I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time, but lets just say life has been a
little lot hectic in the past few months! Our family took a much needed, and overdue relaxation vacation about 2 months ago, and I wanted to share some family friendly recommendations from our trip. One of our family favorite vacation spots is Hawaii, and we decided to switch up our typical choices of Kauai and Maui, and head to the Big Island. We were a little concerned as Kiluea began erupting weeks before our trip, but other than having to scratch visiting Volcanos National Park from our to-do list, our trip was unaffected. I wasn’t sure if we were going to love the Big Island as much as the other islands we’ve visited, but honestly I think that this may be my new favorite island to visit!
We spent 10 days on the Big Island, and stayed at the Fairmont Orchid. We’ve stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui, and after having a great experience there we knew we could count on Fairmont properties to deliver a wonderful experience. The Orchid may just be one of my favorite places we’ve ever stayed. Everything about the resort was simply impeccable and the service was truly 5 star. The hotel was very family friendly and even offered personalized touches (like a child’s bathrobe for our boys!), and although we didn’t use it, the hotel has a kids club for kids ages 5 and up. The beach is located in a lagoon with a coral reef, so not only were there no large waves to worry about with the littles, the snorkeling was pretty incredible. We saw sea turtles, eels, and tons of tropical fish! For a $75 fee for the entire family, you were able to rent all kinds of gear daily from the hotel for the duration of your stay; including snorkel gear, canoes, and paddle boards. We spent a number of days just relaxing at the resort building sand castles and swimming in the ocean.
My husband did take advantage of the fitness center a number of times and was really pleased with the facility. And I’m still kicking myself for not getting a spa treatment during our stay! The hotel is known for their Spa Without Walls, and I wish I had squeezed in the time for a bit of pampering. One small disappointment for us was the swimming pool. Although gorgeous, it really was more of an adult pool. There was no super shallow area or beach entry for toddlers/young kids, and the pool area was filled with mostly adults. And the other downside (which is to be expected in Hawaii!) is the cost of food at the resort. The resort isn’t walking distance to any other resorts or shopping centers, so on days when you are really tired and don’t feel like driving somewhere else, you are quite limited with affordable options on site. However, we did learn a few tricks during our stay to help save a little money!
The hotel breakfast buffet was definitely worth splurging on a few times, with fresh made smoothies, tropical fruit, and a huge assortment of hot dishes as well as continental items. They would also switch up a ready to order bar daily, some days offering crepes and others offering omelettes. Kids under 5 eat free, and for my picky 7 year old, he chose the kids continental buffet for $7 where he could have pastries, cereal, fruit, yogurt, and beverages at a much lower cost than the full buffet. For a quick lunch we would grab pre-made snacks to go at Brown’s Deli, and eat by the pool or beach. While still a bit pricey, the portions were large enough to be shared. For dinner, the beach side restaurant Hale Kai, offers a happy hour special from 4:00 – 5:00 daily. Kids 5 and under eat free, and kids 6-12 eat for 50% off. Also adults receive 25% off appetizers!
SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS
As I mentioned, although pricey, the food at the resort was all excellent. We didn’t take advantage of any of the fine dining options (as we didn’t want to attempt it with kids!), but definitely want to try Brown’s Beach House someday in the future (as we’ve heard it’s amazing!). As far as going off site, the nearest and most convenient option was The Shops at Mauna Lani. The hotel operates a shuttle that runs continuously between the hotel and the shops, so its very convenient if you don’t feel like driving! We actually ate dinner twice there at Tommy Bahama. Yes it is a chain (and we frequented this restaurant frequently when we lived in Palm Desert!), but the kids and adults alike really enjoyed the food there! (Their dinner rolls are a must) We also went to Juice 101 for ice cream, and this restaurant also serves affordable breakfast & lunch options in additions to smoothies and acai bowls. It is a small shopping center that doesn’t have a ton of options, but the market there was handy for grabbing snacks for the kids to keep on hand in the hotel room.
A bit further up the road, are the Kings & Queens Shops. They do have a much more extensive selection of shops and restaurants to choose from. They do have a number of quick eats restaurants to choose from in a cafeteria like setting – and was probably the most reasonable option we found. One thing we didn’t like about this area, was that there are a number of very large resorts nearby, so it was very crowded. There is quite a bit of shopping, from beachwear to high end stores (including Tiffany & Co.) Although it was nice to stop in once for a few hours to browse the shops, we were so happy we decided not to stay in this area and chose the much quieter and more secluded Orchid! Another very family friendly restaurant we found was Kohala Burger and Tacos, about 6-7 miles up the road from our hotel. It really is a little hole in the wall, but the food was excellent, the kids went crazy for the Dole Whips, and the service was fantastic with super friendly staff. While in Kona for the day, we grabbed lunch at Splasher’s Grill and ate the best fish tacos we had during our entire stay. Again, this was another restaurant that had fabulous service with friendly staff, and the manager even came over to chat with us for awhile & showed the kids an avocado as big as their heads (which of course they thought was pretty cool!). In Hilo we grabbed Mexican food at Lucy’s Taqueria and found it to be really authentic, and perfect fuel for a day of hiking!
So the number one recommendation I will make for your trip to the Big Island – download Big Island Gypsy Guide from the app store onto your phone (and I think they have it available for all the islands!). It uses GPS while you are driving and will give you a guided tour with all the history of what you are seeing as you drive. We learned so much, and it recommended we stop for sites we weren’t even aware of and would have missed! We spent an entire day driving from the west Kona side of the island, to the east Hilo side. It is a gorgeous drive, and the vast changes in topography (and weather!) was really amazing. We stopped at Waipi’o Valley Lookout which is incredible and definitely worth stopping at. You can hike down into the valley, but would likely be quite strenuous for young kids so we didn’t attempt it! We stopped at a little roadside stand for fresh pineapple and coconut, and then drove on to Akaka Falls. The hike is a short mile or so loop through a gorgeous jungle, and the 442 ft waterfall is a must see! After seeing Akaka Falls, our app tour guide recommended we take the short scenic route detour to Hilo. The Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive is only about 4 miles, but it is an incredible, coast line drive through tropical forests. The view of Onomea Bay is really stunning, and this short detour is well worth it! We also stopped at Low Store – a cute little food shack on the drive – for some fresh made smoothies. Once we got to Hilo we stopped for lunch, before driving to Rainbow Falls, and then headed back to the hotel. Rainbow Falls was beautiful, but not as stunning as Akaka Falls. There is no hike at this falls, which does make it a bit easier with kids!
One really incredible thing I wasn’t expecting on the Big Island, was the sea life. We went to Fiji years ago, and although this doesn’t quite match that experience, the sea life was the best we’ve experienced in Hawaii. As I mentioned above, at our resort alone we snorkeled and saw eels, sea turtles, and tropical fish. And one night while walking along the beach we spotted a Manta Ray! We decided to take a day while we were there to swim with the dolphins. We booked a trip with Kamanu Charters (who I highly recommend!), and went out on a 4 hour boat adventure. I was expecting to maybe see a few dolphins from a distance…and I just have to say the experience was one of the most amazing I have experienced and beyond what I could have imagined! There were easily 100 dolphins in the water, and they would swim super close and were very playful showing off their tricks! After swimming with the dolphins, the crew served us lunch and we went on a snorkeling adventure before calling it a day. This was definitely a highlight of our trip and when the kids are a bit older, we will be back to do a Manta Ray night dive with them!
A few other fun activities – we spent an afternoon shopping in Kona. It really is a cute little beach town, and we enjoyed going to the local street market for fresh fruit and exploring some of the shops. I feel like a Luau is a must while in Hawaii, and we went to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s show. What I really liked about it was that it was a much smaller venue than other Luau’s we’ve attended so it felt much more intimate. However, like most Luau’s, it was expensive and the food was mediocre. Also, the MC interrupted the performance far too often, and I feel that they could have done a better job with keeping it as a cohesive story without so many interruptions. The performers did a great job and of course my kids loved the fire breathing! We also explored some other beaches away from our hotel, and Hapuna Beach is a real gem. The water was beautiful turquoise with an expansive white sand beach. However, the waves are pretty rough, and it was quite windy the day we were there. But I would definitely recommend taking a few hours there! We also did the Petroglyph hike which is right next to the Fairmont’s hotel grounds. I found it super interesting, but be forewarned. It was really hot when we went, and I would recommend making it a morning hike rather than an afternoon hike. Proper shoes are a must as although it’s not steep, the ground is very uneven. There’s also a lot of spiky brush, and areas where you have to crawl under foliage.
It really was an incredible vacation, and we are really looking forward to making a return trip one of these days! I hope some of these recommendations are helpful for anyone considering a trip to the Big Island with their family!