Whenever we step off the plane in Hawaii, I immediately feel a great sense of calm wash over me with the warm, tropical air. For our entire family, these islands always are a welcome respite from the middle of the dark and rainy winters in Seattle. Our most recent trip took us to Oahu. What I liked about this island was the diversity of vacation experiences for families. From the nightlife and luxury shopping in Honolulu, to the secluded luxury resorts of Ko Olina and the big-surf beaches on the North Shore, there was something for everyone. Oahu also offers ample choices of luxury family hotels. Here are three such hotels to consider on your next trip to Hawaii’s most populated island.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
We just returned from our first visit to Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, in Ko Olina. Aulani is a 30-minute drive from Honolulu International Airport and is one of the most family-centric Hawaiian luxury resorts we ever have visited. Every detail has been meticulously conceptualized in Disney style, but the property is surprisingly Hawaii-centric. The Daily ‘Iwa newsletter helps you plan your days, while one-, two- and three-bedroom villas with full kitchens give families the option of cooking in or eating out. (There are standard rooms and suites, too.) If your kids are 3-12 years old, they will enjoy spending time experiencing the many programs offered at Aunty’s Beach House, while you relax over a sunset dinner at ‘Ama ’Ama restaurant. Each night, we reconvened for “together time” with an outdoor movie under the stars, or a Starlit Hui. Most of the “extras” are included in your stay at Aulani. We spent our days floating down the lazy river, snorkeling Rainbow Reef (with live fish!), or building sandcastles on the protected lagoon beach. The new Ka Maka Landing features a splash zone for smaller kids, new poolside and beach-side dining, and a family-friendly infinity pool that is perfect for incredible sunset swims. Kids will love the new realistic grotto and after-dark swimming experience with glittering lights. My daughters really enjoyed meandering the Menehune Adventure Trail, a high-tech scavenger hunt on which they can solve riddles, search for statues, and learn fun facts about Hawaiian culture left by mischievous little people with special powers. All this Disney magic and more is included in your stay.
Viewfinder tip: Take advantage of resort credits to save on daily poolside drinks and pupus during your visit.
Turtle Bay Resort
When you vacation with your kids, do you prefer to get away from the hustle and bustle of busy cities? If so, on Oahu, head north an hour to the North Shore, near the secluded luxury of the Turtle Bay Resort. Sitting on five miles of beachfront off of the main highway, Turtle Bay is an oceanfront luxury resort nestled on the edge of the world famous Turtle Bay Golf Course, a legendary course designed by Arnold Palmer and George Fazio. The property will complete a big renovation in 2014, and accommodation options include newly renovated ocean view guest rooms, as well as beach cottages and three- and four-bedroom villas with kitchens. You can spend your days lounging by the pool, hike Turtle Bay’s many trails, or hop in the car for a short drive to the Polynesian Cultural Center (in Laie) to learn about the culture and history of Hawaii and other Polynesian islands. Of course you also can watch famous surfers catch a big wave, or stand in line for a delicious shrimp plate at the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.
The Royal Hawaiian
There is something majestic about the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel, dubbed the “Pink Princess of the Pacific.” Built in 1927, it is one of the oldest (and most beautiful, in my opinion) hotels on Waikiki Beach. In 2008-2009, the Royal underwent a complete renovation and now includes gorgeous rooms with modern amenities (such as mini-fridge, WiFi, luxurious bathrooms, and iPod docking stations), though it still preserves its old Hawaiian charm. In 2013, the hotel was the opening scene of the Season-Six premiere of one of my favorite shows, Mad Men. I giggled with delight watching Don Draper lounge luxuriously in a beautifully styled Royal Hawaiian suite. I stayed at the Royal Hawaiian on my own in the summer of 2013; the ocean view room was spacious enough to sleep our family of four. The hotel also has two pools and 34 suites to accommodate larger families. My favorite part of my visit to the Royal Hawaiian: Discovering the vintage art and mid-century modern furnishings. My mind went wild dreaming of how many Hollywood stars, surfing legends, and heads of state had graced the open breezeways and beachfront over the years. This Luxury Collection Hotel, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, puts families right in the heart of Waikiki in vintage, modern style.
What is your favorite Oahu family resort?