Category Archives: Hawaii

Carolina’s favorite place to vacation

Today’s Tip: Snorkeling With Young Kids

This week I wrote about one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. Of course, it was with my son. When he was five-years old, I took him snorkeling in Hawaii. He had never been snorkeling before and was just learning to swim well. I was not confident it would work out, but it turned out a lot better than expected. With a little preparation, it is possible to take young kids snorkeling. Here’s how:
  1. Buy your own snorkel equipment. If you can afford it, this is the best thing you can do when you’re taking young kids snorkeling. I don’t have anything against renting, it’s just so much easier to take your own equipment. We didn’t buy the fanciest mask either. We just went to a local sporting goods store to hunt one down. Remember, if it doesn’t fit in your luggage, you can always have your kids wear it onto the plane (well, maybe not the flippers).
  2. Try out that equipment in the pool. We practice in grandma’s pool. My son has already requested that I take out his snorkel equipment, so that he can begin his practice sessions for our upcoming trip to Hawaii. We’ll keep practicing, without the pressure of being out in the ocean full of colorful-fishes-I-want-to-see-right-now. We’re both a whole lot more patient in grandma’s pool.
  3. Take along a lifejacket for your kids. Even if they’re great swimmers, it’s just easier for them to float along and enjoy the fishy views. Besides, it’s just safer.
  4. Rent a Boogie Board. It helps to have a floating platform to hold onto. You can also get yourself a flotation belt. I refused to rent one because I’m just to damn cool. But I’m going to rethink the whole cool-girl thing next time. It would have been much easier to adjust our snorkel masks without having to doggie paddle while doing it. I’m not that talented. If you’re going to rent a Boogie Board, then find one with a viewing window. So if you’re child gets tired of donning a snorkel mask, he can get a peek at the fishes through the window.
  5. Keep the snorkeling sessions short. While my son enjoyed exploring the underwater world, it took a lot out of him (and me). He only wanted to do it five to ten minutes at a time. At that young age, he was happier making sand castles and playing in the waves. It also helps to research which beaches have the easiest and calmest access for beginner snorkelers.

In case you need a little more inspiration or tips on technique, I found a little video footage of one our snorkeling sessions in Maui. I offer me in my dorky snorkeling attire, for your viewing pleasure.

Snorkel Dreams

IMG_0605_1Snorkeling with a young child for the first time is hardly a peaceful experience. My son went for his first underwater excursion in the clear waters of Maui, at the age of 5. In the weeks before our trip, I tried to get him ready for the new experience. We searched for the perfect snorkel mask and I let him practice in his grandma’s pool. He spent a few afternoons swallowing chlorine water-and whining about it-until he got comfortable enough.

But when the time came to get into the big, blue ocean, all that practice didn’t help us much. We fumbled around on a boogie board near the shore, like a pair of socks in the washing machine. I was focused on paddling us around to the best viewing spots, staying clear of the waves, and constantly adjusting my child’s mask, or mine.

There was a calm, beautiful world underneath me, but I was missing it entirely. Luckily, my son wasn’t missing a thing. I glanced at him underwater, and saw him waving at the fish. I asked what he was doing and he said: “I’m just saying hi to the fishies.” His innocence and wonder made me stop and smile. So I stuck my head back under the waves and, for a moment, let myself flow with my son and the fishies.

Today, I’m dreaming of the fishies and the snorkeling we will do during our upcoming trip to Hawaii. I got our snorkel masks down from their storage box in the garage yesterday and we headed over to grandma’s pool. It may be a poor substitute for the big, blue ocean, but a little practice never hurts. We want to be ready, so we don’t miss a thing.

This is linked up to Mother of All Trips and her lovely Monday Dreaming post. Go check it out.

The Best Travel Companions


I’ve been lucky in my travels, because I’ve always been blessed with the best travel companions. A trip is always better if you have good companions to share it with. In the picture, are my two favorite travel buddies: my son, and my sister. They’re always ready for a good trip and a good laugh. Most importantly, they let me know when I need to relax and loosen my death-grip on the travel books. That’s what my son is trying to do, by showing me his bottom, after five minutes of posing for this picture. I got the point.

Location: At Kualoa Park with a view of Chinaman’s Hat (also known as Mokolii) in Oahu. 

My buddies are linked up at Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday.

Wish I Was Here: Breakfast in Waikiki

waikiki breakfastGet a load of this classic view. This is Waikiki Beach from the veranda of the Hula Grill, above Duke’s Restaurant.

I order the macadamia nut pancakes, some sliced guava, and lots of coffee. I look at this picture and I swear I can taste those yummy pancakes again. On those days where I need a mental escape, I think of places I’ve visited that take me away from it all.

Who knows if those pancakes are really that heavenly, but everything tastes better in paradise. I wouldn’t usually hang out on Waikiki beach too long, because I like less crowded beaches. But in the early morning, the beach is still quiet, and you can watch the outrigger canoes and surfers while you sip your coffee. The best thing is that your kid may be entertained by the scene long enough to give you at least 30 seconds of peace. See? It is paradise.

For more of a mental escape, got to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday.

The Sugar Cane Train

SCTrainI learned about the Sugar Cane Train on one of my son’s favorite train videos, I Love Toy Trains. I can’t tell you if we saw it on volume 1, 2, 3, 9, or 10 (or why I own that many volumes of I Love Toy Trains), but we saw it there first.

So when I was planning a trip to Maui with my five-year-old son, I used the promise of a ride on the Sugar Cane Train to get him pumped up for the trip. It doesn’t really matter whether or not I was looking forward to the Sugar Cane Train, I was just happy to have my son cooperative and onboard for our vacation. For that alone, I’m grateful for the Sugar Cane Train.

Find a Station: You can board the Sugar Cane Train at the Lahaina or the Kaanapali Station for a round-trip.

The Trip: You will chug along six miles of Maui waterfront property, cross a wooden, trestle bridge and then turn around and do it all over again. The tropical breezes are relaxing and you will get some fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean, the island of Lanai, golf courses, and the Maui mountains.

Highlight: My son is a train fanatic, and was so excited to see the train he had watched on T.V. for all those years. It was his version of a rock star sighting.

The Cost: The price for the ticket is currently $22.50 for adults and $15.50 for kids. You can knock off $2 off the price if you buy online, or through packages. I have been on many, many train rides with my son, and I have to say that this has been one of our favorites. If you have a big family or if your kids aren’t train enthusiasts, it may not be worth the price of admission.

SCtrain 2

Linking up to Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday, for Train Week.

The Dole Pineapple Maze with a Side of Dole Whip

Plantation MazeEven tourist traps are more fun in paradise. That’s why we pulled of the Kamehameha Highway in Oahu, to make a stop at the Dole Plantation. At this road stop, you can shop for pineapple-shaped souvenirs, ride the Pineapple Express, and visit the Pineapple Maze. We only had time for the world’s largest maze.

To complete the maze you have to find the eight stations hidden inside, trace the symbol you find at each station, and do it all in record time. The time to beat was impossibly set at less than 5 minutes. If you do possess the superpower to find your way through labyrinths at record speeds, then you get your time posted at the entrance.

We were not feeling like The Flash that day, but still managed to complete the maze in less than 30 minutes. We didn’t actually have much of a choice, since we arrived at the plantation 30 minutes before closing time. I would have preferred to take a leisurely stroll through the 2.46 miles of hibiscus paths, but it was more like a frantic run, accompanied with a lot of good-natured yelling. That’s what all of my family outings are usually like anyway.

My son absolutely loved the Pineapple Maze. I enjoyed celebrating our completion of this tropical labyrinth with a Dole Whip. This pineapple-flavored ice cream has a special place in my heart. As long as that magical soft-serve machine is working, I’ll go back to the Dole Plantation any day. Oh, and I still want to beat our record time of 25 minutes and 33 seconds.DOLE whip

Family Travel Tip: Save Money on Vacation Dining

Today’s family travel tip is the first installment of the Kids Go West Guide to Saving Money While on Your Family Vacation. It’s a long title, but it’s a big topic I’m covering. So bear with me, as I give you my own tried and true, money-saving travel rule. I promise not to do it all in rhyme.

Money-saving travel rule #1: Eat burritos on the beach.

This is what I like to call the B & B rule of family travel. To illustrate my rule: a dining experience I had on a beach in Maui.

I desperately wanted to enjoy a sunset dinner while vacationing in Maui. My traveling crew had two options: fight the dinner crowds at the expensive, ocean front restaurants, or get a cheap to-go meal from a local dining establishment. Luckily, we chose the second option. We headed to Maui Tacos, and bought some foil-wrapped burritos to go. Then, we made our way to our favorite Maui beach with our paper bag dinner and plopped down on a blanket. We had the beach almost to ourselves, and an awesome sunset to boot. We saved money, and had one of the best family dinner experiences ever.

*Please note: The B & B rule of family travel can be tried anywhere, with any food (except for: spaghetti and meatballs on a beach in Antarctica). We chose burritos because we’re addicted to things wrapped in tortillas.

**Disclaimer: Eating a burrito on a beach in Maui is usually a more pleasant experience than eating a burrito on a beach in California. Why? Those pesky California seagulls are to blame. It can be done, but use extreme caution.

UPDATE: New video footage added: How-to-eat-burritos-on-the-beach. I forgot to mention the sandflies.


Our View

Our View

Hawaii Nature Center of Iao Valley

HNCMost people don’t envision themselves spending a lot of time in nature centers while they’re in Maui, but I guess I have a different vision for a vacation in paradise. We took a break from the beach, long enough to take in the beautiful vistas at Iao Valley, and make a Geek Stop at the Hawaiian Nature Center.

Smarten Up

This a small museum with about 30 exhibits. One of the first exhibits is about bird migration to Hawaii, where kids have to try to land some balls (birds) into a hole (Hawaiian islands) in the middle of the blue sphere (ocean). I tried to explain that concept to my four-year-old, but he was only focused on throwing the balls in. Oh well, at least I got to enjoy the awesome views of the Iao Valley mountains in the solarium, while I waited for him to land a bird on the island. He then got to zoom over a creek, by laying face down on the dragonfly flight simulator (kinda hard to explain this one). There was also a touch pool, aquarium tanks, and exhibits highlighting Hawaiian plants and animals. 

Fund the Cause

When you visit the center you get a chance to spend your money at a non-profit attraction whose mission it is to educate Maui’s kids about their natural environment and how they can protect it. My motto always is: Keep the Geek Stops Alive! 

Useful Tidbits

There were no restrooms open to the public at the center when we went. This was kind of a bummer. The closest bathrooms are either at the Heritage Gardens or at Iao Valley State Park. The Nature Center is located on the same road that leads you to Iao Valley State Park, and right next to Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens. Although we didn’t have enough time to do it, you can take the guided rainforest walk. It is only suitable for kids 5 years or older, and you have to call ahead to make reservations. If you are visiting Honolulu, you can make a stop at the Hawaiian Nature Center there.