If you know the islands well, or are comfortable researching and booking online, you can schedule many of your activities in advance from home. In many cases, you'll receive a discount for doing so.
Many visitors, however - especially first time visitors - have difficulty knowing which activities are the best since there are so many of the same type from which to choose. Which is the best snorkel sail or whale watch? Which luau is best? Which horseback ride or helicopter tour gives the best experience? It's a difficult decision.
Activity World Joins Expedia FamilyFor many years I walked past Activity World's kiosks located in hotels and other locations on Maui. They offered multiple choices in activities, often at a discounted rate for last minute bookings (presumably to fill the boat, luau etc.) I admit I always thought they probably used second or third tier providers. I didn't realize that, with more than 80 employees, Activity World provided upwards of 154,000 destination service packages per year in the multi-million dollar destination services market in Hawaii.
Then in April of 2004 I read that Expedia, Inc. would be acquiring Activity World. With the acquisition, Expedia promised to significantly expand the destination services offerings available through its Web sites and would become the first online travel company to offer customers the option of booking in-destination activities online or on location at their vacation property.
Expedia Local Expert DesksOver the next few years I noticed Expedia Local ExpertTM desks at many more locations throughout the islands. In many cases they were at some of the top tier hotels and resorts, such as the Hyatt Regency Maui and Hyatt Regency Waikiki, the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa at Ko Olina and the Hilton Kauai Beach Hotel and Resort. The majority of their desks and kiosks remain at some of the smaller condominium resorts, boutique hotels as well as several malls and shopping areas.
One of the services offered by Expedia Local ExpertTM Activities and Tours desks at many condominium resorts and hotels is an island orientation, activity overview and free continental breakfast on the first morning of a guest's stay.
When I'm on Maui, I often stay at the ResortQuest Paki Maui condominium resort in Honokowai, a beachfront community and prime condominium area just north of Ka'anapali. One of the materials provided on check-in is an Expedia Local Expert Hawaii Activity Guide. They also include an invitation to the morning breakfast orientation.
Morning Continental Breakfast & Island OrientationOn my stay at Paki Maui in November of 2007, I decided to attend. I knew that this was, thank goodness, not a timeshare presentation, but I somewhat expected a hard-sell approach. I was, however, very pleasantly surprised by my experience.
The Expedia concierge at Paki Maui is the friendly and knowledgeable Penny Mailou. She's as good at her job as any concierge you'll find at one of the finer hotels in Hawaii and, from what I've experienced, a lot more friendly than some.
Penny welcomed the group and was patient as folks grabbed some breakfast. She began her presentation by talking about Maui and the islands of Maui County – Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe. Penny then talked about the various types of activities available and some of the best providers. She distributed a handout so that we could follow along.
Discussion on Island ActivitiesPenny discussed numerous helicopter tours, land tours, snorkeling tours, water adventures and a number of dining/entertainment options. The handout gave details of each activity, the list price and the discounted price available through Expedia.
Following her presentation and several questions, Penny invited all interested in booking activities to come by her desk in the resort lobby at their convenience.
Penny's presentation included a doors-off helicopter flight with Alex Air of which I was unaware. I wanted to book it along with a horseback ride at Mendes Ranch that was not on the handout. I was delighted to hear that she could easily book that for me as well. The whole process took about 20 minutes and I left with vouchers and driving directions in hand.
Someone to Help Resolve ProblemsShortly thereafter I left for a snorkel sail from Ka'anapali Beach. Just as I was about to board the Teralani 3 catamaran, I received a call from Alex Air advising me that my scheduled flight would have to be canceled, due to an FAA inspection, and asking me if I'd like to reschedule for one day earlier.
My horseback ride was already scheduled for that day, and I didn't have any of my paperwork with me to make a call to see if I could change that activity. I asked the Alex Air representative if she would call Penny at Expedia to see if Penny could switch the dates for my helicopter flight and horseback ride. She readily agreed to do so and called me back within minutes to advise me that she had spoken to Penny and everything would be taken care of.
By the time I returned to Paki Maui, Penny had handled the changes and had new vouchers ready for me. It was a great service.
First Hand Up-to-date InformationAnother advantage of attending an Expedia presentation is that they know about new activity providers which may have not yet made their way into tour books or onto the Internet. They also are aware of providers which, for one reason or the other, may not be currently operating.
As I discussed earlier in this feature, there are times when visitors are able to book their own activities from home prior to their trip and there's nothing wrong with this. But, there are definite advantages in attending one of the Expedia Local ExpertTM presentations if offered at your hotel or resort. I'll be back on Maui soon, and I'll be sure to attend one again on my first morning.