We just did an amazing six day Hawaii trip at the end of May – my entire family. That is 27 people. – Eight siblings, eight spouses, and eleven kids (ok, one of them is 20 years old now). That is two teenagers, three 2 year olds, and the rest in the 5 to 7 year old range. So whatever kids like, we did it in Oahu. What did we do to have so much fun?
First, let me give you a warning. The two year olds were not fond of the long flights and the time changes. The five-and-up crowd did just fine. We flew over from the east coast, so it was twelve plus hours of flying and the toddlers took turns throwing up, screaming, and hurling shoes at passengers. You have been warned. If you are still ready to go to Hawaii – or your kids are older than two – read on!
We stayed at the Outrigger Reef hotel. It was a perfect location: very close to our favorite shave ice spot and a musubi shop. It was near a bus stop, just outside the main Waikiki congestion, and next to a public beach with a small pier. The Outrigger has a great restaurant on site, with a huge pool, two hot tubs, afternoon activities for families, and a Starbucks on the premises. Some family members upgraded to a balcony room and loved it. Some of us were never in the hotel room, except to sleep.
The lobby is a lovely open-air seating area. We had a great time making flower leis and learning to write our names in Hawaiian in the afternoon activity room. Get there early, the lei making class fills quickly. Parking was a hefty $40 per day, but there is a car rental spot within walking distance. Beach chair and umbrella rental is an additional fee. We didn’t spend much time at the hotel beach. We watched some sunsets, and dipped while the kids climbed on the giant rocks and looked for urchins a few times. But we hail from South Florida and our beaches are actually more accommodating – the water is always warm and there are fewer rocks. Oh, did I mention the view from the hotel? The moonrise over Diamondhead Crater is magnificent! Now that can be found only in Hawaii!
In back of the hotel is a Steak Shack for tasty take-out to eat on the beach or by the hotel pool. Service is a little slow there and it is a popular spot, so don’t wait until you are starving. Banan is right next to it. Try it! It is sugar and dairy-free ice cream made from whipped bananas and topped with your choice of tasty toppings. Way better than it even sounds!
What is Hawaii known for? Surfing! Right on the beach behind the Outrigger Reef is Stoke Drift Surf lessons. My older girls took their first surf lesson right there. The instructor, Kaylie, had them both up on their boards surfing by the end of the hour. A photographer is out there taking pictures for purchase. I think the picture package was around $60.
Our second day we went out for a Snorkel tour. Just off Waikiki Beach is a reef where turtles are known to come and get their shells cleaned by the reef fish. We saw lots of colorful fish, two green sea turtles, and a fleeting glimpse of a monk seal. My big kids (ages 20 and 17) stayed out with me when everyone else climbed aboard the catamaran and we were rewarded with that second sea turtle visit. The curious guy was inches away. So don’t climb back in the boat too soon. Much of the beauty in Hawaii is under the water! We chose Mana Kai Catamaran. They were very chill which we liked as experienced snorkelers. They provided the equipment.
The next day we had tours booked at Kualoa Ranch. While Waikiki is very walkable, so many beautiful things to see are on the other side of the island. The bus will get you to and from the airport, over to Diamond Head, or the Farmer’s Market, but it is impractical for further spots. It costs about $80 one way to Uber or Lyft to the North Shore. It was cheaper for us to rent a car for the day. That gave us the freedom to explore as well. Be prepared that transportation is expensive in Hawaii.
Kualoa has something for everyone. My little one was too young for ziplining, so she and my film student daughter chose the Jurassic Park movie tour. Since several Jurassic franchise movies were filmed here, as well as a number of other movies, it was a fun tour and she loved it. Potty first! There were no bathrooms on the tour. My little one found a convenient bush, which the guide was cool with. They climbed out for exploration and photo ops in many recognizable spots. It is a movie buff’s dream.
My brother took his little one on the UTV tour, which was a blast. It drives past some of the same sites, but doesn’t stop or explain in any detail. The ranch is in the mountains and you are constantly surrounded by unbelievable beauty. This feels like the real Hawaii. Most of us chose the ziplining tour. The views were breath-taking, the guides were both helpful and entertaining, and it was properly thrilling all the way through. My favorite line was the one where we faced backwards.
Continuing up the North Shore we found the Shrimp Shack food truck. The food was so delicious. Once you get your food, you walk across the street and eat on the beach! There are two wooden swings and several tables and chairs set up. It is just dreamy. At a Cultural Center a few miles up there was a Malasada truck. A malasada is a must do – a freshly fried donut filled with passionfruit, hazelnut, coconut, or one of the many other choices, some very unique to Hawaii.
Next day it was back to the North Shore with the whole family in two rented vans (those had to be reserved a long time in advance). We stopped at a famous spot for food trucks. Kamehameha Highway in Kahuku for Giovanni’s Shrimp. It was a little early for most of us to be hungry, but found some delicious acai bowls there with some fun Hawaiian toppings.
We headed to a lovely beach spot known as Shark’s Cove. It features a huge tide pool, perfect for young explorers. Bring water shoes, the rocks require it. My big ones climbed up the rocks (we all did that), found a safe spot, and jumped off into the ocean, swimming around to the beach side. There are showers and bathrooms there. Parking requires patience. The food trucks across the street provided the best shave ice (a Hawaii must try) I found on the island, simple because the bottom had fluffy coconut cream instead of ice cream. Yumm!
The next stop was Waimea Valley. If y’all want a great luau – and every visitor to Hawaii should – do the Toa Luau that makes its home here. Tickets to the luau provide free admission into the park, so be sure you arrive several hours earlier than the luau and take advantage of this fabulous bonus. The falls are worth a visit all by themselves. We took the very easy paved hike through the loveliest botanical gardens up to Waimea Falls. There we donned the required life jackets and splashed around in the cool, fresh water to our hearts’ content. We then trekked back, slipped on our sundresses, and entered the luau. It is a little buggy anywhere on the North Shore, so have a light repellent handy. It was mostly no see ‘ums. That’s what we call those tiny pests in Florida, anyway.
The Toa Luau hosts made us feel at home. It is run by a Samoan family. The kids taught us to weave palm frond headdresses for the first activity. We had more food and drinks than we could possibly eat. We were educated and wowed by the dancing, drumming, and incredible traditional costumes. The cheaper seats are great since it is one of the smaller luaus on Oahu. It was a long drive back to our hotel that night, but totally worth it.
My husband chose to scuba dive the following day and found the shallow dives disappointing. Our reefs are famous in Florida, so Oahu had a lot to live up to. A wreck dive may have been more exciting, but the wrecks there are very deep. That requires more expertise. The rest of us opted for some snacks, lunch and souvenirs at the KCC Farmers Market, and a hike up Diamond Head crater.
It was really hot that day. The kids quickly tired of the not-so-shady farmer’s market and the public bathrooms that were flooded and without toilet paper. I am gonna label this one as not so kid friendly. The Diamond State Monument requires advance reservations. Bring water and use the bathroom at the beginning of the hike. It is a more strenuous hike, but we took two five year olds and an energetic two year old up without too much complaint. My five year did threaten to stay right where she was once. I asked her how she was going to get back down the mountain. “Call an Uber,” was her response. The top has broad, clear views all the way around. The tunnel is fun to walk through – and a welcome respite from the sun. The lookout and bunker at the top are fun for kids to explore.
The last family activity was the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Reservations must be made in advance here as well. We all took the short ferry ride over to the Memorial. Even the kindergarteners were properly awed and reverent for the occasion. The Go Oahu pass had the audio tour which kept them entertained. I wouldn’t buy the Go Oahu Pass again; we just didn’t use enough of it. However, that audio tour was a plus. It is hot there. Bring money for water and snacks, because you can’t bring much of anything in.
Then we split up. I took my big kids to the two free Pearl Harbor museums that cover the events leading up to the attacks through the end of World War II. They are well done museums, but not of great interest to small children. My sister and her husband took my five year old, along with my brother and his five year old, and toured the U.S.S. Bowfin, the submarine and its accompanying museum. Advance tickets are not required but are an additional fee. Admission was on the Go Oahu Pass. There was so much to touch here that it was the highlight of her day. The five year olds spent time pretending to steer and avoid enemy ships on equipment in the museum. Another of my little nephews, an airplane fan, enjoyed the Aviation Museum. Both were big hits with the kids.
With a late departure, on the last day, we finally got to take advantage of the hotel activities, which turned out to be lots of fun. We the activities director taught us our names in Hawaiian, she explained the Hawaiian alphabet, how translation is done, and gave us our names, beautifully inscribed on a book mark, one at a day. After listening for a while, my older girls were able to translate other names pretty well. It really was educational.
While downtown Honolulu is a city and has a seedy looking areas and a large homeless population, Waikiki is an upscale tourist destination and we felt comfortable letting our teenage girls run out for ice cream at night, or down to the pier for an evening stroll. There are people from many different countries working in Waikiki, but everywhere we went on Oahu the native Hawaiian population was friendly and kind. Six days was not enough! We were not ready to leave the island. Some family members hopped over to Maui and Kauai for a few more days of fun in the sun. This was a Funjet package booked through Liz Haak Travel. It is an expensive spot to vacation, though. I will be sharing my budget Hawaii travel tips soon! Aloha!
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