Tag Archives: Hawaii

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.

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

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.

Five Month Hurrah

mapsYes, this week marks the blog’s five-month anniversary, and I’m ready to celebrate. I would invite you all over for a killer fiesta, but since I can’t, here’s some of your favorite posts so far (well, at least that’s what the stats say).


  1. When Maps Fall Into the Wrong Hands: Who knew that the post I wrote in a hotel room, on a whirlwind weekend in San Diego, would take this number one spot. Maybe I should write in hotel rooms more often.
  2. Kids Go West Guide to the Best Campgrounds in California:  It seems that people love to the great outdoors. Pack up that gear everyone, and don’t forget the peanut butter (my secret ingredient) for those s’mores.
  3. Disneyland During Spring Break:  When people aren’t camping, they’re trying to figure out how they’ll survive the magical place that Walt built. I’ve lived to tell the tale, so I’ve got lots to share. Look for more posts about my Disney tips this month. I’m here to help!
  4. Guide to Inauguration Day Activities: What’s more popular than Disney? President Obama. I thought it was a bit amusing that one of my most popular posts for a while was the only one that had nothing to do with travel. It made me thinking about changing directions…nah.
  5. The Dole Pineapple Maze With a Side of Dole Whip:  I’m so glad I’m not the only person on the planet who loves pineapple soft-serve. Oh no, I’m part of a much larger dole-whip loving peoples.

It’s been (mostly) a blast writing this blog. Thanks for reading, I appreciate it more than you know.

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.

Like sands through the hourglass

Child and SandcastleOn our last trip to Maui, I spent a lot of time half-heartedly helping my son with his sandcastles. It’s that tug-of-war between me, just wanting to relax on the beach, and my son, constantly needing my attention. 

Looking through my photo library, I noticed I have a lot of pictures of sandcastles. We have a predictable beach ritual in our family;  as soon as my son is finished with his sand project, he wants a picture taken of it. When he was a wee thing, it was the only way to get him to part with his sandy creations.

So now I have dozens of pictures with a kid and a sandcastle. I’m glad my son made me take those pictures, though. It’s not just the memory of the sandcastles that I’m capturing, but my son’s childhood as well. They both disappear more quickly than I’d like.

One of new year’s resolutions is to help him make more sandcastles. I’m looking for some tips to make the most kick-ass sandcastle on the beach, the one everybody stops to check out. When I make it, I promise to take a picture of it.


I’ve been checking in at Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday for months now, and I’m excited to participate on my first week of blogging. Go check it out: great pictures, fabulous bloggers.