Our Family Trip to Hawaii

We went on a trip to Hawaii!!! And we had so much fun!!! A couple years ago, Ben told me he wanted to go to Hawaii when he finished his PhD program so we started saving for a trip. Spoiler: he’s not done yet BUT he found an awesome deal on flights and we decided to take advantage and go sooner than planned. We both felt really good about the choice and the timing and we’re so glad we went! Neither of us had been before and it lived up to the hype! It was a dream! Here are all the details:

Planning

Booking the flight was a bit of a whirlwind/spur of the moment decision since we didn’t want to lose out on a good deal. But once we bought tickets there were a couple days of complete panic as we realized we’d booked during peak travel days (we booked the flights in October and went on the trip for about a week spanning over New Year’s Eve/Day)and there was a real fear that we wouldn’t be able to get any of our other needs at an affordable rate! In the end it all worked out but things were looking dicey for a bit.

Housing Rental: This was by far my biggest stressor. Once Ben booked flights, he told me to find a place to stay which I was very excited about until I realized that most people who plan trips to Hawaii are very much more adultish than us and have things planned way more in advance! I wasn’t seeing anything within our budget. In fact, most available options were thousands of dollars per night and I was having a small panic attack worrying that we’d have to back out on the trip. Ben started looking too and we actually booked two different places (that we ended up canceling) before finding the place that we stuck with. The cost per night was way more in line with our budget and the place ended up being great. We went to the Big Island (which is named Hawaii) and our rental was in Waikoloa Village, about a 45 minute drive from Kona. It’s a little ways inland so we did have to drive for everything we wanted to do. But the place was clean, comfortable, nicely decorated, and the hosts had a book of things to do/places to eat which was very helpful. The rental was 2 bed/2 bath and it was perfect for our family! Here’s a link for where we stayed.

Car Rental: This ended up being more expensive than I was thinking it would be but it was less than it could’ve been because we discovered Turo which is like AirBnB or Vrbo but for cars. All the big name car rental companies were giving us these humongous quotes for a rental (we did have to find a vehicle that seated 6, so that was part of why it was so much money) but we were able to find a minivan on Turo for about half of what the big companies were quoting so that was a huge relief. They were able to also include two car seats for the girls, so we just had to worry about taking the baby’s car seat. Ben booked this and did all of the interactions but I thought it was a good experience and I would go this route again for sure.

Everything else: Our #1 goal was to be at the beach as much as possible, but we also wanted to try some good food, get shave ice (preferably every day), and see some of the cool things on the Big Island. We knew we wanted to spend a day in Hilo and we also booked a couple of excursions (which I’ll talk about later), but for the most part we didn’t plan things in any concrete way, but just had ideas as options and then planned it a day at a time when we were there. This worked out really well. There were a few things that didn’t end up happening (hikes, Volcano National Park, etc.) because of distance or because of the fact that we were taking three small children. But I’d say most of our Most Important Things To Do happened. Love Big Island was a great website for planning both before we went and while we were there.

Traveling During CoVid

Oh, Coronavirus, how I hate you. I do not know a person who hasn’t had a trip or event or something canceled, postponed or transferred to Zoom because of CoVid. Ben and I knew that the virus could get in the way of our travel plans so we bought insurance where it made sense and just crossed our fingers and said prayers where it didn’t (just read the fine print. Not all of it is worth the money, in my opinion). We also read up on the rules for traveling to Hawaii about a billion times because we didn’t want to miss anything. You can read their current travel restrictions here. You won’t be allowed to leave the airport if you don’t do your homework and be prepared. We created accounts and were given QR codes which were scanned either right before our flight or right as we tried to leave our gate at the airport in Honolulu. They’ve been doing this long enough now that it’s a well-oiled machine and if you’re prepared you won’t have to wait too long.

On the airplane we had to wear masks and on the island- inside any public building- we had to wear masks. The rule for both is people 2 years old and up. But I will say that our 3 year old struggles a bit to wear her mask for long periods of time and no one ever got mad or told her to put her mask back on (I mean, aside from Ben or I) when she was taking little mask breaks, thankfully. Some restaurants still weren’t allowing dine-in, but many were. Aside from this, things seemed to be business as usual, you know, as much as it has been for anyone during these strange times.

Traveling with Kids

We’ve had many, many people tell us, and you yourself might be thinking it, that we are crazy for taking our children on this trip! And we might be! We planned this as a graduation trip and we felt like if any of us deserved it, we ALL deserved it. Ben might be the only one getting a PhD but we are all enduring time in this program, so it felt right that we all went. And honestly, I have no regrets! I’d happily go on a trip to Hawaii just with Ben someday, but I’d also be happy to take our kids again, especially as they get older.

I do have to admit that we had a secret weapon on our side, and probably the best choice we made regarding the trip (aside from all the shave ice, obviously. Just kidding, topping that even!): we took Ben’s mom with us! Having an extra adult on the trip made ALL the difference. Our kids at the time we went were 5, 3 and 3 1/2 months, and while we were there and looking back on the trip, I know that there is no way we could’ve done as much as we did if it had just been Ben and I with the kids. As it were, often one of us would sit with the kids while the other two would go snorkeling or boogie boarding or what have you and everyone got a chance to do what they wanted. There was never a time where it wasn’t helpful having that extra person. Seriously. Best choice ever.

Aside from bringing my mother-in-law, we obviously had to cater our activities and schedule to meet the needs of our kiddos to a certain extent. Time in the car was great for taking a break. We all had to relinquish our phones at some point to let the kids watch a show and unwind while trying to finish up one of our adventures. Packing for each day involved including snacks, extra shoes and and extra clothes to avoid meltdowns. Our apartment rental had beach stuff and snorkel gear but it didn’t have sand castle stuff so we bought a great kit at Costco and took it with us to the beach each day. The girls were a bit afraid of the waves so if they weren’t keen on playing in the water, they would be happily playing with the sand.

I took coloring stuff and toys but honestly the best thing we did was download some Disney+ stuff onto our devices to whip out when needed. And it was the best thing to keep them busy on the plane ride (along with snacks). For food, we stuck with feeding them things we knew they liked at restaurants (or things we wouldn’t mind eating if they didn’t go for it). We also bought a few frozen foods from Costco that we knew would be a hit and they ate those things for breakfasts or dinners when we were eating at the apartment.

We didn’t keep the trip a secret from the girls; they knew we were going shortly after we bought the tickets and I know every family is different, but this worked out great for us. We’d remind the girls that we were trying to save for the trip and they were totally on board. They were super excited and it was fun to have this thing to look forward to and plan together. The girls also have a bit of money saved from birthdays and such and we told them they’d be able to use some of it in Hawaii if they wanted to buy anything to remember the trip by. We gave them a budget, which Ben kept track of and let them choose what they wanted with their money. Yes, there were some could-buy-this-anywhere toys purchased, but they also chose out some really cute Hawaii-centric stuff. It was fun to allow them to do since normally we just have them save that money. They loved the freedom.

Like I said, we loved having our kids with us. Having my mother-in-law with us was a lifesaver and we all had a great time not to mention the good memories we all have of our family trip now.

Food

We love trying new food and we were excited to try some new restaurants and flavors on the island. Of the places we tried, there weren’t any that we disliked and there were some that we tried that we totally loved. Here are some of our favorites:

Island Fish and Chips (in Waikoloa): The menu here is simple but everything was fresh and so delicious. I’m the kind of gal who would only get fish and chips once on her trip, but Ben and his mom ate here 3 or 4 times they loved it so much.
OBISIC-Original Big Island Shave Ice Co (in Waikoloa): The shave ice here is out of this world amazing! Everything tastes fresh and natural and creamy and SO SO GOOD. In fact, we only tried one other shave ice spot that was just so insanely inferior we knew we’d be wasting time to try anywhere else. We didn’t go here every day…but we did go here almost every day. The line was always long (about 30 minute wait time) but the shave ice here is WORTH IT. My souvenir was a tee shirt from here because I loved it so much haha! We tried a bunch of flavors and they were all delicious but Noelani’s was hands down my favorite.
Manuela’s Malasadas (on the corner of HWY 19 and Puako Beach Drive): As a lover of all things donuts, trying malasadas was one of Ben’s island goals, but one we all benefited from. Malasadas are these pillowy soft filled donuts that are made to order. You get to choose from a smattering of fillings and also what kind of sugar you want the donut rolled in. I mean, obviously you can’t go wrong on a piping hot sugary donut but far and away the best filling is haupia (coconut), but we also loved the lilikoi (which is passion fruit) and lilikoi cream cheese. The donut can be dusted in sugar, cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar or li hing mui which is this sweet and sour coating that we actually really liked. Finding the malasada truck was a bit tricky (no thanks to Siri) but when we finally found it and were standing in line to order I had to laugh out loud when I saw a sign on the truck boasting other locations, of which the first listed was Provo, Utah. Ha! We’ve since tried that one (it’s Ono’s Malasadas) and it’s pretty good. It has much fewer options and the haupia is more of a cream but it’ll do in a pinch!
Island Lava Java (in Kona): We came here for breakfast and everything we tried was delicious and fresh. Ben got the Luau Omelette, my mom-in-law split each of ours and swapped so I got the Drag it Through the Garden Sandwhich and the Eggs Benedict and loved them both. For the girls we ordered pancakes with strawberries and bananas and coconut cream that they got to pour on themselves. Everything was great. Oh! and they had fresh squeezed juice. Ben got a glass of the POG (passion fruit, orange and guava) and had pretty much immediately had to order another one because the rest of us drank all of it.
Makani’s Magical Pineapple Shack (in Hilo): Just google this one and you will understand why it was high on my To-Go list! We knew we wanted to spend one day in Hilo which worked out to be New Year’s Day. I was so worried it wouldn’t be open but it was! And it was so good! I wish I had gotten one of their over-the-top acai bowls but I did get one of their famous Unicones along with the girls and we were all heart eye emojis over this wonderful and beautiful concoction! The unicone is a swirl ice cream; half is a soft purple ube (a mild and vanilla-y sweet potato) and half is a tart, bright magenta dragon fruit. We also got smoothies, all of which were so fresh and delicious and I’d guess naturally sweetened as well, so a treat that made us feel good too!
Broke Da Mouth Grindz (in Kona): This was my favorite of the food we ate. It was so flavorful and absolutely mouth watering. We ended up eating here twice because it was so good. They offer a plate that includes three of your choice of their entrees as well as the usual mac salad and rice. We tried their regular and spicy furikake chicken (I can’t describe the taste but I will tell you that I could not stop eating it), kalua pork, garlic shrimp as well as their avocado burger, all of which were insane. We got a fresh lemonade that was great and we also tried their ube ice cream cake (again ube is a purple sweet potato). The slice of cake is humongous and indeed it claims to feed 3-4 people. All 5 of us food-eaters (we’re excluding the baby, here) on the trip ate more than our fill of the delicious cake; there was plenty and it was so good!

Just as a side note: we got our shave ice almost every day and I’d say mission accomplished on that front. We didn’t eat out every meal. We bought groceries and ate at our apartment or took picnics to the beach often. I feel like we’ve spent a lot of time living in places that are a bit more expensive than average, so most prices for food in Hawaii weren’t heart-attack inducing for us. I mean, we’ve lived in the other outlier state (Alaska) so certain things were higher in price but most things were comparable. And even compared to our current town, we felt we were only spending a bit more on food in Hawaii than we would have spent on the same meals here in Flag.

Fabric Shopping

Ha! I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my stop at a fabric store! The Big Island has a handful of quilting shops, but as far as I can tell only one that includes apparel in its selection (although it does have two locations!). We stopped by Discount Fabric Warehouse in Kona (the other location is Hilo) and I ran in to browse. I don’t know what I was expecting but I was pleasantly surprised at what the store contained. It had a little bit of everything: quilting cottons, silks, rayons, knits and then maybe 4 rows of bolts of cotton or polyester lawn type fabric. They also had machines, threads, zippers and buttons. It was quite well stocked and the selection was great. I got a few quilting cottons as well as a few of the lawn fabrics. I don’t currently have the fabrics I bought in any line up of projects, but hopefully some day I’ll turn them into something and I’ll be sure to share!

Excursions

We may have booked more excursions had we planned earlier, but many were full so we ended up just booking two. But the beaches are so amazing there’s really not a need for an excursion unless you’re wanting some serious adventuring. If (or should I say when) we go back, I don’t think we’ll book any excursions. But the ones we did were:

Night Snorkeling with Giant Manta Rays: Just Ben and I did this one while Ben’s mom watched the kiddos. Ben saw this and wanted to do it. It terrified me but I gave him the go ahead and it ended up being really cool! There were some initial nerves, but Ben and I both quickly felt comfortable in the water and enjoyed the experience! A group of about 20 of us were taken out on a boat to a spot in the water maybe a quarter or half mile from shore. It was night and a hotel on the shore had set up a light to shine in the ocean. Light attracts plankton and that’s what the giant manta rays eat, so they hang out in that lit area looping up and down and around just snacking. The tour people set up a surfboard with lights on the bottom and a handrail around it. Once we had our snorkel gear on, we jumped in the water and then held onto the handrails and just watched. We saw dozens of giant manta rays and they got so close that I was probably grazed by one 5 or 6 times. It was a really cool experience! The whole thing lasted about an hour and by the end my arms were getting tired from holding onto the rails and Ben was getting cold so we had plenty of time to enjoy the mantas. We both really loved the experience but agreed that one time was enough; I doubt we’d do it again.
A Glass Bottom Boat Tour: We wanted to do an excursion with the whole family and a glass bottom boat tour seemed like a great option for our young kiddos, plus it was definitely one of the cheaper options. When we arrived, we were told that visibility was really low. We could’ve rescheduled but we didn’t really want to, so we still had them take us out. We were the only passengers on the boat so we got to ask lots of questions. We didn’t see much more than coral and yellow tang fish, but it was still really fun. Wendy had high hopes of seeing a mermaid (“Jake and Neverland Pirates has mermaids and pirates, and pirates are real so mermaids are probably real too!”). We saw zero mermaids but the tour guide did tell us his girlfriend is a mermaid (Wendy was skeptical). In any case, I’m glad we did this tour.

Beaches

All the beaches we went to were incredible and I know we only experienced a sliver of them! These are the ones we enjoyed:

Waikoloa Beach: We went to this beach the most often, maybe 4 or 5 times! It was close to us but it was also really awesome. Our girls took to calling the beach “Cat Beach” because it had a bunch of cats and mongooses hanging out in the trees near the entrance, yes mongooses! Toward the right, there was a beautiful white sand beach with a few palm trees and the water was great for the girls. The waves were very mild here and the girls would put on their puddle jumpers and just swim around. Toward the left the waves were stronger and there were more rocks but with a thin strip of sand. We hiked this way on Sunday and saw over a dozen sea turtles, both in and out of the water! It was incredible! The sandy strip also had trees and bushes and on another day we hiked down and set up a picnic-it felt like our own private beach-and again we saw lots of sea turtles. Amazing!
Kahulu’u Beach: We hit this one on a whim as it was close to where we had breakfast but it was awesome and a great way for us to get our feet wet (sorrynotsorry) with snorkeling again. The last time either Ben or I have snorkeled was on our honeymoon so it’s been awhile! And my mom-in-law had never and it was a calm, easy to access spot to give it a try. There was a reef further out which really helped to slow down the waves so the water was calm. There were some little pools of water that the girls loved playing in (they’d sit on the boogie board and just paddle around), although the sandy section of the beach was pretty rocky. The snorkeling was really great. There was a lot to see, even where the water was only a couple feet deep.
Hapuna: This was another favorite beach and it is the classic white sandy beach that might come to mind when you muster up visions of Hawaii. The shoreline ran over a quarter of a mile without interruption so there were plenty of places to set up despite it being busier. The waves here were huge and really good for boogie boarding. The girls didn’t love the huge waves so they would mostly play in the sand.
Waiamea (aka: 69s Beach): The beach was recommended to us by a local as a great snorkeling beach. It was really cool, though the weather wasn’t great. It was windy with a bit of rain when we went and the visibility was really low so we didn’t try snorkeling. But the beach part was full of trees and great sand. It was really beautiful.
Two Step (aka: Honaunau Bay): The spot was amazing for snorkeling! It was highly recommended by everyone we talked to and it did not disappoint in the least! There’s not a parking lot here (although we parked in a church-I think-parking lot for $5) so we were told to get there early. There’s zero sand but there were some little pools of water separate from the ocean that the girls had a blast playing in. It’s called Two Step because you basically take two steps and you’re probably in water that’s 10 feet deep or more with tons of marine life just going about business around you. It is unreal! We saw SO many things here: all sorts of different types of fish, urchins, coral and there was even a sea turtle bathing in one of the pools! Getting into the water was slightly terrifying partly because there was no easing into it (although a little ways to the left you can snorkel in about 2-3 foot deep water and still see quite a bit) and partly because there were urchins everywhere! I was so nervous I was accidentally going to sit or step on one getting in and out of the water. We only went to the spot once but we all loved it and it was worth the longer drive!

Anyway, our trip was so fun! I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to go. I think every one of us had a great time. We were glad to be home at the end, but Wendy has suggested moving to Hawaii probably every week that we’ve been back! Ha! If moving there isn’t in the stars, hopefully another trip (or dozen) are! Thanks for coming along with me as I daydream of warmer days 🙂 Here are a few more photos from our adventure:

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