We did it! We finally got back to Hawaii after 21 long months! If you’ve been following me for awhile, or if you’ve ever asked me what my favorites destination is in the whole world, you know I adore Hawaii. We just returned from a 10-day trip to Kaua’i and O’ahu (be sure to follow the blog so you don’t miss any of the good posts coming up!), and I thought it would be useful for other Hawaii hopefuls to make some notes about things that are different, and things that are definitely “due to the pandemic.” Here are the top things I learned on our first trip back to paradise.
It Took Half an Hour for Our Screening at SFO
Back in July, Hawaii began allowing vaccinated visitors to skip the 14-day quarantine or the pre-flight COVID testing. We were very excited to sign up for that! However, we still had to show our vaccine cards and IDs to board our connecting flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Lihue, Kaua’i (LIH). It took half an hour to get through the line, and that was with 10 people checking documents.
Because we were coming from the East Coast, our connection was tight (just an hour), so it was a bit stressful! Be warned that it did not matter what time your flight to Hawaii was scheduled to leave or what your frequent flier status may have been. Everyone had to wait in the same line.
However, we could have boarded our flight without being verified and instead done the document checking when we landed in Hawaii. But we were told (a little snarkily by an airline employee) that we’d have to spend three hours waiting in the hot sun once we landed if we didn’t get verified there at SFO. So we waited and hoped we’d be able to board in time (you know they stop boarding 15 minutes prior to departure, right?).
While that long wait may be true on O’ahu or perhaps Mau’i, that was not the case on Kaua’i! There was literally no line when we deplaned at LIH! So, pick your poison, take the chance you’re willing to take, and maybe spend your short layover grabbing some food to eat on the flight instead of standing in line.
Must read: How to Sign Up for Hawaii’s Safe Travels Program (everyone has to at the moment, regardless of vaccination status!)
There’s a Staffing Shortage
The Hawaii government is still paying people to stay home. That’s not a political statement, that’s what’s actually happening! We asked one of the servers at a restaurant where we ate. Many businesses, especially restaurants, are extremely short-staffed. As an example, one exceptionally popular breakfast-lunch-and-dinner cafe in Waikiki did not have a cook available, so they could only serve coffee, not food. We didn’t know that until we got to the front of the line–after waiting 45 minutes to order.
So, be prepared, ask questions if the line seems extremely long, and don’t take your frustrations out on the people who actually show up. They’re doing their best, and they’re all doing it with aloha!
More here: The Best Places to Eat in Waikiki
Opening Hours are Not Accurate
This wasn’t as much of a problem on O’ahu, but on Kaua’i, we had a very hard time finding somewhere to eat. Because of the short staffing, many local eateries have changed their hours, or even closed for the entire day on certain days of the week. But none of that was reflected online, and even flashing “OPEN” signs were not always accurate! My best advice is to call before you go to ask if they’ll actually be open. We went to several restaurants that came highly recommended, only to arrive and find them closed. Can we say “hangry?”
Again, don’t be mad at the people who actually show up! Just bring snacks and have a backup plan if the restaurant you want to try is closed.
The Rules Will Keep Changing
Before we left for our trip in August, Hawaii Governor Ige announced that restaurants would go back to 50% capacity. While we were there, the Mayor of Honolulu said that, starting September 13, anyone who wants to eat in a restaurant will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, or they will be denied entry. The Mayor of Kaua’i is contemplating shutting down the island again–as a last resort, but it’s still on the table.
It’s frustrating, it’s stressful, it’s impossible to plan, but just know that the rules can and will continue to change. Keep yourself posted on the latest Hawaii travel news–The Points Guy usually has the most accurate information first. If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii in the near future, figure out what your cancellation policies are for flights, accommodations, and any tours or events you’ve already booked and paid for. Most likely, companies will still be lenient when rules change and circumstances are out of your control. Hope for the best, but have a backup plan!
Read next: The Best Pro Tips for Your Trip to Hawaii
People in Hawaii are Still Wonderful
One of the reasons we love going back to Hawaii over and over again is the fact that the people are all so nice. It’s an incredible change from the D.C. area, and it always gives us a shock–in a good way!–when we get there. I love the “spirit of aloha,” and people are genuinely helpful, even in Waikiki, the most “touristy” part of the “city island,” as some call it.
You hear about the negative feelings of native Hawaiians against the haoles, or foreigners, and there are definitely signs of protest against tourism and the overtaking of the Hawaiian Kingdom. However, our experience has always been positive, and we absolutely adore the people in Hawaii, both native Hawaiians who want to share their pride in their culture and the haoles who also call Hawaii home. Despite the issues that have arisen “due to the pandemic,” the people in Hawaii have maintained their hospitality and positivity. I love that.
Also helpful: The Most Helpful Hawaii Posts You Will Ever Find
Want more? Check out all the Hawaii tips, tricks, and hacks you’ll ever need on my dedicated Hawaiian Islands Page!
Love this post? Pin it for later!