I have travel guidebooks from all the major publishers, but the best one I ever read didn’t come from Frommer’s, Fodors or Michelin. It’s called "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed," and it’s from a tiny publishing company you never heard of.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve bought dozens of Frommer’s guidebooks, and Arthur Frommer is like a god to me. I’m also getting increasingly fond of Rick Steves’ guidebooks to Europe. Over the years I’ve been impressed with books by Lonely Planet and Moon Handbooks, and I wouldn’t even fly over Orlando without The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.
But this little guide to the Hawaiian island of Kauai is not just well-written, carefully researched and thorough. It has something that other guidebooks need more of. It has guts.
I own the fourth edition of the Kauai guide and Wizard Publications is now up to the sixth edition. So I can’t speak to any recent changes in the book. Nor do I know much about the company’s guides to the other islands. I leafed through a copy of the Maui guidebook a few years ago, but I have not yet seen its guides to Oahu and the Big Island.
Never mind because I stand by my endorsement, and my point about the guts. Here are a few excerpts from the Kauai book:
- On biking excursions: "If you want to go downhill, road trips down Waimea Canyon Rd. are available. They’re fun but pretty short, and not comparable to Maui’s more famous and longer downhill ride."
- On a mall restaurant: "Hideous Chinese food in unclean surroundings. Any questions?"
- On another restaurant: "This open-air restaurant has views of the ocean and mediocre food. Their breakfast buffets are a decent value at $11. The service bites."
There’s only one way to get away with that kind of candor. You have to be right. And there’s only one way to be sure you’re right. You have to know what you’re talking about. And in every single case where we visited an attraction, a restaurant or a hotel, the authors knew what they were talking about.
Sure, the descriptions are opinionated. That’s why I like them. They come across like the advice of a good, reliable and very knowledgeable friend who is unabashedly in your corner. And what traveler wouldn’t prefer that to the careful enumeration of amenities and prices that you get in many other guidebooks?
From this guidebook we learned where to stay, where to eat, where to swim safely, how early we had to arrive to get a parking spot at the Kalalau Trail, what to wear on the hike, how to avoid car break-ins, where to get the best shaved ice – everything we needed to know.
The Wizard books also publish aerial views of hotels and vacation condos on the islands, with a more extensive set of aerial photos on the Wizard Publications website. It’s so helpful it’s brilliant.