Simply mentioning Hawaii conjures up beachfront imagery and warm-water reveries in the minds of potential visitors. But there's far more to do there than just soak up the sun and sit in the sand.
It's the diversity of activity options that makes the Aloha State a great fit for so many family vacationers. There's such a wide range of experiences available that agent expertise about the best options for clients is always helpful.
For longtime Oahu resident and travel agent Paula Simpson Takamori, the owner of Travel to Paradise in Kailua, one of the island's old favorites still fascinates visitors.
"Pearl Harbor is still the No. 1 attraction for families visiting Oahu," she said. "It's a history lesson without feeling like school, [and] touring the 'Mighty Mo' battleship [Missouri Memorial] is fascinating for kids."
The Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park gives visitors a taste of what it’s like to be inside a sub. Photo Credit: Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority
Takamori also regularly suggests the Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, provided the clients are traveling with children older than age 4 and don't get too claustrophobic.
"Everyone, no matter their age, if they've never been on a submarine, they will be struck by the tight living quarters," she said, adding that anyone planning a day at Pearl Harbor's attractions should wear comfortable walking shoes.
The major Pearl Harbor draw is the USS Arizona Memorial and its very informative visitor center, which features a moving film about the events of Dec. 7, 1941, that all visitors view before their brief boat trip out to the sunken Arizona.
"Seeing the film and the visit to the USS Arizona Memorial is a solemn and often emotional tour," Takamori said. "And it's appropriate for children of all ages."
Families heading to Kauai, meanwhile, can choose from a variety of activity options, including a range of excursions that showcase the destination's stunning natural beauty.
For Neal Miller, president of the Neal Miller Travel Co. in Atlanta, a sunset sail along the jaw-dropping Na Pali coastline is a must.
"We use Holo Holo Charters," he said. "The crew, the boat and the overall level of customer service, food and beverage quality are just my favorite, [and] to see the Na Pali coast from the water and the way the sun hits the green cliffs, it looks like a movie backdrop."
For families spending time on the Big Island of Hawaii, Miller favors the Mountain Tubing Adventure product offered by Kauai Backcountry Adventures, which navigates a collection of old sugar plantation irrigation canals and tunnels.
"You actually get in a tube and float down the canal," Miller said, noting that he tells people the water feels "chilly at first but not to the point where people won't enjoy it."
"The guide will also explain the history of the channel as you go along," he added. "The longest tunnel, I think, is about a mile long. You're inside, and it's dark, and everyone has their headlamps on [and] it's my new favorite thing to do there."
Pearl Harbor remains the top destination for Hawaii vacationers. Photo Credit: Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority
Susan Tanzman, the president of Martin's Travel and Tours in Los Angeles, is quick to suggest a one-of-a-kind activity option for her family clients staying on the Big Island.
"It's the only place in the world that has a sea horse farm," she said. "That, for young kids, is just incredible, [and] at the end of the tour, you stick your hand in a big vat and the sea horse attaches its tail to your finger. So you actually hold a sea horse."
Families booked on Maui visits shouldn't miss the remarkable marine life at the Maui Ocean Center, according to Maureen Dinnocenzo, the owner of Above & Beyond Travel in Arnold, Calif.
"It has the largest display of live coral in the world," she said, adding that complimentary naturalist talks are offered nearly every hour. "It also offers hands-on interaction with sea critters, which kids love."
The Valley Isle's popular Road to Hana drive is another outing Dinnocenzo recommends to all her family clients, encouraging stops at the Keanae Valley lookout, Waianapanapa State Park, Wailua Falls and the seven pools at Oheo Gulch.
"And just past Hana, you can follow the road to a little church, where you will find the grave of Charles Lindberg," she added, describing another of east Maui's gorgeous oceanfront settings.