Spring Break: it’s the most anticipated week of freedom for kids over the whole school year. But, does it invoke feelings of anxiety and stress for any other parent, than myself? Typically, I wait until the last minute to plan a (driveable) vacation. And, those destinations have been great! However, this year, my 10 year old was inquiring – months in advance – about a “real” Spring Break, as her friends travel 1000’s of miles to do something special, something exotic. And, so, the search began…
I have been wanting to share Hawaii with my children ever since my husband and I had been diverted there for our honeymoon; we had a memorable, 2-weeks at Kapalua on Maui when we had to cancel our European trip on the heels of 9-11. The warm hospitality that we felt coming out of such a terrible disaster made us feel like we did have something to celebrate…and, we are still so thankful to have kicked-off our marriage in such a special place. So, I began to research special family spots in the islands. The Big Island took my interest; it’s an island that recently went thru its own devastation following the eruption of Kilauea last Spring. As a learning piece of the vacation, I thought my kids could better understand how Hawaii has been formed over years of environmental activity. (Often, education and vacation don’t fall into the same sentence for our family…so, this was a plus!)
We chose the Fairmont Orchid as our destination. It’s located on the coastal side of Waimea. This area is the center for ranching activities and paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture. The Parker Ranch – in and around Waimea – is the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the United States! Surprising that this area drew us Coloradans to visit. Waimea is located in the northern part of the island of Hawaii and it sits at the southern foot of Kohala, the oldest volcano on the island, and it is near the northwestern base of Mauna Kea, the highest volcano. The Fairmont Orchid is within a 15 min drive of the small town of Waimea and is a “paradise found” amidst the black, volcanic rock and slight (2,600 ft) elevation of the town center.
As we drove into the resort area (approx. 30 min. from Kona Intl. Airport), I could feel my spirits lifting! Following a long (7.5 hrs), but EASY flight from Denver with my girls, it was nice to be so welcomed by warm breezes and tropical surroundings. We dropped our rental car (a MUST on this island!!) with the valet and unloaded our stuff, bikinis in-hand to immediately hit the pool area while we waited for our room to be ready. The view through the porte cochere and lobby area is breathtaking. It puts a drink in your hand and sand in your toes upon entry.
“Hawaii…take me away!”
The hotel has plantation-style decor. It doesn’t need much in design as its whole essence lies in the views of the landscape (including pool, lagoon and golf course). And, the birds! If there was something I certainly wasn’t expecting to see and enjoy so thoroughly…the birds! So many varieties and sounds add to the exceptional surroundings and “feel”; the exquisite creatures provide a guarantee that you’ve arrived in paradise.
My children were so overjoyed to be in a place that spoke to them as well. The size of the hotel – smaller, more of a boutique than a behemoth – is perfect. I felt comfortable allowing my 10 year old to get out and discover some of the layout, alone. My 3 year old made more friends in one week than I’ve made in the past year! It was nice, over a week’s stay, to see familiar faces at breakfast and the pool. Familiarity with one’s surroundings provides peace, and peace is truly vacation.
The Fairmont offers a variety of exceptional outdoor discoveries. There are a myriad of shoreline jogging and walking trails, connecting the resort to neighboring communities at Mauna Lani (both a private residential and public commercial vicinity*). A variety of “daily wellness sessions” include family and FLOATING yoga (via paddleboard) and meditation.
A fun & sun activity pass ($85/adult, $75/children – good for your entire stay!) allows access to kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel gear. We used the lagoon (Pauoa Bay), daily, and enjoyed swimming with all of the fish/sea turtles/eels that were in the bay and just outside of the borders of the lagoon. Stunning!
*There is a fabulous gourmet grocery and wine/spirits store in The Shops at Mauna Lani. Great spot to pick up necessities for your hotel stay.
We also spent a lot of time at the pools. The resort, at a few locations, offer the option to purchase different sizes of inflatable pool floats – which our local/club pools DO NOT ALLOW. Our kids went bananas over the massive sea turtle and “baby shark” (almost lifesize!!) that we grabbed. HUGE win for me, too, since I could finally relax and gulp down the pina colada that was long overdue. The only thing that got the kids away from the swimming hole was food.
We, basically, survived on fish tacos and bento boxes that are served from Hale Kai Restaurant, the sweet little poolside cafe/bar that offers take-out or shaded dining in the sand. There is also a great take-out deli (Brown’s option for day service) where you can get flatbread pizzas, fresh salads, fruit, and all sorts of breakfast items for the early morning swimmers. Brown’s Beach House resides in the same vicinity and serves a civilized dinner by torchlight and accompanied by local musicians. It’s beautiful. Without kids on hand, it’s a must for one, or a few, evenings.
As important as nourishment for the belly, is nourishment for the soul. Unfortunately, my subsistence ran a bit dry when it came to enjoying some of the adult activities that are offered on property. The Spa Without Walls has a generous menu of feel-good treatments that include oceanfront massage options for those without children…or, who take advantage of babysitting services (Malihini Keiki Care is a wonderful, local agency!!). They also cater to children ages 4-17 years with a child and teen menu that offers nail services, balancing facials and sports massage. Wish more resorts had this for the kiddos!! The resort also offers a children’s program called Keiki Aloha. Keiki, in Hawaiian, means “the little one”. The day camp is for children between the ages of 5 and 12 years of age and includes memorable activities including a cooking club, “dive-in” movies, slip ‘n slide and volleyball tournaments. The prices are reasonable; $85/half-day, $105/full day (includes lunch). Throughout the day, we witnessed the camp moving throughout the resort. Those kids stayed busy! No guilt necessary in signing-up for this special amenity.
The Fairmont recommends some resort-driven excursions, as well. These include having beach ambassadors lead guests on a number of experiences to introduce them to the culture of Hawaii, such as lei making, ukulele lessons, weaving hala (pandanus) fronds, sunrise canoe paddling in the open ocean and archeological hikes on the nearby petroglyph fields, the largest in the Hawaiian islands. The resort’s rich history reveals itself through their eyes as they guide visitors to ancient lava shelter caves and man-made fishponds stocked with seafood once restricted only to the ali’i (Hawaiian royalty) of old.
We probably could have stayed busy on-site for the week. But, the island’s adventure called and we booked one of the BEST excursions that can be had on the Island: Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tour. If you plan any excursion on any of the islands, DO THIS! The 5-star service and experience has received a Six Star Diamond Award by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences…and, you certainly encounter this with every inch of the ride. If it’s good enough for Hollywood (Blue Hawaiian has serviced such movie titles as Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor, Pirates of the Caribbean and more), it’s good enough for this family!
We met our pilot at the small landing area of Waikoloa, a quick 10 min drive from the Fairmont. He connected with the kids and took us to our Eco-Star (quiet technology that fuels these amazing aircrafts) helicopter and got the girls, comfortably, suited up to take off. They were able to sit in the front for the trip – exciting for them, little nerve-racking for me. But, as we ventured out, my nerves were eased. The kids had their own microphones for communication and took advantage of dictating the sights. The Eco-Star was surprisingly quiet; my youngest wasn’t at all stirred by the ride. In fact, she may have enjoyed it the most! The giggles were numerous, the sights were breathtaking and the memories – unforgettable.
Following our exhilarating heli ride, we arrived back at the Fairmont to rest for our next excursion. We made reservations for the Sunset Luau at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott*. The popular luau, held every Monday and Wednesday**, brings the freshest of ingredients harvested from Hawaiii Island farmers including J.A. Farms Garden Salad, Waipio Valley Poi, Keahole Shrimp Hoio, Pulehu steaks and an imu-roasted kalua pig! Following dinner, journey to Tahiti/New Zealand/Hawaii/Sāmoa through the songs and dances of these Pacific cultures. Premier seating includes preferred first row seating, a lei greeting, and Hawaiian pūpū (gift). For my kids, it was enthralling; the characters were reminiscent of Disney’s Moana. We had a blast!
*Highlight: Across from the Marriott resides the Kings’ Shops and Queens’ Marketplace. Fabulous variety of shops and restaurants. We made a special stop at blue ginger for traditional caftans! The owners – a pair of sisters FROM ASPEN – opened their Maui location 35 years ago and have grown to 7 locations, strong. It feels so good to support our local Aspenites so far from home.
**Note: For guests looking to enjoy a luau on a Tuesday or Friday, the neighboring Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is an option, as well.
By the end of our stay, I felt relaxed…rejuvenated…radiant. I think we experienced so much of what the Big Island offers! We ate our way through macadamia nuts and ahi poke (made famous in Hilo), drank lots of Kona coffee (a staple for this mom on vacay with the kids, solo), saw a few of the incredible waterfalls that make Hawaii, Hawaii (thank you Blue Hawaiian Helicopters!), swam with the sea turtles and made new friends (this means, YOU, Andrew Hara!). We lived “The Aloha Spirit” for a week, but will definitely choose to live in that way of life for time to come.
Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. When there is pain – it is my pain. When there is joy – it is also mine. I respect all that is as part of the Creator and part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. When food is needed I will take only my need and explain why it is being taken. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect. This is Hawaiian – this is Aloha!
What a beautiful journey and heartwarming adventure. Aloha!
Hospitality by Fairmont Orchid
Clothing by Stella Cove
Stella Cove is now a collection of beachwear for kids including girls swimwear, girls swimsuits, girls bikinis and girls bathing suits with matching cover ups in pretty prints and cute colors. For boys we have added rashguard tops and boardshorts.
Stella Cove have been seen on the daughters of Princess of Lichtenstein, Jennifer Garner, Kourtney Kardashian, Soleil Moon Frye, Jessica Simpson, Kyle Richards and Katie Price.