Hawaii: 5 Islands, 5 Grand Resorts

Make vacation memories that will last a lifetime

By Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Each Hawaiian island has its particular charm. Since most air travel is routed through Honolulu, it makes sense to have a stopover on Oahu and visit Waikiki for a few days. Then, depending on how much time you have, you can visit one or two of the outer islands.

Hawaii is famous for its spectacular resorts, which are extremely family-friendly and almost always have some kind of deal going. Most big resorts have children's programs, for which there is usually an additional charge. Here are some great vacation destinations, a resort on each of Hawaii's five major islands:

Oahu

Oahu has been a gathering place since the days when Polynesian chiefs made it their home. You can do Waikiki wikiwiki (fast) with your keiki (kids) and then depart for a quieter outer island. Described cleverly by one worldly sixth-grader as "New York on the beach," it's crowded and high-rises pack the shoreline. But, the sand is clean, the water warm, and the overall effect gorgeous.

[photo photo2 align=right max-width=100]Most rooms at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa — the largest resort hotel in Hawaii — have ocean views, and families always give it rave reviews. Though palm-studded Waikiki beach beckons, save some time for the gorgeous "super pool" landscaped with lava-rock waterfalls and flowering native plants.

In the lobbies, your grandkids can see more than 30 species of tropical birds, including black-footed penguins, African red-winged flamingos, and black swans. After the free Friday night hula and fire dance show, children can participate in a parade or help feed the wildlife. The Rainbow Express kids' program operates daily year-round for ages 5 through 12, with full and half-day programs.

The Big Island

This island's name is Hawaii, but it's called The Big Island so as to avoid confusion with the island state's name. Twice the size of all the other islands combined, it's home to Kilauea, the world's largest and most active volcano.

[photo photo3 align=right max-width=100]The lushly-landscaped, 62-acre oceanfront Hilton Waikoloa Village is the largest tourist resort on the island. Air-conditioned Swiss trams and Disney-engineered mahogany boats provide transportation within the grounds.

When you feel like walking, you can stroll the Museum Walkway that displays a spectacular $7 million collection of Asian and Pacific art, including the largest feather lei collection in Hawaii.

The resort also has one of the largest petroglyph fields in the world, as well as a collection of birds that includes a flock of flamingoes and a nene — Hawaii's state bird. A four-acre, ocean-fed swimming and snorkeling lagoon with a sandy bottom and beach holds colorful tropical reef fish and rare green sea turtles. In another lagoon, guests can get in the water with dolphins.

Three other landscaped pools include a sandy-bottom children's pool, one with a twisting 175-foot waterslide, and another that's a meandering river float. Kids ages 5 through 12 can attend Camp Menehune, while another program operates for teens.

Kauai

Kauai is the oldest of the islands and well-known for dramatic scenery featuring jagged green mountains and steep valleys. It has desolate beaches and plenty of waterfalls and rainbows.

[photo photo4 align=right max-width=100]With lush gardens, colorful squawking parrots, and Hawaiian artwork displayed throughout, the luxurious Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa just might be the most spectacular on the island.

You and your grandkids will enjoy activities that include a sunset torch-lighting ceremony with chanting and traditional hula, a luau held under the stars, and Hawaiian crafts such as stringing leis and pounding poi. No guest room is higher than a coconut tree, and 70 percent have ocean views.

Kids love the 150-foot twisting waterslide that ends in a pool landscaped with tunnels, waterfalls, and rocky caves. A saltwater swimming lagoon has a sandy bottom and landscaped islands. The resort provides covered lounge chairs from which spectators can watch surfers brave the rough waves at the beach. Camp Hyatt operates for kids ages 3 through 12. A night camp is also available, as is a complimentary Rock Club, for teens during the summer.

Maui

Nicknamed the Valley Island, Maui is famous for its calm waters — perfect for swimming and windsurfing — and for the 10,023-foot-high Haleakala volcano.

Reputed to be Maui's most Hawaiian resort, the Napili Kai Beach Resort has 162 low-rise condominiums. Marcy Black, mother of three, praises the perfect half-moon beach. "When you check in, the first thing they do is hand you snorkel gear." She says it was ideal for her family of five: "My daughter and I made leis and learned to hula together while my husband took the boys surfing." The intimate resort's ten acres of tropical grounds include two 18-hole putting greens and two shuffleboard courts. Rooms are spacious, with a Japanese décor, and most have a kitchen and ocean view. The Blacks enjoyed snorkeling in the waters rich with coral and reef fish, and relaxing on their private lanai while watching humpback whales breach offshore. A free Keiki Club for ages 6 through 10 operates during holidays and in summer.

Molokai

The smallest of the main Hawaiian Islands, Molokai is the least developed for tourists and is known as the Friendly Isle. It is famous for its mule ride down to the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, a former leper colony, but children must be at least 16 to participate.

Your grandkids are going to love The Lodge & Beach Village at Molokai's Ranch. Situated on 65,000 acres, this resort is the island's largest. Accommodations are in tentalows — canvas bungalows — or in a more luxurious lodge with a swimming pool, fitness center, and spa. You get the comfort of a fine hotel along with the excitement of camping out. It's just a short walk to the beach, and kids thrive on biking the dirt roads. Activities include cattle round-ups and horseback riding with paniolos — Hawaiian cowboys — or kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, outrigger canoeing, archery, snorkeling, and fishing.

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