Why I’ll Never Take Kids to Hawaii

Having recently returned from an amazing Hawaiian vacation (our first) I can truly say, I will never take our kids to Hawaii.

I truly loved it.  Although we’ve been many places and I always thought I was a mountain girl at heart, Hawaii was relaxing and amazing to me in a way that few other places have ever been.

I'll never take kids to Hawaii, black sand beaches would't be the same.

There are some places kids don’t need to be…

That being said, people are shocked when I tell them that despite the fact we really enjoyed Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Oahu, we would not bring our kids to Hawaii.  It has nothing to do with my kids and it has nothing to do with Aulani or Oahu in general.

If you’ve been following our blogs for long (http://401kKid.com and http://OnTheRoadWithLewisAndClark.com), you realize that we love our kids.  We really, really do.  But we also realize that there are something that kids don’t need to do while living at home with their parents.  Going to Hawaii is one of them.

For several days we watched exhausted parents taking kids back and forth from their rooms to the beach.  They’d get all settled into beach chairs for 10 minutes before mom or dad needed to get up to get a snack, or more sun screen, or another towel.  While I fully realize this is the nature of family vacations, I also wonder why you’d travel so far to experience the same activities you could experience in Tampa or Fort Lauderdale or San Diego.  Not only is Hawaii a long ways to travel, it is not cheap.

Certainly there are sites to see and experiences that can be had in Hawaii that cannot be experienced elsewhere, but my travels have taught me that many times there are cool things to experience close to home as well.  As we flew the eight plus hours from our home to the islands, I wondered why parents would put themselves and their unhappy kids through such an ordeal.  Why would you take kids to Hawaii?  Flying isn’t fun for most kids, especially the very young.  Did the parents really think this vacation would be so incredible for their young child that it was worth the long and expensive trip?  Because I have to say, as someone who has traveled with young kids, it really isn’t.  Not for most people.

Of course if you have family in Hawaii or money to burn or just want to say you experienced it as a family, then by all means, go ahead and take your kids to Hawaii.  Certainly I am not the Hawaiian travel police.  But if you’re a different type of parent, the one who feels guilty if their kids don’t experience everything in life right along side them, let me tell you that it’s perfectly okay to enjoy Hawaii sans kids.  Heck, it’s perfectly okay to enjoy ANY vacation without kids.

We have a goal in our family that people think is a bit strange.  Actually, it’s not a family goal, it’s our goal as parents, because the kids are totally not on board with this.  Our goal is to make sure that our kids DON’T experience everything before they are adults.

We want them to be able to save some things for when they have their own spouses and their own families.  Bret and I were lucky enough to experience the fun and excitement of our very first cruise together when our kids were 5.  They stayed with grandma and grandpa.  Since neither of us had been on a cruise before, we had no idea what to expect and that was most of the fun.  The same was true of Hawaii.

Yes, we’ve had great times traveling with our family.  And yes, we certainly will continue to do that.  Honestly, if I thought we could pick up and take them on the road full time, I probably would.  But the fact remains that parents should be allowed to have their own experiences.  In doing so, they save similar experiences for their own children to have with their families.

So kids, hear me now:  I love you way too much to take you to Hawaii!

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Oh Aulani!

My family has owned Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points for several years.  We’ve taken many terrific family vacations to various places around the country by using our membership to the max.

When Disney first announced they were building Aulani, a resort in Hawaii, we realized the opening would coincide nicely with our 20th anniversary.  And this time, it wouldn’t be a family vacation, just my husband and I.Aulani lobby

Aulani – what a fantastic resort!

From the moment we stepped out of our car it was clear this is a Disney resort unlike any other.  Perhaps it was the lack of theme parks nearby or the casual culture of Hawaii in general, but there was a definite lack of the frantic excitement we’ve experienced when checking into other DVC resorts.  Here, things were calm, cast members were welcoming and it felt as though our vacation started the minute we were handed glasses of fruit infused water and presented with leis.  We were asked our name while still outside sipping our water, and within seconds were presented with our keys and check in documents.  I had checked on line before we arrived and had made no special requests.

After our bags had been loaded onto a baggage cart, we were given a tour of the lobby by an Aulani hostess.  The open air lobby was dramatic and beautiful with breezes moving freely throughout the space.  Unlike our experience at other hotels, at Aulani your baggage stays with you right up until the time you are shown into your room.  I really appreciated that since we’ve had long delays at other resorts while we wait for our luggage to meet us in the room.

We stayed in the Ewa Tower, it is on the left side of the lobby as you walk in from the driveway.  While we were there, the other tower was closed due to construction being done on the grounds of that side of the resort.

Our room was on the 16th floor and was classified as ocean view.  Not only did we have a view of the ocean, where we could watch whales from our balcony, we also had a sweeping view of the entire Waikolohe Valley Pool area http://resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort/activities-amenities/pools-beach/pools/ .  It was a fantastic location.

The room was absolutely clean and more richly decorated than many other DVCs that we’ve stayed at.  Native Hawaiian art adorned the walls and the rooms were decorated in warm earth tones.  In addition to the regular DVC appliances and appointments, Aulani also included a rice steamer and set of chopsticks for six.  This is due to the large Asian population who also vacation here.

Our one-bedroom villa had two separate balconies, one off of the living room, and one off our master bedroom.  Depending on the sun’s location, we used both regularly.   In the living room, a small Murphy bed pulls out sideways from the entertainment center.  This allows the one-bedroom unit to sleep five people, although the Murphy bed would definitely be for a child.

We also noticed that Disney moved away from the traditional corner, oversized tub.  Instead there was a nice soaking tub.  The shower was amazing with both an overhead rain shower and a removable, adjustable showerhead.

Aulani has several different restaurants, and although we had intended to try them all, a stomach bug meant we had three days where we ate almost nothing at all.  We also did a lot of cooking in our room.  Since it was just the two of us and the fresh fruits and vegetables were so appetizing to us in the dead of winter, we found little need to venture out to eat.

Olelo closeupThe ‘Olelo Room  was my favorite place to hang out for cocktails and appetizers.  Although the appetizer list was short, everything we ordered was fresh and tasty.  The restaurant is beautifully decorated with wooden carvings of everyday images along with their corresponding Hawaiian word.  In the evenings, live music and a cast of servers who all speak native Hawaiian make this a complete immersion into the Hawaiian experience.  The ‘Olelo Room is just outside Makahiki the restaurant that hosts buffets at breakfast and dinner.  We didn’t eat there, but the dining room was very pretty.  Both restaurants can be opened to the outdoors.

We also tried Off the Hook for drinks and appetizers one night, but my stomach wasn’t quite ready for the food there and we boxed everything up and took it back to the room to eat later.  We had the cheese plate, thinking that would be mild enough for me, and it was very good.  In general, Off the Hook is a lounge area where you can wait for your table at ‘Ama ‘Ama and I didn’t care for the large screen tvs that were playing sports.  It seemed odd to be watching tv in what appears to be a large hut overlooking the pool.

‘Ama ‘Ama also suffered from our lack of appetite.  Although the menu looked good and we thought we’d be hungry, when we sat down for our special 20th anniversary dinner, we quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to eat much.  Unfortunately, once our waiter clued into the fact we weren’t going to be his cash cow for the night, we were virtually ignored.  He had mentioned our anniversary when we sat down and I knew that other people had received free dessert while celebrating an anniversary while at the resort, but honestly, we knew we wouldn’t be able to eat it anyway.  It’s entirely possible that he saw we weren’t eating much and decided asking us about dessert was silly, but it bothered me that our service level drastically declined after he realized we’d be sticking with appetizers and salads.

Things we loved about Aulani:

The beach was great.  On more than one day we spent the entire day sitting in lounge chairs with an umbrella.  It was the perfect way to recover from the mild case of the flu we were experiencing.  We ordered food one day from the beachside waitress and it was hot, fresh and delicious.

Community Hall – even though we didn’t have our kids with us, we did find ourselves walking down to get movies once or twice (remember, we weren’t feeling well).  Unlike Community Halls at other resorts, this one always had attentive staff and crafts being actively worked on by someone.

The lazy river.  Even though we tended to stay away from the pool because of the large numbers of kids (besides, when you have an ocean, why sit by a pool?), we did go down the lazy river a few times. It was relaxing and fun.  And it was absolutely breathtaking at night.

The atmosphere.  This resort is Disney’s shining star, hands down.  Prior to arriving at Aulani, we’d been at the Fairmont on Maui, a very exclusive and beautiful resort.  The staff couldn’t hold a candle to the cast members at Aulani and our Fairmont room was really stinky.  At Aulani everyone was not only very friendly, they went out of the way to make sure everything in their power was done to ensure the perfect trip.

Starilight Hui.  Bret and I knew that we didn’t want to spend the money on a Luau, especially since the locals don’t recommend them because the food isn’t usually very good.  But we were curious about Hawaiian dance and the ceremony behind it.  Starlight Hui was perfect.  We didn’t go to the early part of the show when kids participate and we left before the dance party.  The dancing and show portion, lead by Uncle was very entertaining and well done.  We were provided with mats to sit on.  The show lasted about ½ hour.

The décor-Aulani is beautiful.  It is relaxing and peaceful and wonderful.

The Spa – we are not spa people.  We’ve never had spa services before and generally aren’t into pampering ourselves, but since our dining plans had sort of gone sour because of illness, we decided to pamper ourselves with spa treatments.  WE LOVED THE SPA!  Although the spa cast members advise arriving an hour early, we wished we’d been there even longer to enjoy all there was to offer.

Things we didn’t care for at Aulani

Aside from the spa, there are no adult only areas at Aulani.  I realize this is a DVC property and that many of the people traveling there will have kids.  I really do get that.  We have three ourselves.  But when you consider that Hawaii is also a destination for adults in a way that the parks typically aren’t thought to be, it would only make sense that there are a few places reserved for adults only.  Our biggest issue was the hot tub.  Aulani has a beautiful two-level infinity tub that overlooks the beach and is the perfect place for viewing the sunset.  Instead, it was usually filled to capacity with kids jumping from one level to the next.  I do not believe kids belong in any hot tub at any time for any reason, it isn’t safe and it isn’t necessary.  Kids do not need to be everywhere adults are.  There are, however, two hot tubs in the Waikolohe Valley Pool and if it is absolutely necessary for kids to be in one, I’d suggest they are limited to the less popular one further away from the beach.

That was it.  Only one thing we thought could be improved. All in all, a pretty amazing concept when you consider this is a hotel that hasn’t even fully opened yet.  Yes, there was construction going on, but it honestly did not affect us in the least.  We did see walls up around areas where workmen were working, but they were tastefully painted and not in our way.  It makes me excited that the next time we come there will be even more for us to enjoy.

I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed our trip to Hawaii and to Aulani in particular.  A die-hard Disney fan, I never thought I’s find a way I wanted to use my points more than by going to the parks, now I want to spend all of our points in Hawaii!  A good problem to have!

 Aulani Cuddle

 

 

 

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The Road to Hana

One of the iconic Maui activities is a trip down (and back) the Road to Hana.  But first things first – this trip really is all about the journey, not the destination.  Hana is a tiny little town, on the unpopulated windward side of Maui.  You’re probably not going to see or do anything in Hana that will change your life forever – but if you play your cards right, you’ll have a spectacular journey to and from this remote town.

Now – on to the adventure!

My first bit of “You Absolutely Must Do This” advice is to get yourself a travel guide – we chose the GyPSy Guide to Maui.

GyPSY Guide Map to Maui

We rented a Guide for the day for $40 bucks or so – it’s a smartphone that’s been repurposed as a GPS-enabled tour guide.  Just plug it in and start driving, and you’ll hear stories about where you’re going and where you’ve been – and you’ll get advice on where to go and what to see next.  I’ve spent a lot more on a living, breathing tour guide, and wound up with much less interesting information.  One of the best parts of this little gizmo is that if Tracie and I wanted to talk or comment on something, we could just turn it off for awhile.  Although I will say, it did give us plenty of down time for our own conversations.  I really liked the stories we got about the history of Hawaii, as well as the detailed history about certain parts of Maui we were driving through.

Tour books advise you to leave early – this is wise advice, as the road starts to get crowded if you don’t.  We were lucky enough to leave on SuperBowl Sunday at about 7:30,  which was both a blessing and a curse.  We found out later that traffic was so light that some of the shops along the way had decided to take the day off.

The first part of the journey past the airport will take you past some of the popular north shore surfing spots – if the surf is up, plan to pull into one of the beaches and watch as people try to catch some waves.Surfers along Maui's North coast

One of the places a lot of the guide books point out is the Ke’anae Peninsula, and they’re right to do so; we really enjoyed the view of the surf and the shore from the point, and had some fantastic food there as well.  The shave ice we enjoyed here was the best we had on the trip, though I guess it is just snow and flavoring…Shave Ice at Keanae Point

Without the GyPSy Guide, we would have totally missed some locations on the trip, such as one just before Ke’anae: the Ke’anae Arboretum, tucked up on the mountain side of the road just a quarter mile before the road to Ke’anae.  The Arboretum is a self-guided walk of less than a mile through some pretty lush rainforest, with a myriad of plant species to gawk at along the way.  Most are labeled with handy little tags, which is really handy if you’re traveling without any sort of horticultural field guide.

One of the “optional” stops on the trip was the little town of Nahiku, which GyPSy warned us wasn’t tremendously interesting, but worth it if we had the time.  I’m with GyPSy on this one: if you don’t have something in particular you’re looking for down there, I’d skip it.

 

Keanae ArboretumRainbow Eucalyptus at Keanae Arboretum
Keanae Arboretum
Black Sand Beaches

Just short of Hana is Waianapanapa State Park, with its black sand beach.  This fit one of my “must experience that” items on the trip – I’d highly advise that you reserve some time on your trip to experience this, as well.

Before you know it, you’re pulling into Hana, and you’re probably really, really hungry!  Fortunately, there are some options.  You could pop into Hasegawa’s General

Store and pick up some snack food or lunch meat (or fireworks, or gardening supplies… they literally sell one of everything there) or try one of Hana’s several restaurants.

Hasegawa's General Store

 

Up the hill at the end of town you’ll find Hana Ranch, serving comfortable American bar food with a view, or you could try some Thai at the aptly named “Thai Food by Pranee” in a little shack west of the baseball field – we enjoyed our experience there immensely.

And… there’s really not much more to get out of Hana.  It’s a town.  It has a hotel, and a few restaurants.  Someday, I’d like to spend some time there, and see what happens between the times that tourists are visiting, but I can’t imagine it’s anything earth-shattering.  I would imagine that it’s very, very relaxing in Hana all day with the exception of 11 am through 4 pm.  Someday, I’ll book a room there and check it out to be sure.

Driving Tips:

The road to Hana is narrow, and it is windy.  There are about 25 million bridges, and all of them are one-lane.  When you get a bridge, take turns with oncoming traffic, when you get to a narrow corner, take turns.  Basically, the entire trip, just take your time.  And if you are prone to suffering from motion sickness, take Dramamine.  This road will test your fortitude.  Remember, when you’re done in Hana, you have to drive all the way back, the same way you came.  It’s a long drive, taking it all in on one shot.  We left Hana after 5:00, and weren’t off the the Highway until after 8:00 near the airport.  It’s a long, long trip home if you’re trying to beat the sunset.

In short, take your time, enjoy the sights, get a guide, and grab some good food in Hana.  It’s a good trip, if you just remember it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

 

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Our Dreamy Hawaiian Vacation, Maui

Our trip to Hawaii in February without our kids was amazing.  I think I’ve mentioned that.  :-)  Maui was where it all began!

The first night we arrived at the Maui airport it was about 11pm local time.  This was 3am for us Midwesterners.  Needless to say we were very happy to have booked a room at the Courtyard by Marriott right near the airport in Kahului.  We decided to skip the rental car desk and instead take the shuttle right to our beds.  It was clean, nice and apparently, quite new.

At 3:30am, we were rethinking our decision.  See, for us it was now 7:30am (CT).  Our bodies figured we’d already slept past our normal wake up time of 5am central and it was time to get up and start relaxing!  As hard as we tried to go back to sleep, it just wasn’t happening.  We thought about heading up to Haleakala to see the sun rise, it was on our list of things to do, but then remembered we hadn’t picked up our car yet.  The hotel breakfast wouldn’t open until 6.  So we waited and watched the Surfing Channel on TV.

At 6:15 we couldn’t stand it any more – Bret went down to catch the shuttle back to the airport – but the shuttle was running a 60-minute errand somewhere else.  So he walked!  It was a 15-minute walk, accentuated by sunrise over the volcano and about 350 wandering chickens.

By 7:15 we were walking into the Maui Swap Meet.  I wanted to go to a Farmer’s Market so we could stock up on fruits for the remainder of our stay.  What I didn’t realize is that it was also a great place to buy souvenirs.  I actually wished I’d bought more that day.  We left with some decent swag, and enough pineapples, bananas, and mangos to satisfy us for at least a few days.  Now that we’re back in Minnesota, I find myself every Saturday morning remembering that morning at the Swap Meet and wishing we were there.  It was definitely a highlight of the trip just because it was casual and unexpectedly fun.

Hats at the Maui Swap Meet

The Maui Swap Meet had a lot of fun stuff!

It was now about ten in the morning, and we felt like it was time for a nap.  We hopped into the car and drove the perimeter of the western end of Maui –the whole thing.  We stopped and enjoyed local foods and sites along the way, but basically just took it all in.  I think we were experiencing a little bit of overwhelm of how spectacularly beautiful, warm, and clean everything was.  We had fantastic poke nachos on Taro chips while at ‘Umalu, in the Hyatt Regency Maui – Ka’anapali.  I’d make another trip back to the ‘Umalu just for those nachos.

Later in the day we checked into the Fairmont Kea Lani resort in Wailea.  Normally this would be a hotel far out of our price range, but because of Bret’s amazing travel hacking skills, we were able to experience two nights at this beautiful resort free of charge.  Oh, and the $38 breakfast buffet was complimentary too due to our free vouchers.  It was easily the best breakfast buffet I’d ever had.

Although the Fairmont was luxury to the extreme, it had one really good thing and one really bad thing that will always stick out in my memory.  The really, really, wonderfully terrific thing is that it had an adults only pool and spa area – with a swim up bar.  Although we like kids, heck we’ve got three of them, I firmly believe that they do not need to be everywhere all of the time.  Being able to have a spot to relax without them was fantastic.

The really bad thing was that our drop dead gorgeous room smelled so bad we could hardly stay in it.  It was a very musty, air conditioner related smell.  Bret thought that it smelled like something had died in the air vent – and he’s got experience with such smells, apparently.  We did ask them to look at it the second day we were there, but when we returned to the room it seemed they had just sprayed a ton of air freshener around.  Luckily we had a wrap around lanai so we kept the patio doors open a lot; as long as we kept the air off, it smelled wonderful.  The room was otherwise amazing.  We had dual pedestal sinks in a bathroom the size of most hotel rooms.  It had a walk in, door-free shower, separate soaking tub and marble everywhere.  The future was beautiful and we had a separate living area and small kitchen area.

Sunday we decided to brave the Road to Hana.  We’d heard mixed reviews about taking an entire day to do this trip, but we were so glad we did.  Although I was glad we didn’t have kids in the backseat (I’d imagine car sickness could be a problem),  we thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns.  We do have some very specific tips on the best way to experience this legendary road, so you’ll want to check out our Road to Hana post.

By the time we got back to our room, we were exhausted and our day was over.  Bret was also not feeling so great.  We thought at the time it was from the ½ raw coconut he’d eaten while we were driving that day, but we were to find out it was more sinister than that…

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Loving Minnesota in the Winter-Making a Trip to Hawaii Even Better

This morning when we woke up to leave on our trip to Hawaii, it was -13 below zero.  Windchill made the “feels like” temperature -30 degrees.  These are the days I actually love to be a Minnesotan.

There is a certain amount of chutzpah that is required to live in these temperatures.  There are things we know and do that would never even occur to people in warmer climates.  We know that if we get a heavy wet snow (as we did a few days ago) on a warm day, that we should wait for the temperature to drop before we snow blow or shovel (if possible).  As it gets colder, moisture leaves the snow lighter and easier to manipulate.

We know that a banana left outside at this temperature can be used as a hammer and that bubbles blown outside will freeze.  Likewise, when it’s really cold, the exhaust from cars will actually freeze to the road when sitting in traffic causing true black ice – ice invisible to the naked eye, but very, very slippery.

We plug in our cars if we park outside, or go out to start them periodically.  We rarely let the gas tank get less than half full as the cars will start sluggishly.

Blinds and curtains are best closed to keep out the cold when it’s dark, but close them too far and the windows will ice over.

But, as I sat on flight, ready for our trip to Hawaii to celebrate our 20th anniversary, what I love most about living in Minnesota in the winter is the fact that I can truly appreciate getting away to somewhere warm.  Aloha!

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