Families flock to Hawaii for sun, sand and an abundance of outdoor activities — among them snorkeling, a must-do on a Hawaii vacation with kids. Tropical fish and green sea turtles lure parents and children alike into the islands’ blue-green waters for a closer look. At Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Oahu, you don’t have to venture far to get the experience: Family-friendly snorkeling is a daily activity at Rainbow Reef Aulani, a feature of the resort’s on-property manmade lagoon.
Rainbow Reef in Aulani is located in the middle of the Waikolohe Valley, the resort’s pool area. The 3,800-square-foot saltwater reef is home to more than 1,000 tropical fish, and under the water, the experience feels like a personal aquarium as schools of angelfish, tangs, butterflyfish and more swim by. For kids, it’s a safe-feeling environment especially if they are new to snorkeling — there are lifeguards and no waves or currents to worry about, in contrast to the open ocean. Do be aware that the temperature of the water is kept at a relatively chilly 77 degrees to maintain the health of the fish.
For very young children who are not ready for snorkeling, Rainbow Reef has viewing windows that include strategically placed food pouches at scheduled feeding times. Fish swoop down en masse around the feeding areas, creating a show of bright color that lets kids see the fish up-close.
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Resort guests can purchase a one-day or length-of-stay pass for snorkeling at Rainbow Reef. Equipment is included with the experience. The depth of the reef ranges from 3 to 8 feet, allowing kids to get comfortable in the water gradually, and the experience makes for a great family affair with parents and kids holding hands as they glide along. Beyond the fish, there are hidden Menehune (Hawaiian fairytale creatures) and artistic carvings in and around the rocks that are fun to spot.
Kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult in the water, though family members of all ages can sit on the patio deck and watch or take photos.
Supplied-Air Snorkeling (SAS)
For experienced snorkelers ages 8 and older who want to try something new, Rainbow Reef also offers supplied-air snorkeling, a cross between scuba and snorkeling. It can take a moment to get used to the breathing apparatus — as often happens, my daughter caught on more quickly than her mom. The experience is a novelty for most kids, and interesting for anyone curious about what it feels like to snorkel with a regulator. The cost is comparable to the regular snorkeling.
If the kids want to learn more about Rainbow Reef, Aunty’s Beach House offers a 3-hour premium Fish are Friends experience for ages 3 to 12, where kids learn how the animal specialists feed and care for fish. They also prepare their own fish food and feed it to the creatures. Premium experiences like this one are popular at the resort, and it’s always recommended to book ahead to ensure a spot.
Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received a media package to review Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle except where noted.
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