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Oahu Travel with Toddlers: Our Favorites as a Family

At this point, our 14 month old has 15 flights and 15 hotels/rental houses under her tiny belt. I wouldn’t say it has gotten easier, but we all have learned –often the hard way– how to travel together, better. The most important lesson that we learned when traveling with her is to pick the right destination for her interests and stage in her development. We made a little checklist on where we can go now with our little energizer bunny and that is how we selected our big summer trip this year.

Note: It’s challenging to anticipate your child’s needs when you plan trips in advance because we don’t always know where they will be emotionally/physically/mentally in months from now, but it is important to make your best guess and adjust your destination around that finding. 

Braving the flight!

Our checklist for travel with Aurora at 14 months:

  1. Not too far by plane (under 5-6 hours direct)
  2. Lots of outdoor areas for play including water
  3. Relaxed atmosphere where most things will be nearby 
  4. Culture that embraces family life with lots of child friendly activities, hotels and dining

Where did we land?

HAWAII! Oahu to be exact. Just about 5.5 hours on one of my favorite airlines–Hawaiian (not an ad)– and we were in a warm, tropical, kid friendly paradise. Aurora’s favorite thing to do is touch, splash, drink or generally be immersed in water so that led us to be thinking of warmer climes with lots of pool and ocean possibilities. Oahu has the ideal mix of accessibility for kids, a really strong, welcoming culture and some of the most beautiful beaches that I’ve ever seen.  

We spent 7 full days on this island, exploring (in between naptime) and here’s our top list for best experiences with a toddler. 

 

OUTDOORS

WAIKIKI BEACH, HONOLULU

Beaching in front of Hilton Hawaiian Village

This may seem surprising but Oahu’s famous beach is also an ideal place for children. With Diamond Head soaring at one end, a lively vacation atmosphere, and the novice surfers catching waves further out, the whole beach feels iconically Hawaii.  Since these island are also known for warm water year round (during our late August the water was in the 80s) the temperature is extremely comfortable. The waves are gentle enough to be safe for young kids, under parental supervision. We could carry Aurora in passed the break and then use her swim floaties, or a small inflatable tube with leg holes, to help her float. 

The only drawback is this beach is naturally, very popular. To avoid the crowds and have more space, we loved spending time at the beach in front of the  Hilton Hawaiian Village. This is the widest stretch of beach and a bit away from the busiest central area of Waikiki so we could always find ample room for our towels and sand toys.

Beach chairs are available to rent but we spent most of the time in the water or digging in the sand, so it wasn’t necessary for us. 

The sand is very clean and quite soft but be careful as it can get HOT during the day. We always had Aurora in covered swim shoes while we were at the beach to protect those tootsies. 

 

SUNSET BEACH, NORTH SHORE

Just under an hour from Honolulu, the North Shore is home to world renowned big wave surfing. That doesn’t mean, however, that all of its beaches aren’t kid friendly. It just depends on the time of year. From May to September, waves are much smaller, making the North Shore beaches ideal for families. 

Sunset Beach is a pristine stretch that runs along Kamehameha Highway. It actually took my breath the two times that I’ve stopped here. The sunburnt coral sand, the vividly blue water, and the palm lined backdrop made this whole place feel like it was a dictionary definition of paradise.  There are no facilities nearby so pack what you need– especially water, towels, beach toys and sunscreen– so you can make the most of your time here. 

We drove up North early and arrived at Sunset Beach before 9am so we could enjoy two blissful hours of frolicking in the water, building sand castles and collecting seashells before the sun even reached its peak.  

 

DUKE KAHANAMOKU LAGOON,

HILTON HAWAIIAN VILLAGE WAIKIKI BEACH RESORT

I didn’t think that a man-made lagoon, set just off the real beach, would be where I’d want us to spend time but I was wrong! The Lagoon is actually a great place for families with young kids. For starters, there are no waves–just a very gradual incline. This allowed both my husband and I to sit on the sand and watch Aurora splash in the shallow water, without worry. She loved this independence as she freely walked around, sitting in the shallow water and giggling at the fish flitting near her toes.

The Lagoon is great for little mermaids

At the Lagoon, the Hilton Hawaiian Village also offers kayak, SUP, paddle boat and aqua biking rentals. We tried out the paddle boat and kayak, both with Aurora on board. The kayak turned out to be more kid friendly as it was easier to keep her sitting still on our lap since we didn’t have to paddle with our feet. 

 

EXPERIENCES

 

WAIKIKI AQUARIUM

I wasn’t sure how Aurora would react to her first aquarium visit but I was astounded by how much she loved every minute we spent here. The Waikiki Aquarium is set on the water next to a living reef and it 115 years old–the second oldest in the US. Though there are over 3000 marine specimens, inside it is not overwhelming and doable in a morning or afternoon. Inside, many tanks have padded ledges, allowing little ones to get a better view of the aquatic wonders in the tank.

A highlight was catching the octopus feeding, when we saw an incredible day octopus devour his shrimp and change colors just inches from us. We learned that he is given toys for enrichment and sometimes his food is given in a jar that he has to open–what!

Octopus Feeding

Aurora also was fascinated by the top predators tank, the largest in the aquarium, which gave an up close view of jacks, grouper and shark in the same space. I was amazed to see a chambered nautilus, a prehistoric species that has been unchanged for millions of years. 

Top Predators Tank

Outside, a rescued Hawaiian Monk Seal swam and played in the waters as Aurora happily clapped on in awe. The aquarium has attempted to reintroduce this monk seal back into the wild but the efforts have failed, so she’s happily hanging out in her habitat at the Aquarium and in doing so, sharing the plight of this critically endangered species. 

Details:

Adults are $12 and Children under 3 are free! 

Waikiki Aquarium Website

 

HONOLULU ZOO

Kid Petting Zoo

It’s hard to believe that there is a full zoo right in the heart of downtown Waikiki, but it is true. We stopped here after a healthy breakfast at nearby Da Cove. This was Aurora’s first zoo experience and she was very interested in all the wildlife especially the gibbons. Overall, highlights were the elephants, tiger and the rhino. There is also a petting farm and Aurora was able to pet some friendly goats. 

It’s not large and there are some renovations going on so certain exhibits were closed, however we felt it was still worth a stop especially with animal-loving kids!

Details:
Adults are $19, Children under 3 are free!

Honolulu Zoo Website

CULTURE

ALOHA FESTIVALS

For the entire month of September, Oahu hosts events, parades and festivals that celebrate Hawaiian culture, tradition and history. We were lucky enough to be in town for the opening ceremony and Royal Court Investiture. A new king, queen, prince and princess were crowned in a regal ceremony modeled after the historical ceremony of Hawaiian royalty. All of this took place on the lovely grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.   

Royal Investiture

Aurora loved the live music and hula that followed the Investiture. While she might not have understood the historical significance of this event, she was definitely interested in the bright costumes and lively atmosphere. 

Opening Ceremony for the Aloha Festivals

We won’t be in town for the following events, but the block party and flower parade look incredible!

All the Aloha Festivals are listed here

 

WAIKIKI STARLIGHT LUAU

A luau is more than just dinner and a show. It’s a chance for the whole family to learn more about Hawaiian culture through the stories, dance and music. The Waikiki Starlight Luau takes place at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, with a view of the ocean. 

Waikiki Starlight Luau

The children’s buffet was the right height for kids and had a lot of kid friendly options. The hula was wonderful and seeing Aurora try to dance along with the performers brought many smiles from onlookers. 

Details:

$111 Adults, $71 for Children 4-11, Children under 3 Free

Website: Waikiki Starlight Luau

 

DINING 

 

While there’s a lot of restaurants on Oahu that we have on the mainland, we found some incredible local fare that also worked well for young appetites. 

The Street Food Hall by Michael Mina

The 12 food stalls inside this modern, vibrant food hall has something for everyone at all hours of the day. We came here 4 separate times at different times of day–breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner!

Breakfast at Mi Almita

The food is prepared to order, using fresh ingredients and at affordable price points. They also have a  Street Party pass that allows you to sample 7 of the restaurant stalls and 3 of the bars, at a 

Burger Hale at The Street Food Hall

Our favorites were: 

  • The Myna Bird a tiki bar with great $5 piña coladas
  • Mi Almita for a delicious al fresco breakfast including mochi pancakes and loco moco
  • Burger Hale for sliders and hand cut fries–this was great especially for Aurora
  • Little Lafa for an easy grab and go savory lafa

    These piña coladas are incredible at The Myna Bird

Details: 

2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Suite 330
Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: The Street Social House

 

HIGHWAY INN

With local owners and a long legacy of serving up authentic food in an approachable setting, the Highway Inn is a must stop for those that want to taste real Hawaiian food. 

Local Specialties at Highway Inn

We stopped in the Kaka’ako location for lunch and tried out signature dishes like lau lau, poke and kalua pork. Each were rich, flavorful and different than we had anywhere else. Aurora was a fan of the lau lau and kalua pork and I couldn’t get enough of their sesame poke. The restaurant was packed, with local residents and tourists alike. If you are in the know, you come here.

Next time, we are coming for breakfast because we saw the pancakes go by and look amazing. 

Details:

680 Ala Moana Boulevard #105
Honolulu, HI 96813

Website: Highway Inn

 

da COVE HEALTH BAR and CAFE 

da Cove is another local favorite serving up fresh smoothies and juices, unique omelettes and a wide variety of acai bowls. For keiki, they offer omelettes and Aurora really liked the smoothies! We went to the location near Diamond Head, which is close to downtown.

Healthy spread at da Cove

Details

3045 Monsarrat Ave #5,
Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: da Cove Heath Bar and Cafe

 

Moku Kitchen

Family friendly restaurants can be COOL and that certainly is the case at Moku Kitchen. The busy atmosphere, wide variety of mouthwatering dishes and drinks and attention to kids here made Aurora and her parents very happy. I can’t say enough about the delicious food–I had a steak that I’ll never forget. However, I think Aurora had the most fun. They have table toys that they let you borrow to keep your little one occupied. When Aurora is occupied, her parents can relax. This restaurant understands the needs of families!

Details

660 Ala Moana Blvd,

Honolulu, HI 96813

Website: Moku Kitchen

 

ABC STORES

These “everything” shops are all over Honolulu and they helped us out on several occasions. From pool floaties, to organic milk, string cheese to fruit, they made it easy for us to grab what we needed on the go. There are so many locations, you will definitely see at least one. 

ABC Stores are so useful!

 

HOTELS

 

HILTON HAWAIIAN VILLAGE WAIKIKI BEACH RESORT 

If you have children, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort is resort is fantastic for your needs.  As mentioned above, the expansive property is on a wide stretch of beach, that is not trafficked by many others as it is the far end of Waikiki Beach. In addition to the Lagoon, there are multiple pool areas and even a pool with water slides. All the pools are very kid friendly and your child will have lots of other kids to play with!

Our view from the 14th floor of the Alii Tower

In addition to all the fun water experiences, the HHV also has well landscaped walkways, ponds and streams so just walking through the property is fun with children. There are ducks, turtles and all sorts of colorful fish to admire. Occasionally we could see several parrots and macaws that had their own areas in the center of the resort. 

Exploring the HHV grounds

We stayed in the Ali’i Tower, which made this large resort feel a bit more intimate. This tower has its own check-in and concierge, as well as priority seating at some restaurants. It’s also very centrally located on this widespread property, making it a breeze to walk to the restaurants, shops, pools and beach. Guests in this tower even have access to their own pool, restaurant and bar on the second floor. This unique access made it easy for us to take a quick dip in the pool, grab some food or always find an available lounge chair. 

The living room of our suite.

Our room was great for Aurora. It was a king suite on a high floor so our view was astounding. There was no balcony, which we preferred, as balconies with kids can be scary. A crib was provided and the living room, 2 bathrooms and bedroom were very spacious. The mini refrigerator was crucial for storing milk and snacks for Aurora. We converted the desk area to her changing area. We were in a suite so the two rooms was a lifesaver for us when Aurora napped and went to bed. We were able to eat takeout, watch tv and move about in our own room. 

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

2005 Kalia Road

Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: HHV

 

THE LAYLOW

For a more boutique experience with that just exudes style, The Laylow is a special find in Waikiki. The stylish coffee bar and open air restaurant, Hideout Waikiki, is a huge draw unto themselves, but for kids, the POOL is definitely the place to be. Daily free shave ice and frozen fruit treats are offered complimentary. There are lounge beds in the water which turned out to be endless fun for our little climber. 

Great beds at The Laylow

The rooms have retro Hawaiian vibe that I really enjoyed and since we opted for a Corner Suite, we had a separate area that worked well for Aurora’s crib, which the hotel provided. The was ample space and two balconies with views. 

Daily free shave ice by the pool

The location is excellent as well. Just next to the International Marketplace, we were steps from many dining options, shops and coffee, as well as just a five minute scenic walk to the beach. Valet parking handles the cars and were very efficient, so it was easy to come and go when were headed out on an adventure. 

Hanging out on the open air roof deck of Hideout

Details:

The Laylow, Autograph Collection

2299 Kuhio Ave,

Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: The Laylow

 

Oahu has hands down been one of our best trips as a family — and that is a BIG STATEMENT since traveling with a toddler is very challenging. We definitely had our share of difficulties–Aurora caught a sickness, she battled jetlag and we had some napless days. But what mattered the most is we were able to spend so much quality time together–whether getting tickled on the bed, splashing in the surf or gazing at the multicolored sunsets each evening. Oahu just made it easy to enjoy our time with each other. It’s so naturally interesting and beautiful, even just a walk together was fun. We found it so easy to get around, restaurants were beyond accommodating to children and if we ran out of swim diapers/sunscreen/milk, there was always a place to grab it close by. The local Hawaiians we met were so kind to us, and showered Aurora with love, it made us feel truly at home here.  The aloha spirit is still in our hearts back at home and I feel that our family bond was only strengthened by this trip together.

Waikiki Sunsets

 

Flying with a Toddler: 15 Tips for Airplane Travel with Baby

Flying is not always easy as an adult. There are constant delays, airport traffic, annoying seatmates, shrinking legroom and an overall lack of gates available (am I right?!). 

All that aside, flying as an adult WITHOUT a baby is pretty much… a luxury. Few things are more stressful than an unhappy, non-sleeping baby when you are on a plane. I look back at my “bad” flights pre-baby, they were nothing compared to what we deal with now. 

I’ve taken Aurora on 15 flights at this point, from 2 months to 13 months. Each flight throughout the year has had its own challenges and good surprises. However, now flying with a toddler definitely has been the most…active….

 

Here are my 15 best recommendations to make you and your little one a little bit happier while flying. ***Each tip and product has been vetted by me or a close parent friend, so these won’t lead you astray. 

Also remember: traveling with your little one is always worth it!

 

  1. Dress Toddlers comfortably

 

Don’t put on the cute dress or stiff baby jeans–put on the comfiest, loose cotton outfit that completely covers legs and arms. For Aurora, that looks like a long sleeve cotton dress from Splendid and leggings, her comfiest sneakers and thin socks. I forgo any bows because they will get lost. 

 VERY IMPORTANT: bring at least one extra change of clothes for the inevitable blowout or stained shirt. I usually rollup 2 additional comfy outfits in my carryon. I also carry jacket or sweater, extra socks and a hat.

 

  1. Only a Carryon Backpack 

Did you know that you get an EXTRA carry on bag when you are flying with a child? That means, the parent gets one personal item and one carryon + one additional bag. 

If flying solo (without spouse or friend or grandparent): Bring one roller carryon and one well thought out carryon bag. Any more than that and your hands will be too full because remember, you always need at least one hand to carry your toddler/hold their hand/  grab them out of harm’s way. In this bag, put the essentials and make them easy to grab (aka. Don’t over jam or you’ll never be able to reach in with one hand and grab what you need).

You also will benefit from putting bottle, water cups, a wrapped snack and wipes in the out pockets for easy grabbing. 

I use this backpack here and have been pretty happy with it. 

 

  1. Fanny Packs are your NEW BFF

Personally, I have always liked fanny packs, but no matter your style preferences, know that a fanny pack is a lifesaver when traveling with a toddler. You can keep your passports, tickets, your phone and one credit card on you for easy access as you go through the airport. Rather than stopping to take off your backpack or fishing around a diaper bag, this streamlines things and keeps you from losing your items (or losing your toddler). 

 

  1. Keep Your Toddler WALKING Pre-Flight

You’ll need to have your baby in the stroller (or be wearing them) until you get close to your gate since we all know that toddlers aren’t the quickest or most efficient walkers. But when you get near your gate, find a quiet area and let your toddler out. Let them walk and wander and expend a lot energy. And expect them to make lots of friends.

This can be tough if you don’t have a partner to watch your things but when I fly solo with Aurora I ask the most trustworthy looking person to watch my bags and have my valuables on me (fanny pack!) so off we go. The more energy the expend before the flight, the happier everyone will be. 

 

  1. Bring a BAG to Cover your Checked Stroller

I’ve used my Bugaboo Chameleon and my Doona carseat/stroller while traveling and both have to be checked at the gate. Twice I forgot a bag to at least cover the seat part of my Bugaboo stroller. That was a mistake. The seat came back dusty and dirty both times (who knows what was piled on top of them). Just bring a large bag to cover the seat part to at least have a barrier. Once you disembark, you won’t have time to clean it before popping your baby in. 

 

  1. Use CLEAR Water & Milk Straw Cups (or go through with empty cups!)

I wish I had realized this but if the cup is clear, the security will not need to open the bottle. They can visually examine then maybe swab the item. If the item is not translucent, they need to open the bottle and look inside, then swab the air above. I didn’t love this because you are worried that they are going to touch the inside of your cup (ew) and also it takes MORE TIME. 

Note: if you want to save time in security, go through with empty cups and buy water and milk on the other side. Now that we are off of breastmilk (which I’d NEVER dump), it’s now almost worth skipping the extra security check and getting what you need on the other side. 

 

  1. Download TV shows on your iPhone AHEAD of time

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Netflix allows you to download kids TV shows (for free) to your device. Llama Llama, Daniel Tiger and Little Baby Bum episodes truly saved us from complete meltdowns when even the onboard televisions weren’t cutting it. At 12/13 months old, airplane movies and tv shows are often too slow or complex–meant for older children. Find a couple shows that your child likes and have them easily accessible. 

Note: We try to have no screen time in our everyday lives, save for a few minutes every other day to help us achieve a goal (stay in the highchair a little longer, cut fingernails, sit at restaurant longer etc). When you limit this at home, it becomes that much more mesmerizing when you bust it out on a plane!

 

  1. Bring Kid Sized Headphones

I did not bring these last time and it was a mistake. Aurora would have enjoyed the inflight entertainment more if she could have heard the sounds, songs and words. These headpphones have been highly rated and are one of the few that fit little ones around 1 year old.

Note: They don’t have a limit to volume like some others, so make sure it’s not too loud! 

 

  1. Pack “Never Before Seen” Toys In Your Carryon

I try to bring at least 1 or 2 brand new toys that Aurora hasn’t seen before. I time the opening when she is getting fussy and make a big deal out of it. It’s helpful to choose something that has a lot to look at so you can show her things, talk about it and kill a lot of time with the toy. You don’t want anything with lots of pieces that can fall or that is too heavy. 

This Magnetic Doodler can occupy LOTS of time

Some toys that have worked for us on planes are: 

 

  1. Bring SUPER lightweight Books

Books (especially Indestructibles)

All books are lifesavers while traveling but they can be really HEAVY. However, I’ve found these Indestructible books which are paper thin and SUPER lightweight so you can pack quite a few in your bag. They are inexpensive and can even be washed in the washing machine (and don’t tear) — perfect for flights. 

 

  1. Go “Excursions” in the Aisles

This is inevitable. You’ll have to do laps of the aisles if your little one is energetic. To make this more manageable, go slow, say hi to people and then stop and waste time in the galley (until you get a dirty look from the flight attendant). The purpose of this is to keep them standing, moving and getting tired. 

 

  1. UPGRADE if you can

I mentioned this in previous posts but the bulkhead seats in economy can be wonderful because they give you so much extra legroom–enough for your toddler to stand, sit and even lay down. 

Bulkhead seats are GREAT

If that isn’t available, it might be worth the splurge for business class or an improved economy class. You’ll want to be near the front of the plane to get off quicker and have closer access to bathrooms. Every extra inches of legroom means a happier baby.

Lots more space in business class

Note: We haven’t purchased an extra seat for Aurora yet as she is under 2, but we might consider it in the future. 

 

  1. Make a comfy sleep area

This inflatable cube footrest pillow can turn a seat into a lie flat bed for your little one. Inflate it on board and put it on the floor next to your child’s seat.

Note: this only works if you have an extra seat for your little one.

This specific one has been used & approved by a fellow traveling mama. 

 

14. Organize your space

Make sure wet wipes, at least one snack, water bottle and hand sanitizer is within reach at all times. I suggest taking these items out and putting them in the seatback pocket. This is especially key if you are in the bulkhead and have to put your diaper bag in the overhead compartment on landing and take off.

 

15. No Mess, Easy To Serve SNACKS

Now that your toddler is eating most things, this is a great distraction! Think about your kid’s favorite foods–the ones that he/she will always shove into their mouth and pack those in ziplock bags or small reusable containers.

I try to bring the LEAST messy snacks as possible so here is my go to list: 

    • Mini mozzarella cheese balls (ciligine)
    • String Cheese
    • Cooked Pasta 
      • Pick a shape that doesn’t need to be cut (wagon wheels, shells or fusilli usually work well)
      • Avoid red sauce: olive oil or cheese sauce is better
    • Cooked Sweet Potato
      • Chunks, whole or slices
    • Cooked Chicken/Steak
      • A simple cooked protein in slices usually is easy and mess free
    • Avocado
      • A little messy but Aurora eats it so quickly, I can usually avoid mess
    • Once Upon a Farm Pouches
      • These need to be refrigerated after 8 hours so give earlier in the trip if it is a long one. Also, pick a flavor that doesn’t stain like Sun Shiny Strawberry Patch  (avoid the Goldy Mango & 3 Coconuts flavor because the turmeric stains)
    • Puffed Snack
      • Hippeas
      • Bambo
      • Puffins Cereal 
    • Crackers
      • Late July Peanut Butter Crackers are great
    • Blueberries
    • Strawberries
      • Avoid blackberries or raspberries! Messy!
    • Pears
    • Pineapple Chunks
    • Mango
    • Dried fruit 
  • Creamies
    • I try to limit the processed stuff like Happy Baby Creamies but on a plane, these can work wonders!

 

I hope these tips help your next flight and take some of the fear/pain/anxiety out of flying with a toddler. It’s not easy but it’s worth it!

Feel free to share your tips too!