December 19, 2008

Kauai - A Family Vacation Paradise

It’s hard for me to choose my favorite Hawaiian island, a question I am often asked as a family travel advisor. My husband says it’s easy - it’s whatever island we are on at the time! I agree with that logic, but there is a special place in my heart for Kauai. I love not only its beauty and diversity, but the wonderful choice of family-friendly accommodations. In winter, Poipu Beach on the South Shore is the place to be, with safe swimming year-round. But in summer I head to the North Shore, not just for the jaw-dropping views of lush mountains rising steeply above taro fields and Hanalei Bay, but also to enjoy some of the best snorkeling in the world.
My family is passionate about snorkeling; you might even call us “snorkel snobs.” Despite its reputation for rough waters, we found many kid-friendly snorkeling spots on Kauai. There is a protected lagoon at Lydgate State Park specifically designed for young children, so we spent an afternoon there getting the kids used to their gear and comfortable in the water. It also had a huge playground with lots of fun climbing features, but my kids had no interest when there were fish to be seen! Then we headed to Tunnels Beach, near the “end of the road” on the north shore, where clear, shallow water extends for yards allowing easy and safe snorkeling for all ages. (Interesting fact: The reef along the north coast is so large it can be seen from space!)

There are many other activities on Kauai, making it a great destination for active families with older children, too. Surfing is very popular, and lessons can be taken on both the north and south shore. Hiking trails are available throughout the island, the most popular being the trails in Waimea Canyon offering spectacular valley views, and the famous Kalalau Trail leading to a remote beach on the Napali Coast. A trip to the private island of Ni’ihua offers outstanding diving in clear, deep water with visibility often well over 100 ft. There’s also four wheeling, river kayaking, zip lining, fishing, golf, cycling, and horseback riding. And nothing caps off a day of activity better than a bowl of Hawaiian shaved ice served over macadamia nut ice cream!

Kauai has a way of jarring the senses. You don’t really comprehend the height of the cliffs in Kalalau Valley until it’s pointed out during your boat tour of the Napali Coast that a “small” opening can accommodate a helicopter. The vastness of Waimea Canyon becomes even more impressive when you realize that a tiny white speck in the distance is a plane, which means the “hills” you are admiring are really mountains miles away. Filmmakers also flock to the island because of the lush scenery, and Kauai’s movie portfolio includes Jurassic Park, 6 Days/7 Nights, Mighty Joe Young, South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, and most recently, Tropic Thunder.

Kauai has a broad variety of resorts and condominiums that cater to families. Moderately priced hotels and condos as well as full service luxury resorts offer authentic Hawaiian ambiance, kid-pleasing amenities such as waterslides, and excellent dining and spa experiences. Families who want more space, or need accommodations that sleep more than four, will be pleasantly surprised at the number of upscale options available. For example, the spectacular Grand Hyatt Kauai will guarantee connecting rooms at time of booking for a modest fee. And both Outrigger Waipouli Resort and the new Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas offer spacious luxury condominiums with kitchens, living rooms, and private lanais, and beautiful pool areas. I’ll post more detailed reviews and photos of these resorts separately.

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