Hawaii Week: Dolphin Encounters and Surf Camp

This is a guest post from Paul Eisenberg, the family travel blogger for Shermans Travel. You can use the kids club (pay a premium) at the Hilton, as well as experience the dolphin encounters and the surf camps without staying at the hotels listed below.

You really don’t know what it means to get wistful about a destination until you’ve come home from Hawaii. You’ll try to put your finger on what’s triggering such an emotional response, recalling the islands’ perfect amalgam of beauty and warmth and kindness, but that’s only part of it. Why you’ll yearn is so intangible, in a way almost private, that you’ll end up telling those who’ve never been that they just have to be there to know. The votes have been in for a long time. Hawaii is paradise.

The thing is, paradise is expensive. That’s not cynicism, it’s just the way it is. Paradise is also immense, and if you’re bringing your family, deciding which island or resort is qualified to impart a bit of paradise to your kids can make you crazy anxious. So you’ll want recommendations.

If your kids are amenable to leaving your side while you’re on vacation, Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island runs half- and full-day drop-off programs for kids 5-12 at its Camp Menehune, which shrewdly mingles the predictable (but expected) lei-making and tiki carving with chances to commune with the hotel’s cockatoos, go fishing, or explore the tidal pools near the beach. Full-day pricing is $75 for the first child, $60 for each additional child, and the corresponding half-day fees are $60/$45. If a massage, manicure, or tutorial in “youthful make-up design” packs appeal for someone in your brood, the hotel’s Kohala Spa has treatments geared toward kids 6-15.

One of the Hilton’s calling cards is its dolphin encounter program, operated by marine conservation outfit Dolphin Quest. The experience is convenient – dolphin swims are held at the Hilton’s on-property lagoon — but they’re pricey, and kids must be at least 2-years-old to get in the water.

By contrast, the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani over on Oahu lets kids as young as one meet the dolphins and as dolphin encounters go has a fairly reasonable pricing scheme of $112 for anyone 3 and up, with kids 1-2 swimming free with a paid adult. The one drawback is that you’ll have to travel a half hour each way between the hotel and Sea Life Park, where the encounter takes place. Round-trip transfers from the hotel are included in the price, however, as is general admission to the park, value-added given that your swim will be all of 45 minutes — which again, by dolphin encounter standards, is pretty good.

If you’ve never surfed, don’t let that stop you from trying and frankly, you’d be a fool not to try it while you’re here. Hawaii Surf Lessons 101 offers instruction for kids of all ages in its surf day camp on Oahu’s south shore. But if your party includes a child that’s 12 or older — and if it does, good luck with the whole tranquility thing — consider enrolling in the Faith Surf School via the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, which is packaging a 2 ½-hour group surfing lesson with room rates starting at $309 per double occupancy. Surfboard, leash, and jersey rental are included, as is the guaranteed thrill your kid will get when he or she gets up on the board for the first time.

Relevant Links:

Ciao Bambino recommended Hawaii family hotels

Kona Village Resort review

Big Island of Hawai’i with kids – favorite activities (tips from a local)

Kauai with kids – favorite activities (tips from a local)

Maui with kids – favorite activities (tips from a local)

Maui with kids – favorite activities

Maui with kids – fun photos and special activities

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