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Family Travel: Hawaii with Kids

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From volcanoes to submarines, Disney magic to whale watching, Sassy Mama Crystal discovered a world of family-friendly adventures in Hawaii with her kids. Here are her top tips, mama!

Hawaii has a well-deserved reputation for being paradise. America’s fiftieth state is actually a series of hundreds of islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, of which only seven can be visited. This past December, our family chose to focus on three of the most popular—Hawai’I (called “The Big Island”), Maui, and O’ahu.

The Big Island

You can find four out of five climate zones on The Big Island of Hawaii. However, the biggest draw on the island is Volcano National Park—home to Kilauea, an active volcano. You can hike and camp, while less outdoorsy people will prefer the driving loop. Check their website daily to keep abreast of any road closures due to lava flows.

Start at the visitor center to get oriented (while older children may find the documentary interesting, our 4 and 7-year-olds did not). Drive to the Jaggar Museum to see the smoke billowing forth from the active volcano—while pretty during the day, it sizzles at night when the smoke turns red from the lava. While there are hikes of varying difficulty, our youngest traveler was fatigued after hiking through the Thurston Lava Tubes (not wheelchair/stroller accessible).  

While most resorts are located near the Kona airport, Volcano National Park is a two hour drive.

hawaii submarine

Want to see what life under the sea looks like, but don’t swim or scuba? We highly recommend Atlantis Submarine Tours. Descend to thirty metres beneath the surface to see reefs, schools of fish, and maybe even a shark! Tours last roughly an hour.

After your submarine tour, which departs from Kailua-Kona, walk around the lovely downtown area for souvenirs and shave ice at Scandinavian Shave Ice.

We enjoyed our stay at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, a sprawling property with ocean views, a man-made lake for snorkeling, paddle boarding and sand castle building as well as multiple pools and water slides. The property is so large that there are both a tram and a boat to facilitate your intra-property travel.

Other recommended activities on Hawai’i—Mauna Kea Summit (respiratory concerns for young/old visitors), Akka Falls State Park, and Waipio Black Sand Beach.

hawaii whale watch

Maui

With scenery so gorgeous that your friends will accuse you of Photoshopping your pictures, Maui fulfills every fantasy you had about Hawaii.

If you visit Maui between mid-December and mid-May, you are there for whale season. Go on a whale watch! I highly recommend Pacific Whale Foundation—this non-profit organization ensures that every ship is staffed with at least one marine biologist to answer your questions. Our family did three expeditions with PWF—I did a morning tour for photographers, Elanor (age 7) and I did a half day snorkel trip, and all three generations enjoyed a whale watch (where we saw not only a large, pregnant humpback whale, but spent a half hour with a pod of spinner dolphins).

hawaii dolphins

After your whale watch or snorkel tour, walk around lovely downtown Lahaina. You’ll find snacks (go to Local Boys Shave Ice), stores of every flavor, and, at the end of the road, outlet shopping. If you need an extra swimsuit or three, Maui Water Wear carries swimsuits for the whole family in a large range of sizes.  

After a long day of shopping, Lahaina has plenty of choices for a delicious dinner. The kids’ favorite restaurant was the Cool Cat Café, where they enjoyed burgers, fries, and to-die-for milkshakes. Seafood lovers should go to Kimo’s

We stayed at the Sheraton Maui Resort at Kaanapali Beach, but any of the five resorts would be a good bet. There is some great snorkeling and a sunset ceremony at the black rocks at the Sheraton Maui, but as the beach is public, you needn’t be a guest to go there.

Other recommended activities in Maui: catch the sunrise/set from Haleakalā Crater (elevation issues for seniors/children/respiratory concerns); drive the breathtaking road to Hana and get a glimpse of Old Hawaii); kids and animal lovers will enjoy Surfing Goat Dairy.

hawaii kids spa

O’ahu

Honolulu is the bustling capital city of the state of Hawaii. While many flock to the famous (and crowded) Waikiki Beach, if you’re traveling with children there is no better bet than Aulani, the Disney Resort and Spa. Aulani is a top notch resort with a touch of Disney Magic that’s sure to please young and old.

hawaii disney

Attend a character breakfast at Makahiki and visit with Donald, Stitch, Chip and Dale. Characters repeat, so one trip is adequate. Have a blast at the Shake a Shaka Pool Party or play pool games with Goofy, Mickey and Minnie. Older children will enjoy a family animation class, and exploring the Menehune Trail (indoor route is thirty minutes, while outdoor trail takes two hours). Young children will love going to Aunty’s Beach House, while their caregivers have dinner at ‘Ama ‘Ama, get some time at the adults only pool, or hit Laniwai Spa. There are also abundant water activity options, including water slides, a beach, numerous pools, a snorkel pool, and a children’s play area. My daughters are begging to return!

hawaii

Other activities to do around Honolulu—Pearl Harbor (Japan’s attack on the US Military at Pearl Harbor caused the US to enter World War II), taking surfing lessons on Waikiki, attend the Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, shop the outlets, and visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation.

hawaii sunset sunrise

General Tips

Getting there: It was significantly cheaper to book tickets to Honolulu on a major carrier (the most direct route is flying through Tokyo), and separately booking one-way tickets from island to island on Hawaiian Airlines. We landed in Honolulu and headed straight to The Big Island, before hopping over to Maui, and back to O’ahu.

Weather: Singaporeans may find Hawaii a bit chilly—the average temperature year-round is 27° C. Check the forecast daily, and remember that the temperature can drop dramatically, particularly after dark in the winter months.

Getting around: A rental car is a necessity just about anywhere outside Waikiki. You can rent from the airport or from many resorts (check ahead). Singaporean driver’s licenses are accepted in the US, but remember that you must drive on the opposite side of the road. Traffic was dense in Honolulu on O’ahu, but extremely light elsewhere.

If you have the time and it is your first time visiting Hawaii, I highly recommend two to three weeks, and a visit to all three islands. If you have a week, go to Maui or Aulani and skip the rest.

A warning—you will fall in love with paradise, and may never want to leave.

Lead image sourced via Pinterest. All other photos via Crystal Nanavati.

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