I was in big trouble. Two hours into a Hawaiian vacation, my teenage stepdaughter and I sat lounging by the hotel pool on the Big Island...
I was in big trouble.
Two hours into a Hawaiian vacation, my teenage stepdaughter and I sat lounging by the hotel pool on the Big Island. Already she had sampled an open-faced lobster BLT for lunch, downed a mango smoothie, played in the pool and swum in the ocean. Relaxing on a lounge chair, she asked quite seriously, “Are we going to do nothing all week?”
“Nothing” sounded like paradise to me, especially because this was our first major trip with her 5-month-old sister. The problem is, my husband and I had molded 14-year-old Dana into a different type of traveler. Our vacations usually involved rising with the sun and resting only when our stinging feet demanded it. But now my husband and I needed a rest — a baby will do that to you.
But there I sat, before having a chance to soak away life’s stress or sample my first mai tai, and suddenly this trip had the earmarks of disaster. The 14-year-old wasn’t buying into paradise.
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“This is Hawaii,” I tried to explain. “The idea is to relax, enjoy the pools, play in the ocean.”
She simply stared at me. I held my breath. Then she shrugged and asked, “And drink more smoothies?”
It turns out, it involved four more smoothies — plus snorkeling, swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, seashell collecting, arts and crafts, a ukulele lesson, shopping and attending a luau. Not exactly nothing, but more than enough to keep our entire family happy for five days on the Big Island.
We divided our trip between two oceanfront Kailua-Kona properties: the secluded, five-star Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and the budget-friendly, centrally located King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel (now part of Courtyard Marriott hotels).
We gave Dana the option to try just about anything offered at the Four Seasons, where activities run the gamut from swimming to golf to outrigger canoeing.
She opted first for snorkeling at King’s Pond, a lagoon-like pool at the resort. Like a giant aquarium carved out of lava rock, King’s Pond is a contained area great for first-time snorkelers, and those who want a guaranteed peek at some of the more than 3,000 tropical fish in it, including a spotted eagle ray.
The next day, she learned how to make sea shells into a bracelet during a free shell crafts class at the on-site Ka’upulehu Cultural Center. Later, our entire family returned to the center for a 45-minute ukulele lesson.
Our time at the Four Seasons ended after three days, and we returned to civilization — King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in the Kailua-Kona town. It’s by the oceanfront Ali’i Drive and packed with the vacation trappings to which we were accustomed.
We strolled along the drive, ducking into shops selling everything from apparel and jewelry to paintings of the island’s active volcano and souvenirs. We ate crab sandwiches, shrimp samplers and crab quesadillas in the open-air Fish Hopper restaurant. We shared kalua (baked) pork nachos and watched a hula performance on the open-deck restaurant of Huggo’s on the Rocks, which as its name implies sits on the rocks of Kamakahonu Bay.
We went for a little culture at the 19th-century Hulihee Palace, a favorite retreat of Hawaiian royalty. Now a small museum, some exhibits catch teens’ attention, including the 7-foot bed custom made for the 6-foot-7, 400-plus-pound Princess Ruth Keelikolani and the giant travel trunk of Queen Kapiolani, one of six used to travel to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.
But for all the activities, restaurants and attractions that greeted us in the heart of Kailua-Kona town, the favorite came on a small stretch of beach behind the King Kamehameha’s hotel. White sand sloped down into an alcove of calm, warm water from the Kamakahonu Bay. Nearby, Kona Boys Beach Shack offered a discount for hotel guests on snorkel equipment, kayaks and more. It was here, in the sheltered alcove, that Dana tried stand-up paddle boarding for the first time.
After a quick tutorial, she was off, building up confidence on her knees for 20 minutes before popping to her feet like an experienced paddle boarder. An hour later, she dragged herself and the board from the water. “My legs are stinging and numb,” she said as she flopped onto her towel.
“So much for your do-nothing vacation,” I quipped.
She just smiled.