By Jamie Pearson
The Hawaiian Islands are amazingly diverse, and traveling there is as close as Americans can get to visiting another country without leaving their own. There's much more to see than the 50th state than miles of golden sand, too.
Planning a trip to Hawaii with your family this year? Here's a guide to the best kinds of trips for kids of all ages.
Infants and Toddlers
With kids this age, your biggest adventure should be the flight over. Once you've successfully made the crossing, reward yourself by staying at a resort that spoils you a little.
Consider: Basing yourself on the quiet island Lana'i. There's not much going on here besides napping, swimming, and picnicking, but really that's the whole point. Park yourself in the shade on Hulopo'e Beach and keep your eyes peeled for pods of spinner dolphins.
Avoid: The Four Seasons Resort Lodge at Koele, which is overrun with honeymooners. Their sister property the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i at Manele Bay is much better for families.
Remember: Your adventuring days are temporarily behind you. If you choose to stay in a condo, don't forget to splurge on a few restaurant meals and maybe a spa treatment or two.
Kids this age can burn off energy in some gentle waves, but aren't quite old enough to snorkel. Take them to Maui where there's plenty to do both above and below the water's surface.
Consider: One of those corny glass bottom boat tours of the coral reef from Lahaina—your kids will get a huge kick out of it. Non-snorkelers can also enjoy seeing native fish at the Maui Ocean Center Hawaii Aquarium in Wailuku.
Avoid: That horrible twisty drive to Hana. No amount of beautiful waterfalls can make up for the torture of that trip.
Remember: Hiring a babysitter or enrolling your kids in the resort's kids' club for a few hours can give you some blissful adult-only beach time. Your kids will have fun, and so will you.
Grade school-aged kids
Kids this age are ready for some entry-level adventure, so point your compass for the wild and beautiful islands of Kauai and the Big Island. If you choose Kauai, base yourself in family friendly Poipu. If you go with the Big Island, the Kailua-Kona coast or Kohala are best.
Consider: Putting inflatable armbands on your kids and turning them loose with masks and snorkels in the boulder-enclosed ponds at Lydgate State Park just south of the Wailua River on Kauai. On the Big Island, drive to the end of Highway 130 in Kalapana to watch the surface lava flow as it rolls into the sea.
Avoid: Extreme experiences. Long hikes, all-day snorkel trips, and rugged sea kayaking excursions can be exhausting and over the top. Don't squander your money and patience.
Remember: Kids this age just need sand and water to have a good time. Throw in a few fish and hermit crabs and they're in heaven.
Tweens and Teens
Kids this age can easily keep up with you physically and intellectually, if you can tear them away from their cell phones and Facebook, that is. Any of the islands are a good choice, so match your itinerary to your children's interests.
Consider: Taking them to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor on Oahu, a sobering and moving monument to war. Horseback riding. Ziplining. Surf lessons for the entire family.
Avoid: Sleepy, isolated resorts without enough to do. Too much unstructured sibling togetherness.
Remember: Kids this age need some independence, and so do you. Choose a safe place for them to stretch their wings a little.
About the Writer
Jamie Pearson is a writer and mother of two. She sees the funny side of family travel, and blogs about it at www.TravelSavvyMom.com.
Photo credit: istock/Daniel Bendjy