For many, Islands have become a home away from home

Families can explore the history of pineapple plantations and sample some of the fresh fruit at Dole Park on Lanai.
Families can explore the history of pineapple plantations and sample some of the fresh fruit at Dole Park on Lanai. Photo Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Dana Edmunds

Hawaii is the type of destination that grabs a family early and never lets go, travel providers said. Some U.S. families have been taking their regular vacation to the Islands for generations.

"Hawaii is like a home away from home for many people, and many families do see it as their second home," said Joelle Arriola, Classic Vacations' director of product for Hawaii. "Often they end up making a long-term investment and come back again and again. Maybe they start off with their honeymoon, then the babymoon, then they make the trip for a family vacation. It becomes a tradition across generations."

Tourism is up across the board in Hawaii, and that includes visitors traveling with at least one child under the age of 17.

Families are turning to Hawaii as a relatively safe and easy destination and are also taking advantage of a wave of property openings and renovations over the last few years that have opened up new areas. The majority of family travelers to Hawaii are repeat visitors, and a renewed focus on bringing the Hawaiian culture and traditions to the forefront of the visitor experience has created opportunities for enriching activities on the Islands.

"There has been a revival in Hawaii of focus on the local culture and reflecting that in the properties and products aimed at tourists," said Julia Douglas, president of Jet Set World Travel in Chicago. "Now Hawaii is more conscious of the fact that it needs to embrace its culture as a real selling point for visitors."

In separate conversations, Travel Weekly contributor Tovin Lapan spoke about family travel to Hawaii with Arriola and Douglas, two experienced Hawaii travel professionals, to get some insight on what's new and interesting in the Islands for travelers who have kids in tow

TW: What are you hearing as far as interest from families in Hawaii?

Julia Douglas
Julia Douglas

Douglas: For a while, people who wanted tropical vacations in the Pacific were looking at French Polynesia, the Maldives and Fiji. There was no newness in Hawaii for a long time. Now you have properties like the Four Seasons opening [last June] on Oahu but outside of Waikiki in the new Ko Olina development where Disney Aulani is. There are new openings and renovations, and there is more buzz. When I talk to other agents and friends about what is hot this year … Hawaii is on the list.

TW: Have issues such as safety and health concerns in other parts of the world made Hawaii more attractive?

Arriola: Hawaii is such a safe vacation for domestic travelers. It's exotic but it's still part of the U.S. It is not too far from the West Coast. And whether you have an infant or a teenager, it is seamless. There are a range of accommodations and packages that will suit everyone.

Douglas: With Zika, fewer families are going to the Caribbean and are at least temporarily redirecting vacations. Especially families with young kids and couples on babymoons or honeymoons.

It's just safer to avoid that area for right now. Also, while the cost of other tropical destinations has risen, Hawaii airfares have come into check and are not as steep as before.

TW: What trends are you seeing in terms of the activities families want?

Joelle Arriola
Joelle Arriola

Arriola: They all want to experience the cuisine side of it. A lot of them are looking for new and cool local food experiences. Experiences and unique activities, like luaus, hikes, helicopter tours and cultural events, are also very popular right now.

Douglas: A lot of families are looking for adventure activities, and for Hawaii that really depends on what island you are on. On Kauai there's river kayaking and ziplining. On Maui, there is great mountain biking and sports like stand-up paddleboarding. Also, agrotourism and the farm-to-table dining movement have caught on.

On the [Island of Hawaii] they have Kona coffee tours, and on Maui there are lavender farms and farm stays. Even for families, it's a great activity. Kids love understanding where things come from. They get to pull carrots out of the ground and see where honey comes from. It's interesting on any level, and more and more families are wellness minded. 

TW: Are there particular islands or areas especially good for families?

Arriola: Oahu is the bustling island and it offers something for everyone.

If you have a multigenerational family vacation, Oahu may be the way to go. There are quiet areas for grandparents, but teenagers can go shopping down Kalakaua Avenue or at the International Marketplace. The kids can go to Waikiki Beach while the parents hang out by the pool. And then, if you go to the North Shore, it's different. It's less touristy.

Douglas: I think the diversity of the islands allows Hawaii to appeal to all audiences, so it really depends what you are looking for. If you seek a health-oriented hideaway, raw food and fresh juice experience, hot yoga and a barefoot, boho-chic vibe, Hanalei [on Kauai] is your place. If you prefer waterslides, oversize pools, family luaus and endless entertainment, then resorts like the Grand Wailea on Maui are a perfect fit. By contrast, Lanai delivers a supremely relaxing and restorative place to unwind. I've booked three honeymoon couples there who all conceived.

TW: What tips and advice can you share for booking family vacations?

Arriola: Most families are on the same schedule, so booking ahead is really important. Hawaii gets booked pretty quickly. For families, their vacations, like spring break, are typically around the same time. To get the best possible price and the itinerary you want, you need to plan ahead. 

Douglas: In Hawaii, it's not as hard to move between islands, and there really is a lot of diversity between the islands, and good reasons to visit each one. If you are going away for a week or more, you can combine two or three of the islands. On Lanai, you can visit pineapple farms and see spinner dolphins. Kauai's north shore, by contrast, is one of the wettest places on Earth and offers breathtaking waterfalls. On [Hawaii], with its volcanic landscape, there could not be a starker contrast. It's a completely different color and texture.

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