Three Fun Island Destinations Offer Fun Ideas for Kids
With spring break around the corner, a tropical family getaway might sound like just the ticket. There are plenty of excellent options fun of fun ideas for kids, but the Hawaiian islands, Puerto Rico and Nassau, Bahamas, are especially great for parents with kids in tow.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has miles of white-sand beaches near a lush Caribbean rainforest, but you don’t need a passport to enjoy this exotic tropical playground, which is a U.S. territory. With good public transportation and pedestrian-friendly streets, San Juan is fun and easy to navigate.
Wear good walking shoes to explore Old San Juan’s forts, plazas and museums. Kids will go wild scrambling through the tunnels, dungeons, barracks and outposts of the massive 16th-century El Morro and 18th-century Castillo de San Cristobal forts, built to protect Puerto Rico from invading armies.
Sample traditional Puerto Rican cuisine on a culinary tour with Spoon Food Tours (www.SpoonFoodTours.com). Morning, lunch and dinner tours start at $69 for adults and $49 for ages 3-12, but the best bet for families is likely a customized kid-friendly tour, available for $99 on foot or $139 driving. Open up a world of new tastes for the kids with traditional bacalaitos (fried codfish fritters), tostones (fried plantain slices) and fried pork.
Less than an hour from San Juan is the El Yunque Rainforest (www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque), part of the Caribbean National Forest. Hike with the kids among 1,000-year-old trees and bamboo groves where you’ll hear tiny coqui tree frogs sing and – if you’re lucky – see the endangered Amazona vittata parrot. Take in the view from 1,575 feet atop Yokahu Lookout Tower, and splash in the swimming hole below lovely La Mina Falls.
For accommodations, consider the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, located on pristine Condado Beach in a residential neighborhood within walking distance of stores, restaurants and a nearby park. Splash in the gentle surf and in the two-level pool. There’s a waterslide and shallow area for kids. Bike rentals are free for two hours ($7.50 per hour thereafter). The Marriott’s Escape Family Time Package offers rooms with a city view starting at $284 per night for families with up to three kids, and kids 12 and younger eat free at the hotel’s La Vista Latin Grill.
Ready for adventure here in the U.S.? Your family will be wowed by the force of nature on the Big Island (the one actually named Hawaii), home to the world’s tallest mountain and the still-erupting Kilauea volcano. Snorkeling in the morning and hiking in a crater in the afternoon will get kids talking instead of texting.
Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (www.nps.gov/havo) to learn about Kilauea volcano. While you won’t see molten red surface flows, the entire park is made of lava. Walk through the Thurston Lava Tube and to the Halemaumau crater, pocked with steam vents. At sunset, gather at the Jagger Museum to see the crater’s flume glowing red from the lava lake beneath. The park also hosts hula, feather work and other free year-round cultural activities and events, such as the Biodiversity & Cultural Festival May 15 and 16.
Measured from its base on the ocean floor, Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain, rising more than 32,000 feet. Due to the hazards of mountain sickness, no one under age 16 is allowed to visit the 13,803-foot summit, but the visitor center (www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis), the highest point children can visit, offers free stargazing programs nightly. From there, visitors of all ages can hike 15 to 20 minutes to the top of Pu’u Kalepeamoa for a view of the sunset.
In the town of Hilo, shop at Hilo Farmers Market for a picnic at the beach. Or visit the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center (www.imiloahawaii.org), where more than 100 exhibits intertwine astronomy and Hawaiian culture.
Eat at Ken’s House of Pancakes (www.kenshouseofpancakes.com) to try Loco Moco (a local dish featuring rice, meat and egg), or at Tex Drive-in in Honoka (www.texdriveinhawaii.com) for fresh malasadas (similar to sugar donuts). Best accommodations for families are likely the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (www.HiloHawaiian.com), which overlooks Hilo Bay and Mauna Kea.
Over on the laid-back island of Kauai, quiet beaches, fragrant blooms and natural scenic sights in every direction make it easy to enjoy nature and relax together as a family. But that doesn’t mean the island offers no excitement.
And what kid doesn’t want to ride in a helicopter? Swoop between valley walls and soar over cliffs on a 90-minute, narrated tour with synchronized music with Island Helicopters ($183 and up, www.islandhelicopters.com). Land in a remote valley at the base of the 400-foot Manawaiopuna Falls, named Jurassic Falls for the movie filmed there. A stream-side jungle path leads to the falls.
Sea-worthy families can see waterfalls, sea caves and dolphins along the stunning Napali Coast with Capt. Andy’s Sailing Adventures (www.napali.com), or paddle along the Hanalei River on a kayak and snorkel tour with Kayak Kauai (www.kayakkauai.com).
Head to Princeville Ranch Adventures (www.princevilleranch.com) for a guided hike through lowland rainforest to Kalihiwai Falls, picnic included. You can rappel down a 10-foot rock wall and cool off in the remote 80-foot waterfall.
If you’re ready to chill, The Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens (www.naainakai.com) is the place for you. Feed koi in the lagoon and play in a children’s garden featuring a treehouse, a gecko maze and teak-wood log cabins.
Ready for something to eat? Check out Keoki’s Paradise in Koloa (www.keokisparadise.com) for traditional island dishes. The no-frills Hamura Saimin in Lihue (2956 Kress St.) is billed as a great stop for noodle soup and lilikoi chiffon pie on the way to or from the airport. The Hanalei Taro & Juice Company food truck (www.hanaleitaro.com) in Hanalei serves authentic Hawaiian plate lunches and juices.
Accommodations include Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach (www.marriottkauai.com), the beachside condos at Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation (www.outriggerkiahunaplantationcondo.com), and the luxury of Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas (www.westinprinceville.com).
Got passports and looking for a resort to entertain your kids? Atlantis Resort in Nassau (www.atlantisbahamas.com) boasts a 141-acre water park and beach, blue ocean water so clear you see fish without snorkel gear, restaurants, shops, a marina and entertainment that make this a G-rated Vegas-style resort.
The Reef Atlantis, one of several vacation towers, is the most family friendly. Situated on Paradise Beach with water views from all rooms, The Reef has kitchens or kitchenettes and spacious living areas. The resort’s Spring Into Savings package offers 50 percent off nightly room rates on select dates in March and April, and includes free water park access and free breakfast and dinner for kids 12 and under with a paying adult. Book before Feb. 3.
Families can explore the park’s exciting water slides, a mile-long river ride with rapids, a life-size replica of a Mayan temple, a seven-acre snorkeling lagoon and several pools. Go on an expedition to The Dig/Ruins Lagoon, home to more than 20,000 marine animals, and sign up in advance for the popular Dolphin Cay, a dolphin interaction and education center. Meet adorable sea lions on a behind-the-scenes tour. Bring your camera!
The Atlantis Kids Adventures program entertains ages 3-12 with activities from morning to evening, and CRUSH, an upscale teen nightclub, has a dance floor, live DJ, cutting-edge gaming, internet lounges and a non-alcoholic bar for ages 13-17.
From casual beach food shacks to an array of family restaurants, there’s no shortage of dining on the property. And at Virgil’s Real Barbecue, the mac & cheese and freshly squeezed lemonade aren’t just for kids.
Off property in downtown Nassau, visit the Graycliff Hotel (www.graycliff.com), where you can take a tour and make your own chocolates at Graycliff Chocolatier, then dine at Graycliff Restaurant. Housed in an elegant colonial mansion, it’s the Caribbean’s first five-star restaurant, but it’s kid-friendly, too.
Whichever direction you choose this spring, putting an island touch on your vacation is a great way to enjoy relaxation and adventure – and make great family memories!
Mimi Slawoff is a SoCal mom of three who writes about travel and family fun.