Posted here because Hawaii is To The West of me! I am a single mom who has saved for several years to take my son to Hawaii. He really wants to experience warm ocean water and go snorkeling. I think I have enough saved to take him for several days during a school break in the spring of 2013 when the hospital I work in will give me time off. So, I need help. I never get to travel ever and he has never even been on an airplane and he is twelve. I would love any help in finding a good airfare and more importantly some recommendations for places to stay where the beach is right there to snorkel in and see fish. I'm not even sure that is possible but that is his dream. I am open to all sorts of accommodations and will keep saving every penny so if we do go, it will be a wonderful time. Any help is really appreciated. Thank you in advance if you can help me make this come true!! elle
I know you mean well but it maybe west of you but it is not Europe. So don't be offended if no one gives a good response. Go to Fodors.com and post your question under Hawaii or any of the other travel sites.
Thank you. ~elle~
Why Hawaii? There are lots of other places with warm water and snorkeling without the expense and time of getting to Hawaii.
Kauai is beautiful, but I suspect a 12 year old boy would be pretty bored there, compared to the other islands. The Big Island (Hawaii) has the volcano, black sand beaches and more. Maui has plenty to do too. The problem, if finances are an issue, with those islands is you would need a car. You will also pay more for airfare. I think you may prefer Oahu. You can fly directly and you can often get a good deal to book your flight and hotel together. Check Hawaiian Airlines website. There is a lot to do on Oahu, and you can use the bus to get just about anywhere. A bus pass isn't too expensive. He might like to see the Arizona Memorial and then walk across the street to the swap meet where you can buy souvenirs for a fraction of the price you would pay in Waikiki. I don't know what kid wouldn't like the Polynesian Cultural Center. You could go to the North Shore to check out the surfers catching the big waves. You can hike Diamond Head. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is a real treat and they rent the equipment there. As much as I have enjoyed the other islands, I would choose Oahu if I was taking a kid that age for their first trip to Hawaii. From S.F. I think you can travel less expensively to Hawaii than you could to the Caribbean. I wouldn't even consider Mexico these days!
Thanks to those who have voiced some suggestions! I thought Hawaii would be a good choice because it is relatively close. I really don't know of other areas to look into but am open. Someone at work suggested a place called Atlantis. When thinking of Hawaii, I figured the Big Island as it has the volcano and he is curious about those black sand beaches! I just don't know about neaches and snorkeling there. The place someone recommended to me is apparently closed due to damage from the tsunami...Kona Village, I think. I have looked into Hawaiian Air, Alaska Air, Delta, and even United for flights and boy are they expensive. About $850 each since I want a direct flight leaving in the morning. I'm not sure how to find those "cheap" fares. Maybe there aren't any. Keep the tips, suggestions, anything coming as I have time to plan. elle
Alantis is a very expensive resort, not anywhere in Hawaii , don't go. Hawaii is great for kids, and in your case I totally recommend you start with a visit to Waikiki,its the easiest and cheapest with the most to do . We have taken our three kids there many times, but have also been to Kaui( very pretty but a tad boring for kids). In Waikiki you do not need a car, and there are many hotels so you can find a clean affordable place . Now you can snorkle off Waikiki but he won't see alot of fish there, ( he will see afew) but what you do is take the public bus to Hanauma Bay.. google that. Your kid will LOVE it. Warm clear water and safe. Tons of fish,, heck you really don't even need to be able to swim, just wade in and wear a mask and you WILL see many fish . In Waikiki there is also a zoo, good for an afternoon away from the beach , and you most definately should hike up Diamond Head, its not too hard, a simple path and stairs, but amazing views.google for photos.
You could also take public bus to Pearl Harbour Now, this is best tip yet, go to tripadvisor.com hawaii forums, if you need any help at all you will find it there. I will look for you!
I know many people who love the Big Island, but for me I would say it was my least favorite. It is big (hence the name) and you mention only being there several days. I don't know how much you would see in a short time. The snorkeling is okay on the big island. I thought Kauai and Maui were better. The easiest snorkeling is at Hanauma Bay in Oahu. You would need a car for the Big Island and there are no direct flights. You will have to change planes in Honolulu. Flying from S.F. is about as cheap as it gets. Sign up with Hawaiian Airlines for price alerts. Another area to consider for warm beaches is Florida. It will take more time to fly there than it will to Hawaii.
I found RT flights for around $350. I sent you a PM with details.
As a (former) single mom, I understand your problem. You can do this. The biggest expense is airfare. But you can go to the Big Island ( wonder why Andrea didn't like it, we loved it, too bad she does not explain). Reserve an A-frame at Hapuna Beach State Park, $50 a night. Great snorkeling along the coast there. You will need to rent a car. There are different beaches for body surfing ( waves) and snorkeling ( protected by a reef) but you will figure it out. Have some coconut ice cream on me! And enjoy this special time with your son. That is a great age. Maybe the people recommending Oahu can suggest a place to stay that is as good a deal as the $50 A-frame cabins at Hapuna Beach on Hawaii? Oahu has some tourist activities ( and tourist traps) and some nice beaches, but not as much in the way of natural wonders like volcanoes and black sand beaches like the Big Island. We ran into more unfriendliness from locals on Oahu than anywhere, sad to say.
We travel to Europe a lot, but one of our favorite family vacations was in Hawaii ( Molokai), thanks to a travel book I found in the library at the Rick Steves store while I was shopping for rail passes. I do not understand why anyone would suggest you should not go, or should not ask the question on this board. You are welcome, and I hope you go and have a great time! P.S. The first time I went to Hawaii it was as a young adult with a group of friends and we camped. It was dirt cheap. There are ways to see Hawaii on the cheap without staying in the fancy resorts. Try to find an air plus car package.
Elle, don't listen to the grumps who post here occasionally. I lived on both the Big Island and Oahu for 25 years and I know you and your son would love both islands. Agree that accommodations can be had for pretty reasonable price point if you do your homework. Look into apartment, cottage rentals on vrbo or airbnb. You might be surprised. Although I am partial to Hawaii for the diversity of activities, I think for a first visit Oahu is better, and I'll tell you why. You can get around on Oahu without renting a car, activities are closer together so you can make the most of your time, snorkeling beaches are more abundant and the wave riding is more active. Traveling during summer, spring break and holiday time is always more expensive. Does your son get a mid-winter break in February, like they do here in Western Washington? If so, airfare to Hawaii is less expensive in February, usually, AND the waves are bigger on the Northshore of Oahu in the winter months. They hold surf meets at Sunset and Waimea at this time of year too. I hope the suggestions here are encouraging for you. Wonderful that you are able to enjoy time with your son, especially that age. Before you know it, he'll want to do his own thing without Mom. I say embrace as much time as possible. Aloha, Linda
Elle, if you do look for a cottage or apartment rental, try for the Windward side (Kailua or Kaneohe). They will be on the bus line and the beaches are great there, especially Lanikai. Linda
@Sasha - I never said I didn't like the Big Island. I said I didn't like it as much as the others. I had a great time there. I still think Oahu would be the best island for Elle and her son for the reasons I and others have mentioned.
I have only been in hamaii briefly on a temporary work assignment, so others may be more knowledgeable However, as a beginning snorkeller i would recommend Hanauma Bay just past Diamond Head on Oahu. The water is fairly shallow, and you snorkel (float) over a very shallow reef where the fish and other sea creatures are very close and easy to see. it is a very popular spot and very very safe.
For anyone interested in reading a great book about Hawaii I highly recommend a book called Moloka'i by Alan Brennart. Though the book is fiction it is written about a real place and the people that established the leper colony on the island in the late 1800's. The story is built around a girl who is sent there as a young child and what it was like to grow up in such an environment.
Elle, good for you! I've never been to Hawaii but if you register with some of the vacation search companies (booking.com is a good one for hotels), you will get emails with last-minute deals or slashed prices for certain rooms/flights (you can get airfare alerts, too, from Travelocity, Expedia, etc). When you find a really good fare or hotel price, jump at it. I think Frank was trying to lessen your expectations from answers on this board, but apparently there are lots of Pacific travelers here as well as Europe travelers.
Frank, do you need geography help? Hawaii is one of the better affordable destinations for warm water and snorkeling from California. Previously, the natural choice would have been the pacific coast of Mexico, but for first-time travelers combined with the ongoing drug war which is affecting a lot of Pacific tourist destinations in Mexico, Hawaii is a natural choice. Elle, I've only been to the Big Island, but I was about your son's age when I went and I fell in love with it. The water is warm at all the beaches on the eastern side of the Island. The western side is wetter (rains every day there) and is very lush with jungles, but the beaches there tend to be rocky with rough water. So you'll probably want to stay in the east, near Kona. Kahaluu Beach Park was a great place to snorkel with very tame fish. Honaunau Bay a little down the coast from Kona had even better snorkeling. You can't go wrong with those two spots!
Maybe someone should start a Hawai'i helpline. Airb&b has rentals of various sorts in many places. You could try there. Shop around, read a book to get ideas. Hostels, the YMCA in Honolulu, etc. There is an inexpensive public bus on Oahu, so car rental isn't necessary.
So with all the other travel sites available to you, Frommer;s, Fodor's, etc., where there are dedicated boards for Hawaii, you chose to post your query on Hawaii on Rick Steves' western Europe board. How very eccentric.
Sasha, I totally agree with you about the Big Isle - it is my favorite of all the Hawaiian Islands. However, this is a first time visit of a single mother who may not have the extra funds for the car rental (upwards of $50/day for tiny car) and the extra airfare (about $200/each) to go to the Big Isle. Yes, the volcano is fabulous and swimming on beaches with black sand (and green sand) is an event of a lifetime. I still think it would be less troublesome of a first trip to be on Oahu. I have not stayed at the AFrame on Hapuna Beach so have no real experience BUT if it does not have a lock, I wouldn't feel safe overnight. Sarah:
Island direction lesson: On Big Isle: Leeward is West (Kona-hot) and Windward is East (Hilo-wet). On Oahu: Leeward is Pearl Harbor side, Windward is Kailua-Kaneohe-Hanauma Bay side. No ka oie... and Aloha, Linda
Wow a 50 dollar A frame is very very cheap, couldn't get that here.. don't mean to be difficult, but does it have indoor plumbing too? I suggested Oahu because you do not need to rent a car there , which on all the other islands does not seem to be the case. Renting a car is expensive in Hawaii. There are air and hotel deals to Oahu that can be very cheap, for a short visit its nice having it all arranged. Plus there is a lot to do ( and my kids loved Hanauma Bay) , I agree the other islands are wonderful, but they do have other considerations( car needed, spread out sights, more expense getting to( cheaper flights usuaully go direct to Honolulu). I love Hawaii, can't imagine comparing it to Florida,, there is something special about the islands, the "no problem no hurry" attitude etc.
try checking out alaska airlines website, for tickets alone or a package with hotel; I agree with other people that Oahu may be your best bet. try comparing flights out of San Jose airport rather than SFO, it was about $125. per ticket less for me in August this year. if you are trying to fly at spring break there may be no "breaks" on airfare though. have a fun time.
When you do your airfare searches through kayak hit the "Bay Area Airports button" to include Oakland where you sometimes get better prices (but make sure you realize if you are flying out of San Jose). We have been going regularly with our children, now young adults for years, mainly to condos in Maui. It is beautiful there but it does get very quiet at night. This March my husband and I stopped in Waikiki before continuing on to Maui and stayed for three nights in a very nice hotel, so I can't recommend it as a budget hotel, but we really enjoyed ourselves. It was the first time I used Expedia and it worked well. There are handy inexpensive chain restaurants right by the beach. This trip will be a very special time and memory.
Sometimes 1 or 2 different islands can be a good deal to vacation at, and other times different islands are cheaper, at different times. This is always decided by the whim of the travel industry. www.hawaiirevealed.com , is a wonderful site you should take advantage of. This site is an expansion of the Hawaii Revealed guidebooks, which are carried in libraries, as well as stores across the country. Since you have time, read up on all the major islands and decide for yourself which one is right for you.
Thanks everyone for your kind replies and advice and hints!! I am certain I am well-equipped now to dive in and find some deals. @Norma- I posted this here at this website because someone at work told me about it. Since I do not have the luxury to travel, I do not know anything about it and followed up their tip. I find it peculiar you would take the time to respond. Enjoy your day.
Good for you. As a single mom, I took my son to Europe, saved and saved and saved for it and it was worth it. You have some good advice here, such as checking out airfare from airports around the bay area, not just SF. Also, look up the graffiti wall section on this site and will find advice on packing, saving money eating (such as picnics, etc.)Someone gave idea to stay on big island to save on car rental, that is great idea. Try to get an apartment rental, we did that about 5 years ago for Maui and worked out well. DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED!!!You can and should do this, not just for your son but the experience you will have doing it with him. Good luck.
@ pat - I was not recommending Florida over Hawaii. I just offered it as a suggestion. There is no comparison between the two places besides the fact that both offer warm beaches. I've been to Florida once, because a friend wanted to go. I have been to Hawaii 5 times, and have spent a minimum of a week on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. I would definitely go back to Hawaii before Florida.
For those who suggest Oahu because they won't have to rent a car, aren't you confining them to Honolulu and Waikiki? I do not think that is the experience they seek. Honolulu is a big city. Yes you can get attractively priced packages with airfare, but where? A downtown high-rise hotel? No thank you, walk away. One can also book air plus rental car, and have some freedom. Honestly, I do not like Honolulu or Waikiki,and I do not think these represent Hawaii. Please do not confine elle and her son to this urban jungle!!!!
I never compared Florida to California!! Of course California is far superior...as far as I am concerned anyway! Elle wants warm water and as nice as our beaches are, the water is not warm. I have taken public buses all over Oahu, including to the Polynesian Culteral Center and the Arizona Memorial. Elle, you mentioned going for several days. Can you be a little more specific? How much time will you have?
If you are interested in Oahu, a good option is to check out vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner). I am fortunate enough not to have to worry about lodging during most of my trips "home," but when we take our whole family, I rent a house through that site. Kailua is a good option because you would be close to one of the most beautiful beaches, the city is not as overwhelming as Honolulu in general and Waikiki in particular, but keep in mind that it can rain more than the other side of the island. As others have suggested, Hanauma Bay is about the only beach to observe and swim with tropical fish. As they try to preserve the area, there are more and more rules and regulations in place and limited days to visit along with restricted entry. I think once your son swims, body surfs, boogie boards and sees how enjoyable it is, one visit to Hanauma Bay will suffice. All beaches in Hawaii are public, so you can access any one that you want to visit, including the beaches in front of the poshest resorts. Airfare is definitely a lot more during all breaks, so book as early as you can. For instance, we waited until after Christmas to book for spring break last year and ended up spending $600+ per ticket. Hawaiian Airlines has been advertising $350-450 airfares for the fall. This information is for you to use as a baseline of airfares. I'm a little more prejudiced about Hawaii since that's where I'm from originally, but it is definitely a GREAT place to visit with kids! If you need any help with activities or great local places to eat, you can send me a private message. Have fun and go for it!
I wasn't suggesting confinement to Honolulu or Waikiki at all. The bus goes all over the island of Oahu. Yes, you are limited somewhat with their schedules but it certainly is possible to get on a bus and travel just about anywhere on Oahu whereas, on the Big Isle, the bus service is basically nonexistent. Elle, you might think about combining travel by bus and then rent a car for those days you want to explore the places that are further away from where you are staying. I still suggest looking at airbnb and Vrbo for places, especially for the windward side of the island. Saying all this, there are occasionally deals to be had with fly & drive packages, but not usually during Spring break. Keep doing your homework, and I am sure you will come up with a great trip for you and your son.
I truly appreciate all this helpful advice. Ever since my husband died suddenly, I have been blessed to see how kind most people can be. I am hoping this getaway (seven days) will be a refreshing time for both of us. All I seem to do is work and never have a trip to look forward to. I think once my son feels the warm water, he will be so happy. All he wants to do is be at the beach. I have several feelers out now at various places. Finding airfare has been my biggest hurdle thus far but if I have to pay a lot, I will weigh the cost and maybe look at going another time although getting the time guaranteed off from the ICU is rare. So, thank you for the tips. I am following them up. I can almost see myself at the beach! elle
Sasha,, of course they might not want to be stuck in Waikiki or Honolulu but , as many have explained, there are public buses that circle the island and go frequently enough to make them a good option, I have taken the bus to Haunama Bay myself. I will add that is the OP has only one week then they may find Waikiki and perhaps a trip to Diamond Head and Haunama Bay enough venturing out, or and maybe a circle island tour( on public bus) .
There are definitely direct flights to the Big Island! Alaska flies direct to Kona from Oakland and San Jose. But don't worry too much about changing in Honolulu if the fare is better. It's easy and pleasant. The air just smells good! We spend a week in Hawaii every February and have learned that you have to watch the fares closely. If it is a school break week on the west coast, the fares will be higher for just that week (the airlines are totally onto this). If you shift by a couple of days, maybe leave on Thursday (and miss a couple of days of school--shhhh!) and return on a Wed. you might find a MUCH better fare. Avoid holiday break weekends-those will be the highest fares. Any fare around $400-$500 R/T is great. Alaska and Expedia have great deals, but you must shop around. Right now, I can bring up an Expedia package in March for Kona for 1 week at $608 per person, including hotel + airfare. I highly recommend the "Maui Revealed" and "Big Island Revealed" books. (Other islands, too.) Great budget suggestions, hidden gems, the closest Hawaii book to Rick Steves. Ours are well-loved!
www.beatofhawaii.com is another good resource for airfare deals and more.
There are far worse things in life, in my opinion, than to be stuck in "only" Waikiki for a few days! Money and the extra time spent getting to Hawaii (less an issue for Californians) are always the biggest constraints to enjoying the Hawaiian Islands. Look for deals on airfare and hotels for Waikiki and/or Diamondhead and just stay there if you have only one week or fewer days. Budget enough money to spend a day on a group snorkling adventure off a catamaran. Staying somewhere close to a beach so you can get some swim time everyday is highly recommended. If you have to skimp somewhere, you can probably do so with food. Luaus are overrated, in my opinion. The area has wonderful beaches for swimming, entertainment can be found, and there is a city night life, shopping, etc., just beyond the shoreline. A day trip to Pearl Harbor is an excellent (not cheap, but worthwhile) change of pace for one of the days. I hope you're able to experience this: it's wonderful. PS I loved you're explanation (it's west to me)! Enough people are coming here to tap the brains of the experienced RikNiks on this site that perhaps we need a new category: "The Rest of the World" for questions. Webmaster, are you listening? : )
You can take a public bus from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor. To the best of my knowledge, a tour of the Arizona Memorial is still free. Of course there are guided tours if you want to pay more. We bought a one week bus pass when we stayed in Waikiki. We used the bus daily and went everywhere, except for the one day we rented a car so we could drive at our own pace around the island and stop when and where we wanted. It is possible to take a bus around the island if you prefer. There was a company who would pick us up at our hotel and take us to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It was pricy. We chose to take the bus. There, waiting for them to open, we talked to someone who used that company to get there. It took them longer than it took us! I like the 'Revealed' books for the different islands as previously mentioned. I found them at Barnes & Noble.
I don't see much specific advice on finding a good airfare. I use kayak.com, and you can search for flexible date. I found a round trip fare of $403 on Delta, flying non-stop from SFO to Honolulu on April 4 back on April 9. You can click on "matrix" to find the cheapest dates and there were other combinations at that price. Then I thought I would check flying to the Big Island just in case, since everyone keeps saying that would be more expensive. It is not. for the same dates, you can fly round trip on Hawaiian airlines from San Jose to Kona, for $393 (one stop in each direction). Again, there were lots of combinations with that price, or close to it, in early April 2013. I did not check for packages (with hotel or car) but those prices look pretty good for the airfare.
Sasha, that is a fabulous fare to the Big Island. It is usually $200 extra per person. If Elle coulherons the same kind of deal on accommodation and car rental, I would have to re-think my Oahu suggestion. Still, though with verbo and airbnb, Oahu would have more choices. Hummmmm.
Elle, take your son to the Big Island. He'll love it. We went for many years with our kids. You mentioned warm water and snorkeling. Go to vrbo.com and see if you can find a rental at Keauhou Resort. This area is south of Kailua town and less expensive than other areas on that side of the island. There is a beach near there called Kahaluu Beach Park. The fish are incredible. You don't even need to be able to swim. You can walk in, put your mask on, and lean over. You'll see them and giant sea turtles, too, if you're lucky. We used to live in SF and always flew direct to Kona. There will be airfare deals (although that $393rt is very good if you can snag it now). The suggestion about flying on Tues and/or Thurs (even if it means missing some school which in our experience people did all the time) is a good one and it will save you money on airfare. Let us know what you get booked and where. Happy to give additional suggestions of things for you to do and none of it is costly!
I would recommend the Big Island over Oahu as well. Honolulu is a really big city, Waikiki is super packed, you'll get more of the "idea" of the Hawaii you're expecting on the Big Island, and as others have mentioned, there are direct flights to Kona. Yes, car rental will be necessary, but it's not like driving in Hawaii is difficult.
Elle, I don't see anyone asking or suggesting that you ask your son which Island he would like to visit. If he hasn't looked at any guide books, maybe he should. For Walt Disney World I found The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World the best one of those I read. They have one for Hawaii also. If you can find an old one (of any guide book company) he could mark it up with what he wants to see on each Island and then the one that has the most things he wants to see and do on it could be the one you choose for this trip. I am sure you will want to save up the money to go back and then you could try another Island. I was also wondering if the water off Las Angeles or San Diego was warm enough. This might be a way for snorkling other years while you save up for the next Hawaii trip. This is just a thought. When I lived in Burbank I never went into the ocean there, so I have any idea about it's warmth. It might also be warmer more into Summer than when most schools have Spring Break anyway. But I was just mentioning this as a possibility for a less expensive outing inbetween trips to Hawaii. I am 150% sure you will enjoy the trip whichever Island you visit this time. Sharon R.
Be sure to buy the "Revealed" series book for the island you choose. For example, "The Big Island Revealed" gives directions by mile marker and is very useful. There is one for each island -- by far the best books. They were recommended to me by a Hawaiian. Our son was 14 when we took him. We went to Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. All were wonderful. If either or both of you have an interest in history, then go to Oahu for the Pearl Harbor experience. It is also a spectacular island. The bus system goes all over the island. If you don't want to rent a car, you can still get out of Honolulu.
Otherwise, I'd choose the Big Island. The volcano is enough alone to make it spectacular. We stayed in Kona at a little place that was about $100 per night. It was great and even had breakfast. It is called the Kona Tiki. You can see it on Tripadvisor. It is well known by the locals. Hawaii far exceeded our expectations. You are going to be blown away by the beauty.
Hope you get to go on this once in a lifetime journey and that you post your experience on the section dedicated to trip reports so we can see how you do.
Those of you who have been kind and helpful have really been a wonderful resource. Thank you, each and every one! One day, I will hopefully be planning another trip and will certainly remember the kindnesses of so many. :) elle
elle, I am so glad you had a chance to read the responses and experience the kindness and helpfulness of people on this board. There is a lot of information here to get you started on plans for this trip with your son. You might want to print out the entire discussion to start your planning folder. You can also send private messages to individuals to ask for more details on the advice they provided. You just have to be "logged in" to send a message, and to read the answers (notice of messages will appear at upper right next to your name when you are logged in). I hope you go and have a great time, and introduce your son to the wonderful world of travel, exploration, and experiencing different cultures.
I actually think it's the perfect site for a non traveler to ask for guidance. The one thing most posters have in common is that we love travel, yes to Europe, but many other places as well. Elle, You may want to look for a rental hosue or condo on VRBO. You might find a reasonably priced Condo with a common pool on the ocean/beach. Then since you will have a kitchen, you don't have to eat all meals out.
Someone at work lent me those Revealed books for the Big Island and for Maui. My evening reading....thanks for the tip! Elle
I wish you a happy unforgettable trip to the Islands, whichever you choose. I myself am partial to the Big Island because I have property there, but there is a lot to be said about all the Islands...you're going to need sunscreen the first day, remember that or you'll be going around looking like a lobster and looking for shade. It's a slower pace of life there, even in Honolulu....have fun and don't forget the shaved ice.
Elle, I agree that Oahu or the Big Island would be your best bet. We just spent a very wet week in Kaui in March. Needless to say I was not impressed. Plus, before our trip I was told many times that Kaui is where you go to relax and do nothing because there is nothing there to do. It is true that Honolulu would be a good choice because of Waikiki and public transportation. All the places mentioned would keep you busy. Just remember it is not much different than S.F. (a big city on the water). The Big Island is just that, a big island. You will need a car. We have stayed in Kona a number of times. While you can do Kona to Hilo and back in 1 day you are better off spending the night in Hilo if you do that. Being on a limited budget also keep in mind that a lot of activities may be expensive. Search online and make your reservations beforehand. We always go in February or March, perfect for whale watching. We did a whale watching boat once then decided on following trips just to watch the whales from shore. I also noticed them more off of the Big Island than Oahu or Kaui.
You have received a lot of good tips here. Hawaii is beautiful and no matter where you end up you will not be disappointed. Besides, like travel to Europe, you can always go back.
Aloha! As a soon-to-be Big Island resident w/4 properties on it's Puna region, I totally recommend it! There are 11 different climates, active volcanos, Hawaiian ruins, waterfalls, incredible beaches & the most wonderful people on the planet. I recommend checking out www.vrbo.com to find a house to stay in so you can have a private place to relax in & if you want to save $ you can buy/cook your own food, do your laundry, etc... So many other things to share if you're interested.