Category Archives: Hawaii

Carolina’s favorite place to vacation

Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens

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I would like the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens to be in my backyard. But since I don’t live on 240 acres of oceanfront land in the tropical isle of Kauai, I’m going to settle for a visit from time to time.

Na Aina Kai was a private garden until it was opened to the public, this includes the Under the Rainbow Children’s Garden which was created for the owner’s grandchildren. This children’s garden is kiddie heaven: with water features, a maze, and super-cool play structures. I picked this as the one garden I was going to visit with my son (you have to tour a garden while in the Garden Isle, after all), and booked the Children’s Garden Family Tour. You can only visit the garden with a tour, and the family tour is the only one you can book with children who are under the age of 13.

During the first hour of the tour, we were guided through the formal gardens and the children were handed a paper bag to put any garden treasures they found along the way. They filled their bags as we walked through a hedge maze, under the rainbow shower trees, and around the beautiful green orchid hanging from a tree. The children were also given the opportunity to feed the poi fish. Oh, and we saw teeny, weeny frogs too.

The second half of the tour was spent in the Under the Rainbow Children’s Garden. Here the kids got to roam free. They played in the water around the 16-foot bronze Jack and the Beanstalk water fountain (bring the swimsuits). Then they wandered through the Gecko-shaped hedge maze, climbed and slid from the treehouse play structures, and played in the covered wagon and railroad train. The adults, well, they sat back and wished they were five years old again.

Useful Tidbits:

Book these popular tours ahead of time, since days and times are limited. The family tours are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 9:30 and 1:30; Fridays at 9:30. Admission prices are currently $30 for adults and $20 for children. Yes, it’s pricey but it was well worth it. The tour groups are small and your kids will have access to their own private kiddie heaven. Check the website for current information.

Be An Aquarist for the Day

I may not be able to get my son a backstage pass to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie set, but I have been able to pull a few strings to get him a behind-the-scenes look at some of his favorite aquariums. No, I don’t know some very important aquarists, but I do possess a very powerful credit card. I’m here to tell you that participating in the special programs offered at many aquariums is well worth the cost, so save your pennies and get ready to handle some squid.

Morning Rounds at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

You have to be eight years old to participate in the Morning Rounds tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, so my son waited patiently for years to get a very special look at one of his favorite places on earth. He wasn’t disappointed. As soon as the tour was over, he wanted to know when we would be back to do it again.

In this program, you arrive at the aquarium about an hour before it opens to the general public, put on an apron with a special eau de fish, and get a a very memorable tour of a very quiet aquarium. Our group of 12 wannabe aquarists was led by an education specialist and an aquarium volunteer to take a look at some of the exhibits before the general public came in. We saw the aquarium’s newest rescued sea otter pup-a.k.a. as 502, for its number as the five hundred and second sea otter rehabilitated at the aquarium-playing with it’s adoptive mother. You don’t get to feed the otters, and on the morning we went, the sea otter pup was getting a check-up from the vet.

Then we got right to work feeding the anchovies, the bat rays, the rainbow trout, the sardines in the Kelp Forest exhibit, and the fish in the Monterey Bay Habitats tank. Feeding the bat rays in the touch pool, was the most interactive of all the feedings, since we held shrimp and squid under the water and waited for the rays to come slurp them up out of our hands. The whole experience was a bit squishy, but we were soon petting the rays like they were a family pet (move over Hermie the hermit crab). Feeding the fishes in the bigger tanks involved throwing handfuls of juicy krill and squid, so we were thankful for our aprons and good aim.

Inside the aquarium’s food-prep area, we slipped the penguin’s vitamins inside some fishes. I know that most mom’s will have no trouble relating to the old hide-the-vitamins-inside-the-food trick. We didn’t get to feed the penguins ourselves, but that’s alright with me, since I don’t think it smells all that great inside those penguin tanks anyway.

We were only aquarists for a couple of hours, but we managed to get a glimpse about what it takes to keep this world-renowned aquarium ticking and learn at thing or two about some of the animals. For more information about the Morning Rounds program, or other behind-the-scenes tours, click over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.

Sea Turtle Mania at the Maui Ocean Center

Most families make a stop at the Maui Ocean Center while on their Maui vacation, but a few lucky ones may get to visit when the aquarium offers some of their behind-the-scenes programs. We visited the Maui Ocean Center in August, when the aquarium has special activities and tours that focus on the sea turtles. The programs have a changed a bit since the year we went (they actually got cheaper), but the main activities of their Sea Turtle Package are similar to the one we participated in a few years ago.

On our tour, we learned all about how the aquarium’s sea turtles are cared for, and also got to prepare the food that we fed to the turtles in the lagoon exhibit. Feeding the sea turtles was a much less smellier experience than our fish feedings at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, since the sea turtles like to eat their veggies. He was only five years old, when we did that tour at the Maui Ocean Center (there is no age limit for the Sea Turtle Package tour) but he was captivated by his visit to the aquarium kitchens and those hungry sea turtles.

Looking over the Maui Ocean Center website, I noticed that they now offer the Amazing Aquarist Tour on some months, as well as other package tours that take guests behind the scenes. Check their calendar section and click on the month you will be making your visit on, for more information.

Old Lahaina Luau

Where: Lahaina, Maui

Why: This was my son’s second trip to Maui (he’s one lucky kid) and my parent’s first trip (they loved it) and they all wanted to try out the luau experience. I picked the Old Lahaina Luau because it was close to our hotel, the views are amazing, and I was looking forward to some pretty tasty luau food.

My Kid’s Picks: He enjoyed walking around the grounds before the dinner and show to check out the crafts stations and the Kalua pig being unearthed from the imu oven. The fruity smoothies with umbrellas were a big hit (he now claims he loves Lava Flows, heh), as was the buffet dinner. While the show also captured his attention, the location of our table made it difficult for him to really engage with the dancers.

Mom’s Verdict: I had only been to one other luau and hadn’t had a good experience, so I came into the Old Lahaina Luau not expecting much. I was glad to be proved wrong. Walking the grounds while watching the sun set with my favorite little guy was pretty memorable and so was the food. Poi rolls and mahi-mahi anyone? Yes, it’s open bar, but that’s not a big priority for me. I also appreciated that the hula dancing was strictly Hawaiian, you won’t see any fire-breathing at this show. It makes this luau a bit less Vegas and a lot more relaxing. I still think that the price of a luau is pretty steep, so this is not something I would do on every trip to Hawaii or with very young kids. All kids under the age of 12 that occupy a seat will require a ticket. But if you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars for a luau, this one is a pretty good bet.

Useful Tidbits: I would make reservations early and pick the traditional table seating-on low tables with mats on the ground-because they are closer to the stage. We opted for the table seating because it was easier on the grandparents, but we got a table with limited viewing. The 2010 prices are about $95 for adults and $65 for children under twelve. Check out the website for more information.

Linking up to Talking Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday. Go check out what other family travel bloggers have to share this week.

Favorite Summer Vacation Posts

There is still plenty of summer vacation left here in California (trust me, this teacher has counted the days on the calendar), so get out there and enjoy those long, sunny days.
Here are some posts to help you in all of your summer travel endeavors.

If you’re itching to take a road trip…

I wrote a post for the Trekaroo blog on how to tackle a road trip along the central coast of California.

So you’re ready to hit the road along the coast, just don’t forget the beach bag. Read here for some California road trip tips.

Here are my thoughts on packing busy bags and taking technology on the road.

The kids and moms will be hungry as soon as you pull out of the driveway, here are some tips on what me and other mom travel bloggers pack in their snack bag at Cascadia Kids.

It’s not summer without a trip to the beach…

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a tropical paradise and would like to take your kids swimming with the fishes, read some of my snorkeling tips.

I loved to snorkel in Maui’s Kapalua Bay. Please send me a photo if you do go, I’ll live vicariously through you this summer.

One of the top searches to the blog this month has been fried artichoke hearts in Santa Cruz. And it often leads readers to this post on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This is definitely one of my favorite places to eat fried artichoke hearts (they may not be the best you can find, but you just can’t beat the ambiance).

If you’re ready for some s’mores…

Our all-time popular post is about some favorite California campgrounds with kids.

Here are some tips for you newbie campers. Or if you’re a seasoned pro, tell me what else I can add to the list.

My Room With a View

When I look out my bedroom window every morning, this is not what I see. But that’s what vacations are for: to visit beautiful places and, hopefully, to get such memorable views.

This is the view from one of the rooms in the historic wing of the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki. This was the first hotel to be built on Waikiki’s beach in 1901, and I think it’s still the most beautiful. I don’t know if I had the best room in the house, but it felt like that to me. That’s all that matters, really.

Truth be told, I had been wanting to stay the night at this white palace by the sea since I first laid eyes on it. But, I did have to wait over ten years to be able to afford a stay at this luxury hotel. They do say good things come to those who wait. We spent one night at the Moana Surfrider last summer on a layover in Waikiki, and I think we all fell in love.

Because we knew how lucky we were, we squeezed all that we could out of our one day. We sipped Lava Flows and smoothies on the beach, we floated with all the other tourists and their neon inner tubes, we took a ride on an outrigger canoe, and then we brought our take-out dinner back to the balcony of the hotel to enjoy a sunset dinner. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that.

I can still hear the sounds of the slack key guitar playing those mellow tunes under the big banyan tree. I remember laying out on the balcony that night, thinking that there is something intoxicating about all that beauty. I looked out past the hotel courtyard, and saw this lady dancing around in the waves. She wasn’t hard to miss, with her Mumu dress pulled up to her knees as the waves rolled in past her dancing feet. I knew exactly how she felt.

Now there are few hotels that I will write a love letter like this for, but I do enjoy many a stay at hotels while on my travels. They say half the fun is getting there. I say the other half the fun is in the hotel you stay at when you get there. That’s why I’m spending a bit of time writing about hotels this month.

I kicked it off by posting a new page on the site with a list of the hotels I’ve loved and reviewed. I’m also planning to share a bit of the process behind how I choose a hotel for our trips and some of my hotel rants and raves. Come back and check it out, I’d like to hear your thoughts on hotel stays with your family.

I’m linking up my hotel dreams to Mother of all Trips’ Monday Dreaming. There’s always something good going on with Mara, go read all about it.

Honolulu Family Vacation

Surfing Waikiki in an Outrigger Canoe

Sometimes, girls just want to have fun. And sometimes, their lucky sons and sisters get to join them. While on our last trip to Waikiki, I decided I wanted to ride the waves on one of the big outrigger canoes. We only had one afternoon to spend in Waikiki beach, so we had a packed schedule: drinking Lava Flows under beach umbrellas, floating around the warm waters with all the other tourists in brightly colored inner tubes, and then back to the beach umbrellas for a snack of ice cream bonbons. It was going to be a tight squeeze, but I was determined.

I’m too chicken to learn how to surf, so cruising the waves on the outrigger canoes is as close as I’m going to get to that sensation. There are many different places on Waikiki beach where you can sign up for a ride, but we chose the one closest to us-between the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach Hotel and the Moana Surfrider Hotel.

There are few things that I will abandon a tub of ice cream bonbons for, but a chance to ride the waves on an outrigger canoe in Waikiki is one of them. When we finally got the signal from the crew that they had assembled a large enough group to take out on the water, we quickly abandoned/inhaled our tub of bonbons, and rushed to take our places.

I would like to think that I looked graceful boarding that canoe, but it was more akin to a sea lion flopping up onto a rock. Anyhow, we all took our seats and the paddling began. The guide in the back barked out directions to a canoe filled with women and eight-year-old boy. We paddled out for about five minutes and then waited for the perfect wave. We floated out there with all of the surfers, and a three-legged sea turtle (which our guide had a cool nickname for, that I can’t recall and should have taken note of).

When we caught our wave, we zipped past the surfers and the tourists in inner tubes. With the wind in our faces, we screamed, laughed and raced towards that legendary stretch of sand. I will never forget the look on my son’s face. For a split second, he was a Hawaiian prince in his outrigger canoe.

We paddled out and repeated our ride one more time, before we came back to shore and reality. I was out forty dollars, but, for me, it was money well spent. It’s not often that a girl gets to surf a wave in Waikiki with her son.

This Monday I’m sharing my memory, because I need to dream a bit on this chilly March day. I need to remember that my life is filled with memories of these fun, spontaneous moments, and not just the daily routines that make up our weekdays. And next time you are lucky enough to find yourself on Waikiki Beach, take a ride out on one of those canoes. Don’t forget to come back and tell me about it.

I’m linking up to Mother of All Trips this Monday, she is always inspiring, even when she feels a bit uninspired.

Video Zen: Spouting Horn Blowhole

I don’t know about you, but I need to take a bit of a breather every once in a while. I like to take a moment from my hectic days to laugh or dream or both. I’ll take my zen however I can get it.

To help myself and my fellow readers take a break from the mundane monotony of their days, I’m starting a new recurring feature here at Kids Go West. I’m calling it video zen. You’re welcome.

I have a lot of video footage from our travels. Some of the footage captures some peaceful, beautiful moments, while some of it captures a bit of the funny underside of traveling with a kid. I’m going to put together those little moments in a moving picture form so that you get to feel as if you were almost there with us. I mean, it’s as if I bring ya’ll into my living room or suitcase every week, so the videos will make us even cozier.

This week I’m taking you to the island of Kauai to see the Spouting Horn Blowhole. This is one of nature’s marvels, or freaky occurrences, it depends on how you see it. The waves rush in under a shelf of lava rocks and up through an opening. The plumes of water that shoot out can reach heights of fifty feet. They also create a low, blowing sound as the water shoots up. So sit back, turn up the volume on your computer, and check out the almost hypnotic sprays of water.

The Spouting Horn Blowhole can be found in the Poipu resort area of Kauai. It is only a few miles away from Poipu Beach and a very easy walk from the road. You will find plenty of parking, a bathroom, and some stalls selling souvenirs.

We’re linking up our video zen to Mother of All Trip’s Monday Dreaming. Extend your little zen break and go check out the cool posts.

Poipu Family Travel Tips

Waimea Canyon With a Side of Chip

We never embark on a day trip without our munchies. So before we headed out on the road to Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park in Kauai, we made a stop in the town of Hanapepe first. We were looking specifically for the Taro Ko Chips Factory, but we still almost zoomed right past the little green building. It looks more like a house, not like a factory, nor a store. So as you drive along Hanapepe Road, just past the main drag with the galleries and stores, keep your eyes peeled for the sign.
We bought a bag of taro and purple sweet potato chips that were still warm from the frier. I thought they were the perfect combination of salty, sweet, and crunchy. They also kept that kid (pictured above) from getting too whiny in the back seat. I’m not sure if he was more interested in the views of Waimea Canyon or the chips. What I do know, is that we all enjoyed the views more because we were crunching away on those oily little chips.

We’re linking up our chips for our first Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick. Go on over to check out all the delicious posts.


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Poipu Family Travel Tips

Three Travel Secrets: Maui

It’s no secret that Maui is a popular family vacation destination. But there are some hidden places families may often overlook when planning their itineraries. Lucky for them, I’m not good at keeping secrets. Here are three of my favorite places in Maui.

1. Kahekili Beach Park

This became one of our favorite beaches in Maui, by default. We gave up trying to find free parking at the more popular Kaanapali Beach nearby, so we drove on to Kahekili Beach Park instead. We loved that this beach was quieter, but still had the conveniences of a bathroom, picnic tables, barbecue pits, and a parking lot. When you’re traveling with young kids, these are all a godsend. The snorkeling is also good and it makes the best location for a sunset dinner. And by sunset dinner, I mean a picnic of take-out food from Maui Tacos.

2. Upcountry With Kids

I put off a visit to the upcountry region of Maui, because I wasn’t sure if was going to be to my son’s liking. I had read about the pineapple wineries and the rolling countryside, but it didn’t sound like kiddie paradise. I loved to be proved wrong. We spent a very relaxing Sunday afternoon at the Alii Kula Lavender Farm and the Kula Botanical Garden. Both places had plenty of activities to keep kids busy: scavenger hunts, poi fish to feed, brownies to eat. I truly wish I could spend more Sunday afternoons walking in fields of lavender, through bamboo tunnels and sitting pretty while I sip my lavender tea and gaze out over the Pacific Ocean.

3. Hawaii Nature Center

I’m a sucker for a good education center, so of course I loved the Hawaii Nature Center. On the way up to Iao Valley State Park, most people will drive past this place. They shouldn’t. Kids (and parents) can get a bit more out of their Hawaiian vacation than boogie boards and shave ice. At this center, they learn about the flora and fauna of Hawaii with hands-on, engaging exhibits.

This post was inspired by Lorraine at Keeps Me Smiling, who gave me a little shoulder tap in a game of blogger tag that began with Katie at Tripbase. Lorraine shared her secrets learned while on a trip to Novia Scotia with her family and inspired me to go. She then tags me and other bloggers to share their travel secrets. Now I’m ready to tag a few more fellow bloggers because I can’t wait to read what they have to share. I’ll keep this post updated with my tags as well.

Tagging Sharlene from Double Adventure: She shares all the wild O.C. secrets.

Tagging Mara at Mother of All Trips: She shares family travel wisdom.



Kihei Family Travel Tips

Dreaming of Alii Kula Lavender Farm

You smell the lavender before you see it. So as we pulled up to the Alii Kula Lavender farm, we were already a little drunk with the fragrance filling the car. It’s such a soothing smell too. It took all my willpower to not lay down on the lawns surrounding the purple fields and let the lavender breezes soothe me to sleep.

But unfortunately for me, the lavender scent did not have the same calming effect on a seven year-old boy. While I saw a place for quiet reflection, he saw open land to explore.

So we hiked around the lavender fields and then down the garden trails looking for clues on the Lavender Scavenger Hunt. You can pick up your scavenger hunt clue card at the gift shop and then set out to find the stamps hidden throughout the farm. When my son filled his card with the stamps, he took it back to the gift shop and got a lavender cookie as a prize. This was an easy way to explore at our own pace, since we didn’t have time for a scheduled tour. I made sure we didn’t leave before we tried their tea, lavender scones, and lavender brownies out on the balcony overlooking Maui. I sat there pondering how I would retire, come to Maui, and become a lavender farmer. I’m still working out the logistics.

There is no way to really share the experience of sitting at the top of the Maui’s upcountry, overlooking fields of lavender, and the valleys and ocean below. I’m going to count on your powers of imagination. Here’s a short video of a 360-degree view of the lavender fields. It may make you a little dizzy, but just imagine that it’s because you’re drunk with joy and not because this is the first video I made with my Flip camera.

I do hope that it helps you experience this little piece of lavender heaven. Enjoy my Monday dreaming and go check out Mother of All Trips this week, she’s helping raise money to build a school in Cambodia.