The Aloha State offers families a diverse range of vacation options that can be a little overwhelming for travelers trying to plan a trip to the Islands without the help of a knowledgeable expert.
Travel agents well versed in the characteristics of each of Hawaii's Neighbor Island destinations hold a bankable advantage, one that certainly sets them apart from less-informed travel pros but also makes them terrifically appealing to consumers fatigued by the glut of Aloha State information available on the Internet. Big Island
Take Maureen Dinnocenzo, owner of Above & Beyond Travel in Arnold, Calif., as an example. A certified master specialist for the Big Island of Hawaii who includes the phrase "Internet is for looking, travel agents are for booking" in her email signature, Dinnocenzo discovered that selling the destination as a one-of-a-kind natural wonder yields solid results.
"I tell people the Big Island has 13 of the 15 ecosystems you'll find on the planet all on one island," she said. "It's the only island in the world offering that, and people just generally aren't aware that they can experience so much diversity in one place."
From scorched lava field landscapes to verdant rain forests and soaring alpine summit environments approaching nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, the Big Island provides visitors with a collection of uncommon contrasts.
"I've flown in when it was raining at lower elevations but snowing up on Mauna Kea," Dinnocenzo said of the island's towering shield volcano. "You could be up there in the snow at the summit and then head to the beach in the afternoon. The place is just so versatile."
Communicating that variety to clients, and outlining the range of options a Big Island vacation can offer, is a huge key to selling the destination, Dinnocenzo explained, adding that "there's a lot more to the Big Island than just the beach."
The destination's growing number of farm-to-table activities is an area Dinnocenzo has found herself recommending more frequently to her family clients, including Kona coffee farms, the shrimp and abalone farm near the Kona Airport along with the popular Wednesday and Saturday farmers market in Hilo.
"The vanilla farm in the Hilo area is also a great family activity," she said, noting that it offers a fun educational component parents value. "They do a great tour of the farm, where you learn about the process of growing vanilla, [and] they have a little restaurant where you can have lunch with a variety of different vanilla flavorings."
Another activity Dinnocenzo recommends regularly for those traveling with children, one loaded with excitement and a chance to learn about a pivotal period in the Big Island's history, is Kohala Ditch Adventures on the North Shore (www.kohaladitchadventures.com
"Tubing in the irrigation ditches is so cool, and going through those tunnels is so much fun," she said. "It's something families don't think about doing on their own because they just don't know about it, [and] they get a chance to learn the history about [the demise of] the sugar plantation and why the tunnels aren't used for irrigation anymore." Kauai
For Paula Simpson Takamori, a certified Kauai master specialist and former Garden Isle resident, selling the destination is about capitalizing on first-time Hawaii visitors' expectations.
"Kauai is everything you always thought Hawaii was going to look like," she explained. "It's lush. It's green. You can actually drive up and look at a waterfall and have it right there in front of your nose, [and] it's a great place for families to connect with each other because you're going to get outside and do things together."
Calling the Garden Isle "very active," Takamori, who owns Oahu-based Travel to Paradise, said kayaking or learning to standup paddleboard on one of Kauai's navigable rivers, the only of their kind in Hawaii, are just two of many outdoor activities she sells regularly to visiting families.
"Heading up to see the back side of Kauai and the Napali coast with Holo Holo Charters is always great fun," she added, noting that the dramatic coastline is a must-see for visitors. "You're either walking in or flying over it or passing by in a boat, but you've got to do it." Visit www.holoholokauaiboattours.com
Like Dinnocenzo on the Big Island, Takamori sells a lot of condo accommodations to families on Kauai visits, generally due to the increased living space, kitchens and laundry facilities. She passed on some excellent advice about booking condos: many lack air conditioning, which, depending on where people are from and what month they are visiting, could be an issue.
"The end of August and into September can get pretty steamy here, [and] when you're coming from Houston or someplace where they live with air conditioning all the time, I really don't like to put those clients someplace without it," she said.
Takamori also stresses to families traveling to Kauai that they only visit beaches with lifeguards.
"There are so many beaches on Kauai, but they're not all safe," she said. "There are some bad rip currents and places where you just really shouldn't turn your back on the ocean." Maui
Maui has long been the most visited Neighbor Island, and according to Paula Quon, a Maui master specialist and the owner of San Francisco-based Supreme Travel, her clients often choose the Valley Isle because it has something for everyone.
"I think Maui is the middle of the road for everything," she said. "It offers the snorkeling, the water activities, but it also offers great natural beauty and hiking or other adventures for all age groups, [and] you'll still have enough city life for folks who want that, as well."
Budget generally decides where on Maui visitors end up staying, according to Quon, and one of the island's strong suits is its many condo properties that aren't too expensive, making comfortable and family-friendly accommodations plentiful for a range of markets.
For families traveling on stricter budgets, Quon likes condo options in the Kihei area, but the Wailea Beach Villas Resort (www
.drhmaui.com) is her favorite for luxury vacationers.
"They're just the top of the line," Quon said of the Wailea Beach Villas condos. "They have everything you can think of in there, including every little appliance, and so much room to spread out. Plus it's such a quiet place, and you have a lot of privacy."
Upcountry Maui and the community of Kula on the slopes of Haleakala, the Valley Isle's 10,000-foot shield volcano, is a day trip Quon frequently recommends to clients traveling with children, including a must-do stop at the Surfing Goat Dairy (www.surfinggoatdairy.com).
"People don't ever think about buying goat cheese on Maui and playing with little goats or feeding them," she said. "But it's such a great day trip away from the beach and away from water. I think people just see Hawaii as a beach resort, but there's a lot more, and on Maui there are many farm-to-table options for people to try."
Quon often books snorkeling or ziplining tours on Maui for family clients prior to their departure, earning commissions with companies operating in close proximity to her clients' accommodations.
"I don't want people to drive 45 minutes to an hour to get to an activity," she said.
She does, however, encourage day trips to the nearby islands of Lanai and Molokai, suggesting families take the first ferry of the day to avoid rough seas. Molokai is more family-friendly, according to Quon, and offers one of the state's most unique activities, Molokai mule rides to Kalaupapa.
"Families really enjoy that, and it's something you can't experience on any other island because there's just so much history down there," Quon said.
How Quon's clients return to Maui later in the day depends on their ocean experience.
"If they're seaworthy, I'll have them take the ferry back," she said, mentioning that the ferry is a great way to see humpback whales during the December to early May season, but the ride can get rough as wind picks up in the afternoon. "If they're not seaworthy, I'll have them fly back."