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Hawaii Vs. The Caribbean

I would like your opinion on a trip with my senior parents for about 7 days. I am thinking of Hawaii vs. the Caribbean. For the latter, I have some destinations in mind (Turks and Caicos, Barbados, and Bahamas). I am based in the Bay Area and therefore flying times are not that different either way. My considerations are:

Safety--this is why I ruled out Mexico
Expense--I don't need a second mortgage. How does Hawaii compare to the Caribbean? I know both are expensive.
Cuisine -- my parents love fresh seafood. They for sure want to try fresh conch.
Things to do other than lying on the beach

I am targeting April or early May 2022. What suggestions do you have for me? Am I missing some other Caribbean islands? Places such as St Barts are totally out of my budget. Would appreciate all comments.

Posted by
595 posts

Thank you for your super prompt reply. My parents don't know how to snorkel or dive. Nor do I.
Another point of consideration is that we would like to visit a place that isn't just a big tourist trap. I know many places are becoming one, sadly. I heard Cancun and Cozumel are like that.

Posted by
2098 posts

Would Bermuda be out of your budget range? Puerto Rico is a nice, Safe Island with much history. It is very affordable.

Posted by
595 posts

Bermuda is too far for us, as we are from the west coast. I also thought about Ecuador/Peru, but they are kinda far and safety is an issue.

How are beaches in Puerto Rico? For the Caribbean, I really would like to see white sandy beaches with turquoise water.

Posted by
7603 posts

Things to do other than lying on the beach

On the Big island of Hawaii, there is a volcano, waterfalls , stargazing ( http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis/home.html)--- would expect it to be open by next Spring-- meandering the shops of Kailua-Kona and elsewhere--

Easy to stay occupied for a week and do more than just sit on the beach.

Lots of vacation condos for rent, so do not need to eat out all the time.

Posted by
3981 posts

I've been to Grand Cayman a handful of times. Just this past year, I've been to Oahu twice. My sense is Grand Cayman is a fair amount less expensive. I feel like Oahu has more "attractions". There's the museums, Pearl Harbor, the palaces. I rented a car both times in Oahu. Even though they might not be able to jump out of the car and snorkel or hike, a drive around Oahu is quite lovely. Especially the east side. There also are stunning drives through rainforests (Tantalus)

In terms of the ocean and the water, both are lovely. Oahu has the mountains which gives it an edge over Grand Cayman in that regard.

I've never been, but another place to consider is Puerto Rico. When we traveled with young children (and I would guess, similarly with seniors, you would want a place with good health care. We thought, if necessary, the Caymans (being British) and Hawaii and maybe Puerto Rico would have good health care.

Posted by
595 posts

Thanks for the prompt replies thus far.
I forgot to mention one criterion: accessibility for seniors. My folks don't need a wheel chair, but they can't just walk and walk for a long time.

Now reading about Puerto Rico.

Posted by
3981 posts

If they are less mobile, I would be inclined to say there is not enough for them on Grand Cayman. You want a place where you can drive and stop at "overlooks". Maybe also consider the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas wasn't my favorite, but we loved St. John and St. Croix is lovely too. St. John is easily accessed from St. Thomas.

Posted by
595 posts

Are St John and St Thomas super expensive? My friend used to work in finance for the mega rich in St Thomas. He said that, basically, it's playground for those with big, nice yachts and lots of blinks.

Posted by
3981 posts

A lot of St. John is national parkland. I've not been in a while, but it didn't seem more expensive than any other place. St. Croix is more isolated from the other two, but people find it to be a good value.

Posted by
6059 posts

Barkinpark, it maybe worth taking a deeper look at flight itineraries to compare. We are half a country closer to the Caribbean than you, but many of those islands are only accessible to us via 2-3 connecting flights, which makes it a lot less attractive destination. Another thing to note is that many of the islands, like the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, G Cayman, are pretty flat and unattractive, so other than beach and water, not so scenic. Barbados and other interesting countries (Aruba) are actually pretty far south so not so easy to get to. St Johns (USVI) is idyllic, but not cheap. I'm guessing cruises are not on your menu. We've visited several other islands via cruise, and frankly many of them look alike.

We love Hawaii, and if we lived on the West Coast where you can get direct flights there, would be there more often. We've always used airline vacation packages (such as Delta Vacations) to find deals. Keep in mind March-April is Spring Break time.

Posted by
595 posts

Thanks. I may now be back to square zero. Considering EU again, most likely central Europe. The major issue is weather. It may still be too cold in April.

I guess beach locations aren't a thing for senior parents. They are picky people. So, if I don't pick the right destination, they will complain for years.

Posted by
274 posts

If they are picky let them come up with a few choices then help them research it. Then list the pros and cons and let them decide.

Nothing worse then being tasked to choose a place for someone else then having to listen to them complaining about it.

Posted by
7603 posts

They are picky people.

Let them pick the destination; otherwise the chance of anyone being happy is just a bit above zero

Good luck!

Posted by
31303 posts

Barkinpark,

Referring to the points you mentioned.....

  • Safety - I haven't been there yet, but believe South Andros Island is one of the safer locations in the Bahamas. According to the government websites, there is some crime in Nassau, so that might not fit the bill for "safety".
  • Expense - This resort probably wouldn't fit your budget as it tends to be a bit on the posh side - https://www.caerulamar.com/ . However I believe they operate mostly in U.S. dollars so you wouldn't have an currency exchange to worry about. They've been getting lots of good press in travel magazines like Conde Nast Traveller, Travel & Leisure, etc.
  • Cuisine - The menus of the resort in the previous link seem to feature seafood, including Conch soup - https://www.caerulamar.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Lusca-Dinner-2020.pdf . I suspect anywhere in the Bahamas will have a good choice of seafood dishes.
  • Things to do - What kind of activities do you have in mind? There will probably be things like boating, fishing, kayaking, snorkelling or scuba diving, etc. Have a look at a few websites.

Good luck with your decision!

Posted by
2834 posts

I have been to Hawaii (3 times), Grand Cayman (1 time) and Puerto Rico(1 time). From the East Coast, the last two are much less expensive but it should be clear which one we strongly prefer. We did have fresh conch on a sailing/snorkeling trip in Puerto Rico. On our first trip to Hawaii, when we landed the TWA pilot said "if you can't have a good time in Hawaii, you don't know how to have a good time." If you go to Hawaii, you should consider Kauai. As the oldest island, it is the greenest one.

You might also consider Key West, especially if your parents like cats.

Posted by
1187 posts

Your best bet is to fly non-stop to your destination. I see a non-stop flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Kauai for $244 on Tue. Apr 26. Often times Tuesday’s are a cheaper day to fly compared to a Sun or a Fri. If you go to Hawaii, make it Kauai for its emerald green shades of color, pointed mountain peaks and craggy cliffs. This is the reason it’s known as the “garden island” and considered the most beautiful of them all.
I don’t see non-stop flights from SFO to Puerto Rico, and since west coast residents go to Hawaii and east coast residents go to the Caribbean because of the ease and expense of getting there, I would go to Kauai.

Posted by
2098 posts

Key west is a great choice. It is flat, small beach, but a nice one, and plenty to see. The bonus is that you really do feel like you are on a tropical Island, not just south Florida. We’ve been there 3x. If we ever decided to move to Florida, this is where I would go.

Posted by
6059 posts

Would Key West be OK in April? I'd recommend Sanibel Island as having better beaches, but not sure about the weather.

Posted by
2834 posts

We went to Key West during spring break, in the middle of March and loved it, but I agree that the beaches arent great.

Posted by
3 posts

I'd recommend HI. Our last five family vacations have been to HI, with the last four in Maui. We stay on the west side but are active all over the island. We find it to be very safe but last March (2021) it was somewhat crowded – to be fair we were there over spring break. May is the end of whale season, so if you go Maui, you may want to book a whale sail ahead of time. If you all swim, I’d suggest learning to snorkel. It's easy to do and all the snorkel companies are happy to teach you. We use sail trilogy company; they do a great job, and they keep their groups small. I’d also recommend a private guide for a day. We book the same guide every trip. The guides know the history of the island plus hiring a private guide allows you to avoid crowds and tailor the experience to your comfort/activity level. Last, the food is excellent - from farmers markets to local food trucks to fresh fish to famous chefs. We have never been disappointed.

Posted by
595 posts

Thank you again for the enthusiastic replies.

Hawaii islands--the airfares are ok, if I pick the right dates. Thank you. I will check prices of vacation rentals. In Kauai, how can one see Napali coast without a helicopter?

Key West--how expensive is it? In FL, I have only been to West Palm Beach for a business event. I stayed at the Breakers, a very nice and $$$$ hotel. However, it was covered by my employer. Otherwise, the Breakers would have broken my bank.

Posted by
6059 posts

You can drive to the park at Napali and hike some trails at the top of the bluffs, looking down at the coast. But its better viewed from the sea. They have boat excursions that do that, if you don't want the helicopter.

Posted by
1425 posts

When I read this post -- https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/beyond-europe/psa-worsening-crime-and-water-shortage-in-the-ca-bay-area -- I considered offering up a snarky reply about how unsafe Mexico is.

The greatest danger you're likely to face in Mexico is the strong possibiliy that while you are eating dinner in a lovely outdoor restaurant in Tulum or Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox, someone with a guitar will expect you to give him money in exchange for entertaining you. Yes, there's a problem with organized crime in Mexico, but it by and large doesn't affect regular people or tourists. This is unlike the crime problem in the United States, where you risk being the victim of a mass shooting whenever you go to a shopping mall or supermarket or nightclub or movie theater or church, or when you send your kids to school.

Mexico is a shorter flight from the Bay Area than either Hawaii or the Caribbean, and your dollars are likely to go further.

I am not a beach person, so I've never been to any of the places you are considering (except a week on Kauai). But beach resorts are all highly touristed, so whatever you've heard about Cancún and Cozumel becoming tourist traps likely applies to most all the places you're considering. I would not rule out any destination based on what you've heard. Do your own research.

Posted by
1768 posts

We have made 5 trips to Hawaii lasting about 2 or 3 weeks each to the major 4 islands. We have visited LOTS of Caribbean islands over the years on lots of cruises though never overnight. All were with very senior seniors. Hawaii to my mind is stunningly beautiful and lush and eclipses almost any island we’ve visited for scenery. The Aloha spirit is alive and well and we’ve always felt welcomed and safe. Folks are truly friendly. The seniors especially felt very at ease among the familiar trappings of an American state even if it looked like Tahiti. There are many things to do besides the beach. We have always rented a car and had no problems at all driving just about anywhere, though some rental car restrictions existed when we rented last. Hawaii is the only place we’ve visited in our lives where we paid for luxe accommodations…and those hotels are jaw droppingly beautiful with matching prices. I can’t address other types of accommodations in Hawaii or any in the Caribbean, though I’d guess they aren’t bargain basement prices either. We’ve spent 2 weeks with the seniors in Puerto Rico too and that was nice as well. Of the 15 to 20 Caribbean islands we’ve briefly visited and enjoyed we have never considered spending more than a cruise stop in any of them…Hawaii, hands down.

Posted by
5687 posts

Many trips to Hawaii -- Maui, Kauai, Oahu. Big Island -- usually with rental condos and car. Liked it so much we bought a condo on Kauai at Poipu and rented it out through an agent (basically broke even after expenses.)
On Kauai, rubber boat tours to see NaPali

Posted by
3981 posts

I concur on the Hawaii Revealed guides. One of the best guidebooks I've used.

Posted by
4934 posts

We have been to both. Did one 14 day cruise visiting 8 islands in the Caribbean. The islands are different. Some islands have a serious crime problem, others not so much. I thought Aruba was a bit overrated. Loved St. Thomas and St. John. Grenada and St. Lucia are the real Caribbean. Antigua and Barbados were historic and very safe. St. Martin was OK, but a bit too touristy.

We did Oahu and Maui. Loved the history and the scenic places, but having been to the Azores in the Atlantic were not overcome by Hawaii. Of course, many say the big island is the best.

Posted by
244 posts

Key West has a lot to do with a week visit. Not cheap but great weather in late April/May. Definitely take a cruise in the Caribbean. There are many options at all levels of luxury out of Florida ports. Staying in one location in the Caribbean means you like beach, water, sun. Need a car in the Hawaiian islands. Be sure to rent one way in advance or get one as part of a package. Sounds like a good idea to have your parents select the location. All three are very different experiences. We live in Florida and found Hawaii-Kauai to be completely different and beautiful. There was a lot of driving on that small island to see the mountains, beaches and gardens.

Posted by
5657 posts

One benefit of Caribbean cruise trips is they cruise line can alter the itinerary in the event of forcasted hurricaine activity.

Posted by
595 posts

Thank you for all the suggestions. I will discuss with my folks and show them some options.

Posted by
3154 posts

Re Napali: we saw it as part of a boat tour. I believe we chose the provider from listings in the Kauai Revealed guide, but I’m sure the internet would do, as well.

We had our second visit to the big island as a Xmas present this year from one daughter and son-in-law. She found lots for us to do. If you opt for it, you can pm me; and I’ll give you the full rundown.

Posted by
149 posts

We have been to Hawaii (Oahu only) and the USVI/BVI. I have also been to Cuba, the Bahamas, and the Yucatan, but all were long ago and probably not valid in terms of my information or insights or even the reliability of my memory, so my comparison is based mostly on Oahu vs. the Virgin Islands.

Things to do: We did not come close to running out of things to see and do on Oahu. I could have visited Pearl many times over! Driving around the island and stopping at a food truck for lunch, quiet bays for swimming with or without snorkel masks, boat excursions, looking at the sea turtles resting on the beach, plenty of movie locations, luau options, a Polynesian cultural centre, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Diamond Head, Dole Plantation, Haliewa, downtown Honolulu, and of course Waikiki. Accessibility varies, though many places were at least moderately accessible for my grandfather, who was 88 at the time.

For the Caribbean, we loved the Virgin Islands. Then again, we were on a sailboat the whole time, so I can't speak to accessibility at all! For us it was about sailing, snorkelling, beaches, and a bit of hiking on Virgin Gorda. So I am not much help there.

Edge: Far and away Hawaii (and that's just Oahu!)

Expense: I would say that both were expensive, but both were made cheaper by having our own kitchen. Hard to determine which was cheaper because our to-do and accommodations were the sailboat in the Virgin Islands. That ended up being cheaper for us for that reason. I would probably give the edge to the Caribbean

Cuisine: Varies wildly based on budget, tastes, etc. I will plead not enough information.

Safety: I wouldn't consider either destination unsafe, though of course for the Caribbean it depends on where you go and for any place your definition of safety is key to this determination. But I would probably give the slight edge to Hawaii here. Pickpockets are a thing at any destination, but there is little other crime that would affect you in either location.

There are so many great destinations in the Caribbean that I have not explored, and obviously without knowing more about the mobility of your parents, etc. I cannot make a determination. I can only share my experiences and hope that it helps you in making your plans.

Posted by
595 posts

Thank you again! I will report all findings here to my folks and discuss with them.

Posted by
774 posts

I have been to four of the Hawaiian islands (Hawaii, Oahu, Kauai, and Maui). I have not been to the Caribbean, although I have provided logistical support to several emergency missions in the area. Frankly, what I encountered trying to work in that area has removed any interest in seeing them closer.

But you're in the SF Bay area, so I would naturally steer you to Hawaii anyways. I didn't find Hawaii to be any more expensive than Europe, and if you take out lodging, i can easily live within the same daily budget I have at home. Airfare and lodging are the big expenses (although I understand rental cars are a major issue right now).

Kauai is a good choice if you just want to relax, play some golf, and walk on the beach. Most of the resorts are all in one central area, so if you get away from there it's much more "rural". I especially enjoy the western (less visited) side of the island.

Oahu is Hawaii for those who have to have the city around them. Honolulu is not all that different from most of the major beach towns I've visited in the USA or Europe. The North Shore is different, but still gets a lot more tourists than any other island.

Maui is good for snorkeling and the bike ride down the crater. It's a lot like Kauai once you get away from the major hotels.

Hawaii (the big island) is the most diverse of the chain. You have the snow and cold at the summit, the dry west side around Kona, the big ranch on the plateau in the center, and the wetter side down around Hilo, with the on again - off again volcano between Hilo and Kona.

Seven days is a good number for any one island. That's just enough time to see most of the sights, get some hiking, shopping, touring, and just laying around on the beach, done. I usually spend a week in one place and move on when I visit, usually doing two islands before flying home.

I'd talk to your folks and see what they think they want to see/do, and what kind of pace they envision for their holiday. If it's slow and quiet or scheduled and "touristy" there's a lot to chose from in Hawaii.

The best guides for the islands are the blue "revealed" guides. they have one for every island. Being in your part of the world I'd bet you can find them for a couple dollars in every Goodwill or Thrift store. Don't worry about them getting out of date, the Covid shut down is going to have had more of an impact on them than missing an edition or two would have normally. The major places are still going to be there.