Thanksgiving is that time of the year when we celebrate the year gone by. It also marks the beginning of the holiday season and a trip with family is a great way to welcome the festive season. This year we decided to travel to the Paradise of the Pacific, for a family vacation in Hawaii. With diverse stunning beaches, unique flora & fauna and fun adventure activities galore, Hawaii Islands is a wonderful family vacation destination. Ohana (meaning family) is very important in Hawaiian culture and this is evident in the hospitality of the people of Hawaii. We chose to visit Oahu Island because besides being one of the best Hawaii islands for family vacation, there are a plethora of activities for kids.
We hopped on the 10-hour flight from Houston and landed in Honolulu at around 10 pm to start our family trip to Hawaii. We picked up our rental car from the airport and were pleasantly surprised to be given a Jeep with a sunroof. It seemed to be the perfect way to explore and enjoy this tropical island at a very reasonable cost. We headed to our hotel at Waikiki Beach which is the heart of Hawaii and one of the best places to stay in Hawaii for families. We woke up to a spectacular view of the mountains from our hotel room. Considering that we had to adjust to a 5-hour time difference, we planned on keeping our first day in Hawaii easy. Thanks to a comfortable flight and rested night, we were all fresh and ready to start the day, bright and early.
A picturesque view of Hawaiian mountains from our hotel room
We spent the morning at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, which is a shopping plaza right next to our hotel. Different from shopping centers we are used to, a visit to The Royal Hawaiian Center is an experience in itself. The legendary Helumoa glowing in the center embodies ancient history. The Royal Grove with numerous coconut trees and indegenous and endemic flora was beautiful. A bubbling pond with the statue of a princess enhanced the ambience of this unique place. The Royal Hawaiian Food Court was filled with flavorful aromas enticing visitors to grab a bite. It is one of the best places to go in Hawaii to enjoy a cultural experience with many performances and activities that take place here.
Enjoying our Hawaii family vacation at Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center
After the retail therapy at Royal Hawaiian Center, we headed to Waikiki Beach. The pathway was lined with numerous surfboards that were stored by surfers. The fact that Hawaii is famous for surfing is very evident here. Possibly the most popular beach in the most beautiful island of Hawaii, Oahu, the shoreline has numerous hotels around. The beach was packed with tourists so after spending an hour there, we headed to our next pitstop, the Maitai Catamaran tour, also known as Waikiki Catamaran Cruise.
A fun time with my kids on Waikiki Beach, one of the many gorgeous beaches in Hawaii
In Hawaii catamarans are common owing to the gusty winds in this region that can topple regular boats. The dual hulls in catamarans maintain the stability of the boat. We were all excited about the Waikiki Catamaran Cruise and this experience because we were told that we would spot whales or dolphins.
This is my lovely family enjoying the Catamaran Waikiki Cruise before it embarks on the Waikiki sail
We sipped on delicious Maitai, a famous drink in Hawaii while enjoying the panoramic view of the Waikiki skyline. Sailing further, we suddenly spotted dolphins in the distance. They were leaping out of the water and it seemed like they were performing for us! As we approached closer, they were swimming alongside our sailboat. This was the highlight for my kids who were absolutely fascinated with these entertaining creatures. This is a 1.5-hour experience worth every minute. A word of advice here, make sure you book Waikiki Catamaran Cruise ahead of time as it invariably is booked out, almost always.
View of the Waikiki skyline showcasing the modern Waikiki island colony from Catamaran
After the Catamaran Cruise in Waikiki, we headed to Ala Moana Beach, also known as the "Magic Island Beach". En route we indulged in the famous flavored shaved ice which is served everywhere. This beach is a little outside Waikiki and is not only one of Hawaii's best kept secrets but also one of the best places to visit in Hawaii. It is more of a local spot and tourists are not very aware of this beach. There is a lagoon-like section on the beach which resembles a large swimming pool. Here the water is clean and there are not many waves making it a great spot for kids to play in. It is a safe place for swimming lessons, playing beach volleyball and other fun activities. We had a great time just lazing around and taking in the ambience of this gorgeous beach.
This is Ala Moana magic island which looks like a large swimming pool
We then returned to Waikiki and visited the International Market Center. This is an open-air shopping center with a rich and interesting history. This place used to be the residence of the first Hawaiian king, William Charles Lunalilo. It was later opened as a commercial center in 1956. Over the years this center evolved into its current modern avatar. It was fascinating to know about the history of this market center. It was a Friday night and there were performers everywhere with entertainment galore. We wandered around and soaked in the amazing culture and spirit of this beautiful island. We ended our day with a scrumptious meal at one of the restaurants in the International Market Center. Covid protocols were very stringent across the island and we were asked to present our vaccination certificates almost everywhere we went.
"Check out my ride" says my little one, enjoying some fun time in International Market Center
After a restful night, we were super excited about our schedule for day 2 which was exploring the east side of Oahu. You need a reservation for Hanauma Bay State Park visit, which is one of Oahu's jewels and the best vacation spots in Hawaii. The 'curved' Hanauma Bay is formed within a volcano crater with lava rocks seen all the way up to the shore. It was declared a protected marine life conservation area and underwater Hanauma Bay State Park in 1967. It is the most famous tourist attraction in Hawaii and a unique spot for snorkelling in Hanauma Bay With its wide variety of marine life just two feet from the shore, snorkelling here is safe and easy even for non-swimmers and open to all age groups. We had our own snorkelling gear but they are also available to rent at about $25 per set. My older son and I spent several hours snorkelling while my wife and younger son enjoyed lazing around. It was well worth the entrance fee of $25 per person. The water of course was slightly murky but the marine life in these natural reefs was captivating.
The weather in Hanauma Bay was perfect for some family fun and adventure
Our next stop was Lanai Lookout point on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Oahu's eastern shore has probably the most stunning coastline in Hawaii and some of the best vacation islands in Hawaii. Among the many well-known lookout points, Lanai Lookout offers uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding islands. The highlight of this place is the unique layered rock formations. The view of the waves crashing into the rocks makes for one of the most spectacular photo opportunities. Undoubtedly, this is the best part of Hawaii to visit between December and May. Sometimes, visitors get lucky and spot Humpback off the coast. We were not so lucky, but the view was definitely worth the trip. You can also do snorkeling in Lanai.
Lanai, rightfully called Garden of the Gods has these unique rock formations sculpted by the waves
Today was our day to experience the famous Halona Blowhole Lookout in Oahu. When creating the itinerary, I was really intrigued by this place and was excited to witness its beauty and uniqueness. It is believed that Halona Blowhole was formed due to volcanic activity, thousands of years ago with lava tubes running below the ocean. During high tides, the force of the waves shoots water like a jet spray into the air, sometimes to a height of 30 feet. Tourists visiting Halona Blowhole Lookout are in anticipation of witnessing this spectacle but I guess you have to be lucky and the tides should cooperate as well. This phenomenon is believed to be an amazing sight. Halona Blowhole Caves and Makapu'u Lighthouse are also some of the places to visit in Hawaii
Halona Blowhole Lookout - One of Hawaii's stunning natural wonders
Our next stop was Makapu'u Lighthouse but as we were approaching, the rain gods decided to burst the clouds and there was a heavy downpour. We decided to drive to Byodo-in Temple and by the time we reached there, the rain had subsided. This beautiful Japanese temple is a replica of a temple in Uji, Japan. The lush Valley of Temples is one of the top tourist attractions in Hawaii It is one of the most spectacular structures in an equally stunning landscape against the backdrop of Oahu's Ko'olau Mountains.
Byodo-in temple which translates to the "Temple of Equality" is a unique treasure of Hawaii
The Byodo-in Temple showcases an intricate design and is surrounded by fishponds. There are peacocks and swans roaming around. The serene environment is filled with the solemn sound of the bon-sho (sacred Byodo-in temple bell) that visitors ring on entering the shrine. An 18-foot gold leaf-covered Buddha sits inside the Byodo-in Temple adding to the aura of the place. We lost track of time rapt in this tranquil ambience. There is no specific mention of a dress code for Byodo-in Temple, but it is advisable to dress moderately. Refer to their website for useful information and things to do near Byodo-in Temple.
Bird feeding and Byodo-in Temple fish will fascinate kids
We returned to the hotel, freshened up and headed to Iolani Palace, the only royal residence in the US. Built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, the palace is influenced by European architectural styles and included Hawaii's first electric light system, flush toilets and intra-house telephones. Registered as a National Historic Landmark since 1962, it is one of the iconic buildings in Hawaii. The palace deteriorated over the years and was restored to its former grandeur in 1978. The Iolani Palace White Glove Tour offers an experience of the splendor and royal lifestyle of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
The iconic Iolani Palace, the solitary palace in the US
Being ardent fans of the famous Hawaii Five-O series, a visit to Aliiolani Hale building that features as their headquarters, was a MUST. Aliiolani Hale means "House of Heavenly Kings" and it was formerly the royal palace. King Kamehameha V laid the cornerstone for the building in 1872 but died before its completion. His statue (Hawaii Five-O Headquarters Statue) stands tall outside the building as a mark of respect. It is currently used as Hawaii's State Supreme Court. After a photo ops session before this iconic Hawaii Five-O Headquarters Statue and building we headed back towards our hotel.
The Aliiolani Hale with a statue of King Kamehameha V who visualized this exquisite building
We went to Royal Hawaiian Center to indulge in some retail therapy and ended the day with a fabulous meal at Royal Hawaiian Food Court. It had only been two days since we arrived on the most popular island of Hawaii but we felt like we had been here for much longer. Reminiscing about the days gone by, we realized that we had seen so much of this amazing island and there are many more best islands in Hawaii to visit...The next part of our Hawaii family vacation was equally exciting and action-packed which makes for another story. Aloha until the next time!