Waikiki is a fantastic destination for little kids. Ok, no real surprises there. What is surprising though, is that Waikiki is also a fantastic destination for the parents of little kids.
Why? Because Waikiki is the first place I have traveled with a small child and not been completely exhausted the entire time.
To be clear, I am not the standard target tourist for Waikiki. I prefer more offbeat, off-the-road locations, and realistically, I normally would not last more than a couple of hours in a location like Waikiki.
It is heavily designed for tourists, and feels somewhat similar to a family friendly Vegas strip located on a beautiful beach. There are lots of restaurants, shops, people, and kitsch, and yet….that is exactly what makes Waikiki so ideal for parents of small children. With zero effort it is possible entertain, feed, and house some of the most finicky travelers of all. Breakfast was included at our hotel and began early, which meant that even waking up at 4:30am due to jetlag was a basically painless experience. We played until sunrise and then were first to hit the breakfast buffet, along with a half dozen other parents with small children.
The area gets so many families with small children, that we felt completely welcome everywhere we went. As anyone with young children knows, this is an exceedingly rare feeling. Shopping centers, elegant restaurants, the hotel lobby – literally all locations were completely child friendly, and to an impressive extent. It was common for employees to come up and chat with our child, even just while waiting in line at the local convenience markets called ABCs (which are also fantastic inventions for parents). Convenience markets are located on nearly every block, carry every basic necessity, including diapers, and are open most hours of the day. Which is to say, the experience could not be further from arriving in parts of Europe on a Saturday night and knowing that everything will be closed until Monday. In Waikiki, stores are open late into the night and food is served all day in many locations, which is perfect when dealing with the erratic sleeping and napping schedules of small children. Dinner at 3pm or midnight? Both are easily doable.
The long strip of hotels and shopping centers cater heavily to tourists, which means that even taking a simple walk together is guaranteed to yield some form of unexpected entertainment. We discovered free hula classes at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center (as well as free ukulele, basket weaving, and lomilomi Hawaiian massage classes), guitar concerts in hotel courtyards, live parrots and penguins in unexpected places (hotel grounds, the sidewalk, on top of a phone booth, inside of a mall), extensive gardens and manmade waterfalls, a surf competition, free cultural shows, and most surprising of all, truly beautiful nature even in the middle of a very urban area. At times the tropics-meets-high-density-urban atmosphere even reminded me vaguely of Singapore.
Food is abundant and frequently very good. The beach is beautiful and clean, particularly given how crowded it is, and it is of course the easiest entertainment of all. We were located near a sea wall/breakwater that created an almost swimming pool-like calm body of shallow water for children to play in.
While Waikiki would not be my dream vacation spot in other circumstances, this time around, it was absolutely perfect. We were more relaxed, better rested, and all around a less stressed and exhausted family than on any other trip we have taken. Waikiki is a great beginners destination for those nervous about stepping into family travel, but it is also great for the experienced travelers who just want a bit of a break from the usual heavy lifting of travel with small kids.
For day trip ideas from Waikiki consider the following: