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Active, nature-loving families can venture beyond the beautiful beaches to hike the sacred Iao Valley or the moonlike crater of the dormant volcano Haleakala. Take a drive to Hana; the road is dotted with hidden waterfalls and swimming holes. And watch for wintering whales splashing offshore through May—they can be spotted from just about anywhere along the water.
Free for all: Locals are passionate about preserving their land and culture. On Saturday mornings join them in restoring an ancient archeological site in Honokowai Valley on Maui's west side; meet at the Pu'ukoli'i Sugar Cane Train Station at 8:30 a.m. (mauiculturallands.org). On Tuesday and Thursday evenings Polynesian dancers perform at Lahaina Cannery Mall; at dusk, a torch-bearing cliff diver leaps from Black Rock into the Pacific, reenacting the athletic feat of a legendary Hawaiian chief. Watch from the public beach by Kaanapali Beach Hotel. In mid-April, kids can learn Hawaiian drumming, chanting, and crafts at Ritz-Carlton's Celebration of the Arts Festival—open to all visitors (celebrationofthearts.org).
Adventures in Paradise: Spot rays, sea turtles, and rainbow-colored fish on Sail Trilogy's six-hour snorkeling excursion to Honolua Bay; it includes breakfast (homemade cinnamon rolls) as well as a lunch barbecued by the captain ($110, adults; $55 for kids under 16; book at sailtrilogy.com for 10% off). View sunrise or sunset from Haleakala's 10,000-foot summit, $10 per car; or zipline along its slopes with Skyline Eco-Adventures, $80 (zipline.com). The Upcountry region around the volcano is a great place to sample homegrown fare, like chili and burgers at Ulupalakua Ranch or goat cheese from Surfing Goat Dairy. Teens will love shopping in the whaling port of Lahaina, with its funky Front Street shops and weekend crafts fair under the banyan tree.
Where to Stay: Napili Kai Beach Resort is set on a serene and secluded bay—great for skim-boarding—and features free morning refreshments on the beach and lei-making. Accommodations include standard rooms, and studios or suites with kitchenettes; nightly rates start at $250 (napilikai.com). Kaanapali Beach Hotel is one of Maui's most authentically Hawaiian resorts. Join the staff for free nightly hula shows; workshops in music, dance and local lore; a welcome buffet breakfast and a farewell lei ceremony. But be sure to save time for snorkeling at Black Rock Reef. Nightly rates start at $179; check website for specials (kbhmaui.com). For a feel that's more residential than resort, try a fully equipped condo in south Maui's Kihei and save money by eating in. One-bedroom units that sleep four start at $135 a night from April to mid-December (two bedrooms start at around $200; cleaning fee for all is $100 to $150). Book through Condominium Rentals Hawaii (crhmaui.com) and ask about seventh-night-free specials. Also check mauiaccommodations.com for more deals.
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Nicknamed the "gathering place," Hawaii's most urban island is the perfect teen hangout. Kids can surf, shop, play volleyball, and socialize on famous Waikiki Beach, brush up on history at Pearl Harbor, and watch master surfers ride monster waves on the rugged (and quieter) North Shore.
Free for all: It's like one big block party in lively Waikiki. Rock out to slack-key guitar concerts at Waikiki Beach Walk. Learn to hula, play ukulele, speak Hawaiian, and make quilts and leis at Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Celebrate Waikiki's nightly torch lighting and watch movies under the stars at Sunset on the Beach (be sure to check the schedule at waikikiimprovement.com). If you're there for Earth Day, see if pop star Jack Johnson is holding his environmentally themed Kokua Festival (kokuafestival.com); picnic near the band shell to enjoy the music—no ticket necessary. Or go green any Saturday morning at the Kapi'olani Community College Farmers' Market (kapiolani.hawaii.edu/object/farmersmarket).
Adventures in Paradise: Surf's up at the Waikiki Beach Services stand at the Royal Hawaiian: A Luxury Collection Resort (group lessons are $40 an hour; adults can rent outrigger canoes for $15; kids, $10). Snorkelers can kick up their fins at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a volcanic crescent teeming with fish, squid, eels, and sea turtles (adults, $7.50; kids under 13, free). Fans of the TV show Lost will love the Kualoa Ranch Movie Tour through Ka'a'awa Valley; scenes from Godzilla and Jurassic Park were also filmed there ($23 per person; kualoa.com). And at North Shore—Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and Banzai Pipeline—watch locals ride 30-foot waves in winter and spring, and swim there yourself in the calmer summer months. The renowned Polynesian Cultural Center allows visitors to experience the culture, arts, and crafts of tropical villages throughout Polynesia. A living museum, the center features seven villages spread over 42 acres; lagoons and canals connect the islands. Ha-Breath of Life is the center's popular nighttime show featuring songs and dances from the region. General admission prices start at $49.95 for adults and $39.95 for children; packages that include the show cost more. On the drive up, make a snack stop in Haleiwa: Try the burgers from Kua Aina Sandwich, chocolate coconut pie from Ted's Bakery, or rainbow shave ice from Aoki's.
Where to Stay: The luxurious oceanfront Sheraton Waikiki offers ukulele and hula lessons, family game nights, and stand-up paddleboard lessons. Rates start at $235 a night. The beachfront Outrigger Waikiki is centrally located and eco-friendly, working with a local fashion company called Kini Beach to recycle guests' left-behind beach toys into stylish handbags. Rooms start at $159 a night. (Also try Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Resort; rates start at $119.) To experience Oahu's remote side, rent a house on the North Shore, in Haleiwa or Ehukai Beach (from $130 a night plus cleaning fee; vrbo.com).
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Volcanoes rule! You'll find five here, including one of the world's most active, Kilauea. Among other grand-scale attractions: waterfalls, rainforests, black- and green-sand beaches, and the mighty Mauna Kea, at an altitude of almost 14,000 feet. Nibble your way through Hilo's Farmers' Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays—great for souvenir-shopping too. Plan to stay on both sides of this massive island: the sunny Kona-Kohala coast, and the eastern end, closer to the lava flows.
Free for all: Soak away stress while kids snorkel and swim around you in the volcanically heated Ahalanui thermal spring, which has lifeguards, showers, and awesome ocean views. Cool down in the mist of two waterfalls at Akaka Falls State Park, north of Hilo. At Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, on the western coast, see ruins of an ancient temple as well as black-tip sharks (once worshipped by Hawaiians), said to circle a sunken altar. You can spot humpback whales from many points on the island, December through May, and help marine biologists count them on the last Saturday in March (hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov).
Adventures in Paradise: At Volcanoes National Park ($10 per car), hike or bike alongside vast craters, dried lava fields, and smoking steam vents, pausing to walk through the underground Thurston Lava Tube. If Mother Nature cooperates, watch lava slide into the sea from the viewing area at the end of Highway 130 in the Puna district (check eruption conditions at lavainfo.us). It's a splurge, but for a jaw-dropping, close-up view of the hot stuff, take a Lava Ocean Adventures boat tour (adults, $180; kids, $125; lavaocean.com). The Kohala coast is known for snorkeling—the crystal-clear cove at Kahaluu Beach Park is perfect for beginners. Or try something more surreal: a night snorkel with gentle manta rays. Guides at Kona Honu Divers set lanterns on the sea floor, illuminating the 12-foot rays as they gracefully glide around you ($80; konahonudivers.com).
Where to Stay: Kids will never be bored at Kohala's Hilton Waikoloa Village, an enormous resort with a kayaking lagoon, waterslides, and lazy rivers. Hike trails and see petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings), or simply chill at the spa (which offers teen treatments). Rates start at $179 per night (waikoloabeachresort.com). To be nearest to Volcanoes National Park, stay at Kilauea Lodge, a charming B&B located just a mile from park gates. Rooms with fireplaces start at $170 for double occupancy and $185 for cottages; $20 for each additional guest, includes breakfast (kilauealodge.com). Another volcano-viewing option is Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, about 30 minutes from the park, and close to Hilo's Farmers' Market. The harborside hotel has a freshwater pool, buffet restaurant, and rooms starting at $99 a night (castleresorts.com/home/accommodations/hilo-hawaiian-hotel).
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This lush green isle is movie-set perfect. Jurassic Park, King Kong, and Raiders of the Lost Ark were all filmed here. Channel your inner Indiana Jones alongside dramatic waterfalls and soaring sea cliffs. In Kokee State Park, revel in the spectacular views of Waimea Canyon, aka the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
Free for all: You can drive right up to many of the island's awesome sights. Near Lihue airport, check out 80-foot Wailua Falls. On the southern shore, the Hanapepe Overlook displays a valley where Spielberg's dinosaurs roamed; there's also a Swinging Bridge over the river that kids can run across. Go west on Route 50 to pick up the winding road to Waimea Canyon, taking in the vistas at mile 11, then continuing to Kokee State Park, high over the Pacific. (Don't worry if fog is shrouding the view; it usually lifts after a few minutes.) Go road-tripping across one-lane bridges to the secluded beaches on the less-developed North Shore—be sure to stop at roadside fruit stands and visit the historic town of Hanalei.
Adventures in Paradise: Strap on a lighted helmet and mountain-tube in old sugar plantation ditches, zooming through flumes, mild rapids, and dark tunnels ($100; kauaibackcountry.com). If you'd rather take things slow, kayak the tranquil Wailua River to waterfall trails, $17 per person; or do the guided three-hour Blue Lagoon Paddle and Snorkel through the wildlife refuge on North Shore's Hanalei Bay, (adults, $60; kids, $45; kayakkauai.com). Climb to the top of the North Shore's Kileaua Lighthouse to spot whales, albatrosses, and red-footed boobies (ages 16 and up, $5). Don't forget to fuel up for all that activity with famous Hawaiian fast food: burgers at Bubba's (in Hanalei, Kapaa, and Poipu) and pizza from Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza on the North Shore.
Where to Stay: At Sheraton Kauai on sunny Poipu Beach, kids can swim in the ocean or pools (one has a slide and rope swing). During spring break there's a teen concierge program, with local high school students leading cultural workshops. Nightly rates start at $219 in low season, April to May and September to Christmas (sheraton-kauai.com). The newly renovated beachfront Kauai Beach Resort on the Coconut Coast is near the Lihue airport and most of Kauai's major sights. It also has multiple lagoon pools—the ocean's too rough for swimming. Rooms start at $129 (kauaibeachresorthawaii.com). On the North Shore, the two-story Hanalei Bay Villas overlook the ocean, waterfalls, or mountains, and come with free access to the secluded beach at 5-star Princeville Resort next door. Rentals start at around $145 per night for two-bedroom units (oceanfrontrealty.com).
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Hawaii by Ship
A cruise is an economical and time-efficient way to experience a taste of each island. The ship is your floating hotel, with meals and entertainment included in the price as you sail from port to port.
Board: NCL's Pride of America departs from Honolulu each Saturday evening year-round; it's the only ship offering 7-day Hawaiian inter-island cruises. Its Freestyle Dining program lets you choose from nine restaurants. There are also two pools, kids' and teens' clubs, and a bungee trampoline. Rates start at $1,029 per adult for inside cabin, $1,199 for ocean-view, and $1,559 for balcony staterooms; kids in parents' staterooms start at $499 each.
Explore: Spend two days each in Maui and Kauai (including an afternoon sail by the breathtaking Na Pali Coast)—plus a day on each side of the Big Island, sailing past the erupting volcano on the Hilo side at night. Optional shore excursions start at $50 to $60 per person for touring Pearl Harbor, Haleakala, Waimea Canyon, or Volcanoes National Park, or around $260 for helicopter adventures. If you have time, consider spending a night or two exploring Oahu pre- or post-cruise.
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Disney will be sprinkling pixie dust on the west side of Oahu with the opening of its newest resort, Aulani. Created with input from locals, Aulani will immerse families in Hawaiian culture and feature a snorkeling lagoon and lazy river surrounded by volcanic rock.
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Planning Your Hawaiian Holiday
Plot an itinerary that best suits your time, personality, and budget with tips from Lauren Goldenberg, a family travel specialist with TheFamilyTraveler.com.
Where are you coming from? West-Coasters have shorter flights and less jet lag, which means they can pack more into a short, four- or five-day trip. People traveling from the East Coast and Midwest have longer flights (and sometimes make connections along the way, which can cause further delays), plus a bigger time-change adjustment, so they should allow seven to 10 days for their Hawaiian vacations.
What's your vacation style? If you don't mind relocating and can afford to spend an additional $50 to $100 per person on inter-island airfare, then visit two Hawaiian islands on your trip. Many flights connect through Honolulu anyway, making it easier to do a couple of nights on Oahu. Or, keep things simple and stick with one island, seeing as much as you can. Consider splitting your stay between two hotels—make one budget and splurge a bit on the other—to experience different sides of an island.
What do your kids love to do? You can go hiking, biking, snorkeling, and zip lining on all of the islands, but history buffs will want to see Pearl Harbor on Oahu. And science geeks will be wowed by the Big Island's volcano. Wherever you go, mingle with the locals to soak up the island culture. "Take time to stop and smell the plumeria," Goldenberg says.
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Find package deals, affordable hotels and vacation rentals, cheap airfares, and discount coupons on these sites:
Originally published in the April 1, 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings, and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.