Spring has sprung, gas has riz.
Do you wonder where salvation is?
Well, have you given any thought to Hawaii?
"Something happens to people in Hawaii," says an airline executive. There is a note of puzzled bemusement in his voice. "They look different flying back than they do when they're flying out. Sort of 'unbuttoned.' In fact, a lot of them don't seem to care what they're wearing or where they're going."
If so, they probably got their money's worth. Getting "unbuttoned" in the grand old relax-and-enjoy fashion of earlier and easier decades is something for which a lot of vacationers have almost given up hoping.
There are three contributing factors that might help it happen in the islands this spring. One is that before the end of April many Hawaii hotel prices will have fallen back $5 to $10 a night from their winter highs. Another is that some cut-price air fares have been announced with others possibly in the offing, and a third is that a number of tour packages check in with spring savings, too.
There could even be a fourth factor: Hawaii has had a poor winter, and projections don't paint too rosy a picture of summer business. While this might not translate into price benefits for the tour-buyer (because of locked-up contracts), if hoteliers get nervous, there could be some interesting bargains for individual travelers.
Some specifics on what's already scheduled:
In Waikiki, the new 36-story Prince Kuhio Hotel has dropped its double-room rates from $43-$58 to $39-$49. The Hyatt Regency falls from $64-$84 to $58-$78 after April 20, and the ocean-front Ilikai has moved from $60-$84 to $54-$78.
After Easter, many weekly accommodations rates went down 10 percent, monthly ones 10 to 30 percent. Note that although some of these spring markdowns continue through summer, at present a number apply only through mid-June.
The big trick for acquiring happiness in Hawaii lies in being a good picker. What's starting to get through to travelers is that of the 100-plus Hawaiian islands, the six that are open for business -- Maui, Kauai, Hawaii, Oahu, Molokai and Lanai -- are not, repeat not, carbon copies of each other.
Oahu is where about 80 percent of the state's population lives and where almost all the international airlines land. Waikiki, the beach part of Honolulu, is therefore where most tourists go. The result: Boomtown, a place for people who like people and the carnival of big-city attractions. Waikiki is side-by-side high-rises, and the beaches have taken a back seat to theme parks and around-the-clock shopping. Nightlife means everything from sailor bars to Las Vegas-style supper clubs, discomania and sleek expense-account restaurants.
Hawaii, "the big island," is the one with the volcanoes, cowboy rodeos, coffee farms, wild-boar hunts and, yes, mountaintop skiing, usually through April. That's in addition to posh hideaway resorts, beaches and world-class fishing, of course.
Maui? Trendy. Polynesia with some "help" from Hollywood, the Condo Craze and Mau-Wowie, a local herb. So, sure, there's a whaling village (restored version), a galaxy of boutiques that extends all the way to "Shop Suey," a replica rail line, a sleeping volcano (natural, not restored), waterfalls, pineapple fields and, occasionally, air thick with the perfume of ginger blossoms or something stronger.
Kauai rates as the stunner, the natural beauty, home of the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Waimea, a 10-mile long, one-mile-wide gorge. Although elsewhere they usually get a little-to-a-lot of rain in winter, Kauai is the wettest of the islands -- but that's how it gets its lushness. Also around: caves, mountain pools, a natural rock slide, superb swimming and surfing -- and a long list of attractions for the history buff.
Molokai's claim to fame is founded in a distressing passage in the pageant of Hawaiin history. It was on this 37-mile-long island that lepers were forcibly confined in the 19th century. Now there are tours to the colony and to a new wildlife ranch where they raise giraffes and other exotic animals for sale to zoos. In addition, there are three hotels and two condominiums that cater to the growing number of mainland visitors and vacationing islanders who've learned to relish Molokai for the peace and quiet of Old Hawaii "country" living.
Lanai, property of a well-known pineapple company, could qualify as almost un-Hawaiian in that the welcome mat isn't altoghether out. There's one 10-room frame hotel, one Gray Line tour and next to no amusements, apart from the do-it-yourself variety. It does have some splendid beaches, a ghost town and other relics of the past, but you need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to make the rounds of them over Lanai's mostly unpaved roads.
Hotels, too, can be distinctive. How you like them therefore depends in part on what you want. Kauai's romantic Coco Palms Resort, for instance, is as tropically full-flavored as a ripe mango with thatched-roof long houses and blue lagoons. Not surprisingly it attracts countless honeymooners. The newest Rockresort, Kapalua Bay Hotel on the northwestern coast of Maui, is luxuryland, with appeals especially to golfers and gourmets. Maui's remote oasis for Old Money nonetheless remains the Hana Maui; Oahu's is the Kahala Hilton; Hawaii's is the Mauna Kea.
Old hands have also learned that for two or more couples traveling it makes sense to ask about prices for two- and three-bedroom hotel suites and even skippered sailing boats or motor yachts.