While daydreaming of the soft sand, warm ocean breezes and inviting waters of Hawaii, you have to do extra planning before making your way to the recently reopened paradise.
First, adults have to sign up for the state’s Safe Travels online program, which monitors visitors to the islands. Then, within 72 hours before flight departure (if you have connecting flights, the timing has to be 72 hours from the last leg), you have to take a nucleic acid amplification test from a list of approved testing and travel partners. You can choose to skip the pre-flight coronavirus test, but this will require that you quarantine for 14 days. If you’ve taken the first test, after landing at Honolulu International Airport, you will undergo a secondary screening.
When you are ready and safe to travel, you can rest a little easier knowing that Hawaii has a good record thus far in terms of the coronavirus. As of November 14, the state has the lowest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases nationally (51.5 cases per 100,000 people) and the second-lowest death rate (0.2 deaths per 100,000 people), according to Hawaii’s Department of Health. Of course, you should consult the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before any trips and take any necessary precautions.
We offer tips on what to expect on several islands and how to make the most of your much-needed Hawaiian getaway.
WHAT TO PACK
Keep your charger handy. As part of the Safe Travels program, you’ll need your cell phone throughout the pre-arrival process to upload information and to share a QR code that proves your negative test results at the airport, with ground transportation and at hotels. In addition, you’ll have to do daily check-ins for two weeks.
The Hawaiian style de jour is not just the aloha shirt — a mask is the required clothing throughout the islands. The state mandates that everyone wears a face covering their nose and mouth in public, and businesses are to refuse entry to anyone without a mask.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE ISLANDS
Hawaii’s most populated island is ready for visitors. Many of its best attractions, including the USS Arizona, Iolani Palace, Kualoa Ranch, Waimea Valley, the Bishop Museum and the Honolulu Museum of Art, are open.
While hotels like Halekulani and Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina are taking this time to close and renovate (they will reopen in summer 2021 and March 11, 2021, respectively), there are plenty of excellent choices for places to stay. The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach’s soothing suites with kitchens lend themselves to extended stays, and they have been in demand since the hotel reopened. For the first time, its exclusive Sushi Sho is offering takeout. You no longer have to land a hard-to-get reservation at the intimate 16-seat restaurant to enjoy its nuanced cuisine — all you have to do is place an order a day in advance.
Trump International Hotel Waikiki, which marked its 10th anniversary in 2019, is wooing couples with its wedding packages. Exchange “I do” on Waikiki Beach or go for a more intimate ceremony with select family and friends on a terrace overlooking the famed strip of sand, all while letting the hotel wedding planner take care of all of your needs, from the photographer to the permit.
In September 2019, Espacio debuted across from Kuhio Beach with nine luxurious suites, each receiving its own dedicated floor. Although the hotel won’t reopen until February 2021, its Japanese-French fine-dining restaurant Mugen is creating takeaway meals, from a weekly rotating bento box to an elaborate seven-course meal with cocktail pairings.
For another boutique hotel option, try the sleek, bathed-in-white enclave The Modern Honolulu by Diamond Resorts. Book at least three consecutive nights Sunday to Thursday through January and you’ll receive a complimentary night (use the reservation code MIDWKSTAY).
On Hawaii’s most rugged and largest island, visit Wailuku River State Park to see water gushing from the 80-foot Rainbow Falls or Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes.
The island’s longstanding luxury icon, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, emerges from lockdown December 1 with a fresh look. The ongoing refurbishments include an overhaul of the rooms, a new six-bedroom oceanfront bungalow constructed next to Kumukea Beach, and the resort’s top three villas are to double in space with second-story additions. New amenities are being added, including a culinary academy and a 3,000-square-foot golf instruction and practice facility.
While Four Seasons Hualalai offers four alfresco restaurants, it will introduce social-distancing-friendly private dining experiences on the beach and in remote resort areas, along with new room service menus for meals on guest room lanais.
The new Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection debuted in January and was only open for seven weeks when the pandemic forced its closure. But it opened back up November 15 and now you can take advantage of its Kainalu Ocean Adventures & Activities, where you’ll pair up with professional athletes for adventures in paddling, diving and more. Later this month, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop will open a permanent store in the hotel. It will be the modern lifestyle brand’s first Hawaii shop.
Experience blissful beaches and unforgettable scenery in the Valley Isle. Haleakala National Park is open (though some areas are closed) and taking reservations to see the sunrise from one of the best vantage points on the island, the summit. And cruising the 52-mile road to Hana on Maui’s northeastern shore is the ultimate social-distancing activity.
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, which reopens November 20, and the other Four Seasons hotels across the state collaborated with PS at LAX to provide private experiences for those flying on commercial flights. Book certain hotel suites and you’ll receive your own suite in the private terminal, which has its own TSA and customs clearance, and a luxury car will shuttle you to your aircraft. The Maui hotel also will provide 24/7 onsite physicians who can administer rapid antigen COVID-19 tests that guarantee results within 15 minutes.
Don’t miss the Four Seasons’ Virtual Classroom, a complimentary service where kids will be supervised as they work so that parents can catch a break at the stunning pool.
Speaking of which, you’ll want to spend all of your time at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s renovated three-tier pool with new in-water seating and a sun shelf. In a nod to Makaluapuna Point, a sacred outcrop fronting the property, the 10,000-square-foot pool’s cascading waterfalls are surrounded by lava rock. If you’re on a workation, use the Ka Lumi A’o Learning Lab with individual workstations and socially spaced homework areas. Students can study on their own or with a tutor who covers everything from counting numbers to nuclear physics.
Neighboring Montage Kapalua Bay has its own remote learning program. Montage Academy offers students in-person activities beyond their virtual curriculum, like physical education (beach clean-ups and coastal hikes) and science (discovering local flora and fauna). In December, adults can partake in the Work & Play package, which includes all office essentials (from monitor to mouse) and select gym equipment delivered to your room.
While the pandemic brought a halt to many luaus, Montage found a way to adapt. It curated an in-room experience that tells the story of the people of Polynesia through food (the family-style feast includes poke, prawns, local fish and more), dance and music from local artists.
The latest enhancements at Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui include the Oceanfront Sundeck Collection — 22 ground-floor rooms with extended decks and well-appointed outdoor living spaces steps from the water — and a new adult pool bar named Sunsets (check out It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere, a frozen mai tai crawl at each of the resort’s five pools). It also will unveil Wailea’s only butler service in 2021.
In addition, the hotel invested $2 million to build a solar farm. The energy generated by the farm is estimated to reduce the use of oil by 1,086 barrels annually and reduce its island carbon footprint, which equals approximately 7,753 palm trees and 612 acres of tropical rain forest.
At Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, let one of the wellness ambassadors create a remote office or book a gym pod for you. They also can assist with your child’s virtual schooling, arranging for desks, supplies and a tutor.
For a secluded and luxurious Hawaiian getaway, venture to Lanai. The state’s smallest inhabited island used to be a pineapple plantation, but now its main attractions are its two Four Seasons resorts, which reopen November 20.
If you want a traditional beachfront escape, head to Four Seasons Resort Lanai. But there’s much to do outside of the water. Embark on hotel adventures, including an archery and shooting range session; hiking, biking or riding a 4×4 Jeep to explore the diverse terrain; playing a round at the Jack Nicklaus Signature Manele Golf Course; or taking a guided sunrise hike to Pu’upehe (or “Sweetheart Rock”), one of Lanai’s landmarks.
The adults-only Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort is a wellness destination. Ensconced in flourishing gardens, the new upcountry 96-room property boasts outdoor facilities like a 24-hour gym, movement studios and yoga spaces. A sensei guide will help you form healthier habits for personal growth, fulfillment and well-being.
Lush emerald landscapes and rocky cliffs draw travelers to Hawaii’s Garden Island, and the terrain is great for socially distant outings. See it up close by hiking in Kokee State Park, Waimea Canyon, Wailua River State Park or Hāʻena State Park, all of which are open (though the latter requires advance reservations). One of Kauai’s bucket-list activities, a helicopter tour of breathtaking scenery along the 16-mile Napali Coast, also is available.
Head to Poipu Beach — one of the island’s best strips of sand — to check into Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort. While you won’t get the typical pre-pandemic in-person welcome, the Kauai hotel still gives you a proper aloha by sending a lei and wine up to your room. You’ll also receive a personal concierge whom you can contact via text to help plan your trip.
If you want to tie the knot, come for the hotel’s micro-weddings package, which includes a two-hour Kauai wedding reception at the pool bar overlooking the ocean for up to 20 guests, along with a champagne toast. Otherwise, your itinerary should be: beach, pool and a massage in a private, open-air cabana.
GIVE BACK AND STAY AN EXTRA DAY
To help preserve the islands, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority recently launched the Mālama Hawai‘i (mālama means to “take care” of something) initiative. Hotel partners like Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea will offer special packages that include a volunteer opportunity on property or with a local non-profit. Most of the offers are available through 2021 and include a free extra night when participating in the designated volunteer activity.
Each hotel offers its own promotion and volunteer project, but the latter could include planting native trees or participating in beach clean-ups.