Honolulu and Oahu Feature

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Honolulu and Oahu with Kids

With dozens of adventures, discoveries, and fun-filled beach days, Hawaii is a blast for kids of all ages. Even better, the things to do here do not appeal only to small fry. The entire family, parents included, will enjoy surfing, discovering a waterfall in the rain forest, and snorkeling with sea turtles. And there are plenty of organized activities for kids that will free parents' time for a few romantic beach strolls.

Choosing a Place to Stay

Resorts: All the big resorts make kids' programs a priority, and it shows. When you are booking your room, ask about keiki (children's) menus at restaurants, free activities on the property, and pools and water parks built specifically for the younger set.

In Waikiki, your best bet for kids is the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where there's a large beach and loads of kids' programs. Another good choice is the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort, which has a variety of programs for kids as well. Other options include the Waikiki Beach Hotel and the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani.

Condos: Condo and vacation rentals are a fantastic value for families vacationing in Hawaii. You can cook your own food, which is cheaper than eating out and sometimes easier (especially if you have a finicky eater in your group), and you'll get twice the space of a hotel room for about a quarter of the price. If you decide to go the condo route, be sure to ask about the size of the complex's pool (some try to pawn off a tiny soaking tub as a pool) and whether barbecues are available. One of the best parts of staying in your own place is having a sunset family barbecue by the pool or overlooking the ocean.

For the ultimate condo experience on Oahu, Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Club can't be beat. Sheltered beaches, four pools, barbecues, and children's play areas, combined with large kitchens and an on-site grocery store make this the best condo option for families. In Waikiki, the Castle Waikiki Shore is the only beachfront condo property. Outrigger Luana Waikiki offers barbecues, a pool, and recreational areas near Fort DeRussy on Waikiki Beach.

Ocean Activities

Hawaii is all about getting your kids outside—away from TV and video games. And who could resist the turquoise water, the promise of spotting dolphins or whales, or the fun of body boarding or surfing?

On the Beach: Most people like being in the water, but toddlers and school-age kids tend to be especially enamored of it. The swimming pool at your condo or hotel is always an option, but don't be afraid to hit the beach with a little one in tow. There are several beaches in Hawaii that are nearly as safe as a pool—completely protected bays with pleasant white-sand beaches and staffed by lifeguards. As always, use your judgment, and heed all posted signs and warnings.

In Waikiki, your best bets for young children are Kuhio Beach Park and Fort DeRussy Beach Park. Both are protected from a strong shore break and offer a wide stretch of sand. (And lifeguards are on duty.) On the windward side, your best bets are Kailua Beach Park, with its shady trees and good bathroom and shower facilities, or laid-back Lanikai Beach. North Shore beaches are recommended for children only in the summer months, and of these, Waimea Bay, with its wide stretch of sand and good facilities, ranks as the best for kids. (Don't let your kids jump off the rock—a popular but very dangerous pastime.) On the leeward side of the island, KoOlina's protected coves are great for families with small children.

On the Waves: Surf lessons are a great idea for older kids, especially if mom and dad want a little quiet time. Beginner lessons are always on safe and easy waves and last anywhere from two to four hours.

Waikiki is the place for everyone to learn to surf, including kids. Some hotels, including the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, offer in-house surf schools. Or, for a unique experience, try Hawaiian Fire. These off-duty Honolulu firefighters teach water safety in addition to surfing in their two-hour lessons near Barber's Point (starting at $99).

The Underwater World: If your kids are ready to try snorkeling, Hawaii is a great place to introduce them to the underwater world. Even without the mask and snorkel, they'll be able to see colorful fish darting around coral reefs, and they may also spot endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles and dolphins at many of the island beaches.

On Oahu the quintessential snorkeling experience can be had at Hanauma Bay. After viewing an educational film about Hawaii's underwater world, and descending into a half-submerged volcano, kids have an opportunity not only to see hundreds of species of fish in protected waters but to enjoy a wide stretch of beach as well. In summer months only, Shark's Cove on the North Shore is an interesting experience for older kids who have learned the basics of snorkeling at Hanauma Bay.

Land Activities

In addition to beach experiences, Hawaii has rain forests, botanical gardens, numerous aquariums (Oahu and Maui take the cake), and even petting zoos and hands-on children's museums that will keep your kids entertained and out of the sun for a day.

Oahu is fortunate to have the largest variety of land-based experiences in the Islands. Kids can visit the Honolulu Zoo for a sleepover, touch fishy friends at the Waikiki Aquarium, help in a dolphin training session at Sea Life Park, or even learn to husk a coconut at the Polynesian Culture Center. For kids who need some room to roam, Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden offers wide-open spaces and a pond complete with ducks, while Kualoa Ranch is the place for horseback riding.

After Dark

At night, younger kids get a kick out of luau, and many of the shows incorporate young audience members, adding to the fun. The older kids might find it all a bit lame, but there are a handful of new shows in the Islands that are more modern, incorporating acrobatics, lively music, and fire dancers. If you're planning on hitting a luau with a teen in tow, we highly recommend going the modern route.

Updated: 04-2013

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