Looking for some insight into what makes certain Aloha State hotels a better choice for traveling families, I spoke recently with several longtime Hawaii experts about three of the destination's top-notch resorts.
An overview of each property's family-friendly appeal and some specific selling strategies follows. Captivating Newcomer: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
Confining an entire Hawaii vacation solely within the boundaries of one resort hasn't traditionally made much sense.
There's so much to see and do on each of the islands that families generally want to get out and experience firsthand as much of the state's rich diversity as possible.
It wasn't shocking, however, to hear Paula Singleton, the owner of Sunrise Travel in Mission Viejo, Calif., tell me more of her clients are forgoing car rentals when booking stays at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa on the west coast of Oahu.
"People are really enjoying just staying at the resort because there is so much to do," she said. "I'm finding a lot of clients saying, 'I didn't use my car,' so now I'm telling my clients they don't need one."
Having stayed at the 21-acre oceanfront property twice since its grand opening in August 2011, I can certainly understand why families might not be in a hurry to venture out.
Home to one of the state's top children's programs, operated throughout more than 8,000 square feet of both indoor and outdoor facilities at the resort's Aunty's Beach House, Aulani also has an outstanding collection of kid-friendly water features in its central Waikolohe Valley, including several pools, two thrilling water slides, a 900-foot-long lazy river, the Rainbow Reef manmade snorkeling pool loaded with tropical fish and the 2,100-square-foot Menehune Bridge water play area full of spinning and splashing water toys and all sorts of climbing structures.
Along with the protected ocean lagoon fronting the resort, which is terrific for little ones looking to play in the Pacific and activities like standup paddleboarding or snorkeling, Aulani also offers one of Hawaii's most unique family experiences at its 18,000-square-foot Laniwai Spa.
"We have rooms that can accommodate mom, dad and two kids with separate bathroom facilities and an outdoor area," said Elliot Mills, the resort's vice president and general manager. "It's very spacious, so it's not everybody crammed into a small room, [and] it's a place where they can get a service together, enjoy lunch, relax and then be leisurely throughout the spa."
Aulani also features Hawaii's only spa designed specifically for teens at its Painted Sky facility, offering teen-specific massages, manicures, facials and pedicures plus a range of services for young guys. There's also a yogurt bar, interactive computer-based games and evening programming designed specifically for older kids.
"The redo in Waikiki has been lovely, but your 3- and 4-year-olds aren't going to have that much fun there," Singleton said. "The Aulani, on the other hand, really does have something for kids of all ages, and it lets parents have a relaxing vacation while the children are having a great time." High-end Hospitality: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at historic Kaupulehu
When children check in with their parents at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu on the Big Island, they're welcomed with chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk.
And later, when they finally get a chance to explore their guestroom, they'll find child-size bathrobes and a selection of bathroom amenities designed specifically for them.
"Kids love it because it makes them feel special," said Roselle Cohen, a luxury travel consultant working for Protravel International in Los Angeles. "It's like grandma's taking care of them."
Cohen has been selling vacations to Hawaii for 30 years and told me the Four Seasons Hualalai is one of her absolute favorites for clients traveling with children.
"For families, it's just so easy," she explained. "I always know they are going to come back happy, and a happy client is one you keep."
Seven miles north of the Kona Airport, the 32-acre, oceanfront property features seven pools, including a sand-bottomed wading pool great for toddlers and King's Pond, a 1.8-million-gallon saltwater snorkeling lagoon housing more than 3,000 tropical fish and spotted eagle rays.
For Simone Rayden, another consultant with 30 years' experience selling Hawaii trips and one of Cohen's colleagues at the Los Angeles Protravel office, the resort's safety is a helpful selling tool.
"Kids can actually walk around, from a friend's room to another friend's room, across the whole resort, and you feel comfortable with their safety, which isn't true at a lot of hotels," she explained.
"And their beaches aren't huge, but they're really, really nice," she added. "You can snorkel right off the beach and kayak, and they're definitely not big wave beaches, so for kids they're great."
Both Rayden and Cohen were big fans of the resort's largely complimentary Kids for All Seasons program, which offers separate programming for younger children and teens with a host of Hawaiian cultural activities and several unique field trips.
"They'll go, for example, to the seahorse farm, and the kids can actually touch them and learn about them and then have a picnic lunch there," Rayden said. "So that's something unique where parents can have time to themselves, knowing their kids are really experiencing something terrific." Superb Shoreline: Kauai Marriott Resort
Depending on the season, the island of Kauai can be home to some of Hawaii's most dangerous coastlines, afflicted by dangerous ocean currents and powerful waves that can make swimming treacherous.
And while no shoreline is ever 100% safe, Kalapaki Beach, a broad stretch of golden sand fronting the Kauai Marriott Resort, is one of the Garden Isle's most family-friendly oceanfronts, nestled in the western corner of Nawiliwili Harbor.
"It's the most swimmable resort beach on the island," said Sally Halm, the director of sales at the Kauai Marriott Resort. "And it's a large beach where kids can have a really good time."
A first-rate studio for aspiring sand castle architects, Kalapaki is excellent for younger children and often home to a shore break gentle enough for the really little ones to enjoy splashing about in the Pacific, all just 50 yards or so from the Kauai Marriott.
"It's very calm, and I don't worry about families there," said Mary Walton, owner of Passport to Travel in Modesto, Calif., who said the protected nature of Kalapaki is a big selling point for her clients traveling with smaller children. "You're not out in the open because it's a cove, and that's so nice."
Walton also sells the hotel by touting the range of available ocean activities, offered in partnership with the Kauai Beach Boys concession on Kalapaki Beach, including outrigger canoe rides, kayaking, standup paddleboarding and even surf lessons at a great break for kids as young as 4 or 5.
"And the pool is sensational," she said. "Kids of all ages love it because it's such a great big one."
Refurbished in the summer of 2010, the 26,000-square-foot pool area is the largest single-level pool in Hawaii, according to Halm, and features a dedicated children's area with a twisting slide and a range of water features.
And the Kauai Marriott's complimentary airport shuttle, which makes use of a private road linking the resort property with the arrivals terminal, is another key selling point for Walton, who said her family clients really like the idea of a five-hour flight to Lihue from the West Coast followed by only a five-minute shuttle ride directly to the hotel.
"And if they want to rent a car, we have Enterprise on property," Halm said. "Or we can bring them back to the airport if they prefer Hertz or another car rental company, so that way families don't have to rent a car for the entire time and pay extra for parking."
Overcoming sticker shock
Hawaii hotel properties like Aulani, a Disney Spa & Resort on Oahu and the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu on the Big Island charge guests some hefty per night room fees, starting at $399 for a standard room at Aulani and around $895 a night at the Four Seasons Hualalai.
The agents I spoke with who sell the properties regularly said both offer a range of complimentary services, however, that often help nudge families past that initial room rate shock.
"They don't nickel and dime," Simone Rayden, a travel consultant working for Protravel International in Los Angeles, said of the Four Seasons Hualalai. "A lot of times if you look at the pricing for a room there vs. another hotel, once you add in no resort fees and no fees for all these excellent programs for the kids, it isn't that much different."
According to Paula Singleton, owner of Sunrise Travel in Mission Viejo, Calif., clearly outlining the value of Aulani's pools and various water features within the property's Waikolohe Valley is key to selling the Disney resort to families.
"Plus the children's club is so good, and there's no cost," she added. "So you don't have to tell your clients that per hour they'll have to pay this much for the program, [and] Disney has offered a resort credit that's wonderful and a free night promotion."
Families can also take advantage of a 50% Off Your Second Room promotion available at the Four Seasons Hualalai much of the year.-- S.N.