My daughter's excited squeals snapped me out of a sun-drenched daze. She'd been running around the Keiki Cove splash zone for 45 minutes. Her unbridled enthusiasm and bold moves (staring directly into the jets until water shoots her in the face) drew a crowd of onlookers. When new kids dared to enter, my 18-month-old pre-talking force of nature acted as ambassador, explaining with animated gestures how to properly use the splash zone.
My husband and I were in awe, both of her enthusiasm and at the fact we'd been sprawled on lounge chairs for almost an hour doing nothing. An impossible feat when you're parent to an active toddler. Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Oahu, was now my happiest place on earth.
We chose Oahu for our family holiday because Hawaii truly is fabulous for toddlers. Kids between 18 months and four years of age have zero interest in being strapped to a stroller taking in local sights. They crave freedom and need an outlet to exhaust their boundless energy. A day at the beach, powering through sand and splashing in the ocean pretty much guarantees an early bedtime and sound sleep -- the ultimate goal for any parent with young children.
After a little research, I discovered a couple of services that made travelling to Oahu with kids even easier. Carving out time for a romantic dinner or an adult-oriented activity such as paddle boarding ensured that all members of our family had a chance to unwind. Through Nannies Hawaii, I found excellent care for our daughter in each area of the island we visited.
Readily available baby amenities also helped alleviate some stress. Between diapers, books, toys, clothes and sun-safety supplies I usually have enough room in the suitcase for a sundress and flip flops -- never mind lugging a car seat through the airport. Paradise Baby Co. offered on-island rentals on everything from strollers and car seats to baby carriers, bicycles and trailers. Diapers and formula can also be purchased and delivered to the hotel.
We started in Waikiki, where a car wasn't necessary. The condo-style Trump International Waikiki Beach Walk, TripAdvisor's No. 1 family-rated hotel in Waikiki, had full kitchens (great for making quick breakfasts) and a separate living room with balcony, which allows for romantic dinners after the kids go to bed.
My favourite beach for tots was by the freshwater lagoon adjacent to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It was much quieter than Waikiki beach and the calm lagoon waters are safe for younger children. Stop by any ABC Store and pick up a bag of plastic beach toys -- an inexpensive purchase that provides hours of fun. If you make a day of it, rent an umbrella and lounge chairs from Waikiki Beach Activities.
Off-beach activities that work well for little ones included a visit to Honolulu Zoo, where the hippos and giraffes stole the show as far as my daughter was concerned, and finding Nemo at the Waikiki Aquarium. Both are within walking distance of most hotels and are often crowd-free.
Restaurants are plentiful in Waikiki. Happy Hour at Trump's Wai'olu Ocean View Lounge offers exceptional value for the entire family. How can you go wrong with half-price sushi (and bubbles) and full kids' menu in a stunning water-view setting? Another great spot with live music and salad bar (as a hungry toddler is a scary toddler) is Dukes on Waikiki Beach.
For date night, reserve a cabana at the most romantic restaurant on the island (perhaps even in the State).
The oceanfront patio at Azure Restaurant in The Royal Hawaiian Hotel was my little piece of Heaven in Waikiki. Under a canopy of twinkling lanterns you'll dine on freshly caught fish (hand-picked at the auction that very morning) while listening to waves thunder on the shore. Try the five-course tasting menu, which includes Azure's signature Kona lobster tail risotto. For another critically acclaimed tasting menu visit Chef Mavro, Hawaii's only Gayot 2014 Top 40 restaurant. The menu changes with the season but wagyu medallions grilled to perfection are a mainstay.
After the bustle of Waikiki, Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore was a welcome retreat. Set on almost eight kilometres of beachfront, the property offers views of the area's famous big surf.
Three of Oahu's best known surf spots -- Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach -- are a 15-minute drive away. We liked to grab a picnic lunch from one of the many North Shore shrimp trucks or a teriyaki chicken plate from Ted's Bakery and watch the onslaught of towering waves pummel the beach.
The resort's two pools and swimming bay kept my daughter happy. In addition to a spa, golf courses, tennis courts, biking trails and kayaking, Turtle Bay has a riding stable. The Pony Experience includes a grooming lesson and a 15-minute pony ride -- or in my daughter's case, sitting on a pony for 10 minutes while I took hundreds of photos.
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