than Wailea, which had an older, more sedate atmosphere. The locals are generally friendly, if not a little bit wacky

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