And now for the more positive spin on it ...
Hawaii is my second home and it's taken 5 years of visiting there to become that way - although I did fall in love with it from the very beginning. In saying that, I spent longer than 5 days just in Waikiki and if that is the PP's experience, then it seems understandable that being only in Waikiki's tourist strip could have left her with the opinion she has of the islands.
While Hawaii (especially Waikiki) does embrace the Japanese tourists who flock to the islands for sun and sand, they also love everyone else. I have never had the experience the PP mentioned of being shunned in favour of Japanese tourists. I have always found Hawaiians open, friendly and approachable. As for the shopping, I finally made it to the mainland as well as Hawaii in April and the prices are pretty well the same. I hear all the time that prices are more expensive in Hawaii than the mainland but I'm yet to see it. Besides, compared with Australia, Hawaii is still super cheap. I tried to outlet shops but didn't find them to have the brands I wanted so I stick to the Ala Moana Mall about 15 minutes down the road from Waikiki itself and do my shopping there. Wal-Mart - though essentially thought to be tacky - is chock full of bargains, especially in the beauty section where make-up and hair products are about 1/3 of the price here. There is also a chain store named Ross selling last seasons clothes, shoes etc sent to them from the big name stores and I grab so much here for such a small amount. I usually get all my female rellies Guess bags as presents and they are around $15 - $30 each. Mind you, last season there is still current season here so it makes for great shopping.
There are endless amounts of things to do on each island and Waikiki Beach just underwent a sand renewal program while I was there in April so it's larger and cleaner than it was (not that I thought it was dirty to begin with). Yes, it's a tourist area but that's because it's beautiful so everyone goes there. There isn't any "neon" to taint your view as Waikiki has a strict no signage policy to keep the area looking fresh and tropical - and not have it turn into Las Vegas.
I've been to Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kauai and can recommend many things to do on each. The best way to see all the islands and get a taste of real Hawaii is to cruise on the Pride of America cruise ship which leaves Honolulu and returns to Honolulu. It's a 7 night cruise. I've done it 3 times and still love it. The other tip, if you stay on Oahu, don't be a typical tourist - see more than just Waikiki. Hire a car, driving there is easy. Or spend a whole $2.50 and take the number 55 bus around the whole island of Oahu and hop off at North Shore, Kohala and the West Coast and see more than the malls and Waikiki Beach.
Hawaii is amazing and I'm always sad to hear people didn't enjoy their time there. The Aloha spirit is beautiful, you just have to give yourself the chance to see it.
Check out my blog too, there's heaps of posts (I think in November 2011 on the side menu) about each individual island including Oahu so you can see what Waikiki is like and know what to expect should you decide to go.
To answer some of your q's:
Pearl Harbour is very moving and if you think your kids would understand what happened there and like to see it, it's child friendly.
You could hike Diamond Head Crater at the end of Waikiki Strip. It's a fairly simple hike and one which I've done 3 times now so if my dodgy knees can do it, I'm sure anyone can.
Sea Life Park is around from Diamond Head - on the way to Kohala - and you can catch a bus up there and swim with dolphins and sea lions. It's the marine park where 50 First Dates was filmed.
You could catch a shuttle to Hanauma Bay and snorkel in the most beautiful bay you will have ever seen. The fish in this bay are amazing and will swim right up to you.
There's the Dole Pineapple Plantation, Hawaii's pineapple grower. They have soft serve icecream in Pineapple flavour called Dole Whip which everyone raves about (not me, never tried it because I hate pineapple).
Of course there's also the typically Hawaiian luau you can also do. I did one on Maui that was beautiful and one on the island of Kauai that was a mix of a luau with cirque de soleil. It was incredible and moved me to tears.
If there's anything else you want to know, have a read on my blog or ask away on here.
I'm a little biased but wanted to give you a perspective from someone who took time to develop a love of the place and see more than one tourist area.
Hope I've helped.
ETA: You don't need an actual visa to go there, you will need a visa waiver and that is something you can apply for online yourself on the govt website - it's on my blog, a fairly recent blog post called "Aussies Going to Hawaii".
Edited by ~Kee~In~Hawaii~, 30 November 2012 - 08:18 AM.