Subscribe today
Get Cruise Critic in your inbox
Home > Ports > Hawaii > Honolulu
Beyond the Sea: Port Mini-Breaks
Families | Couples | Seniors
Honolulu: Families

Why You Need to Spend Three Days Here: Oahu is a 594-square-mile playground that meets every possible definition of fun. Sure, you'll want to spend time at the beach. But if you can tear yourselves away from the sand and sea, you'll find all sorts of other family-friendly diversions -- from fairs and festivals to plays and parades.

Tip: If you're planning to do a lot of sightseeing, you may want to consider purchasing a Power Pass card, good for one, two, three or five days. The card entitles you to free admission and special offers at a number of Honolulu's most popular attractions.

Show and Tell: Waikiki Trolley tours; Aloha Flea Market; Hawaii Nature Center; Hawaii Maritime Center; Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park; Dole Plantation; Hawaii Children's Museum; Paradise Cove or Germaine's luau; Honolulu Theatre for Youth performances; Punahou Carnival; AT&T's Wildest Show in Town summer concert series at the Honolulu Zoo; festivals, including the Korean Festival and Pacific Island Arts Festival (January), Narcissus Festival (January or February, depending on the lunar calendar), Cherry Blossom Festival and Honolulu Festival (March), Hawaii International Jazz Festival and Hawaii Scottish Festival (April), Lei Day and Samoa Festival (May), Pan-Pacific Festival Matsuri in Hawaii and King Kamehameha Celebration (June), Tahiti Festival (July), Aloha Festivals (September), Honolulu City Lights (December).

Amazing Freebies Worth Pursuing: Shows at Ala Moana Center's Centerstage; mini Polynesian Cultural Center show and hula, ukulele and lei-making lessons at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center; Changing of the Guard ceremony at King's Village; King's Jubilee and Fireworks Show at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa (free if you don't sit poolside); and the Children's Garden at the University of Hawaii's Urban Garden Center.

Home Away from Home
Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach and Outrigger Reef on the Beach are on Waikiki Beach less than a mile from the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium and Kapiolani Park. Families will appreciate the in-room video games and family movies on demand via the hotel's TV system; coin-operated laundry; and year-round series of Hawaiiana programs. The Outrigger Reef on the Beach has a Humpback Whale Information Kiosk, made available through a partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society and the National Marine Sanctuary Program. The easy-to-use touch-screen is a fun way for visitors to learn about these protected marine mammals. There also are seasonal activities such as cookie decorating during the winter holidays. Stay a minimum of three nights and each child aged 5 through 10 receives a free Island Explorer Kit, including a child-sized backpack and educational booklet about Hawaii. Each booking of a minimum of five nights comes with a Catch A Wave certificate good for a free canoe ride for two, two-hour surfboard rental with an introductory land lesson, or a catamaran sail for one.

Young guests of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in Waikiki will love the Rainbow Express Keiki (Children's) Club, featuring activities and field trips to Waikiki attractions that revolve around a different theme each day (for example, Monday is Take Care of the Sea Day, and Friday is Sports Day). Other reasons that make this hotel a top-notch family pick: a Vacation Station Library stocked with toys and games that can be borrowed at no charge; a weekly tour that teaches kids about the intriguing resident wildlife, including penguins, flamingoes, swans, macaws and parrots; special children's menus in three restaurants; and the Bishop Museum Collection, a trove of treasured Hawaiian artifacts, including feather cloaks, tools and weapons, and a favorite surfboard of famed beachboy Duke Kahanamoku.

Of the 783 rooms at the Ilikai Hotel and Suites, 260 have full kitchens, providing convenience and savings for families. Kitchens are equipped with a four-burner stove, microwave, refrigerator, sink, cookware, glasses, dishes, silverware and coffeemaker along with complimentary coffee and tea. Accommodations also are available with separate bedroom and sitting areas and sofa sleepers, providing families with plenty of room to spread out and relax. Canoes at the Ilikai offers children's menus, and children 4 and younger eat buffet meals free when dining with their parents.

Day One: Waikiki
There's much more to Waikiki than its world-renowned beaches, and most of it is family-oriented! Start with visits to the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo (ask about their education programs, which include reef walks and behind-the-scenes tours with zookeepers, respectively). In a special area of the zoo for younger children, kids are able to meet a menagerie of friendly animals, including a cow, goats, pigs, guinea pigs, llamas and chickens.

Next on the itinerary: a picnic lunch at Kapiolani Park (you can take out everything from burgers to bento, or Japanese box lunches, at restaurants in Waikiki). From there, board an Atlantis submarine for a close-up look at an array of colorful underwater life. Wind up the day with a surfing lesson, outrigger canoe ride, playtime at the beach -- or all three!

Day Two: North Shore Drive
Rent a car and head north to the lush windward side of Oahu through Kaneohe and Kahaluu. There are plenty of stops to make along the way, including Kualoa Ranch (offering horseback rides, ATV tours, movie set/ranch tours, kayaking and more); Polynesian Cultural Center (spotlighting the cultures of eight South Pacific islands, including Hawaii); charming Haleiwa town; and legendary surf spots such as Sunset and Ehukai beaches.

Foodies will want to peruse the wares at roadside fruit stands, pause for a shave ice at Matsumoto Shave Ice and a slice of chocolate haupia (coconut pudding) pie at Ted's Bakery (59-024 Kamehameha Highway), and enjoy lunch at Kua Aina (66-160 Kamehameha Highway) -- with its fabulous burgers and sandwiches -- or Romy's Shrimp, which cooks up fresh crustaceans raised on its own farm.

Day Three: Southeast Oahu Drive
Hop in the car again, this time headed east from Waikiki. First stop: Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Because this is a Marine Life Conservation District, the underwater life is varied and plentiful. A tip: Go early (the preserve opens at 6 a.m. year round) because when the parking lot is full, visitors are turned away at the entrance.

From Hanauma, round the eastern tip of Oahu and park before you reach the lighthouse at Makapuu Point. A paved hiking trail begins beyond the gate on the right side of the road. It's a relatively easy climb that'll reward you with a breathtaking view of the Koolau Mountains, Rabbit Island and the entire windward coastline.

After that, spend a few hours at Sea Life Park, which features fascinating marine exhibits, entertaining shows starring akamai (smart) finned creatures, and participate in an interactive session with dolphins and stingrays. Either eat lunch here or right by the ocean at Makapuu Beach. If it's Sunday, you may want to see if there's a polo match going on at nearby Waimanalo Polo Field before heading back to Waikiki.

--by Honolulu-based Cheryl Tsutsumi, who writes "Hawaii's Backyard," a weekly column for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. She's also written seven books about Hawaii, the most recent of which, "Hanauma Bay: Hawaii's Coastal Treasure", was just released by Island Heritage Publishing.
For more details, go to our mini-break toolbox
About UsAdvertisingEditorial DisclaimerPress
PrivacySite MapStoreSubscribe

Thank You For Signing Up!

Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add to your address book.

We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.