Sure, Take the Kids
Family travel doesn’t have to be the same old jaunt to Disneyland. With a little forethought—and a little taste for adventure—you can trade the cotton candy for Hawaiian doughnuts and the rollercoaster ride for a bouncing jeep tour through herds of antelope. Interested? Here are six trips and 10 tips that can turn your next family vacation into something you and the kids will remember for the rest of your lives.
1. The swimming pools at the Hilton Waikoloa Village.
The Big Island of Hawaii has more natural wonders than a J.R.R. Tolkien
novel: twin mountains that rise from the sea into a crown of clouds;
red-orange lava pouring into smashing waves; Amazon-worthy rainforests;
fields of foreboding volcanic terrain that look perfect for would-be
So it might seem like a tremendous failure of imagination to return to the mainland singing the praises of two damn swimming pools. But then, you haven’t spent entire half-days around these liquid lounges on a bluff above one of the Kohala Coast’s blue bays, relaxing as your 8- and 10-year-old children get blissfully lost among the landscape of intricate slides, narrow canals, car-wash-impact waterfalls, darkened caves, and faux beaches.
Yes, you fantasize about a family vacation of adventures in the wild, in this case hiking in the shadow of Kilauea. But only a fool of a parent works without a net, without that one sure-fire, aren’t-we-glad-we-came ringer, that one amusement that also allows mom and dad to lie worry-free on chaises sipping Bloody Marys. You’ll thank Pele for these pools. Swallow your pride and build your vacation around them.
Kona Pool and Kohala Pool: free for Hilton Waikoloa Village guests; $80 for a day pass for up to four visitors. Rooms at the Hilton are $199–$649 per night. (800) 445-8667, www.hiltonwaikoloavillage.com.
2. Snorkeling at Mauna Kea Beach. I
will never forget the first time. Floating face down on the ocean’s
surface between my two children, the three of us kicking lightly,
pointing and motioning, catching each other’s eyes out of the sides of
our masks. Below us rolls a thrilling family movie, the teeming drama
of seemingly millions of fish darting among coral perfect for a Monet
We have waded just yards off the north end of this pristine half mile of tropical beach, wearing the flippers and mask you can rent anywhere for $9 a week. The kids have never snorkeled; I’m a jittery parent. But the Pacific beats on undisturbed, and soon we’re looking down at schools of mackerel scad shimmering inside a coral tunnel.
A snaggletoothed white eel shoots from its home like a jack-in-the-box to bite a passing butterfly fish. We put an arm around each other’s waists until fright subsides and a Moorish idol distracts us below. I make excited clicking sounds like a dolphin. Rachel and Neil are so transfixed they fail to notice how weird their dad is.
Drive north 20 minutes from the Hilton Waikoloa Village on Highway 19 to a left turn at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel; arrive before 10 a.m. for the calmest water and a parking space at the public beach. (If the lot is full, tell the guards you’ll eat and shop at the hotel, and they will usually let you through the gate.)
3. The Malasada. Kilauea Volcano has
been spewing lava for 22 years straight, leaving the southeast corner
of Hawaii a beautifully tortured mess of lava fields amid untouched
rainforest. But to experience it, you’ve got to drive three hours from
your Kohala Coast resort, leaving behind the pool in which your child
has vowed to stay forever.
How to lure the kids? Let the South have its Popeyes chicken and California its gourmet pizza; on the Big Island, string the family along with soulful, doughy, holeless doughnuts dusted lightly with cane sugar. Stopping for a malasada at the Tex Drive-In café in Honoka’a breaks up a dramatic trip featuring views of towering waterfalls and the emerald sweep of retired sugar cane farms.
Check out Tex’s pleasant patio, which sits next to a walk-through native garden high above the Pacific. The kids moan with every bite as you stare up to Mauna Kea peak, calculating exactly how many of these Portuguese godsends you’ll need to see you through the rest of the drive.
On Highway 19 in Honoka’a, the Tex sign marks the spot for the malasadas at Tex Drive-In. (808) 775-0598, www.texdrivein.com.
4. The rainforest and the volcano. In
the town of Volcano, it’s raining, it’s pouring, and the old man is in
the hot tub, under a tin roof outside the family’s cabin, drunk on
nature. The place to stay the night before visiting Kilauea in the
morning (and, if you’re lucky, catching the sight of lava splashing
into the sea), Volcano is laid out like a midwestern town—First Street,
Second Street—but that attempt at civilization can’t contain the wall
of jungle hemming in every lane and house.
Carson’s Volcano Cottages’ main building has three rooms, plus a couple of cabins a few yards away; Nick’s Cabin is a winner for a family. As the kids and mom crash out with visions of molten rock dancing in their heads, outside in the darkness, hot tub rumbling, dad slips away to complete calm watching the rain run off leaves the length of small cars.
The next morning, enjoy a homemade breakfast in the small dining room before heading out to tour the lava fields of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. On your way back to the Kohala Coast, don’t forget to stop for another round of malasadas.
Rooms at Carson’s Volcano Cottages go for $115–$130. Nick’s Cabin is $130 per night. (800) 845-5282, www.carsonsvolcanocottage.com.
5. Chilling like expensive Champagne at the Four Seasons Hualalai.
If after a few days on the Big Island you and your kids could both use
a time-out, this is the place for you. The deservedly famous
hotel—perennially ranked as one of the world’s best by readers of fancy
travel magazines—will essentially take your kids away from you and act
as their Daddy Warbucks-style foster parents, leaving you to your own
While the youngsters are hunting geckos, you can swim laps in the plumeria-lined pool or bliss out in the frond-shaded private patio shower that completes your perfect room. They build erupting volcanoes, and you have another drink by the placid adult pool.
The only danger is that once your kids spend 8 a.m.–5 p.m. making sand sculptures and flying kites, they may not want to come back. Ingratiate yourself by floating with them in the resort’s massive, saltwater King’s Pond. There’s nothing like watching eagle rays, unicorn fish, and tangs slide around you at twilight to make you feel like a family.
Rooms at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai start at $560. The kids program is free for children ages 5–12, but lunch is extra. (888) 340-5662, www.fourseasons.com.