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things to do on oahu with kids

4 Cheap Things to do in Oahu with Kids

There’s lots to do in Oahu… but what about things to do in Oahu with kids?

The fall season is a great time to escape to the beaches of Hawaii with your family. With the exception of the week around Thanksgiving, a big holiday and travel week for us here in the United States, hotels and flights to Hawaii are least expensive between mid-September and December 10th.

If you’re considering a family vacation to Hawaii, this fall is a great time to book the getaway.

Furthermore, the very best weather in Hawaii is during the fall months. While the temperature doesn’t vary too much throughout the year, the rainfall can fluctuate depending on the season.

Pro tip: Each island has a leeward side (the side sheltered from the wind) and a windward side (the side that gets the wind’s full force). The leeward sides (the west and south) are usually hot and dry, while the windward sides (east and north) are generally cooler and moist. When you want arid, sunbaked, desert-like weather, go leeward. When you want lush, wet, jungle-like weather, go windward.

Families love the island of Oahu, and for good reason! From playing in the clear blue waters of Kailua Beach to exploring the metropolitan city of Honolulu, there is so much to do here.

Here are the best things to do in Oahu with kids:

Oahu Grand Circle Island Tour

Kids love the fast-paced tour of  Oahu’s landmarks and destinations, including the world-famous Hanauma Bay, the spouting “Blow Hole,” Pali Lookout and the sacred Kualoa Ranch nestled against the stunning Koolau Mountains.

The narrated Oahu circle tour begins at Diamond Head, then heads past the lavish beachfront residences of celebrities and moguls in Kahala. (If you don’t have a good pair of binoculars, this might be a good time to invest.)

Image of mountains in Oahu

The trip continues east to Hanauma Bay, then stops at the Halona “Blow Hole,” where a natural volcanic lava tube shoots water to dramatic heights. A stop in Waimanalo will allow you to experience the small-town side of Oahu, then it’s time to be whisked off to enjoy sweeping views from the Pali Lookout. At the Byodo-In Temple, tucked in the Valley of the Temples, you will see a half-sized replica of Japan’s 450-year-old place of worship, then travel to the sacred Kualoa Ranch for a tram tour to the lush Kualoa Mountains.

Pearl Harbor Tour

It is absolutely OK to bring kids to Pearl Harbor. In fact, it is one of the best things that you can do with your kids in Hawaii. Why? Pearl Harbor is a living history lesson. Adults and kids learn more by visiting Pearl Harbor in a couple of hours than they do in a year of history class.

Makani Catamaran

Makani is Hawaii’s most luxurious sailing adventure! “Feel the Thrill” as you sail upon the Hawaiian waters with us. Enjoy the spirit of the ocean and the breathtaking views of the island as the Polynesians did many years ago.

Makani Catamaran sailing in Waikiki

Enjoy Hawaii sunset cruises aboard this luxurious catamaran and see why sailing Waikiki has become so rewarding on Makani. And maybe bring something for motion sickness just in case!

Don’t Miss Germaine’s Luau 

Experiencing a traditional luau that tells the tale of Hawaiin culture is one of the best things to do in Oahu with kids. Enjoy traditional Polynesian food, lively music and great entertainment for the whole family.

Women dancing the hula at a luau in Oahu

Pro tip: If you’re staying on Ohau or Maui, you should consider picking up a Vacation Pass. Essentially you pay one price for entrance to all the attractions and tours listed here. For example, for a 3-day Go Oahu Card, getting you access to a long list of activities and events, you’ll pay only $179 per adult and $149 per kids. This is by far the most cost effective way to build in the most things to do in Oahu with kids!

Have you been to Oahu with kids? What was your favorite thing to do there?

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best beaches in central america

5 Best Beaches in Central America that are Better (and cheaper!) than the Caribbean

The best beaches in Central America are closer than you think.

With summer travel plans firmly in place, this is the time of year I begin thinking about holiday travel. The week between Christmas and New Years is notoriously the most expensive and crowded week of the year in beach destinations around the world. Accommodations, flights and even activities all come with “festive season” price tags.

If you’re looking to get away over the holidays, check out some of these destinations in Central America where you can enjoy warm weather, clear Caribbean water, and time to relax with your family all at a fraction of the cost of a Caribbean island vacation. Plus, it’s becoming easier and cheaper than ever to book direct flights into hub cities like Panama City, Panama, San Jose, Costa Rica and Managua, Nicaragua. (And make sure you avoid baggage fees by packing a good carry-on.)

Here are a few of the best beaches in Central America:

Bocas del Toro Panama

Thanks to its remote location, Bocas del Toro is still relatively undeveloped when compared to other areas in Central America. While it may be a little rough around the edges, this also means that travel to Bocas del Toro is still relatively inexpensive– making it easily one of the best beaches in Central America.

bocas del toro with kids

Here are a few great family-friendly hotels in Bocas del Toro. Prices at the Red Frog Lodge, for example, start at only $53 per person per night. So all you need is good beach towel.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua

Located about 70km offshore in the Caribbean waters of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands feature beautifully remote horseshoe bays. Here you’ll find a Creole population living in colorful wooden houses and a thriving lobster fishing industry.

best beaches in central america

You can find rooms on Little Corn island for a low as $20 per night or a casita at the Casa Iguana for only $75 per night.

For more on the Corn Islands, check our this comprehensive Little Corn Islands Travel Guide.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica 

Not too long ago, the only travelers to the sleepy seaside settlement of Puerto Viejo were avid surfers. While this is no longer the case, Puerto Viejo has retained it’s charm and laid-back attitude.

best beaches in central america

A string of Caribbean beaches, rainforest fruit farms and even a jaguar rescue center keep the entire family happy entertained during your stay.

At Pachamama, one of the jungle eco-lodges in Puerto Viejo, you can book a villa for a family of for less than $200 per night even in peak season.

Punta Gorda Belize

While Placencia and the Caribbean coast of Belize most certainly do get crowded, particularly doing holiday seasons, the unpretentious southern town of Punta Gorda remains blissfully low key year round.

Though it lacks the beaches of Placencia, there are plenty of docks from which to take a dip with your snorkel gear in the Gulf of Honduras’ blue waters. Becoming increasingly popular for expats looking to live internationally, PG also boasts a good variety of mid-priced guesthouses, hotels and B&Bs.

best beaches in central america

Head to the town center’s park on Wednesday, Saturday and, to a lesser extent, Monday and Friday to enjoy market mornings, when villagers from the mostly Maya settlements of southern Toledo come to town to buy, sell and barbecue around the central park. (You’ll want to bring a compact reusable bag to carry your goodies.)

Book a stay at the Belcampo Lodge, also a working farm with suites large enough for the entire family to spread out. Rates for the suites start at $380 per night.

Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlán is widely considered as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Aldous Huxley famously compared it to Italy’s Lake Como… “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.

If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, and explore beyond a traditional Caribbean experience, consider Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. It may be lesser known, but it’s still one of the best beaches in Central America!

best beaches in central america

Inspired by nature and created from volcanic stone, adobe and palm our spacious lakeside suites are individually appointed with comfortable hand hewn king beds, fine linens, intricate woven textiles and indigenous antiques, Laguna Lodge offers excellent value for money at $345 per night for a family of four (kids must be 13 or older).

What other amazing, and inexpensive, Central American beaches would you add to the list?

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yoga in costa rica

Vacations with Kids: The Five Best Destinations from the U.S.

It’s no secret that I think travel should be a pillar of every child’s education. Taking vacations with kids exposes them to the world’s classroom. By traveling, children learn everything from history and geology to modesty and gratitude.

But it doesn’t have to be expensive or long-term. You can start piquing curiosity with a Lonely Planet Kids book. And there’s plenty to see and do in the United States and nearby countries. For many of us, adventure and education through travel can be found very close to home.

If you’re raising kids in America, here are our picks for five of the best vacations with kids under 10. They include a range of travel experiences from relaxation and education to building savvy travelers and street smarts. These five trips will go a long way towards creating enthusiastic travelers and world citizens for life.

The five best vacations with kids:

Experience Native America Culture at Mesa Verde Colorado

Mesa Verde Colorado is perhaps the most inspiring and educational of all the Native American ancient dwellings. In fact, located in the Southwest corner of Colorado, this archaeological area is one of the best-preserved in the world.

mesa verde with kids

Today, Mesa Verde National Park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including a staggering 600 cliff dwellings, and most these are open for viewing and exploring by the public. Kids love Mesa Verde because they can wander through the dwellings, climb down wooden ladders for further exploration and generally have a very hands-on experience.

This fun, outdoor experience is a perfect way to educate kids about our ancient history and is very easily accessible. Plus, they make great climbing shoes for kids who are enthusiastic about the sport.

Spend a Week at the Beach Together in Mexico

This concept behind this travel blog was formed after a magical week at the beach with my family.

Like many families across the United States, my family is extremely busy. My husband and I both have careers we love and our kids stay busy with hectic social and extracurricular schedules. Life is fun, but extremely busy.

Family Beach Travel

Taking vacations with kids to the beach, where you can do nothing but relax, is important not just for the health benefits of relaxing, but for your kids to SEE you in that state. Better yet, get them a durable camera to capture those special moments.

It’s important for kids to realize life isn’t only about making it to soccer practice on time. By enjoying time together in a relaxed state, you will model for them a healthy life balance that can be difficult to attain at home.

As regular readers of this blog know, we love Mexico’s Riviera Maya. It’s easily accessible via quick flights from most U.S. destinations, affordable, has amazing beaches and offers so much for families to do. Plus, heading south of the border provides a great opportunity for kids to practice their Spanish and experience a new culture.

Combine U.S. History with a Great American Road Trip

Small towns, wide-open roads and stunning landscapes make up a large portion of the United States. Packing up the car and driving across the country should be a right of passage for every American child.

As I’ve explored quintessential American communities with my kids over the years, these small towns have started to intrigue me as if I was a foreigner. Or a child.

Destinations like Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Yosemite National Park in California offer fun, age-appropriate education for kids under the age of 10. These sites are intriguing and also an opportunity for kids to understand how forward-thinking our past political leaders were in protecting and preserving significant places.

presidents-on-my-rushmore

Other history-packed destinations like Washington DC, Boston and New York City can be experienced when kids are a bit older, but national parks and other outdoor monuments are a great option for vacations with kids because they can learn about our nation’s history while seeing magnificent regions of the United States. And these fun, scratch-off maps will help your kids track their journeys.

Take your kids to Disney World (Sigh) 

For years, I fought this trip kicking and screaming. With so much to see and do in the world, why would we want to “waste” time at a theme park in Florida?

Well, we went to Disney World and of course the kids had an absolute blast. We spent time together as a family and experienced something new together. Particularly with young children, this emotional connection and experience is as important as the destination itself.

disney travel tips

Kids are kids and should be allowed to have fun. So yes, take your kids to Disney World before they turn 10.

Besides, as children mature and reflect on their travels they will come to understand the poignant differences between a manufactured Disney trip and an authentic travel experience.

Introduce Children to Developing Countries in Central America

Flights to destinations across Central America are only a few hours from most cities across the southern United States. This ease of access makes Central America an excellent, easy opportunity to introduce your children to developing countries and Latin culture.

things to do in granada nicaragua

While countries like Costa Rica have a very well developed tourism infrastructure, other Central American destinations like Nicaragua remain relatively undeveloped and have retained authentic culture and charm.

In Central America you can explore everything from colonial history to jungle ecology together with your kids. Just make sure you pack sunscreen and bug spray!

What other destinations would you add to this list of destinations Americans must visit with kids under 10?

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cancun vs playa del carmen

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Where Should You Stay?

Deciding where to stay in Mexico is an ongoing battle, and today we take the showdown to Cancun vs Playa del Carmen.

Mexico’s Riviera Maya is one of my favorite beach destinations in the world. Easily accessible from most of North America, miles of beautiful white sandy beaches, plenty to do and a wide range of places to stay make the Riviera Maya a perfect beach destination.

However, because the destination has so much to offer to a wide range of travelers, researching and planning travel to the Riviera Maya can be overwhelming.

One way to make it easier to plan the perfect vacation to Mexico’s Riviera Maya is to narrow down your search by general location. First, start by determining where you want to stay, Cancun vs Playa del Carmen. Then you’ll be better able to organize the perfect beach vacation from there.

Where to stay in Mexico: Cancun vs Playa del Carmen!

Beach-front hotel in Cancun Mexico

The Cancun resort area is actually an island located just off the coast of Mexico, connected to the mainland via two short bridges. Here you’ll find mostly large, all-inclusive resorts spread out along the northern and eastern sides of this island.  Alternate accommodation options that let you save money and offer flexibility for your trip are Cancun timeshares.

Even during the busiest months between February – April, you’ll find plenty of room to spread out and enjoy these world-class beaches. The ocean-side beaches are by far the most popular, and most of the hotels in Cancun face the ocean. The lagoon-side is more often used for water sports like jet skiing and kayaking.

Here are few reasons why you might want to stay in Cancun vs Playa del Carmen on your beach vacation:

Cancun Offers Easy Access from the International Airport

Most of the resorts in Cancun are only a few miles from the main Cancun International airport. Especially if you are sneaking to Mexico for a quick weekend getaway, this might be reason enough to select a place to stay right in Cancun. Minutes after landing, you will be sipping your welcome cocktail while checking into your resort.

All-Inclusive Resorts Dominate Cancun

If you’re looking for pure rest and relaxation at an all-inclusive resort during your Mexican beach vacation, Cancun has a variety of options at a range of price points. There are more than 170 all-inclusive resorts in Cancun, and most of them are located on what is actually an island; The Island of Cancun.

You’ll find familiar brands like Club Med, Iberostar and Riu, as well as some recent new additions including Nizuc, Temptation and Dreams.

Women enjoying the hotel pool in Cancun Mexico

For the best beaches, select a resort on the east, or ocean side of the island. For easy access to the shopping malls, bars, restaurants and water sports, select a resort on the lagoon side.

Cancun’s White Sandy Beaches Don’t Disappoint

Cancun was founded in the 1970’s. That’s right. The city of Cancun, now with a population of over 700,000 people, didn’t even exist fifty years ago. And the main reason for it’s rapid growth? The amazing natural beaches. These white sandy carpets of Caribbean bliss were the original draw for tourism to be developed in this beautiful land, and remains the main draw today.

If you prefer laying on the beach instead of pool side, you can’t go wrong with Cancun.

Sunbathing on the beach in Cancun

Some of the best of the best beaches in Cancun include Playa Caracol and Playa Nizuc. Located right in the middle of the hotel zone, Playa Caracol is popular among families with small children thanks to its clear, shallow water and a sandy (not rocky!) bottom. (Tip: Consider bringing water shoes for the rocky beaches!)

Playa Nizuc, located at the southern tip of the main hotel zone in Cancun, is set away from the large crowds and the biggest hotels and is a great, less-busy option. But be sure to pack your own water, food, and umbrella as there are no public facilities available in the area.

But what about Playa del Carmen?

Ocean pier in Play del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is located about an hour south of Cancun. The city spreads outwards around the main public beach and the main ferry docks for transport to the island of Cozumel and where day-tip cruise traffic parks. The main beach in Playa del Carmen starts at the ferry docks and runs to Calle 14 and Gran Porto Real.

And here are some of the reasons you may want to consider staying in Playa del Carmen on your beach vacation.

Discover Authentic Mexican Culture in Playa del Carmen

Speaking of growing cities, Playa del Carmen’s roots are as a sleepy, bohemian beach town on the Riviera Maya, about one hour south of Cancun. And while this city has grown rapidly over the years, it maintains the heart and soul of this palapa-and-hammocks beach town.

The Mayan Riviera has somewhat of a quirky “show” culture, and Playa del Carmen is perhaps the epicenter of that culture. On any given night you can find fire dancers on the beach, live music in the many bars and restaurants, and the intimate Playa del Carmen resorts offer a range of shows and entertainment featuring local performers.

Toddler on the beach in Playa del Carmen

But perhaps most interestingly, you’ll see locals walking to school, doing their shopping and on the weekends enjoying their own beaches. Playa del Carmen is a growing city with lots of locals out and about as well. While Cancun has mostly tourists, here in Playa del Carmen you’ll have the opportunity to interact with locals.

Playa del Carmen is a Walkable City

Built around the pedestrian-only zone of 5th Avenue, Playa del Carmen is super easy to get around on foot. The main area of the city where you will find most of the bars, restaurants and hotels, is only about 10 blocks long. Wander through the street to find amazing authentic local food (hello street tacos!), stock up at the grocery store, or wander the length of the beach.

Gift shops on the streets of Playa del Carmen

If you’re keen to venture a bit further or explore the town a bit more, consider renting a bike during your stay. You don’t need a rental car unless you plan on exploring beyond Playa del Carmen. There are a number of trustworthy, high quality transfer companies that can get you from the airport in Cancun to Playa del Carmen.

You can even walk to your nighttime entertainment, such as the popular Coco Bongo show. Or stay at Hotel Deseo, which is less than one block away, as a perfect home base between beach and the town.

(Tech Tip for the Digital Nomads: Whether at Cancun or Playa del Carmen, use your virtual pc in the cloud through CloudDesktopOnline and collaborate and share using SharePoint through Apps4rent. You can access your work from anywhere with iOS/Android mobile devices as well as PCs and Macs.)

There’s a Wide Range of Accommodation Options in Playa del Carmen

Where Cancun is the land of the all-inclusive resort, many more options abound in Playa del Carmen.

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, The Royal is the best option. Located on a beautiful beach right in the middle of town, you can easily walk down the beach or one block into town to hit the pedestrian only 5th Avenue.

However, if all-inclusive resorts aren’t your thing, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Playa del Carmen. You’ll find plenty of boutique hotels both on and off the beach, as well as thousands of vacation rentals. I love companies like Vacatia and Loco Gringo for narrowing down the options when it come to vacation rentals.

You’ll find plenty of condos on the beach that are new, tastefully decorated and include pools and other family-friendly amenities. Plus, most vacation rentals come with parking, if you do opt to rent a car and explore activities throughout the Riviera Maya.

Looking for more Mexico travel information? Have a look at the complete Riviera Maya family travel guide here!

So what do you think? Have you been to either of these Riviera Maya cities? How would you compare Cancun vs Playa del Carmen?

 

 

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christmas beach vacation

Best Christmas Beach Vacation Ideas

The holidays are a magical time of year. The snow falls, the fireplace crackles and the egg nog flows.

I absolutely love the preparation, the planning and the excitement of the holidays. And especially with young kids in the house, the holiday energy reaches a fever pitch by Christmas Eve.

I love the holiday season. I really do. But I have something to admit.

Last year we spent the week between Christmas and New Years in Mexico on the island of Isla Mujeres. And this Christmas beach vacation was a-freaking-mazing!

Because to be honest, by the time Christmas actually arrives, I am kind of over the holidays. I’m usually pretty wiped out after all the shopping, decorating, eating, drinking and merry-making from Thanksgiving all the way through December.

So packing up and heading south on Christmas day was one of the best decisions we made all year. If you’re considering a Christmas beach vacation, I can wholeheartedly endorse that idea!

Here are a few of my top picks for the best Christmas beach vacation.

The Bahamas Out Islands for a Family Christmas Beach Vacation 

The Bahamas Out Islands are considered to be the “Caribbean Connoisseurs” destination. Consider the Out Islands if you’re looking for a place to relax, reconnect and keep away from the crowds.

bahamas out islands

The Abacos, a 120-mile chain of islands (kind of a mini-Bahamas within the Bahamas), are perhaps the most accessible of the Out Islands. Here you’ll also find the widest range of accommodations; bungalows, villas, vacation rentals and a few larger resorts. The tourist board website is a great place to start looking for a place to stay in the Out Islands.

While you’re in the Out Islands, be sure to enjoy the white – and the pink – sandy beaches. You’ll find a variety of nature trails and hikes spread out among the four national parks located within The Abacos, where you can see orchids, Caribbean parrots and exotic marine life. Kids also love seeing these famous swimming island pigs in the Bahamas Out Islands!

Belize Beaches for an Amazing Family Beach Getaway

Just short 2.5-hour flights from many airports in the southern Unites States, the best Belize beach vacations all include the island of Ambergis Caye. Originally put on the map as a mecca for divers, this funky beach town has grown into a fun home base for a week at the beach. Activities on Ambergis Caye revolve around the water; diving, snorkeling, boating, and fishing. Golf carts are the main form of transportation on this island.

Las Terrazas Resort is an Ambergis Caye family favorite. When traveling to the beach with kids it’s important to stay someplace where you can spread out as well as prepare some of your own meals. This family-friendly hotel checks all the boxes. Select fro a range of “town home” rooms available, all including kitchen and sitting area. And the La Terrazas private, white sand beach is one of the largest on Ambergis Caye.

christmas beach vacation

Especially if you have older kids, you may also want to consider a visit to San Ignacio while on your Belize Christmas beach vacation. Here you can visit ancient Mayan ruins and learn about the culture and history of this part of Central America. I like to plan this active and historical type of activity early in the vacation, so you can fully relax once you get to the beach.

Spend the Holidays with the Family in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a seriously fun place to visit around Christmas, as this country is host to one of the most traditional Christmas celebrations in the region. The celebration goes on for weeks. There are three Christmas parades; El Carnival with dancers and musical groups from all across the country, El Tope, a parade of show horses and decorative hand-painted ox carts, and the favorite, El Festival de Luzes, a nighttime parade filled with thousands of decorative lights.

These are magic events and well worth scheduling your trip to be in San Jose during one or more of these parades.

christmas beach vacation

Costa Rica is a great option if you’re keen to stay active during your Christmas beach vacation. Spend a portion of your trip next to the magnificent Arenal volcano on Guanacaste’s white-sand beaches.

Then head to another amazing beach, one of the best in the country in fact, at Playa Conchal. I love this Christmas beach vacation package from Vacations Costa Rica, which combines these spectacular Costa Rica beaches.

Consider Isla Mujeres for an Easy Family Christmas Beach Vacation

My family spent Christmas on Isla Mujeres island last year and loved every minute of it. Even though this island is only a quick ferry ride from Cancun, it feels miles away from the mega-resorts, crowds and shopping malls.

Condo in Mexico

We stayed at the Ixchel Beach Hotel, and of course loved having a kitchen and spent a fair amount of time in their beachfront pool. But what we loved most was being right on the magnificent North Beach, the best beach on Isla Mujeres island. The water here is a stunning shade of turquoise and stays very shallow far out, so you don’t have large waves and it’s safe for small children.

During the week between Christmas and New Years there were many private boats parked near North Beach, creating a very fun, festive atmosphere every day.

Be sure to rent a golf cart on Isla Mujeres at least one day during your trip to fully explore the island.

Book a Family Christmas Beach Adventure to the U.S. Virgin Islands

St. John, which along with St. Croix and St. Thomas make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, is perhaps best known for maintaining over two-thirds of it’s land mass as protected national forest. You won’t find a single resort or condo on any St. John beach.

No cruise-ship ports or airports either. While there is a main town, a number of private villas and a few hotels, St. John maintains a totally natural and pristine atmosphere.

Camping on St John

If you’re feeling adventurous or looking to save money on accommodations, consider camping on St. John. That’s right, I said camping! Kids love the adventure of camping on the beach, and you’ll love sleeping just a few feet away from the magical blue ocean in this secluded part of the Caribbean.

So what do you think? Is a Christmas beach vacation something your family would consider?

Out Islands image by Scott Smith via Flickr

La Terrazas image by Patton via Flickr

This post is part of the fun Travel Advent Calendar series, check it out here for fun travel posts the entire month of December!

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