It’s no secret that Chris and I are obsessed with Hawaii. Alohaphilia, is that a thing? If it is, you can diagnose us. We seem to somehow make it back to the islands at least twice a year. There’s even a very special routine that we have when we’re on Oahu. It looks a little like this: rent a car, drive around the island, eat shave ice at Matsumoto’s, ride the waves at Waimea Bay, pick up malasadas from Leonard’s, soak up the sun on Lanikai beach, gorge ourselves on guava chiffon pancakes at Cinnamon’s, snorkel Hanauma Bay, enjoy a tie dye latte at Arvo, peep the street art at Kaka’ako, and feed the koi for good karma at Byodo-In Temple. Our days are typically packed with adventure and a ton of local ono kine grindz (AKA delicious Hawaiian food).
Once our son arrived, we knew that we needed to introduce him to Hawaii immediately. We figured the best opportunity would be for my grandma’s birthday. Holden was six months old, already an expert flier, and the perfect age for an ocean introduction.
Or so we thought.
We were so used to traveling at our usual baby-free pace that we encountered quite the wakeup call when we arrived on Oahu with our son. Turns out, babies aren’t big on road trips. They don’t particularly enjoy watching you eat shave ice, malasadas, OR pancakes. In fact, since Holden was living solely off of mama’s milk, he couldn’t have cared less about what we put in our bodies. Oh, and the beach? That was a big no-go. The sounds of the waves and the cool ocean water sent our little guy into a panicked frenzy. We had never seen him scared of anything before. It broke his daddy’s heart but the truth was that our baby was terrified of the ocean (even though he loved eating the sand).
Needless to say, that trip didn’t exactly go as planned. It was another great lesson in how our lives change once we have kids. That doesn’t mean that traveling with a baby isn’t feasible or fun. You just have to alter the way that you travel to accommodate your wee wanderer.
Enter the new Discover Your Aloha tool. Expedia and The Hawai’i Tourism Authority partnered to bring future Hawaii visitors a unique way of exploring the islands. Using cutting edge facial recognition software, guests are invited to watch a short video while allowing the program to monitor their facial reactions. Once the video is finished, the viewer is then assigned a Hawaiian animal guide. These guides offer unique perspectives and recommendations for each island.
If Chris and I were to have taken the test a few years ago, we would have definitely been assigned Pua’a as our animal guide. Pua’a, the pig, is known as an adventurous pioneer. Pua’a is the type of guide that recommends climbing hidden waterfalls, ATV adventures, and swimming with manta rays to his guests. While we still love a good adventure, our focus has shifted. We are now more excited to share the world with our sweet babe than to go surfing at Waikiki or ziplining down a mountain. Our Hawaii animal guide reflected that shift in our priorities. Both Chris and I were assigned He’e as our animal guide. It’s no surprise that He’e, the octopus, is the warm hearted guide that loves providing fun and intimate experiences for his guests. He’e’s focus is to share the aloha of the islands with those closest to him. Perfect.
Armed with our recommendations from He’e, we were prepared to take this trip at a slower pace. We still managed to fit in all of our usual activities on the island, but we spread them out over our entire stay instead of one or two days. And thanks to He’e, we also added two new stops to our itinerary.
Chris and I had actually visited Kualoa Ranch previously when we were on Oahu for our honeymoon. While Kualoa offers a wide variety of adventure activities (from horseback rides to ATV adventures), we opted for more family friendly tours. To make the most of our trip to Kualoa, we booked two tours with the buffet lunch in between.
Our morning adventure was the Catamaran Boat Tour that launched from Kualoa’s Secret Island. The ninety minute tour had us cruising around the windward side of the island. We sailed around Kaneohe Bay, searched for baby turtles in the reef, and took photos of iconic Mokoli’i island (locally referred to as China Man’s Hat). Holden thoroughly enjoyed his first boat ride and seemed to like the soft breeze that came across the water. I was grateful that we chose the morning sail as we probably would have roasted if we went out in the heat of the day.
Once we docked, we were ushered to the dining hall where two large buffet tables greeted us. Chris and I piled our plates with kalua pig, steamed rice, ribs, shoyu chicken, chili, and delicious kimchi. We barely had enough room for the pineapple upside down cake- but don’t worry, we managed. After lunch we had an hour to kill before our second tour. Holden napped in his stroller while we wandered the ranch and hung out with a few of the resident horses.
Once it was time, we jumped on a large bus for our afternoon Hollywood Movie Sites Tour. This was an activity that I was really looking forward to. Some of my favorite movies have been filmed at Kualoa. It was fun to see where blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, 50 First Dates, and Battleship were shot. We even stopped and took pictures in front of the Jurassic Park sign.
Holden did surprisingly well. There were other babies on the tour and he had fun smiling and laughing with everyone on the bus. He got a little cranky towards the end and eventually passed out on my lap as we made our way back to the office. We were really proud of the little guy as it was a long day and he maintained a smile and his charm throughout the day. Full disclosure: he passed out hard on the way back to our hotel.
The second big recommendation we received from He’e was a trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center. The last time I had been to the PCC was nearly ten years ago. I was thrilled at the opportunity to go back with my husband and son in tow.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is a theme park that features-you guessed it-the Polynesian islands. We sprung for the Ambassadors package which included entry to the park, a buffet dinner at the Ali’i luau and dinner show, and tickets (with prime seating) to the “Ha: Breath of Life” evening show. The park is composed of six authentic villages from Pacific cultures: Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Samoa. Each village offers a variety of traditional performances and games to wandering guests.
We walked from village to village, sampling traditionally made treats in Samoa, twirling poi balls in Aotearoa, and throwing spears (Chris’ personally favorite) in Tahiti. Holden (clad in his adorable aloha shirt) was entranced with every stop and loved interacting with the traditionally dressed villagers. Our travels through Polynesia worked up quite the appetite and we were more than ready for dinner once it was time for the Ali’i Luau.
The Ali’i Luau did not disappoint. The buffet featured all of my favorite food from the islands. We piled our plates with kalua pig (traditionally cooked underground in an imu), lomi lomi salmon, fresh poi (that Holden scarfed down!), taro rolls, braised teriyaki beef, and honey-roasted sweet potato topped with shredded coconut. I was worried that the luau was going to be kitschy and over the top, but I found the food to be authentic and the performers engaging. There were even fire dancers!
Holden’s bed time happened to hit near the middle of the “Ha: Breath of Life” evening show and we ended up sneaking out a little early in order to avoid a meltdown. I think we were all exhausted from our day of adventure at the Polynesian Cultural Center. As soon as we arrived to our hotel, our heads hit the pillow and we were OUT.
While our trips to Hawaii have been modified with the arrival of our tiny traveler, we have to admit that we absolutely loved this trip. Holden was at the age where he was curious and engaged. It was fun to witness Hawaii through his eyes. We can’t wait to see what he thinks of our next visit.
Stay tuned as we continue to discover our aloha on Oahu. Next up, a tour of the three stunning properties we stayed at while on the island.