Two parents, four kids, plus four grandparents equals a lot of fun
The Travelers: Americans Tom and Kate Kirkwood, eight-year residents of Beijing. Tom runs Kirkwood & Sons, and Kate operates a kindergarten from their home in Shunyi. With Tom and Kate were their four children Madeline (Maddy, 9), Jack (7), Emma (3) and Charlie (8 months), as well as both sets of grandparents.
The Destination: Oahu, Hawaii.
The Plan: Originally, it was to be an adult-only retreat – the idea was to meet Tom’s parents in a sunny locale halfway between Pennsylvania and Beijing, where they could talk about the family business. The kids would stay in Beijing with Kate’s Mom and Ayi.
The Reality: When Ayi wanted to go home for Spring Festival, the Kirkwoods decided to take a chance and make it a full-blown family vacation. The family had been to Hawaii once before (in 2003, when they were escaping the SARS scare), but this trip would be extra special because their good friends Dwayne and Allison Stanton, recently relocated from Beijing, were waiting to serve as tour guides. Everyone was excited to visit their family friends, but 3-year-old Emma was confused: it would be fun to see the Stantons, but weren’t they going to Hu Ayi’s house?
Where to stay – without your kids: The Kirkwoods chose The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel (USD 150-900 per night; 1 808 923 1555,) because it’s located smack in the middle of Waikiki, the famed beach area on Oahu’s South Shore. However, despite being next door to the Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo (both of which the Kirkwoods highly recommend), the hotel turned out to be poorly suited for young children. There was no stroller access or kids’ club, and the atmosphere was a little too formal for a family with toddlers. Says mom Kate: “When we were walking through the lobby, I felt like I had to ‘sshhh’ the kids.” But if you’re kid-free, Kate emphasizes, the New Otani’s old-world charm, its gorgeous restaurant and its beautiful view of the famous Diamond Head volcanic crater make it well worth a stay.
Where to stay – with your kids: For the second half of their vacation, the Kirkwoods wanted a place where their kids could have free rein, so they rented a private house on the beach in Kailua. Located on the southeast coast of the island, Kailua is a beachside town with a very non-touristy atmosphere. The Kirkwoods found their housing rental through a family contact, but they suggest you start your search online (you might start with HomeAway or Vacations By Owner). If you’re not up for a whole house, the Kirkwoods also highly recommend the Kahala Hotel & Resort (USD 325 and up per night; 1 808 739 8888), where they stayed in 2003. The Kahala has a kids’ club, tame surf to play in, kayaking, and dolphin swims.
Where to play: Try hiking up to Makapu’u Lighthouse (On Highway 72, at the easternmost point of Oahu) – it’s a windy 90-minute hike up and down, with “unbelievable views” of whales in the channel all along the way. Bellows Beach (41-043 Kalanianaole Highway) is rough enough to provide good boogie-boarding waves, but gentle enough for littler kids to play in. The Kirkwoods also recommend the Dole Pineapple Plantation (no entry fee for the plantation itself; Pineapple Garden Maze: USD 5 (adults), USD 3 (kids); 1 808 621 8408), home to the biggest maze in the world and “some really fantastic pineapple ice cream.”
Where to eat: Roadside joint Spaghettini (66-200 Kamehameha Hwy, 1 808 637 0104) offers great Italian fare like pizza, fantastic salads, and shaved ice, as well as a stunning view of the sunset. The Kirkwoods raved about the post-hike eats at the little hot dog shack at the base of the Diamond Head Crater (1 808 587 0300). “Even if the hike hadn’t been absolutely beautiful, the cheeseburgers would have made it all worthwhile.”
Greatest bargain: The free history lesson at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor (free entry; 1 808 422 0561) was a hit. The Kirkwoods had studied their history beforehand and found their visit to the center really special – “very emotional and solemn.” They suggest getting your tickets for the movie first, then touring the museum while you wait. Afterwards, head out to see the big boat, the USS Arizona, still sitting under the water. Next door to the Arizona, you can step right into a WWII submarine, the USS Bowfin (USD 12). “Pearl Harbor was the coolest,” says 9-year-old Maddy. “We got to go inside a real submarine!”
Best splurge: The family (sans the little ones) rented a catamaran from Makani for a sunset cruise on the bay of Waikiki. It was expensive – “by far our biggest splurge” – but the crew was exceptional (1 888 462 5264). February is prime whale watching season in Hawaii, and the family estimates they saw more than 20 whales in just a few hours. Basic whale watching trips can be as cheap as USD 20/person for a three-hour excursion, but expect to pay upwards of USD 1,500/half-day if you want to rent your own boat.
Avoiding airport anxiety: Kate and the two littlest ones flew Northwest Airlines, which meant that they started off their trip with a grueling eight-hour layover in Tokyo’s Narita Airport. While 3-year-old Emma and baby Charlie made their mom proud, Kate still recommends avoiding this long layover by flying ANA to Osaka, then to Honolulu, which requires a stopover of only two hours. The practiced Kirkwood parents also pack activity bags for their children. Says Kate, “I love flying with my kids because I consider it one-on-one time – the phone’s not going to go off, and we’re able to do crafts and read books together.”