Hawaii is often thought of as the ultimate vacation destination that everyone instantly falls in love with. And how couldn’t you with all of the breathtaking scenery, warm weather, clear water, etc.
But is Hawaii actually an overrated tourist destination?
In this article, I’ll take a look at some of the different aspects of visiting Hawaii and I’ll answer the question of whether or not Hawaii is overrated based largely on my own personal experiences but also on what others have said.
Table of Contents
The insane prices and high fees
Let’s kick off this discussion talking about the prices in Hawaii, which is one of the biggest complaints of visiting Hawaii.
Hawaii is one of the most expensive places to visit.
Nice resorts on islands like Maui and the Big Island are very expensive. For example, at the time of publishing the cheapest room (a Resort View 2 Queen Bed) at the Hilton Waikoloa Village was running for $640 per night.
You can find cheaper lodging if you really look especially around Honolulu but some of the more affordable hotels can be quite dated, have tiny rooms, etc.
The prices can also affect a lot more than lodging.
One area is the food.
I give islands like Hawaii a pass to a certain extent because they have to import so many things, which naturally drives higher prices.
But sometimes the price is just sooo out of line with the quality of your food that it’s mildly infuriating.
For example, take a look at this piece of pizza below. We paid $14 for two small slices of this pizza (which we thought were much bigger because of the packaging).
For lunch, one of our hotels on the Big Island was charging $37 for a bacon cheeseburger and fries and this was not some fancy restaurant by any means.
Getting hit with exorbitant prices gets old very quickly especially whenever you feel like the value you receive is not anywhere close to what you’re paying for.
It’s one thing to pay $40 for a cheeseburger when it’s amazing and quite another to pay that much when it’s barely mediocre.
If you have visited other beautiful tropical locations that are much cheaper it’s hard not to feel like you’re just constantly getting hosed.
The fees in Hawaii can also quickly add up.
Resort fees are very common and they can be pretty high (~$45 per night), parking can cost you $50 a day, and some hotels will even slap on a $15+ delivery fee for each room service request.
If you try to go about a visit to Hawaii like you would in a “normal” location, it can feel like you’re just blowing money left and right as you navigate a minefield of fees and high prices.
And another thing that makes the additional expenses that much more of an issue is that Hawaii is so far from the mainland.
This usually prevents you from taking shorter trips which means more days spent trying to avoid spending a lot of dough! After a long 10-day vacation you may feel fatigued — not just from your beach days and adventures — but from feeling the constant sting in your wallet.
The crowds, tourists, and over commercialization
One thing that can get old with Hawaii is dealing with crowds and the over commercialization.
We’ve tried to visit beaches before where all of the parking was filled up by mid morning and gates were closed off to other visitors. I’ve seen crazy long lines for pretty unremarkable attractions (e.g., the train ride at the Dole Plantation) and mandatory reservations are becoming much more common.
I often feel like if I’m visiting a place with even mild popularity (like a nice waterfall), I have to get going as early as possible or I’ll be stuck dealing with heavy crowds (or possibly no parking).
You also have a fair amount of inconsiderate tourists like the ones we had to deal with on top of Mauna Kea who were flying a loud drone (illegally) during a beautiful sunrise.
To be fair, crowds are not always an issue in some places especially whenever you get outside of spots like Waikiki.
We’ve gone on hikes in Kauai where we were able to escape the crowds but not always the commercialization.
For example, we did an amazing hike in the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” with beautiful canyon views.
But unlike the real Grand Canyon which offers hikers solace when off the rim, we had to contend with the recurring buzzing of helicopters flying overhead.
So at times, it can feel like a real challenge to escape the far-reaching impact of tourism even when you’re venturing miles out from the main areas.
Bad experiences with locals
Another major negative aspect of visiting Hawaii could be bad experiences with the locals.
Personally, I haven’t had any negative experiences with locals on my visits to Oahu, the Big Island, and Kauai. In fact, I would say my engagements have been overwhelmingly positive.
But I have heard many reports of locals being rude, overly defensive, racist, etc.
Now, I get it that some locals probably have their reasons for feeling a certain type of way towards tourists or mainlanders. For example, they could’ve had prior experiences with inconsiderate or entitled tourists who don’t respect the land or history of the islands. It probably happens way too often.
As an American from the mainland, when I visit locations outside of the main tourist spots, I sometimes feel like there is this unsettled status of Hawaii as the 50th state.
You’ll see special discounts called “Kamaʻāina rates” for native Hawaiians (those with local IDs) at places like restaurants, hotels, and other tourist attractions.
That type of thing doesn’t bother me (Hawaii is not the only state to offer discounts or perks to residents).
But those type of things, along with a complicated and grievous history, language differences, and a vocal minority pushing for sovereignty, often give me this feeling that I’m visiting a foreign place rather than one of the 50 states in the US.
It’s odd to have that “other” experience when in your own country and I think that is one reason why some people feel less comfortable in Hawaii.
It’s like visiting a political hybrid zone where you don’t quite know how exactly you fit in.
Customer service woes
In my experience, the customer service in Hawaii can be very hit or miss.
I’ve had some tremendous service at the resorts we’ve stayed at but when it comes to the tour operators it’s been a different story.
To me, it feels like some of the tour operators are so accustomed to herding hundreds of tourists through their experiences each day that they don’t give attention to where it’s needed when things go wrong.
For example, I’ve called ahead to schedule tours and get verification about certain aspects of the tour before arriving. The reps were quick and happy to make a guarantees when it was time for payment but when we went through with the tours, it failed to deliver what was promised.
(This is a much bigger deal for a travel blogger like myself who carefully plans out content because it means a missed content opportunity.)
My complaints in these cases were largely dismissed even though some of them were borderline deceptive trade practices. Sometimes it feels like they view complaints as just another “unhappy mainlander” complaining and they blow it off.
Because you are flying so far and paying so much money, when the customer service is subpar and you have a real complaint it makes the infraction that much worse.
The beauty overrated?
Okay so this is one thing that I’m not quite on board with but some people do feel that Hawaii is not quite as beautiful as it’s made out to be.
It’s true, there are a lot of beautiful places out there that could compete with Hawaii and everyone has their own personal tastes and preferences.
Personally, I am more swept away by the wild and rugged landscapes of Alaska but Hawaii is a close contender for most beautiful US state.
In terms of international comparisons, other countries like New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Bora Bora, Fiji, the Seychelles, and some countries in the Caribbean could certainly hold their own when compared to Hawaii.
But I really struggle to get on board with the idea that Hawaii’s beauty is overrated. There are just so many idyllic beaches, mountains, hiking trails, views, etc. in Hawaii that it’s hard for me not to consider Hawaii as a top tier destination when it comes to overall beauty.
So I guess it’s possible you could be let down by the beauty of Hawaii but I really don’t see how you could be.
No destination is ever going to be perfect — you can always find areas where some place can be improved.
I don’t think that I would ever call Hawaii “overrated” because I really love visiting, but I would agree that the drawbacks to Hawaii don’t get as much attention as they probably should.
With that said, I think it’s always worth visiting at least one time to see what it’s like for yourself.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.