The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, on the other side of Diamond Head from Waikiki, looks dreamy from the road above and draws more fish fans than any other venue in Hawaii. But, like the smash-bang Hollywood blockbuster that sets box office records, the bay is an example of how "most popular" doesn't translate into "the best."
Part of the problem is that Hanauma suffers from its own good looks: The pay parking lot fills up early and crowds can be a hassle, both in and out of the water. In order to protect the preserve, some areas have been restricted, an informational safety video is mandated viewing for all visitors, and fees for entry, lockers and the shuttle buses seem nitpicky. And, oh yes, the drab coral looks lifeless and sometimes fish are not copious.
But even considering the downsides, Hanauma is still worth the visit if you know how to play it right to avoid the inconveniences—see pages 89-90 of Oahu Trailblazer. OT also give details on the half-dozen or more snorkeling spots that will be more enjoyable for the independent tourist.