been to hawaii twice. the best way to see it for the first time is on a cruise. you unpack once and they take u from island to island. you get a "taste" of the different islands and decide which ones you want to go back to in the future.
doing it the normal way is a lot of packing, unpacking, airport security (for 30 minute flights) or taking a long "water taxi / ferry".
for a week, 4 islands is too many. pick 2 and stay 4 days each. honolulu is nothing great. waikiki is not bad but very touristy. i like hananuma bay for snorkeling. my favorite place is maui (fairmont kealani). i like the waterfall helicopter rides. they are expensive but well worth it.
i will warn you now everything there is very expensive with the exception of macadamia nuts,but you can't eat them for an entire week.
To each their own completely and utterly disagree. You miss the major parts of the islands this way. Part of the best part of staying on an island is waking up on the lanai with a cup of kona coffee.
I'm also always amazed at how people think Hawaii is soooooooo expensive. I find it to be relatively in line with San Diego. I pay $4/half gallon of milk as it is. (wife buys organic).
There is also no ferry between major islands (with the exception of Maui to Lanai and Molokai).
I would on Maui the more budget friendly places to stay are Lahaina and Kihei. the island isn't big enough to require you to stay near places you want to see.
I've got family in Lahaina but didn't want to burden them/be tethered so we did VRBO for a condo on the beach with a full kitchen for under $200/night. grocery stores aren't that much more expensive for most items but you should consider the general rule that local is cheapest. things from the islands are going to be cheaper to buy and interesting to prepare. also when you do go out you can use urbanspoon to look at pricing/menus before you get there so you don't get gouged. aloha mixed plate in Lahaina is $10-12 for a sitdown meal on the beach. bargains can be had, just avoid things on a tourist strip or with bright neon lights. its common sense travel stuff.
Pirates is giving good advice. Kahului is not the place to stay unless you have a strategic reason for doing so.
I'm partial to Kihei as we have a place there. But, IMO, Kihei is more of a residential community. You'd be happy with a place in Kaanapali. With a 4 year old, I assume you wouldn't care about doing the road to Hana or Haleakala. Stay on the west side, spend a half day or full day in Lahaina (tons of shops and restaurants), a couple of days looking around the beach at Kaanapali and maybe hit the Maui Ocean Center (most popular tourist attraction on the island) on your way out. Maui Ocean Center is located at Maalaea. If you end up in Maalaea, eat at Beach Bums (our favorite is the brisket sandwich with green bean casserole, crab cakes are an excellent appetizer) then have desert at Hula Cookie (get the special - two cookies with ice cream in the middle). It's a can't miss combination. If you stay on the west side, hit the Gazebo one day for breakfast. Your family will enjoy it. Take your swimsuits and snorkel equipment and walk to Napili Bay (right by the restaurant). I haven't had a chance to snorkel the bay but have heard it is good.
On Kauai, it may be worth hitting Lydgate Park if you have the chance. It's a good place for beginners snorkeling. It's been a while, but we loved Monico's (mexican) and Kintaro (japanese).
If you’re like most travelers to Hawai‘i—be it your first time or your fifteenth—there’s a whole lot of stuff you want to cram into your holiday. Of course, cramming means optimizing your time, including the time you spend making plans.But it is not so good beach in my seance i think Oahu, but Kauai was just soooo beautiful.
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