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Hawaii Vacation Guide For Families

Waikiki Trolley (credit: Randy Yagi) Waikiki Trolley (credit: Randy Yagi)
The Hawaiian Islands are some of the most romantic locations in the U.S. On the other hand, they are also some of the best spots for a family vacation. Offering a myriad of outdoor activities for both kids and their parents, there is literally something for every family regardless of their budget. The following is a family-friendly travel guide with recommendations for accommodations suitable for everyone, even couples with small children, and a nice assortment of fun things to do for visitors of all ages.
Moana Surfrider (credit: Randy Yagi) Moana Surfrider (credit: Randy Yagi)
Where To Stay

There is a seemingly endless list of outstanding places to stay in the Hawaiian Islands for families. However, a smaller number of leading resorts seem to be mentioned on a regular basis by past guests, tourism bureaus and travel websites. Perhaps the most favored spot for families with children in the entire Aloha State is Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Oahu far from the crowds of Honolulu-Waikiki Beach.

First opened in 2011, the Disney Resort and Spa features 359 hotel rooms and suites and 460 Disney Vacation Club Villas, including 21 Grand Villas with lavish living areas, a full kitchen, three bathrooms and accommodations for up to 12 guests. What makes Aulani so attractive to families and separates itself from its competitors is its wealth of attractions, activities and entertainment, many of which are included in the stay, such as an 8,200-square-foot pool, a splash zone, pool parties, private beach, Disney movies and a complimentary kids club.

In addition to Aulani, the island of Oahu offers many other family-friendly resorts with its own personal collection of activities and entertainment. The most popular spots are Hilton Hawaiian Village, Turtle Bay Resort, Sheraton Waikiki, Outrigger Reef and Moana Surfrider featuring the Poppins Keiki Hawaii Kid's Club.

Not to be outdone, the island of Maui also has a host of family-friendly resorts and the most recommended property is the Grand Wailea Resort. Located in Kihei, the 40-acre property is perhaps best known for its one-of-a-kind, nine-level swimming pool and the world's first water elevator. While the Grand Wailea might be the most favored kid-friendly resort on Maui, there are many other properties that won't disappoint a family weary of traveling. These include the Four Seasons Maui at Wailea, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort, Honua Kai Resort and Spa and the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa.

The Big Island and Kauai also has its fair share of family-friendly resorts. Some spots for families to consider staying on the island of Hawaii are Hilton Waikoloa Village, Four Seasons Hualalai and the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii while the Garden Island of Kauai features such exceptional places like the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, Kauai Marriott ResortKauai Beach Resort and the Lodge at Kukui'ula.

Related: 7 Most Photogenic Cities In The U.S.

Things To Do

Atlantis Submarines

Visitors to the Big Island, Oahu or Maui can explore the underwater world amid colorful sea life with Atlantis Submarines. The first business to provide real submarine rides to the public, Atlantis Submarines offers a variety of tours, including the standard submarine ride for up to 48 passengers, dinner cruises and snorkeling trips. However, the feature attraction is the premium submarine ride on Oahu, allowing up to 64 guests to see Hawaii's hidden paradise onboard the world's largest passenger submarine. Each of the submarine tours transports passengers to a depth of up to 100 feet, and narration is provided in five different languages including English, Spanish and Japanese. Interested people should check for special discounts from their hotel or travel specialist, or visit the official website for special pricing, which may include a free ride for a child for one paid adult.

Parasailing (credit: Randy Yagi) Parasailing (credit: Randy Yagi)

For a real bird's eye view, a parasailing ride can be one of the most exciting ways to entertain the entire family. Several parasailing businesses can be found on the three most visited islands, particularly on Oahu. Typically, up to 12 guests are transported by boat to a distance off the coast where it's safe to provide a parasailing ride for one or up to three people at a time. Before embarking on a parasailing excursion, visitors are advised to compare rates and customer feedback on parasailing companies on the Big Island, Oahu and Maui. Additionally, discounts from hotels and tour guides are generally available most of the year for an even better deal.

Sea Life Park (credit: Randy Yagi) Sea Life Park (credit: Randy Yagi)
Sea Life Park

About an hour's drive from Waikiki on the island of Oahu, Sea Life Park is one of Hawaii's most popular family-friendly attractions. First opened more than 50 years ago, the ocean side park features a nice collection of marine mammals such as dolphins, sea lions and penguins, in addition to a wild bird sanctuary and the Hawaiian Reef Aquarium. One of the venerable park's signature attractions are their interactive programs, allowing visitors to swim and touch friendly marine mammals like sea lions and dolphins. Sea Life Park also features crowd-pleasing marine mammal shows, a touch pool, special exhibits and new this year, the Shark Trek.

Sea Turtle (credit: Randy Yagi) Sea Turtle (credit: Randy Yagi)

The Hawaii Islands are home to a few excellent aquariums. But why view brightly colored marine life through a glass window when it's so much better to snorkel with them? Snorkeling is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to enjoy outdoor activity in Hawaii, especially where people can simply wade into the water to see exotic fish at places like Hanauma Bay on Oahu.

But by spending a few extra dollars, guests will be in for the underwater adventure of their lives traveling by boat to spots off the coast to see even a larger variety of reef, some not seen anywhere else in the world, and possibly view other amazing sea life such as manta rays, dolphins and giant sea turtles. Although Oahu generates the most tourism from top-rated operators like Hawaii Diving Adventures and Ko Olina Ocean Adventures, the best snorkeling trips are arguably in Maui or the Big Island of Hawaii. On Maui, recommended snorkeling operators include Maui Snorkel Tours, Pride of Maui and Quicksilver Maui. On the Big Island, visitors may wish to opt for top-rated companies like Sea Quest, Dolphin Discoveries, Fair Wind Cruises and Kona Diving Company.

Surf School Waikiki (credit: Randy Yagi) Surf School Waikiki (credit: Randy Yagi)

For the true Hawaiian experience, the entire family might want to take some basic lessons to ride a beginner's wave. As usual, Waikiki Beach is the most popular place to receive individual or group surfing lessons from experienced providers and expert instructors. Lessons typically include all the necessary equipment, such as rashguards, reef shoes, leashes, the surfboard and transportation to the beach. Among the best rated surf schools on Oahu are Ty Gurney Surf School, Alysha Surf School, Sunset Suratt Surf School and Big Wave Dave Surf Company. Any of the best surf schools offer personalized instruction to people of all ages, including children as young as 7 years old. Other great surf schools can be found on Maui and the Big Island and among the best established are Maui Wave Riders, Maui Beach Boys, Maui Surfer Girls, Kona Surf Company and Kahalu'u Bay Surf and Sea.

Related: 5 Best Excursions On Hawaii's Big Island

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on
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