Hilton Hawaiian Village
Truly a village of its own. We’re looking at 22 acres of beachfront property on the far end of Waikiki. The Hilton has so many activities that it’s common for tourists to visit the island without even leaving the village.
You can sail out on the Hilton’s catamaran and snorkel with turtles. You can rent a pool cabana and catch up on your favorite novel while sipping a mai tai. Or venture outside your comfort zone and attempt your hand at standup paddle board yoga in the lagoon.
I highly suggest checking out the weekly firework show, if you are there on a Friday.
With over a dozen restaurants, a seafood market, and live local music at the bar, grill, and the lounge– you’ll have your plate full. However, it’s likely that the kids won’t be interested in all the restaurants and shops. The big show stoppers for them here are the luau and water slides. There are several pools outside the different towers.
They have hula lessons, outdoor movie nights, lei making classes, ukulele lessons, aerobics, tai chi, and yoga classes available.
If you’re looking to send the kids on an adventure while you’re getting a Swedish massage at the spa, sign them up for Camp Penguin. They can join a camp counselor and other kids for the day where they can play games, make leis, do arts and crafts, etc.
(+) over a dozen restaurants
(+) tons of activities available, you can book a tour for anything
(–) about a 15 min walk to the main Waikiki strip
Turtle Bay Resort
With gorgeous sweeping views, Turtle Bay is a romantic beach getaway. A tranquil escape from the city life, the resort is far less crowded than those in Waikiki. North Shore is considered the “country side” of O’ahu. It has an old timey, laid back feel.
Life is slower here. Even the whales swim down from Alaska to vacation here. You may spot one on your stay. The location of Turtle Bay is unique, because it’s 5 minutes from world famous surfing spots, 10 minutes from the Polynesian Cultural Center where you can drink maitais and watch a live hula performance, and 10 minutes from Kualoa Ranch where you can zip line or go horseback riding.
You can book a regular hotel room, suite, or cottage. The resort is set on 850 acres overlooking a cove. There are tennis courts, restaurants, a bar, a hot tub, spa, sauna, fitness center, free snorkeling gear, nearby golf, and you can even book a helicopter tour through the front desk. I highly recommend it!
If surfing is something you’re interested in, it pays to be nearby when thousands of fans from Honolulu roll in to watch the competition. An important note– if you want to book a room here in November or December, book it far in advance so you actually get a spot–– and for a potentially better deal than if you wait. That is when most of the major surf competitions are happening.
If you plan it right, you can be minutes away from pro surfers and avoid the sea of traffic that people staying in Honolulu will have to wade through to watch some of the best surfers on Earth compete for the world title.
(+) spectacular ocean view
(+) extreme activities nearby
(+) not crowded
(–) quality of rooms
(–) charge for the little things
Aulani Disney Resort
Let me just answer your first question, while it’s fresh on your mind. Yes, Mickey is here. He even wears an aloha shirt. And no, there are no Disney rides like Space Mountain or Indiana Jones. Which you think would be sad, but it keeps the serene island vibe alive. Can you imagine the sound of kids screaming on a rollercoaster by your hotel room? Besides, the resort and ocean activities have enough thrill to make up for it.
Aulani was voted #1 in Travel & Leisure as World’s Best Top Family Hotel: USA. Some say it’s an architectural masterpiece. The landscape is lush and green, making you feel like you’re in a tropical jungle. Yet, you’re feet away from a calm, sandy cove that leads to the Pacific Ocean. Aulani is– traditional island resort meets magical Disney land.
You will be greeted with a lei on arrival. This resort has a lot of amenities available. You can book a spa treatment, which has the option of an outdoor hydrotherapy garden. There is a teen spa, cabanas, paddleboarding, and a happy hour with live music in the Olelo Room.
There are eight pool areas, a lazy river, slides you can tube down, and a splash pad. The resort practically has a waterpark. Similar to the Hilton, they also have a big screen movie on the lawn and a luau.
You can check out the Disney Character Breakfast. That’s a time where you can eat Mickey shaped pancakes with the other guests as “Aunty” walks around playing the ukulele. There’s also a Disney Character Pool Party– great photo op!
Aunty’s Beach House is a kids club where your young ones can play games, make leis, take a ukulele lesson, etc. All of which is free.
They have a unique family challenge called Ohana Beach Games. It’s where families staying at the resort can compete against other guests in a series of challenges on the beach. It gets everybody laughing. It’s a good way to make memories and build a sense of camaraderie amongst guests. Who knows, you might make a friend!
Rainbow Reef is a lagoon with over 1,000 tropical fish you can swim beside. There’s also an educational nature walk and a historical Hawaiian walk through the resort. Or if you just feel like shopping, you can get some Mickey shaped shave ice and head out on the town.
(+) a ton of inclusive activities
(+) kids can learn a lot from activities
(+) has the Disney touch
(–) no amusement rides
Kahala Hotel & Resort
The Kahala Hotel and Resort is an elegant, romantic getaway and a dream spot for families. While vacation is about the kids, it’s also about mom. How does that saying go again? “Happy wife, happy life.”
So, this pick is mostly about that. If mom wants a luxury getaway that doesn’t involve screaming kids running by the pool, then this is her spot.
The serene beachfront cabanas are quiet enough to hear the little waves crashing. More private than all the other major hotels in Honolulu, The Kahala is situated on acres of white sandy beach in one of the wealthiest communities in Hawai’i. There’s very little tide and current, which makes it a bit more relaxed for families who just want to dip their toes in with their young kids.
When you peer out your hotel window, you’ll see a saltwater dolphin lagoon. The dolphins are friendly and playful by nature. You may see them jumping and spinning about. It is one of the more humane dolphin enclosures on the island. You can sign up for a dolphin encounter, family swim program, or be a dolphin trainer for a day. All of which are quite pricey, I must add. The viewing of the dolphins itself is free and the lagoon area also has mantarays, turtles, dozens of unique fish, and a manmade waterfall.
Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted with a lei. Once you’ve checked off your bucket list items around the island, you may want to book a spa day. There is a sauna, hot tub, and steam room as well. There is a swimming pool, a fitness center with 24 hour access, and exercise classes. You can sign up for yoga, standup paddle board yoga, hula, hula aerobics, or a personal training class. There is also a business center if you need to get some work done while away from home.
The Kahala has a Keiki Club for the kids where they can participate in lei making, hula classes, shell collecting, listen to Hawaiian legends, and try their hand at scoop net fishing or bamboo pole fishing. Depending on the day of the week, they also have movie nights, art nights, a scavenger hunt, and excursions to the local zoo and aquarium.
I definitely recommend trying at least one of the restaurants. Especially, the Plumeria Beach House. The resort’s restaurants get their greens and herbs from their own on-site garden. They also have organic, local fish and poultry. The Kahala has some great wedding and honeymoon packages that tourists travel 1,000’s of miles to take advantage of. Also quite expensive, but world renowned.
Due to the privacy and security of the hotel, it has seen the likes of rockstars, actors, sports legends, and even royalty. Including Queen Elizabeth, Dalai Lama, Michael Jackson, Jay Z, and every American president since Lyndon B. Johnson.
When it opened in 1964, it became popular as a celebrity hideout. Once, Prince Charles and Princess Diana stayed here and booked 100 rooms for the two of them and their posse. Though, one room is probably adequate enough for the average budget.
(+) dolphins onsite
(+) private and secluded
(–) expensive, not many inclusive ammenities
In the heart of beachfront Waikiki, The Sheraton boasts great views of Diamond Head. Most hotel rooms have a spectacular up close view of the Pacific Ocean.
The Helumoa Pool (above) is family friendly, featuring a waterslide, waterfall, and hot tub. The Infinity Pool (below) for adults features bar service right up to your floating beanbag.
Waikiki is one of the calmer areas to learn to surf at. You can book a lesson or rent a board here. Or try your hand at standup paddle boarding.
The Sheraton has lei making, ukulele lessons, yoga, yogaquatics, and a beach body workout. As well as koi feeding and the occasional “mermaid” appearance. There is a spa, fitness center, meeting rooms, a gigantic ballroom, and cabanas by the beach.
Being at the center of Waikiki, it’s a five minute walk to world class shopping. There are three restaurants and a market on site. One of which features live music and dancing by the moonlight.
The Sheraton is within five miles of The International Marketplace, Diamond Head Crater (hiking), Ala Moana Mall, Ward Center, various water sports, and a fishing charter.
(+) excellent views of famous Waikiki Beach
(+) at the heart of Waikiki: nearby shopping, activities, etc.
(–) too many extra charges
To give a personal conclusion:
Hilton Hawaiian Village– if you have young kids and you’re wanting to stay near Waikiki, in town, where there’s lots of shopping and activity resources.
Disney Aulani– if you have young kids and you’re wanting to stay far from Waikiki, out of town, where life is a bit slower paced.
Sheraton Waikiki– if you have teens and want to stay in town, near Waikiki and all the amenities Honolulu has to offer.
Turtle Bay Resort– if you have teens and want to stay on the country side where life is a bit more laid back and surfer-ish.
The Kahala Hotel and Resort– if you want to vacation in style, spoil mom, and have a rather large budget to work with.
With all the planning, remember to take it easy and give yourself some downtime for spontaneous activities. You never know what last minute adventures you’ll get wrapped up in.
Enjoy making this decision, because some families wait their whole lives to finally get that Hawaiian dream vacation– and you’re living in that glorious moment right now.
Pro Tip: Remember to keep an eye out for celebrities laying low. You can even ask your host which celebrities have come through your hotel.