Photo: Courtesy of Wet'n'Wild Hawaii
For families, Hawaii is nothing short of a child's playground, brimming with a slew of activities and experiences that reimagine the classic family vacation destination. The beauty of Hawaii (aside from the lush greenery and miles of picturesque beaches, of course) is that there's something for all ages of children and every type of personality—whether it be a water park for energetic toddlers, swimming with dolphins for adventurous children, or a national park for curious tweens and teens. Best part: these attractions aren't just for kids—they're enjoyable for the entire family.
Though travelers have been faced with significant pandemic-related changes when it comes to getting to the island, Hawaii's Safe Travels restrictions are no longer in effect and families can once again travel to the state freely without any COVID-related requirements. TL;DR: It's time to buckle up for some Hawaii family fun. Here are some fun ideas of things to do in Hawaii with kids.
Have a Disney lover on your hands? The character breakfast at the Disney Aulani Resort in Oahu is a must, especially considering the experience is now open to all Disney lovers (versus during the pandemic, when it was restricted to only resort guests after its May reopening). The fun begins at check-in where guests are escorted to greet and pose for photos with Mickey Mouse—a warm welcome that sets the stage for the rest of the adventure. (FYI: the resort has a professional photographer on hand to take these photos which you can purchase later, though they'll happily take photos on your phone as well). Families are then taken through a path where they'll get to meet Chef Goofy before being seated at either a table indoors (where you can catch glimpses of Goofy whipping up some pancakes) or out on the lanai (which is situated next to a beautiful koi pond). Your child won't need crayons or colouring to keep them busy while waiting for their meal—there's enough to keep them entertained as various Disney characters (like Chip 'n Dale, Pluto, and Max) make their way from table to table (along with a live musician for some added ambience). As for the food? Opt for the Mickey and Minnie waffles—they're as adorable as they are tasty.
A visit to Hawaii isn’t complete without some time spent at sea, especially for kiddos who are water lovers. Mana Cruises is a solid family-friendly option, as they offer private charters for parties of six or less, with three vessels to choose from. If you’re looking for more comfort, try the Hilina'i—it comes with all the makings of an enjoyable (and stress-free) ride, including multiple air-conditioned rooms (for when it’s time to nap the baby), bathrooms (plus a rinse-off shower to use after taking a dip in the ocean), and a full kitchen (including a stovetop to cook up your picky toddler’s favourite foods, though the charters also offer a Keiki menu for little ones). Ocean lovers will love scouting the sea for creatures like dolphins, Hawaiian Monk Seals, and turtles, and they'll even get an opportunity to stop and snorkel (life jackets, snorkeling gear and inflatable water toys are provided).
Located in the Kapolei community in Oahu, Wet'n'Wild is one of Hawaii's top destinations and worth the trek no matter what age your children are or where you're staying on the island. The park offers 26 rides and attractions to choose from, including the newly designed Lil Kahuna Beach, which caters specifically to families with young ones. The attraction sits on a sprawling 8,000 square-foot area that offers everyone from new walkers to toddlers to young children the chance to explore non-intimidating (but still thrilling!) slides as well as exciting tipping buckets, endless spray features, and kiddie pools (with water no more than one foot deep). This space has multiple ramps (so it's stroller-friendly) and is also great for groups as you can reserve a cabana, which comes with a water- and fruit-filled cooler. For older kids, Wet'n'Wild has a range of exhilarating rides—from chill experiences like the lazy river to more extreme ones like the surf simulator that'll give you—and your kids—an instant boost of adrenaline.
If your child wants to get up close and personal with the friendliest creature of the sea, the dolphin experience at Sea Life Park will make for a memorable experience (and one that you'll be able to take home with you via the professional photos the staff takes). There are several packages to choose from, all of which depend on your child's age. Babies over the age of one can say Aloha to the dolphins in a special feeding experience (without having to get wet) while those over age three can hop in waist-deep water and pet, feed, and "Hula dance" (in true Hawaiian spirit) with the dolphins. Kiddos over age eight get the most hands-on time with the dolphins, including getting the chance to hold them. Once you're done learning about and interacting with the park's dolphin family, stick around for the dolphin show and visit the park's other attractions like bird feeding, shark viewing, and sea lion splashing. (FYI: the dolphin encounters have a few rules like no jewelry or 3D nail art, so plan accordingly—you'll also want to take your own towels, though the park sells them in the gift shop if you forget.)
Hawaii may be revered for its sandy beaches and bright blue water, but Gunstock Ranch shows off the island's western countryside. The ranch, which is situated in the North Shore along the Ko’olau Mountains, features 900 acres of spacious land and offers several kid-friendly activities to choose from, including pony and horseback riding. Choose the scenic horseback ride if you're traveling with children seven or older—it offers nearly two hours of small group riding, with charming views of the North Shore coastline. Also available for little riders two and older are the pony rides, which allows parents to walk next to their children as a wrangler leads the way around the ranch. The 30-minute adventure finishes off with the opportunity to feed and pet the ponies—an experience sure to bring a smile to kiddos and parents alike.
If you have a nature lover on your hands, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park located on the Big Island is sure to delight your tween or teen. The site is home to two active volcanoes, with Kilauea being the one visitors flock to at sunrise or dusk to get even just a mere glimpse of its flowing lava (be sure to bring a flashlight to really see the glow). Other than the eruption viewing, there are plenty of hands-on activities to take advantage of at the park, including hiking trails with breathtaking scenery along with informative after-dark presentations any inquisitive mind will appreciate.