Ask a 13-year-old
Born in Honolulu, my 13-year-old daughter fancies herself an expert on what’s hip in her homeland. These are some favorites.
Dolphin Encounters: Whether you pick the programs offered at the Kahala Hotel and Sea Life Park or go snorkeling with spinners courtesy of Wild Side Specialty Tours, this experience could be a highlight of your tween’s trip.
Surfing Lessons: Tweens can hang ten with a number of companies around Oahu. Favorites include Hans Hedemann Surf School and Hawaiian Fire Surf Lessons.
Mandara Spa, Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa: Tweens can get a Magical Manicure or Sole Mate Pedicure. In the salon, the Corn Rows hair service is particularly popular.
The Spa Suites, Kahala Resort: If your daughter is 13, she can indulge in a number of teen spa services, including massages and facials.
Ala Moana Center: Hawaii’s largest shopping mall has plenty of tween appeal with 260 stores. www.alamoanacenter.com
Surf Shops: Waves of young visitors buy their board shorts and T-shirts at Local Motion, Town and Country Surf or Hawaiian Island Creations, all in Honolulu.
Rainbow Drive-In: This is the hands-down favorite for a local-style plate lunch with all the trimmings. 808-737-0177
Diamond Head Market and Grill: An easy-in, easy-out eatery serving fast food that’s a notch above the norm. www.diamondheadmarket.com
Cafe Haleiwa: The North Shore surfer hangout serves delicious food in a beach-bum ambience. 808-637-5516
Oahu with tweens
No matter where you go, traveling with tweens comes with its own specific set of challenges. Even though most 10- to 13-year-olds aren’t quite ready to explore on their own, they crave independence. If they have to go somewhere with their parents, it better be awesome.
Allow me to suggest Oahu. Of all of the places I’ve taken my daughter — technically still a tween at 13 — Hawaii’s cosmopolitan island wins the prize. At once exotic and familiar, Oahu gives tweens the sort of adventure they’re looking for while providing such reassuring comforts as U.S. currency and spoken English. It presents excitement by day and evening, opportunities for downtime, family-friendly accommodations and reasonably priced, island-style restaurants that tweens enjoy, despite themselves.
Thanks to the time difference, visitors from the mainland wake up early on Oahu. That means your days on the island can be long and fun-filled. However, that shouldn’t be an invitation to plan every minute of every day. On the contrary, says family travel expert and author Emily Kaufman, aka the Travel Mom.
"Our kids live in such a scheduled world, with school, sports, music lessons and so on," Kaufman said. "Vacation is the time to chill and let them discover the golden moments of a vacation, those experiences that can’t be planned, the things that just happen."
That said, there are certain Oahu activities you should pre-book ahead of time to make sure your family doesn’t miss out. You can even get the kids involved in the planning so they’ll feel empowered. How about treating the tweens to a tandem parasail ride along the Honolulu coastline? Floating up to 500 feet above the sea is an experience they won’t soon forget. They’ll think you’re even cooler when you take them on Honolulu Screamer, a water-propelled jet boat that powers along the island’s southern coast.
Additional tween-pleasers await beyond Honolulu. Take the easy drive to Haleiwa, the North Shore town with its surf shops, unpretentious eateries and sun-drenched beaches. Head to the windward side of the island for a family kayaking outing or set your kids loose on the slides and rides of west Oahu’s Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park, a big draw for children of all ages.
After that, relax and invite some spontaneity into your Oahu schedule. It’s hard to beat the beach for long stretches of uninterrupted fun in the sun. Take a surf lesson or paddle the Waikiki waves in an outrigger canoe, something you can arrange at a moment’s notice. Show the kids you’re still in shape by matching them step-for-step on a hike up Diamond Head or act presidential and check out the Honolulu Zoo, like Barack Obama and his daughters did in December.
In between experiences, planned and unplanned, the gang has to eat. Kaufman’s advice: Keep the dining simple.
"Kids don’t want to sit still for long periods of time," she said. "Oahu has some great restaurant options that are fun and family-oriented, with speedy service."
For the most memorable results, forgo the mainland chains and opt for distinctive island fare, such as the plate lunch.
Oahu at Night
For accommodations, Oahu — particularly Waikiki — offers a terrific selection of condominiums, the best choice for a family with tweens. By picking a place with separate bedrooms, the kids — and parents — have privacy when they need it. Look for a condo with free breakfast so you don’t have to go out for every meal, and stock up the in-room fridge so hungry tweens have snacks available.
Come evening, take the clan to downtown Honolulu for First Fridays, the popular once-a-month event when galleries and studios open their doors and live music and street entertainment enliven the neighborhood. Another neat nightlife option is Sunset on the Beach, with free movies shown on a big screen on the shores of Waikiki. For a spontaneous burst of excitement, catch the free fireworks each Friday night at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Here’s another tween selling point: Oahu loves a good party. Parents and kids can take part in such annual celebrations as the Honolulu Festival in March, the Pan Pacific Festival/Matsuri in June and the Aloha Festivals in September, all of which are loaded with unforgettable aloha spirit.
In between all the adventures, your tween might just come away from Oahu remembering its people most of all. Hawaii is rich in history and culture, and its residents love to share it. Even if your kids are simply interacting with the beach boys who rent boogie boards in Waikiki, they’re getting a taste of the local lifestyle, which is invaluable.
No matter how you fashion your Oahu family holiday, you’ll come away with special memories that you and your tweens will remember forever. At the end of the trip, they might even rave about your vacation to their friends. What more could a parent ask?