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Fair warning, Hawaii is again packed with tourists

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 3/24/2021 Clint Henderson
a group of people on a beach near a body of water © Provided by The Points Guy
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Fair warning if you are headed to Hawaii. Business is booming once again, and you won’t get the hotels, beaches, pools and hikes to yourself anymore.

On Saturday, March 21, for example, according to Hawaii News Now, Hawaii saw 28,000 arrivals – that’s the highest number since the pandemic began in earnest a year ago.

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a group of people on a beach: Hawaii beach on the Big Island in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Hawaii beach on the Big Island in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

I’m just back from a quick vacation to Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii. Unlike in January when I was in Kauai, it was packed with spring breakers and other tourists. The contrast couldn’t have been greater. I nearly had Kauai to myself when I was there checking out its resort bubbles earlier this year. I honestly thought that I’d see similar empty streets and hotels when I went back to Hawaii in March. It was the complete opposite. Waikiki especially was packed.

Related: 10 reasons to visit Timbers Kauai

a group of people standing around a bag of luggage: Hilton Waikiki Village March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Hilton Waikiki Village March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

I stayed at the Hilton Waikiki Village, where check-in lines were over an hour.

a group of people standing outside of a building: The line for Starbucks at Hilton Waikiki Village in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy The line for Starbucks at Hilton Waikiki Village in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The line for Starbucks was 45 minutes!

During my stay at Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger, the hotel appeared fully booked. The hotel did do a good job with social distancing, even requiring reservations for the pool and limiting the attendance to eight guests. Everyone was wearing masks.

a group of people walking in front of a building: Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger in Oahu, Hawaii, in March. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger in Oahu, Hawaii, in March. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The streets around the hotels were full of visitors and restaurants that were open were full. In fact, I had trouble getting dinner reservations on a random Tuesday night.

a group of people walking in front of a building: Waikiki street scene in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Waikiki street scene in March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Many of the activities I did were totally sold out, including the popular Kualoa Ranch and its Jurassic Valley and ATV tours on Oahu. Be sure to make advanced reservations if you are planning a trip to Hawaii.. no matter which Island you plan to visit.

Local reports also suggest many tourists aren’t wearing masks and state leaders are trying their best to educate arrivals that masks are required.

Jay Talwar, chief marketing officer for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau told TPG:

“As we looking forward to welcoming more travelers during the upcoming spring and summer months, we’re asking visitors to join our efforts to help keep Hawaii safe, which includes participating in the Hawaii Safe Travels program as well as following our state mandate to wear a mask or facial covering in public at all times. Doing so will help malama (care for) Hawaii and our island communities.”

In my experience, mask compliance was very good. I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit to being uncomfortable among the large groups, especially after a year of social distancing.

Interestingly, Hawaii tourism officials say hotel occupancy and home rental rates in February were down substantially year-over-year as coronavirus continues to impact the islands. That may change for March. There is also a lot less inventory on the market which makes the hotels that are open more crowded.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Seattle Airport, March 21, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Seattle Airport, March 21, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The other note I would add is that flights are full again. During my time flying over the past year, only the past few weeks have I seen serious crowds again at airports across the country. Seattle was seriously mobbed. The flights to and from Hawaii were also full again. Thankfully, I was flying Alaska Airlines, which is still blocking middle coach seats in its premium class cabin.

a group of people waiting for their luggage at an airport: Boarding for flight to Hawaii in Seattle on March 11, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Boarding for flight to Hawaii in Seattle on March 11, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) a group of people in a room: Honolulu Airport. March 18, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Honolulu Airport. March 18, 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

I really thought the hoops visitors have to jump through to go to Hawaii would have kept the crowds away. Apparently, tourists have figured out how to get tested and fill out the safe traveler forms in order to make the trip. Spring break season is also contributing to the surge of visitors. The increasing numbers of folks with vaccinations are also boosting crowds. That, and the fact many international destinations remain off-limits for Americans.

Related: I spent 3 days quarantining in Kauai’s resort bubble

We’ve covered the full run-down of what you need to know prior to visiting Hawaii, and despite the crowds and the prearrival testing requirements, I still recommend visiting Hawaii. Just be prepared for the crowds and for the idea you won’t have the islands to yourself.

Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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