One of the best parts about Hawaii – the fact that there’s so much to do! – is also one of the biggest challenges for a family with limited vacation time. How do you get in all the things you want to do in Hawaii – including relaxing – with only a week to spare?
The exterior of the Fairmont Orchid facing the ocean
To take on that (admittedly tough) question, our family headed from Manhattan Beach to the Big Island at the end of June. We went there with a list of things that we ideally wanted to do before heading back home, but we resolved not to be so list-driven that it would cost us relaxation time. In short, our goal was balance.
While we didn’t want an entirely pre-packaged vacation, we found that a resort hotel with a full list of amenities was the easiest way to get the family into all kinds of beach activities. At the Fairmont Orchid, we had everything we needed for island fun within an arms’ reach. In the middle of the week, by the time we were ready to rent a car, we were ready to see the sights beyond the hotel. Here’s how the week came together:
A sea turtle crawls up on shore at the Fairmont Orchid
Day 1 – Water Fun and Sea Turtles: After arriving in Hawaii at around lunchtime, we shuttled right over to the Fairmont, did our check-in and a quick poolside lunch at the hotel, and then got on our swimsuits and went straight for the water. The lagoon at the Fairmont is a favorite resting spot for honu (sea turtles) so you’re sure to see these beautiful creatures swimming and lounging in the sun. (Sea turtles need vacation too, you know). Insider Tip: Spring for the Fun & Sun Activity Pass ($75 per stay for adults; $65 for kids) to get easy access to unlimited pool toys, snorkel gear, paddleboards, kayaks, and more.
A black and white (black lava and white coral) beach hike
Day 2 – Hiking and Movies: We woke up early for a bright and breezy hike around the Fairmont property. The beaches surrounding the resort are filled with colorful black lava and white coral, making for a stunning landscape. We took advantage of more swimming, snorkeling, and paddling time in the pool and in the lagoon, then relaxed in the steaming hot tub. That evening, we took in 4D movies at the 4D Adventure Ride theater in the Shops at Mauna Lani. Each movie is 8 to 10 minutes long, and your seat shakes and the wind blows (and you even might get sprayed with water) in time with the movie. The shopping center also features several restaurants, a grocery store, and various clothing and surf shops. Insider Tip: Take advantage of the free shuttle that runs between the Fairmont and the Shops at Mauna Lani every 10 minutes.
Dazzling sights at the Gathering of the Kings luau
Day 3 – Kayaks and Luau: We started the day with a relaxing breakfast in the Fairmont Gold lounge. Staying on the Gold level entitles you and your family to all sorts of convenient amenities, like a daily continental breakfast, featuring many traditional Hawaiian dishes, afternoon tea time, and early evening canapes and cocktails at the honor bar. The lounge is open all day with access to cold drinks and light snacks, and the friendly concierge is always ready to help. Later we got kayaks for the whole family to paddle around the island. In the evening, we enjoyed the Gathering of the Kings luau on-site at the Fairmont, which provided more than three hours’ worth of food, drinks, entertainment, and crafts for the kids. Insider tip: Get in line early for the best seats at the luau.
Cheeseburger in paradise – Scenes from Village Burger in Waimea
Day 4 – Petroglyphs and Stars: While the grownups relaxed, the kids took a morning petroglyph hike with the Keiki Aloha childrens’ program. The Fairmont is home to one of the largest petroglyph fields in the Hawaiian Islands, and after the kids viewed the petroglyphs, they came back to the kids’ center and recreated their own. In the afternoon, we rented our car and drove to Waimea to the highly regarded Village Burger for lunch, a highlight of the trip from our kids’ perspective. These burgers, made from locally raised cattle, are probably among the best you’ve ever tasted – and the shakes are outstanding. As the sun set, we headed back up the mountain to the top of Mauna Kea for some world-class stargazing. At the Visitor Information Station at 9,300 feet, the nightly stargazing program allows visitors to choose from an array of high-powered telescopes to see once-in-a-lifetime views of the moon, Mars, and more. If conditions are right, you’ll also see part of the Milky Way. Insider Tip: You’ll want to dress warm – really warm – for evenings atop Mauna Kea. The visitors’ center also offers various souvenir jackets, hats, and scarves for sale, as well as coffee, hot chocolate, and soups.
A trampoline in the middle of the ocean with Kona Jet Ski
Day 5 – Fish and Jet Skis: Hawaii is known for its fresh fish, so we decided to go straight to the source. At Honokohau Harbor in Kailua-Kona, we had front-row seats of the fishing action at Bite Me Fish Market as a sportfishing boat brought in a freshly caught marlin. From there, we headed out to downtown Kailua-Kona to catch up with the folks at Kona Jet Ski. We took a short motorboat ride about a half-mile out to “Adventure Island,” which was the launching point for our jet ski adventure. After jet-skiing, we had a blast jumping on the giant ocean trampoline that floated next to Adventure Island. Now we can say we’ve jumped on a trampoline in the middle of the ocean! Insider Tip: Bring your own towels out to Adventure Island so you can dry off, have a drink, and relax after your time in the water.
The sunset torchlighting ceremony at the Fairmont Orchid
Day 6 - Fishing and Resort Sunset: Back at the resort, we reserved a family fishing trip aboard a double-hulled canoe with our native Hawaiian guide, Ikaika. Ikaika brought along all of the fishing equipment, plus a cooler full of snacks and drinks, and guided us through the fishing process. At night, Ikaika was also the Fairmont’s torchlighting ceremony leader, and he led a gaggle of kids across the resort as he blew a conch shell and lit torches across the resort. Insider Tip: Grab one of the lounge chairs by the pool at sunset and you’ll have a front-row seat at the torchlighting ceremony as well as the spectacular sunset.
Snacking at the “Mac Shack” at Joe’s Nuts
Day 7 – Island Drive, Night Volcano: After checking out of the Fairmont, we headed south through the Kona and continued through lush coffee and chocolate country. We stopped at Joe’s Nuts, a quirky little macadamia nut farm, where the kids could check out the trees, try their hand at cracking the nuts, and sample different flavors. We continued driving around the island all the way through to Volcanoes National Park, where we had rented a house for the night in the little town of Volcano. Insider Tip: Head into the park at night and stop by the lookout at the Jaggar Museum to see the hot volcano glowing in the dark. Extra bonus for us – we saw a nighttime rainbow, lit by the glow of the volcano, because it had just stopped raining.
Hawaiian root vegetable and taro chips with the volcano smoldering in the background
Day 8 – Lava Tube and Farewell Dinner: We went back to the park in the morning, watched a short video at the visitors’ center and enjoyed a delicious meal at the Hawaii Volcano House. Then we headed off on a kid-friendly hike down through the amazing Thurston Lava Tube (you’ll need to be able to walk up and down stairs to get there) and around the rim of the crater. After that we said goodbye to the volcano, headed back around the island, enjoyed a delicious final dinner back in Kona at the Fish Hopper, and then flew home. Insider tip: Take one of the red-eyes back to California so you give yourself a full day for your last day on the island.
Aloha, Hawaii! We were so sad to leave – but we were filled up with satisfaction knowing that he had gotten so much in to our eight days in paradise.