A visit to Hawaii is the perfect choice fun family vacation. Often what draws parents to bring their children to Hawaii is the culture and traditions of the islands known as the Aloha Spirit. The entire Hawaiian culture revolves around "Ohana" or family. Children, better known here as "keikis" are embraced and are an important part of spreading and continuing the Aloha spirit for generations to come. This is why Hawaiian people have such a passion for sharing their beautiful islands and all it's traditions with children. Families are truly welcomed here with open arms.
The Hawaiian islands are actually a chain of hundreds of islands. Most families who come to visit will stay one one of the four main Islands - Maui, Kauai, Oahu (where the city of Honolulu is located) and the Island of Hawaii (known as the big Island). Chances are uour kids probably have different personalities despite coming from the same family. The same thing can be said for the Hawaiian Islands. Even though the Hawaiian spirit flows throughout them all, each one of the Hawaiian Islands is a unique destination in itself, with a personality of it's own offering so many things for families to do and explore!
For this reason, it's a bit difficult to create a simply "top 10" list. Having so many wonderful choices of activities in Hawaii is both a blessing and a curse when trying to plan vacations and make decisions. Some experiences can only found on specific islands so you need to plan accordingly. In addition, parents need to choose the right activities that will fit the ages of their children, their budget, the amount of time they can spend in Hawaii and the travel style best suited to their family. This is why having the help of one of our Hawaiian Island specialists on staff here at Vacationkids can be an invaluable help for busy parents.
It is nearly impossible to simply highlight all the fun that Hawaii has to offer visiting families who come here on vacation. Here are a few of the most popular wish list requests we hear time and again from families as we plan their vacations along with some of our recommendations:
1. SURFING - Surfing is simply synonomous with Hawaii. Hawaii is the home of the Banzai Pipeline, off Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea located on the North Shore of Oahu. During the winter, world class surfing championships are held along the best here with it's 30 foot waves. Certainly this is a spectacle to watch if you visit during this time of year. If your family are more "do-ers" but not yet ready for the pipeline, there are plenty of protected beach areas where your kids can learn to hang ten. The Hawaiians teach their Keikis to surf as soon as they can swim. Most schools or classes will require that younger, inexperienced kids have a private instructor for safety reasons. Older tweens and teens will be allowed in group classes which is a fun way to meet and make new friends. There are many surf schools available along Waikiki which is on Oahu's southern coast which is far more gentle. Poipu beach on the island of Kauai is also another great surfing spot for families. If ocean waves make you a bit nervous, consider paddleboarding instead. Paddleboarders stand on a board in calm waters and propel themselves with a oar. Once again, lessons and gear rentals are everywhere.
2. Experience a Volcano- Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park is encompasses over 500 square miles on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is home to two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. With over 150 miles of hiking trails it allows access for children of all ages so that they can witness the true force and beauty of Mother Nature. For a truly spectacular show of nature's fireworks, plan a boat tour of the East coast of the big island either for sunrise or sunset and witness the creation of hot magma flowing into the cooling waters of the Pacific.
If free flowing lava makes you feel a bit skiddish, then Mount Haleakala on Maui is a great choice. Hike, camp, skywatch, take a guided tour or enjoy a photo safari for endangered species in the remote landscape of a dorment volcano. There are plenty of special programs here for kids of all ages (even the grown up ones). That said, this is an extremely remote area so do your homework and come prepared with provisions and water. Be aware that your family will be at an elevation of about 10,000 feet so those prone to breathing difficulties or altitude sickness will need to take precautions. The other end of Haleakala National Park is where families will find the infamous "road to Hana". Hana road is a winding, one lane road high in the air. It's a long, slow hour roller coaster ride will take you about 3 hours to go 50 miles (I'm serious -no joke!). In the end your family will be rewarded with the most memorable experience, spectacular landscapes and the opportunity to swim in the seven sacred pools which are 7 cascading waterfalls that flow into the Pacific!
3. Embrace the Culture- The Hawaiian culture surrounds, welcomes and embraces families that visit the islands. Just about every family friendly resort throughout the islands will offer fun activities that introduce kids to Hawaiian culture. Just a couple of examples would be lei making, quilting or hula lessons. Everything from the language to the food celebrates Hawaii.
For a wonderful info-tainment experience, Polynesian Cultural Center on north shore of Oahu is perfect for all ages. This 42 acre park is a tribute of all of the ancestors of Hawaii. It celebrates the cultures of New Zealand, Fiji, Rapa Nui, Samoa, Tahiti, Tongo and the people from all the South Pacific islands who sailed to Hawaii and made it their home. The blending of all of these tribes is the basis of today's Hawaiian People. History comes to life with displays, activities, games and experiences that families will remember for years to come.
Another cultural landmark of Hawaii, albeit a sobering one, is Pearl Harbor. This landmark event changed the course of history. Visiting the memorial, peering into the water and seeing the top of the USS Arizona, it really brings new meaning to what we all study in history class. The The USS Arizona is the final resting place for many of the ship's 1,177 crewmen who sacrificed their lives for our freedom on December 7, 1941. I highly recommend the audio tour which is narrated by many of the surviving soldiers who were witness to that fateful day. Younger family members may have more of an appreciation for the Pacific Aviation Museum, the USS Missouri and the Submarie exhibits. To avoid disappointments, do get your park admission tickets in advance as park officials can limit visitors during busy times of the year.
On the Big Island of Hawaii there is also the national park of Pu'uhonua O Honaunau. Whether you can pronounce it or not, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the tribal culture of the Islands. In old Hawaii, if you broke the laws of the gods you were hunted and put to death. Your only means of survival was to get to a sacred refuge or puuhonua. This area is surrounded by a massive stone wall and is said to be protected by the gods. It was considered to be sacred ground where the bones of the chiefs were buried. Here families will also find remains of an abandoned farming and fishing village known as Ki'ilae Village. It offers a insight as to how the old Hawaiians lived their every day lives.
4. Have a Luau -No family vacation to Hawaii would be complete without the experience of a Luau. Dining on local delecacies while listening to the stories of the ancestors is only matched by the hula and fire dances. It is a truly enchanting experience that welcomes children of all ages. There are as many luau options for are their are tourists in Waikiki. Most offer a fair amount of cheezy entertainment but there are a few standouts. There is a great luau offered at the Polynesian Culture center in Oahu that I mentioned earlier. Do note that the center is run by the Moron church so no alcohol is served here making it very family friendly. The Princeville Inn in Kauai offers their luau on the shores overlooking the stunning Napali coast with wonderful authentic performers. The Royal Hawaiian Luau in Oahu depicts the royal feast called Aha Aina. This one is certainly an upscale experience. Complete with the stunning backdrop of Diamond head, this is certainly a luxury Luau fit for royalty.
5. Play the Ukelele - Hawaiians take their music very seriously! Fair warning, if your family is planning a trip to Hawaii you will need to learn the words to Don Ho's song "Tiny Bubbles" and be able to hit all the notes to the the now retro theme song of Hawaii Five O. Without knowledge of these iconic cultural references, you may find yourself a bit lost.
That said, there is nothing more iconic to Hawaiian music than the Ukelele. The mention of this instrument probably calls to mind IZ and his rendition of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" which never fails to send shivers up my spine!
To immerse yourself fully in the aloha spirit, you really do need to embrace the music and nothing does this like a ukelele. Cheap tourist shops sell them for around $20. That said there are "real" ukelele shops all over the Islands. My favorite is Ukelele PuaPua in Waikiki. Just a visit to this shop is an interesting excursion all by itself. If your kids are music lovers or your family is looking for an engaging souvenir to bring home, a real starter ukelele can be found her for around $100. For a few dollars more you can even schedule a lesson to get started. If your kids think ukelele music is lame, have them watch this here video of these teens shredding the uke!
6 Meet the Locals - Marine life abounds in the Hawaiian Islands and families have many opportunities to get up close and personal. There are SO many great snorkeling spots but a couple of my favorites are Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Anini Beach County Park in Kauai, Kealakekua Bay and Hulopoe Beach in lanai. Younger kids and pool lovers may prefer to spend a few nights at Disney Aulani Resort in Ko Olina on Oahu. Here the Disney imagineers have re-created a coral reef pool where you can snorkel in a man made reef full of tropical fish without fear. It's like snorkeling in a huge aquarium.
Close encounters of the Turtle kind can be found on Oahu's North shore on Laniakea Beach. It is located after Haleiwa Town on Kamehameha Hwy. You will need to park across the street and be careful crossing as this is a popular and busy road. Hawaiians consider the Honu or turtle to be a sign of longevity, peace and good luck. Just about every day giant sea turtles come to this area to feed. Usually right after their meal they will crawl up onto the sand to enjoy a nap in the warm sun. Local volunteers stand ready to make sure the turtles don't lose any of their beauty sleep and answer questions. They know most of the turtles by name, family and personality. Definitely a fun and fascinating stop!
Winter is Hawaii's Whale season. Kohola (humpback whales) are one of the larger species of whales ranging between 40 and 52 feet in length and weighing up to 45 tons. December thru May is when the whales return to breed in the warm waters of Hawaii. Humpbacks can be spotted just off shore from most of the Hawaiian islands during this time of year and there are many ways for your family to see them. Probably my favorite adventure was a boat ride along the breathtaking Napali coastline of Kauai where the mountain peaks are taller than the empire state building. Here we spotted humpbacks and monk seals although the seas were a bit too rough for my liking. My next visit back during whale season I took to the sky with a fabulous sea plane ride. We were fortunate to spot a huge pod of humpbacks just off the north shore of Oahu. We followed them, watching them gracefully swim and breach for several miles. Respectfully we needed to keep a good distances away as not to disturb but it was amazing to have this rare bird's eye view. If your family isn't up for either a sea or sky view, you may still get a great view by hiking one of Hawaii's many gorgeous shoreline trails with a good pair of binoculars.
Dolphins are another fan favorite for families. Dolphin quest on Oahu and the big island offer several different encounter programs suited for specific ages, budgets and the amount of time you can spend with these gentle creatures. For more adventurous families there are open ocean snorkeling tours available in Oahu and the big island with spinner dolphins, monk seals and turtles. For the REALLY extreme adventurers, there's even cage diving with sharks.
For a real surprise, how about visiting the Penguins who live in Waikiki! That's right, just inside the legendary Hilton Hawaiian hotel with the tile rainbow decorating the outside. In the lobby is a display of black footed, warm weather penguins and the best part is, it's free. These fun creatures live for about 30 years in monogomous pairs so they are the perfect mascot for a resort that caters to so many family destination weddings and honeymoons. Parents usually have a hard time tearing their little ones away from watching these playful penguins.
Visiting the penguins is agreat "plan B" if you happen to fun into a day of rain or "Vog" (that's sulfur fog created by the volcanoes on neighboring islands). Hop a local bus or trolley for lunch at the Oceanarium Restaurant Buffet at the Pacific Beach Hotel. Here parents can enjoy a quiet lunch while kids are amazed and entertained by a a three-story, 280,000-gallon, aquarium housing nearly 400 fish from more than 70 different species complete with divers and mermaid shows. From there hop back on the bus for a short ride to the Waikiki Aquarium for a day of family fun without raindrops.
6 Take Unique Ride- For as many unique spots are there are for families to visit in Hawaii, there are even more interesting ways to get there. Most visitors don't realize Hawaii has a history of ranching and farming. This means families can ride a horse thru the rainforest or enjoy breathtaking views from the old fashion sugar cane train on Maui. Most people don't bicycle or ride a mule down a mountain every day but you certainl can while on vacation in Hawaii. Families can paddle an outrigger canoe to a private island or take a quad bike tour of secret hollywood film locations. Some areas of Hawaii are still so very remote that the only way to enjoy their incredible beauty is by helicopter or zip line. Families can even explore the depths of the pacific down to 100 feet below sea level in a submarine.
7. EAT!!! Because the Hawaiian people are such a cultural melting pot, so is their cuisine. The Hawaii's global popularity as a vacation destination spot has given rise to authentic dining experiences devoted to the palates of visitors from all around the globe. Even the U.S. military has it's own culinary contribution of SPAM which is considered a Hawaiian comfort food. Rich soil, tropical climate and an agricultural pride makes the Hawaiian islands a poster child for farm to table seasonal dining. There are so many renown chefs that now call Hawaii home. Family foodies can eat their way around Hawaii, whether on their own or even thru guided taste tours of local hot spots. The good news is, eating like royalty doesn't have to cost a fortune. On my last visit to Oahu, I discovered Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, Pies from Teds on the north shore and the Saturday morning Farmer's market at Kapiolani Community college.
So actually, my title here is a bit of a fib. Like I said, there are far more than seven fun ideas listed here. There are so many unique, amazing, wonderful, off the beaten track, out of the way places in Hawaii where we send our families that there would be no way for us to list them all here in one spot.
The one important item that I did not include here is simply to "BE" when your family visits Hawaii. Be on a beach, Be Together, Be unplugged and Be still. That is the secret to letting the aloha spirit fill your soul!