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How to Enjoy a Hawaiian Vacation with the Kids in Tow

Hawaii is a glorious tropical paradise fit for all ages. But as anybody with kids knows, it’s not a given that your trip will be one for the record books. If you go about it the right way, every member of the family will have a ball, from the moment you pack your bags to when you’re all nursing sunburns back home.

Fortunately, the Hawaiian islands already have a lot of kid-approved qualities, from great weather and beaches to fun and colorful foods like shave ice and poi. There’s amazing wildlife, lava, and even snow if you get up high enough. It’s practically impossible for a kid to experience boredom here.

Four Seasons

We’re not promising a stress-free adventure to the islands. But we can help you have a better family vacation, from preemptive maneuvers to tricks while you’re away. Here’s what to do if you’re off to Hawaii with the kids in tow.

Prepare for the Flight

Getting to Hawaii is akin to embarking on an international flight. Even if you reside on the West Coast (of the mainland), you’re looking at around six hours in a plane. That’s an eternity with children. It’s imperative you set yourself up for success at 35,000 feet. Your airline staff can set you up with a lot of the basics but it’s highly recommended to pack along some goodies for the ride. In terms of food and snacks, go with familiar favorites the kids are sure to enjoy, as a hungry young passenger is rarely a happy one.

Bring some familiar and packable toys as they may have a settling effect. Also, get some new items to serve as welcome distractions as the flight goes on. This can be anything from coloring and activity books to figurines. Try to keep them hidden until you’ve taken off, or at least reached the airport. If your kids are old enough, chat about the trip beforehand so they know what’s coming. Get them excited about the details — the airport escalators, the flying, the going over the ocean. Rev up that imagination and get them jazzed for piloting the plane, or rocket ship, or whatever it is they like to fly to get to enchanted and faraway places.

Rent the Right Car

While it’s easy to settle into a resort and be sedentary for a week or so, it’s more fun to bounce around. There’s lots to see, no matter what island you’re staying on. Plus, kids are restless and want to get out. Do it right with the proper rental. This doesn’t mean you have to go full open-top with a Jeep but go with something that can both accommodate your car-seat set up as well as offer good visibility. If your kids are able to see the wonders out the window while you travel, longer treks like The Road to Hana or a cross-island journey from Hilo to Kona become a distinct possibility.

Dine Outside

It’s hard not to feel like you’re walking on eggshells every time you dine out with the kids. They’re liable to start throwing food or crying or both at any instant. Give yourself an easy outlet by dining al fresco. It’s pretty much the way of things in Hawaii anyway and your kids will have lots to look at while they chow down. You can feel a little better about being messy (tip accordingly) and, if something does go wrong, you can cut away from the scene with greater ease than if you were stuck inside a crowded establishment.

Embrace Water Adventures

hawaii surfing travel family

Even if your kids haven’t befriended the ocean or water sports yet, Hawaii presents a great opportunity to do so. The water is warm and buoyant, and in many select spots, quite calm. These are the perfect conditions for an impromptu less formal swim lesson or snorkeling tutorial, or a formal lesson in something like surfing or paddleboarding. Consider investing in the proper safety gear, like water shoes for scrambling on sharp volcanic rock or flotation equipment.

Saltwater beaches are the obvious choice and are practically everywhere but don’t overlook the freshwater options as well. Many of the islands tout wadeable streams with stunning waterfalls, accessible by trail. Be sure to keep the kids hydrated and preferably in some sun-proof clothing, otherwise you’ll just be applying and reapplying sunblock all day.

Let Somebody Else Take the Wheel

Sometimes, it’s best just to hand the kiddos off. Hawaii is home to a variety of kid-friendly group outings led by engaging folks who can teach them something new or show them an interesting less-traveled part of the island. Many of the best hotels offer creative draws for children, like the academy service put on by Four Seasons. It’s like an outdoor school while on vacation, whisking the kids away on stargazing gatherings or marine biology excursions. Some even offer glamping experiences for those aged 5 to 12.

If you are in a hotel, take full advantage of the amenities. So many lodging options have family pools, kid spa options, and game rooms. Some even have babysitting services, kids’ clubs, and teen centers. Ask around to make sure you know what is available. And because your kids are likely always hungry, utilize the in-room dining options. Many are set up with extended hours, if not open 24-7.

Make It the Fairy Tale It Is

Between dolphins, volcanoes, and shimmering rainbows, Hawaii is a living fairytale. Simply witnessing many of the day-to-day happenings there can blow your kids away. It’s a great place to dial-in an interest in biology and the outdoors, whether you go all out and schedule an expedition or are simply watching geckos in your hotel room or perusing tide pools. This is where Jurassic Park was filmed, where the water is so buoyant you can practically walk on it, where you can eat fallen papayas and passionfruit.

Simply put, far-fetched and seemingly magical things go down the daily in Hawaii. If you can convince your kids of that by showing them around a bit and exercising some patience, you’ll be in great shape.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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