Ask the kids to name their dream holiday and chances are it’ll sound a lot like Hawaii: sunny days spent on the beach, rocketing down water slides at a resort, racing each other through a landscape straight out of Jurassic Park, swimming with turtles and munching on icy treats all the colours of the rainbow. Yep, when it comes to family holidays, the Aloha State delivers. Here are the five best things to do to make their dream (and yours) a reality.
1. The best family resorts in Hawaii
Too many resorts to choose from? Hawaii’s tally of ultra-luxe stays is a good problem to have. For a waterfront location in Waikiki, a 25-minute drive from Honolulu airport on the island of Oahu, head to the Sheraton Waikiki. It has more than 1600 rooms and suites, many with views across the ocean and out to Diamond Head. But the kids will care more about the two pools, water slide and fountain with water jets to splash around in.
The Royal Hawaiian right next door is another popular choice, especially for Instagramming teens, thanks to its retro-cool pink facade (plus it shares the Sheraton’s water playground space).
Over on Maui, a 45-minute flight from Oahu, the expansive Grand Wailea resort has a set-up that rivals even the best water parks. It has nine pools (plus a rope swing to launch yourself into it), five water slides, a water elevator… and a pool just for the grown-ups, when you need downtime.
2. The best Hawaiian beaches for families
In a state that’s known for spectacular sand and surf, it’s hard to find a bad beach. But if you’re looking for a spot that offers more than just salty waves and a place to lay your towel, here’s a starter.
Hanauma Bay State Park on Oahu, about a 25-minute drive from Waikiki, is set within a volcanic cone and offers spectacular snorkelling with shallow spots that make it easy for the young kids. Open Wednesday to Sunday, tickets cost US$25 (about $36) for adults (under-12s are free), as it's a protected marine life conservation area.
If learning to surf is on the bucket list, Waikiki is an iconic place to do it (and with its gentle waves, it’s relatively easy). Try Hans Hedemann – the instructors promise you’ll be surfing within two hours.
3. The best food to eat in Hawaii
Ice, but make it hypercolour – that’s the very simple, and very popular, premise for shave ice. Buy a cup of the frosty flakes striped with sweet syrup at the Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice stores dotted all over Maui – the many flavour options will delight even the fussiest child.
In Waikiki, find shave ice at Island Vintage Coffee in the Royal Hawaiian Center, where you can also find acai bowls (popular in Hawaii well before they spread to the rest of the world).
Another speciality that Hawaii has long been hip to? Poke bowls. In fact, this is the birthplace of the fresh food sensation. You’ll find it on menus right across the state, from food courts to shopping malls, high-end restaurants and resorts.
4. The best natural attractions in Hawaii
Take the family to Jurassic Park… literally. Kualoa Ranch on Oahu’s east coast is a private nature reserve and the site of scenes from the movie Jurassic Park as well as 50 First Dates and Jumanji. You can zipline through the reserve’s valley, see it from an electric mountain bike or on horseback, or join a jeep or ATV ride through the jungle.
Around a 40-minute drive south is Diamond Head, where you can lead your troupe on a two-hour return-trip hiking trail to the summit of a crater. Be warned, it’s steep: it takes you up around 170 metres. But the views into the crater and to the vast ocean beyond are an unbeatable salve for all any calls of ‘Are we there yet?’
5. The best tours to do in Hawaii
Meeting the marine wildlife is as easy as popping on a snorkel and putting your face in the water in Hawaii, but to see something really special you’ll want to join a tour. You can take a dive in a submarine just off Diamond Head and spot turtles, tropical fish and whatever else might be cruising by in the big blue.
If you prefer to get wet, take a tour to see green turtles in Oahu’s Maunalua Bay or mix a snorkel tour with a whale watching experience in Maui – there’s a hydrophone on board so you can listen to these incredible creatures.
History buffs won’t want to leave without visiting at least one of Pearl Harbor’s four sites. A Passport to Pearl Harbor Historic Sites is a great way to take it all in and includes an audio tour and virtual experience.