It's tough for those traveling as a family to go too terribly wrong in Hawaii. Stunning natural beauty; warm, inviting people; extraordinary culture and history; one-of-a-kind experiences and activities: All of those await visitors to the Aloha State. And it's certainly no secret that the Hawaiian Islands are also home to some of the planet's best family-focused accommodations.
"Hawaii is probably the most child-friendly destination anywhere in the world," said Susan Tanzman, president of Los Angeles-based Martin's Travel and Tours and an industry veteran who's been selling vacations to the Islands for more than 35 years. "And it really doesn't matter which property you go to, they all cater to families and children.
"Everything you do once you get there is family-friendly and encourages people to spend time with their children, because the culture is all about family," she added. "That is the whole essence of Hawaii: the family and the family unit."
Sheryl Graddon of Stellar Travel in Bellevue, Wash., agreed that as a family destination, the Islands finish right at the top.
"It's absolutely one of the best," said Graddon, a cruise and incentive specialist with more than 25 years of Hawaii experience. "In my opinion, Hawaii really is built to accommodate families." Oahu for families
Ask longtime Hawaii experts which properties are truly the best for families, and you'll get a range of answers. But some names do come up more frequently than others, and on Oahu, one that's mentioned often is the Turtle Bay Resort.
The 443-room property sits on a nearly five-mile stretch of the North Shore's gorgeous coastline and is just about as far removed from the bustling energy of Waikiki as one can get without boarding a plane.
"I think what the appeal is out here is that there is a good, strong, natural environment where kids can have a lot of space and explore and do things with their folks that they probably don't get to do at home," said Tom Cross, Turtle Bay's director of operations. "We just have an awful lot of things to do that kids enjoy and they're able to do with their families."
Tanzman said she regularly sends her family clients to Turtle Bay because of the great variety it offers.
"You've got horseback riding, and ... they have surfing lessons. The North Shore is a great place to learn how to surf," she said. "There's just a whole slew of different activities. It also has the condos there, so people can bring larger family groups because they've got three and four bedrooms."
Turtle Bay is also home to a great collection of pools for both adults and children, including a sandy-bottom wading pool that's perfect for toddlers. And, as you might expect, the beach and bay fronting the hotel offer some of the best sunbathing and swimming in the state.
"We do our surfing lessons right in front of the property, and parents can participate by just watching right off of the point there and even sneak in a mai tai or two," Cross said. "I don't know of any other area that's like that. In Waikiki, you'd have to have binoculars to watch somebody taking a lesson." Maui consensus
Both Graddon and Tanzman were quick to single out Kaanapali's Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa as a preferred property for many of their past clients.
"The Hyatt has a phenomenal program for children," Tanzman said. "And they have an incredible pool that's very conducive for kids."
Holding 750,000 gallons of water, the pool is home to a lava tube water slide and all sorts of interactive, kid-friendly features while also housing a grotto-style bar and a more serene area complete with waterfalls.
"The Hyatt is fabulous for families," Graddon said. "And my No. 1 reason for saying that, and I think other hotels need to jump on this bandwagon, is that the pool never closes, ever."
Graddon described that as "just a great selling point."
"I go back to what made my kids really happy, and they were just thrilled that they could use the pool late at night."
In addition to activities like fishing, arts and crafts, sand castle-building contests on a superb stretch of white-sand beach and "whale sails" leaving only a short walk from the hotel, guests with little ones at the Hyatt Regency Maui can also take in one of the resort's nightly Tour of the Stars programs.
"We have a director of astronomy on our property, and one of the largest telescopes here on our rooftop," said John Hernstat, Hyatt Regency Maui director of sales and marketing. "It's just an amazing, very serene environment on our rooftop, and it's an incredible show. We get great feedback, especially from families, and it's just a great way to learn about the stars and what's going on in the sky." Hawaii island haven
Families insisting on a property that offers an excellent swimming beach and superb ocean activities should consider the Big Island's Fairmont Orchid.
"They do a lot of really neat things at the Fairmont," Tanzman said. "And there are no waves at their beach. It's very easy on parents, and their beach shack does incredible things for kids."
Chris Luedi, the Orchid's general manager, couldn't agree more.
"I think the No. 1 most remarkable item is our lagoon and our white-sand beach," he said. "Obviously, on the Big Island that's not always available. ... It's perfectly calm and relatively shallow."
Luedi said the beach is especially good for children because parents "really don't have to be concerned about anything happening."
The Hawaii island property is also home to a team of highly experienced and knowledgeable on-staff "beach boys" who spend lots of time with families, taking folks out in the Hawaiian canoe and kayaks; teaching stand-up paddling and even Hawaiian arts and crafts and ancient games; or leading tours of the property's extensive Hawaiian petroglyph fields.
"All of them are great perpetuators of the Hawaiian culture," Luedi said. "They have a tremendous knowledge of Hawaiian culture that they are freely sharing on all levels, but beyond that they are also tremendous watermen."
Folks looking for close encounters with Hawaiian green sea turtles won't need to travel far.
"Here at our hotel they come right up on the beach," Luedi said. "And they bask in the sun, and you can literally go out and see these gigantic turtles just resting right there." Garden Isle gem
When families approach Graddon with an interest in traveling to Kauai, there's one property that always springs to mind.
"Absolutely the first thing that comes to mind is the Outrigger Waipouli," she said. "I don't think it gets much better, especially for families.
"You walk in and it's high-end appliances; it's granite countertops ... and the property has an excellent river pool that meanders through a couple of acres along with a flumed waterslide that people just love."
Cost, it seems, wasn't the overriding concern during the construction of the one- and two-bedroom condos at the Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort.
"When I first visited this property, I went 'Oh my gosh. This is amazing!'" said Teri Orton, vice president of condo resort marketing for Outrigger. "The developer really pulled out all the stops. I wish I could live there. It's that beautiful, and it's just ideal for families. ... The units have got all the amenities in a guestroom that you'd want in a home: Sub-Zero refrigerators, a washer and dryer, flat-screen TVs, dishwasher. And each bedroom has its own bathroom."
Located in Kapaa, right across the street from a shopping center and grocery store, the oceanfront property also features a restaurant and spa, and although the beach isn't a place for swimming, Orton said it's still excellent for families.
"It does have a lot of on-shore reef where there are great tide pools people can enjoy, and that's really great for kids," Orton explained. "And it's a nice walking and exercise beach if people want to take a stroll in the mornings or the evening to watch the sunset."