Travel to Oahu Hawaii during Covid pandemic

After 21 long months, we FINALLY left Canada! In today’s blog post, we talk about what it’s like to travel to Oahu Hawaii right now.

While it’s not easy to travel to Oahu Hawaii right now (or anywhere, for that matter), it’s also not that difficult. Hawaii has implemented many of the same health and safety requirements as Canada, so things felt oddly familiar during our visit. 

Like the virus, Hawaii travel requirements continue to evolve.

If you plan to travel to Hawaii during the pandemic, you need to do your research and be flexible. For the most recent updates, visit the travel requirements page on the Hawaiian Islands website. There are several steps that need to be taken before your arrival. You will need to upload your travel info on the Safe Travels Hawaii website.

Our intent for this blog post is not to educate you about the rules, requirements and restrictions for travel to Hawaii. We’ll leave that to government and health authorities. Instead, we’d like to share our firsthand experience about what it’s like to travel to Oahu Hawaii right now.

Note – we visited Oahu in early December 2021, around the time when the Omicron variant was starting to spread. So, while our trip to Hawaii was only a few weeks ago, some of the things we experienced may have changed. 

Update as of January 5, 2022 – Hawaii updates entry requirements (USA Today).

Hawaii is taking the pandemic seriously

The moment we stepped off the plane it was evident that Hawaii is taking the pandemic seriously. The airport has signage everywhere asking visitors to wear face masks and practice social distancing. 

Restaurants require proof of vaccination and identification in order to dine indoors. We found this to be the norm at every restaurant we visited during our stay. We used a screenshot of our digital QR code and it was fine. Just make sure it’s the international vaccine card, not the provincial one. And don’t forget to bring photo ID with you everywhere you go. 

Retail stores require mask wearing while indoors. You do not need vaccination proof to enter retail stores.

Most people follow the rules, however we did see plenty of people who ignored the mask wearing policy. 

We did not make it easy on ourselves

A few days before our trip to Hawaii, Cameron was supposed to attend an event in Phoenix. The timing of this event was not great, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. 

We had decisions to make. In order to attend the Phoenix event and also join the Hawaii family vacation, it would require some risky travel planning.

The biggest wildcard is the negative PCR test requirement. The return flight from Phoenix to Vancouver was on Friday afternoon. The flight from Vancouver to Oahu was on Saturday morning. It was a really tight window. With limited PCR test locations (and limited availability) and a minimum 24 hour PCR test result (unless we pay a ridiculous fee for the instant results), it felt like a disaster waiting to happen. 

So, we made the decision for Cameron to fly directly from Phoenix to Oahu. It was not ideal for Nicole to travel with the boys on her own, but it made the most sense. This way, Cameron did not need to pay for the expensive PCR test twice, to get back into Canada and again before departing to Hawaii. And, it avoided potential delays on receiving test results.

Fortunately, direct flights from Phoenix to Oahu are cheap right now on Hawaiian Airlines. We paid $247 USD for the direct flight, with seat selection. The PCR test cost over $150 CAD. It’s certainly a strange time to travel, when a PCR test is almost as expensive as a direct flight. 

Related – Should you stay at Waikiki Beach when you visit Oahu?

Is it busy in Oahu right now?

I suppose this depends on what you are comparing ‘busy” with. 

We felt like it was busy in Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. It was difficult to get a table for dinner at restaurants along the main road in Waikiki. We assumed it was because we were visiting during the busy holiday travel season.

When the rain finally stopped, the streets near the beach were packed with people. Crowds would gather at each stop light waiting for the next green. It felt quite busy to us. 

However, when we talked to taxi drivers and uber drivers, they said it was really slow right now. They went on to tell us that many tourist-related businesses were still struggling because tourist numbers were down considerably. If that’s the case, I’m glad we didn’t visit during the “real busy” period. 

One driver told us that Japanese tourists are missing because Japan still has tough travel restrictions in place. He said that Japanese tourists make up the largest group of international travelers to Hawaii. 

Visiting Hawaii during the Christmas holiday season

This was our first time traveling to a tropical island during the Christmas holiday season. It was nice to see decorated Christmas trees while wearing shorts and flip flops. 

Many of the retail shops and malls along Kalakaua Avenue are decorated with Hawaii inspired Christmas ornaments, as you can see in the above photo. 

Our stay at Alohilani Resort in Waikiki Beach

During our time at Waikiki Beach, we stayed at the swanky Alohilani Resort. It’s centrally located on the famous Kalakaua Avenue directly across the street from beach. 

This hotel has taken the position to require that all guests, associates and patrons be fully vaccinated in order to enter the property. Read its Vaccine Policy and FAQ’s here. 

As Canadians, we are required to be vaccinated in order to visit Hawaii, so this requirement did not impact us at all. However, for USA citizens who are not required to be vaccinated to travel to Hawaii, this decision has been received as controversial. 

Upon check-in, hotel staff confirmed our travel documentation and provided us with cards to present at the hotel restaurants and club access. This meant we did not have to show our vaccination card and ID every time we dined at the hotel restaurants and Longboard Club. It’s a convenient solution.  

Longboard Club access at Alohilani Resort

If you stay at Alohilani Resort, we highly recommend you upgrade to club access at Longboard Club.

We took full advantage and visited the lounge every evening. In fact, the snacks and wine is so good that we didn’t bother going out for dinner afterwards. Here’s a sample menu for Longboard Club. The hosts are very accommodating and offered our boys some of the menu items from the SWELL Restaurant & Pool Bar. 

We paid about $100 per night for Club Access, which included a very nice breakfast for our family of four. 

Related post – Photos from our stay at Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club in Oahu

The above and below photos are the outdoor rooftop lounge at the Longboard Club. It’s a really comfortable setting. Food and beverages are included with club access and are served directly to your cabana, table, couch or lounge chair. Kids are welcome.  

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The infinity pool at Alohilani Resort on Waikiki Beach. 

Where to get a Covid PCR test in Oahu?

At the time of our trip to Hawaii in early December, Canadian travellers returning home are required to provide a negative PCR test result within 72 hours. Get the most recent travel, testing and borders info here. 

We joined a few Facebook groups to learn about what it’s like travel to Oahu Hawaii right now. It became clear that finding a PCR test location is not easy. With increased demand for rapid tests and limited locations, finding an affordable option is difficult. 

Renting a vehicle in Hawaii is also very expensive right now, for a variety of reasons, and daily hotel parking fees is an absurd $40 USD per day. Because of this, we decided to skip the car rental and use Uber instead. The problem with this decision is that you need transportation to get an affordable PCR test.

We spent most of our time in Ko Olina, a touristy neighbourhood located 30 minutes northwest of Honolulu. This is where we would be during the 72 hour window before departure. There are limited PCR testing locations in Ko Olina, and the options available are charging $300+ for each PCR test. That’s over $1,200 USD for our family of four! 

After further research, we decided to purchase the Switch Health COVID-19 RT-LAMP test kit. The RT-LAMP Test Kit is a molecular diagnostic test and does not require laboratory processing. It is a self-collected test observed via a telehealth experience.

Switch Health is an Aeroplan member, so we received preferred pricing and Aeroplan points with our purchase. We paid $159 per person + taxes, for a total of over $636 + taxes CAD. You can also redeem Aeroplan points to purchase the kits. 

Watch this short video to see how we did the test in our Hawaii hotel room.

We visited the Doctors of Waikiki Urgent Care on Waikiki Beach (pictured above), located in the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, for a non-Covid related issue. While there, we inquired about PCR testing at this location. It does offer PCR tests for $300 USD per person, so this is another option if you are staying at Waikiki Beach. More info here. 

Above is a photo of the COVID-19 RT-LAMP Test Kit from Switch Health. Although everything worked out fine, it was a stressful experience. If something went wrong, or we mixed up QR codes, it could be a very expensive mistake. 

If we do this self administered test again, we will likely do one adult and one kid at a time. There’s no need to do the entire family at the same time. It can be confusing trying to organize four kits at the same time.

Our return flight did not go according to plan

Let’s just say, we are glad we took our self-administered tests closer to 50 hours before departure time, instead of closer to the 72 hour window. 

Moments after arriving at Honolulu International Airport, we learned that our flight was cancelled. We were confused because we had tracked the flight earlier and it appeared to have departed from Vancouver on time. We didn’t understand why the return flight from Honolulu to Vancouver was cancelled? This is why. Engine failure. Not good.

Obviously mechanical failure is not Covid related, but the rippling effects from the pandemic were felt. 

Click on the post below to find out what happened. 

Silver lining – the flight home from Oahu to Vancouver was almost empty. 

Read more travel blog posts from Hawaii

  • Photos from our stay at Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club in Oahu
  • Travel to Molokai – What to Do and What Not to Do 
  • Riding Mules Down the World’s Tallest Sea Cliffs 
  • Video: Helicopter Tour over the Hawaiian Islands
  • Ziplining through the Forests of Haleakala, Maui 
  • Mai Tai’s and Pig Cooked in a Pit: Our first Hawaiian Luau

Have you visited Hawaii during the pandemic? What tips do you have about travel to Oahu Hawaii right now?

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