Single parents are often challenged by finding a vacation that will keep kids active and engaged, and happy to be spending time with an adult who wants and needs their companionship. If that single parent is a woman, you have to factor in safety issues, as well. As a professional travel expert and single parent, I've found that the islands of Maui, Kauai and Hawai'i in Hawai'i answered all of my family's needs… and then some.
On Maui, there is plenty of tourist action in the town of Lahaina, where teenagers can do the "Lahaina Strut." There are also many beautiful but expensive family resorts. After a few days on the beach, when you're ready to explore, try some of our favorite activities.
First, do the snorkel excursion at Molokini Crater. If you prefer land, Iao Valley State Park is a neat hiking area.
Hike down Haleakala. This is the world's largest dormant volcano. The scenery here is awesome with clouds rolling in and out of a moonlike landscape. I would rank it one of the ten best three-hour hikes I have ever done. Lots of operators sell you a trip that takes you to the top to see the dawn and then you bike down the mountain road. .This costs $50 or more per person. Instead we drove to the top, then hiked down inside the crater (for free) and took the Sliding Sands Trail. One hour down = two hours up. Bring a light jacket. It is cool up there. The trail starts at 10,000 feet.
Or, drive the Hana Road. This will take a full day. 99% of the tourists go as far as the Seven Sacred Pools and turn back. For a real adventure, continue onward on the dirt road and eventually you will circle back to your hotel. Start early, it is a long day. Grab lunch at one of cheap roadside stands with lots of fresh picked fruits.
Kauai is my son's favorite island: the smallest, the most lush and the most laid-back. You will definitely want to hike the Na Pali Coast. This trail also takes you to the wettest spot on earth. There are also zodiac and kayak excursions to this remote and beautiful coast, accessible only by water or foot. Kayaking can take all day, so check it out first.
Then, you can do the following things: Explore Waimea Canyon State Park, the "Grand Canyon" of Hawaii. Or eat a snow cone. They are served all over the islands but Kaui reigns supreme with this delicious treat. Get the super special and get the sweet beans. Sounds awful but they really are sweet and delicious.
If you and your kids are interested in experiencing the traditional America with the flavor of Hawaii check out Puka Dog ( 808/979-2405). Opening its doors in August 2000, this orginal eatery features a twist on hotdogs. Two types of dogs: Polish Sausage or Veggie Dog, are served in a baked bun with a puka (Hawaiian for hole) in it. Of course the Puka Dog experience would not be complete without one of the four Garlic Lemon Secret Sauces as well as one of the seven Tropical Relishes. With two locations on Kauai, Puka Dog also serves up freshly squeezed lemonade and maui chips.
Hawai'i or the Big Island is my favorite island, although I love them all. If you choose to stay on the largest island in this group, I recommend you split your stay between the east and west coast. (It takes 10 hours to drive all around the island). Here are more tips…
I would spend a couple of nights at the Volcano House in Volcano National Park. It is perched right on the rim of an active volcano. (Active in that it steams, but not erupts). There are lots of really neat easy trails to hike, such as Devastation Trail. Request the cheapest room available, it may not have a view (ours had no windows) but the restaurant has a full frontal view of the volcano so who cares?
You can fly into Hilo (east side) and out of Kona (west side), but you may have to pay a rental car drop fee. Check around with the car companies. After that I would spend several nights at a resort hotel on the west side of the island. Hotels tend to be very deluxe and pricey here but there may be cheaper ones close to the town of Kailua Kona, which by the way, is a fun lively little town and has some cheaper restaurants.
Keep these notes and tips in mind when exploring Hawai'i:
The Big Island is known for its great drives. Drive to Parker Ranch, the largest ranch in the U.S, pretty drive, great place to get a hearty reasonably priced ranch breakfast. Then you can drive to the green sand beach. There are lots of easily accessible black sand beaches, but the green sand beach is hard to get to. It is an adventure and you will need a jeep and you must know how to drive in deep sand without getting stuck. There is not likely to be anyone around to help you. I like the drive to the southernmost point in the U.S. It's very, very windy with a windswept landscape but different and interesting. The green sand beach is near here. Keep in mind the Big Island is not famous for its sandy beaches since most beaches are lava rock.
Well that's it in a nutshell. Should you decide to do two or three islands, check into special rate booklets with Hawaiian and Aloha Air. Sometimes you can buy a booklet of 6 or 8 flight tickets for a special price.
Oh, one last thing. Get a copy of Cheap Eats Hawaii by Sandra Gustafson. I bought mine at either Barnes & Noble or Borders and it's now out of date, but very handy to have.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.