Let's face it: most of us hit the sand on our tropical vacations and never budge. By the time we've packed up everything, flown God knows how far, unpacked everything, and organized the family for a week of fun and relaxation, we deserve to dig our heels into the beach and sit awhile. But should the urge to explore strike your crew, there are fantastic kid-friendly outings all over the Hawaiian Islands: secret waterfalls, hidden petroglyphs, the world's greatest water slides. Here's a life-saving list of locals' picks for the best things to do with kids on each of Hawaii's most visited islands. Tuck it into your beach bag—and relax.
Communing with Dolphins
Since the 1960's, the Kahala Mandarin Oriental has been famous for its dolphin lagoon, but until recently guests had to content themselves with watching the sleek creatures from the water's edge. Now you can meet the dolphins up close in the resort's new Dolphin Interaction program. This is no ordinary "swimming with dolphins" activity; instead, kids get to work alongside the trainer—learning to signal a bottle-nosed dolphin to leap on cue, give a tail-wave, or dance the hula. After the dolphins perform, kids hand out the rewards: a rubdown, a toy, or the ultimate treat, a slimy herring. The hotel's Family Package lets visitors book an adjoining room at 50 percent off regular rates. 800/367-2525 or 808/739-8888; three 45-minute dolphin sessions daily; $90 for adults, $50 for kids 5-12, $120 for an adult and a child.
Leagues Beneath the Sea
Eager to see what lurks under the surface?You can submerge your whole family aboard Atlantis Submarines' Sea Quest Adventure and descend to 120 feet without getting a single toe wet. Nab a window seat and glide by undersea reefs teeming with angelfish, parrot fish, stingrays, even sharks. Children must be at least three feet tall to ride. 808/973-9800; $99 for adults, $39 for kids 12 and under.
New Life for Old Hawaii
Waimea Falls Park, an 1,800-acre outdoor museum where you can watch native Hawaiians act out daily chores from the 1700's (weaving, thatching, carving dugout canoes), has just added a slew of modern attractions and renamed itself the Waimea Valley Adventure Park. Waltz through the new Butterfly Encounter, where hundreds of indigenous butterflies swirl about your head; spend the night at Camp Waimea (tents, sleeping bags, toiletries, and barbecue fixings provided); or swing through Jungle Trek, an adventure play area where you can hang out in a giant tree house or romp in a toddler playground. 808/638-8511; $25 for adults, $12.50 for kids 4-12, free for children three and under.
Hang 10 at Waikiki
What better place for kids to learn to surf than amid the gentle breakers off one of the world's most famous stretches of sand, with a Waikiki beach boy to teach them?At the historic Sheraton Moana Surfrider, you can sign up for lessons from Aloha Beach Services—a family-run business that has been teaching folks to ride the Waikiki waves for three decades. Aloha instructors claim that any kid who can swim will be standing up on a board in an hour. Mornings are the best times to get started. 800/325-3535 or 808/922-3111, extension 2341; long-board rental and lesson, $25 an hour.
Home on the Range
The 54,000-acre Molokai Ranch is for people who like serenity and space, and lots of it. Two of the three campgrounds are equipped with "tentalows"—waterproof canvas platform tents with zippered windows, doors that lock, ceiling fans, decks with private showers, and daily maid service. The tents sleep five, or families can set up house in two adjacent ones. Ranch activities range from horseback riding and mountain biking to snorkeling and kayaking. For the four-and-older set, there are keiki (child) activities such as bug hunts and watercolor walks. 877/726-4656; all-inclusive rates are $185-$245 daily per adult, $75 for kids 4-12.
Take the Molokai Wagon Ride through one of the world's largest mango groves, planted by the Hawaiian Sugar Co. in 1926. You'll ride up to Iliiliopae Heiau, the site of an ancient temple, then roll back down to the beach, where guides demonstrate old island ways—how to catch fish in a net, husk coconuts, and dance the hula. Throughout the hour-long trip, the guides regale you with local legends and songs. 808/558-8380; $35 for adults, $17.50 for kids 2-11.
Harness the Wind
At the Big Wind Kite Factory, owners Jonathan and Daphne Socher will show you how kites are made and give free lessons in flying them. In addition to their own line of handmade kites and wind socks ($16 and up), the Sochers carry a huge collection from Indonesia and Malaysia. 808/552-2364.
Stop in at the new Maui Ocean Center, open since March, for an extraordinary glimpse of the marine life surrounding the islands. Coral reef displays show off Hawaii's colorful tropical fish, and in the 750,000-gallon open-ocean tank, jacks and sharks glide by while visitors stroll through the watery realm inside a thick acrylic tube. Computer types can settle into an arcade of oceanography learning stations surrounded by life-size models of spinner dolphins and humpback whales. When appetites strike, there's a delightful outdoor restaurant above Maalaea Harbor. 808/270-7000; $17.50 for adults, $12 for kids 3-12.
The Hyatt Regency Maui has been compared to Disneyland, with its 40 oceanside acres, 154-foot enclosed water slide, 11/2-acre swimming pool, swinging rope bridge, and exotic flamingos and peacocks strutting about the grounds. At the other end of the island, the Grand Wailea Resort offers 41 acres of gardens and a $15 million water playground with caves, waterfalls, rapids, and rope swings. Both parks are open to hotel guests only. Hyatt Regency Maui, 800/233-1234 or 808/661-1234; doubles from $275. Grand Wailea Resort, 800/888-6100 or 808/875-1234; doubles from $380.
For Nature Lovers
One of the best kids' museums ever, the year-old Hawaii Nature Center makes for a cool stop on your way through the Iao Valley. Explore more than 30 hands-on exhibits: measure how far Hawaii is from your home, listen to birdsong from the Hawaiian rain forest, learn about indigenous spiders, and check out the touch pools of native stream life. Time your visit so you can take a guided Iao Valley hike (at 1 p.m. daily); it includes admission to the museum arcade and a petroglyph T-shirt. 808/244-6500; $24.95 for adults, $22.95 for kids.