Hawaii with Kids – favourite attractions and activities from a family trip to Maui and Oahu.
We had two weeks for our Hawaii family vacation and decided that we would spend one week on Maui and then fly to Oahu for a week in Honolulu on Waikiki Beach.
We debated ahead of time the options for flying to Hawaii and ended up deciding to fly from Toronto to Chicago and spend the night at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport Hotel which is located in Terminal 2 of the airport. We then took a direct flight to Maui the following morning.
This worked really well for us as we then arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon Hawaiian time. The kids were able to stay up due to the excitement and we immediately got outside in the sunshine for a couple of hours before an early dinner and bedtime and we found that we had adjusted to the time difference within the first couple of days.
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Week One – Maui
We rented a car for the week that we were in Maui and it would have been quite difficult to get around the island without one as the island has less than adequate public transportation.
Fairmont Kea Lani
Our hotel in Maui was the Fairmont Kea Lani, an all-suite and villa oceanfront resort located in the beautiful Wailea Beach area. We were greeted with leis when we checked in to the Kea Lani which started our Hawaiian vacation off on just the right note. Our suite was spacious with a separate bedroom, a pull-out sofa in the living room and a large marble bathroom and a generously-sized lanai.
The girls had a lot of fun poolside at the Kea Lani. The pool is built on two levels with a slide from the upper to the lower pool. Katie found a number of girls her age to hang out with at the pool, Emma played with her Dad, and I spent my time soaking up the sun and reading.
The stunning white-sand beach (Polo Beach) in front of the Kea Lani is bordered by black volcanic rocks points. There is a boardwalk along the oceanfront that can be walked/jogged from one end of Wailea beach to the other past all of the large resorts.
The hotel had daily activities for guests and one of the first that Emma participated in was a hula lesson. And, of course she had to have the grass skirt to dance in.
Maui Ocean Center
Most of our days in Maui started with some pool or beach time followed by an outing and then back to the resort for more pool time before dinner. Maui Ocean Center – The Hawaiian Aquarium was one of the attractions that we visited. The Aquarium was named by Zagat as the top-rated attraction in Hawaii.
There are over 60 indoor and outdoor exhibits at the Maui Ocean Center featuring marine animals living in habitats closely resembling their own natural environment. All of the marine animals featured are found in Hawaiian waters.
Exhibits include The Living Reef, Turtle Lagoon, Hammerhead Harbour and the Tide Pool. The Living Reef and the Turtle Lagoon were the exhibits that Katie and Emma enjoyed the most. The Aquarium, which is mostly indoors and air-conditioned, is a great place to spend a couple of hours on a hot, muggy day.
Maui Tropical Plantation
The Maui Tropical Plantation is another great place for a family outing. A tour of the 60 acre working plantation is a fun way to learn about Maui’s agricultural history. Our visit began with a ride on the Tropical Express Tram Tour, a 45 minute fully-narrated ride where we learned all about the tropical fruits and flowers grown on the plantation.
Crops include sugarcane, coffee, macadamia nuts, taro, papaya, mango, guava, and bananas. We even had a demonstration on how to husk a coconut. There was also a lei-making activity where the girls were able to make their own leis out of beautiful plumeria.
The plantation also has a Country Store where visitors can buy all sorts of tropical treats. I developed quite a taste for chocolate-covered macadamia nuts while in Hawaii – I don’t think it would be a good thing if they were readily available to me.
Haleakala National Park
The Haleakala (House of the Sun) National Park which surrounds and includes the Haleakala volcanic crater is one of Maui’s most popular natural attractions. More than 1.3 million people a year ascend the 10,023 foot mountain to reach the world’s largest dormant volcano. It is especially popular to make the trek in the wee hours of the morning in order to reach the summit in time to see the sun rise over the crater.
We drove to Haleakala, though we did not come close to making it for sunrise. A well-traveled road mainly composed of switchbacks (at least 33 to be more exact) leads to the peak of Haleakala. The drive up is breathtaking as the road snakes back and forth, in and out of clouds as it ascends from sea level to 10,000 feet in only 37 miles.
Haleakala Crater Road is apparently one of the fastest ascending roads in the world. It is definitely worth the drive up for the magnificent view that can extend for 100 miles on a clear day. I found the drive down quite terrifying, making it impossible for me to fathom the popularity of the bike tours heading down the steep incline. My sister and her husband have biked down and she says that she was just happy to have survived. These tours have actually now been restricted, due to fatalities, and are no longer allowed within the Park boundaries so tour companies transport their clients to the crater and then back down to start their descent outside the National Park.
Day Trip to Lahaina
Lahaina is a lively town worth exploring on a day trip from the Wailea beach area. We spent the better part of a day wandering around the historic whaling village which was once the capital of Hawaii. The kids loved the banyan tree in Courthouse Square which is the largest in Hawaii. The tree was planted in 1873 to mark the 50th anniversary of Lahaina’s first Christian mission and is now so large that it shades more than two-thirds of an acre of land in Courthouse Square.
Lahaina is a bustling town full of day-trippers shopping at the numerous boutiques, dining at the many restaurants, visiting art galleries, exploring the historic areas of town, and people-watching. There are also a number of popular excursions that can be booked at the Tourist Information Office and taken from Lahaina including submarine rides, snorkel trips and glass-bottomed boats.
The Old Lahaina Luau is probably the best known luau on the island, however, we opted to attend one in Wailea so that we would be able to return to the resort for bedtime at a more reasonable hour.
Snorkeling at Molokini Crater
We couldn’t possibly spend a week on Maui without taking a snorkel trip to Molokini Crater, perhaps the most popular snorkeling destination in the islands. Molokini Crater is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater lying off the coast of Maui. The unique crescent shape of the crater protects divers from waves and currents in the channel and provides a natural sanctuary for numerous species of tropical fish. Snorkel boats leave several times daily from Maalaea Harbour and the crater can actually become quite congested with snorkelers and divers during high season.
My husband and Katie had a great time snorkeling in the crater while Emma and I opted to stay on the boat and watch for fish through the glass-bottom viewing area. The tour that we were on had a photographer who took photos of everyone in the water and compiled a photo CD and a video DVD which made a great souvenir. We even got to see sea turtles in the ocean on the return journey, which may actually have been the highlight of a great day on the water.
Our final quintessentially Hawaiian experience on the island of Maui was attending an oceanfront luau at the nearby Marriott Wailea Beach Resort on our last night. The luau included enchanting Polynesian hula dancers, a torch dance and a fire knife dance. Emma loved it and even got up on stage to participate in a group dance. Afterward she wanted to get her photo taken with all the dancers (I think she thought it was like Disney World).
Week Two – Oahu
Our first week in Hawaii flew by and before we knew it we were at the airport again boarding a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Honolulu. The flight took all of about 35 minutes – my kind of flight. Incidentally, Hawaiian Airlines has the best on-time record of any airline in the U.S., thanks in no small part to the fact that they are almost always flying in perfect weather.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village
In Honolulu, we stayed at The Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa which is located directly on the widest stretch of the world-famous Waikiki Beach and is billed as the only resort property on Waikiki. I chose this resort because it appeared to be a great resort for families with lots of activities, pools and waterslides, nightly entertainment and tropical gardens and wildlife.
We stayed in the Ali’i Tower in a spacious Executive King Corner Room which had two lanais and a beautiful view of Waikiki Beach and the Pacific Ocean. There was so much space that we were able to add a roll-away bed for Emma to sleep in and Katie had the pull-out sofa to herself.
Our room was quite nice, but otherwise, I was not overly-impressed with this very large resort. In retrospect, I think my kids would have been just as happy, and I definitely would have been, if we had chosen a smaller hotel with more personal service. On the other hand, there was a Starbucks located next door to the Ali’i tower so I was able to get my coffee every morning without having to go very far.
Polynesian Cultural Center
A day-trip to the north shore to the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii’s #1 paid attraction, was one of the highlights of our week in Honolulu. The Polynesian Cultural Center features the people and islands of Hawaii, Samoa, Aotearoa (Maori New Zealand), Fiji, the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Tonga; as well as an exhibit on Rapa Nui.
The villages are scattered around the lagoon park and are inhabited by students from each of these islands who are attending Hawaii’s Brigham Young University. In each village the guides help visitors to experience the games, language, crafts, music and history of their particular islands. Visitors can either walk around the villages or travel via canoe on the man-made freshwater lagoon.
One of the most unforgettable activities was the afternoon’s Rainbows of Paradise, a colourful water-borne show performed on the lagoon aboard double-hulled canoes and featuring performers from each of the island nations.
Atlantis Submarine Tours
Atlantis Submarines has tours leaving from a pier located in front of the Ali’i Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The Atlantis XIV is the world’s largest high-tech passenger submarine, transporting up to 64 passengers in air-conditioned comfort on it’s underwater adventures. The submarine descends to 100 feet underwater allowing passengers to see marine life up close without even getting wet.
The tour is narrated so you will learn about coral, reef life and sunken shipwrecks while watching for colourful fish, turtles and maybe even a shark. At the end of our underwater adventure we were presented with certificates to prove that we had completed the dive. Diving in a submarine is a really cool activity but best avoided by anyone who is claustrophobic.
The Dole Plantation is another one of Oahu’s most popular attractions with more than 1 million visitors annually. The Pineapple Express, a narrated 20 minute train tour, is a fun experience for the whole familyas you learn about the history of the pineapple in Hawaii and the Dole Plantation itself.
We spent ages in The World’s Largest Maze but did not come close to solving it. The maze stretches over three acres and includes more than 2 miles of paths crafted from colourful Hawaiian plants. The objective is to find clues at 8 secret stations and solve the mystery at the heart of the labyrinth. I think we found 2 or 3 before we gave up and went shopping in the country store.
On the way back to Honolulu from the Dole Plantation we stopped in Haleiwa to enjoy a delicious shave ice at Matsumoto Shave Ice. The store was founded in 1951 and is now visited by tourists from around the world. On a hot, sunny day the store will produce 1,000 shave ices.
The Bishop Museum
Far too quickly the final day of our vacation arrived, however, our flight was later in the day so we had time to stop at The Bishop Museum on the way to the Honolulu airport. The museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in honour of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. The museum was established to house the Princess’ collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal family heirlooms and has since expanded to house millions of artifacts, documents and photographs about Hawaii.
The day that we visited a hula dance school was demonstrating the art of hula outside and we watched the students of all ages dance and then had a chance to chat with them afterward. Inside the museum we enjoyed the Hawaiian Hall. Emma was thrilled to discover that Hawaii had had a Princess Emma. We had fun exploring the Science Adventure Center as well where we learned all about volcanoes.
For many years I had dreamed about visiting Hawaii – probably since I was a teenager watching Magnum P.I. – and the islands lived up to all of my expectations. Hawaii is a tropical paradise and a perfect destination for families regardless of their interests. The weather is pretty much perfect year-round, there are plenty of opportunities for active pursuits, the beaches are stunning, there are numerous cultural and historic attractions, the food is great and the shopping is abundant.
We would love to return for a second visit to Hawaii and I think that if we did we would spend more time on Maui and do some of the things we missed doing the first time around and we would probably visit The Big Island of Hawaii in order to explore some new territory.
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