Toddlers & Oahu: Ten Days in Paradise

My daughter’s excited squeals snap me out of a sun-drenched daze. She’s been running around the Keiki Cove splash zone for 45-minutes. Her unbridled enthusiasm and bold moves (staring directly into the jets until water shoots her in the face) have now drawn a crowd of onlookers. When new kids dare to enter, my eighteen month-old pre-talking force of nature acts as ambassador, explaining with animated gestures how to properly use the splash zone.

Our daughter Brooklyn loving the Keiki Cove splash zone at Aulani, a Disney hotel. Credit: Curt Woodhall
Our daughter Brooklyn loving the Keiki Cove splash zone at Aulani, a Disney hotel.

My husband and I are in awe. Both of her enthusiasm, and at the fact we’ve been sprawled on lounge chairs for almost an hour doing nothing. An impossible feat when you’re a parent to an active toddler. Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in O’ahu, is now my happiest place on earth.

We chose O’ahu for our family holiday because Hawaii truly is fabulous for toddlers. Kids between 18 months and four years of age have zero interest in being strapped to a stroller taking in local sights.  They crave freedom, and need an outlet to exhaust their boundless energy. A day at the beach, powering through sand and splashing in the ocean pretty much guarantees an early bedtime and sound sleep – the ultimate goal for any parent with young children.

After a little research, I discovered a couple of services that make travelling to O’ahu with kids even easier.  Carving out time for a romantic dinner, or an adult-oriented activity such as paddle boarding ensures that all members of our family have a chance to unwind.  Through Nannies Hawaii I found excellent care for our daughter in each area of the island we visited.

Readily available baby amenities also help alleviate some stress. Between diapers, books, toys, clothes and sun safety supplies I usually have enough room in the suitcase for a sundress and flip flops – never mind lugging a 20-pound car seat through the airport. Paradise Baby Co. offers on-island rentals on everything from strollers and car seats to baby carriers, bicycles and trailers. Diapers and formula can also be purchased and delivered to the hotel with your order.

At the Trump hotel, you’ll enjoy a five star amenities including a fully equipped luxury kitchen. Credit: Curt Woodhall
At the Trump hotel, you’ll enjoy a five star amenities including a fully equipped luxury kitchen.

We started in Waikiki, where a car isn’t necessary. The condo-style Trump International Waikiki Beach Walk, TripAdvisor’s number one family rated hotel in Waikiki, has full kitchens (great for making quick breakfasts) and a separate living room with balcony, which allows for romantic dinners after the kids are in bed.  Childproofed guest rooms, swim diapers and stocked beach bags are complimentary extras that enhance the stay even further.

My favourite beach for tots is by the freshwater lagoon adjacent to the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  It’s much quieter than Waikiki beach and the calm lagoon waters are safe for younger children.  Stop by any ABC Store and pick up a bag of plastic beach toys – an inexpensive purchase that provides hours of fun. If you make a day of it, rent an umbrella and lounge chairs from Waikiki Beach Activities.

Off-beach activities that work well for little ones include a visit to Honolulu Zoo, where the hippos and giraffes steal the show as far as my daughter is concerned, and finding Nemo at the Waikiki Aquarium. Both are within walking distance of most hotels, and are often crowd-free.

Restaurants are plentiful in Waikiki. Happy Hour at Trump’s WAI’OLU Ocean View Lounge offers exceptional value for the entire family.  How can you go wrong with half price sushi (and bubbles), and full kids menu in a stunning water view setting? Another great spot with live music, and salad bar (as a hungry toddler is a scary toddler) is Dukes on Waikiki Beach.

For date night, reserve a cabana at what I feel is the most romantic restaurant on the island (perhaps even in the State). The oceanfront patio at Azure Restaurant in The Royal Hawaiian Hotel is my little piece of heaven in Waikiki. Under a canopy of twinkling lanterns, you’ll dine on freshly caught fish (handpicked at the auction that very morning), while listening to waves thunder the shore. Try the five-course tasting menu, which includes Azure’s signature Kona lobster tail risotto. For another critically acclaimed tasting menu, visit Chef Mavro, Hawaii’s only Gayot 2014 Top 40 restaurant. The menu changes with the season, but Wagyu medallions grilled to perfection are a mainstay.

After the bustle of Waikiki, Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore is a welcome retreat. Set on almost 8 kilometres of beachfront, the property offers insane views of the area’s famous big surf. Three of O’ahu’s best known surf spots – Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach – are a 15-minute drive away. We like to grab a picnic lunch from one of the many North Shore shrimp trucks, or a teriyaki chicken plate from Ted’s Bakery, and watch the onslaught of towering waves pummel the beach.

You can watch the incredible North Shore waves right from the comfort of the pool at Turtle Bay Resort. Credit: Curt Woodhall
You can watch the incredible North Shore waves right from the comfort of the pool at Turtle Bay Resort.

The resort’s two pools and swimming bay keep my daughter happy. In addition to a spa, golf courses, tennis courts, biking trails and kayaking, Turtle Bay has a riding stable, and there is nothing cuter than a toddler on horseback. The Pony Experience includes a grooming lesson and a 15-minute pony ride – or in my daughter’s case sitting on a pony for 10 minutes while I take hundreds of photos.

The sunsets at Turtle Bay are worth a visit alone. Credit: Curt Woodhall
The sunsets at Turtle Bay are worth a visit alone.

The sunsets at Turtle Bay are spectacular, and only improved by nightly live entertainment and Mai Tai’s at Hang Ten Bar & Grill. We spend most evenings here, eating dinner and watching our daughter dance on the stretch of grass in front of the band. For a special child free meal, the seductive ocean view Pa’Akai seafood restaurant is outstanding. When fine dining I always opt for the tasting menu, as it tends to feature restaurant’s signature dishes, such as Pa’Akai’s chilli macadamia nut-crusted sea bass.

The drive to (or from) Turtle Bay has a lot of opportunities for rest breaks. Stop at Kahuku Farms in the North Shore for a 30-minute wagon ride and see where the papayas and apple bananas are grown, or take a ride on the Dole Plantation’s Pineapple Express (located on the Kamehameha Highway).

At Aulani, kids get to mingle with the Disney characters for breakfast. Credit: Curt Woodhall
At Aulani, kids get to mingle with the Disney characters for breakfast. Credit: Curt Woodhall

This road eventually brings us back to my happiest place on earth, Aulani, which I believe was carefully designed for the weary parents of rambunctious children. The protected bay, with golden sand beachfront, is calm and safe. Family pools, the lazy river and waterpark are filled with laughter, and the adult only pool provides a quiet escape. Disney characters make appearances throughout the day, and you can even spend the morning with Mickey and the gang at a character buffet breakfast.

And then there is Laniwai Spa, where all treatments include access to the outdoor hydrotherapy garden Kula Wai. After my massage, with personalized oils, and a relaxing afternoon in the gardens, my previous statement will be retracted. This is now my happiest place on earth.