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How to Plan a Trip to Hawaii with Toddlers

How to Plan a Trip to Hawaii with Toddlers

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Are you planning a trip to Hawaii for 2024 but aren’t sure about the best island to visit in Hawaii for families with little kids? Here’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to Hawaii with toddlers!
This post about how to plan a trip to Hawaii with toddlers was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

Are you planning a trip to Hawaii with toddlers?

Planning a trip to Hawaii with toddlers can be tough. Many activities and excursions have age limits, which means that if your kids are under the age limit, they won’t be able to go on certain tours or participate in certain activities.

In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to plan a trip to Hawaii with toddlers including where to stay, what to do on each island, and which activities are toddler-friendly!

This guide will help you make the most out of your time in paradise while keeping everyone happy and entertained. If you follow these tips for traveling with toddlers in Hawaii, it might just become your new favorite vacation spot!

With all these tips in mind, planning your next trip will be much easier than expected! So sit back and relax because we’ve got everything covered from start to finish so all you need is an open suitcase ready for adventure!

Let’s get started… shall we?

Want a Hawaii travel guide? I’ve got detailed guides and 7-day itineraries!

Planning a Trip to Hawaii with Toddlers FAQs

What is there to do in Hawaii with toddlers?

Besides hanging out at the pool or the beach, some top kid-friendly Hawaii activities for toddlers include the Atlantis Submarine, boat rides, beach walks, the Honolulu Zoo, the Maui Ocean Center, Dole Plantation, checking out a farmers market, and more!

Is Kauai good for toddlers?

Absolutely! It’s one of the best places to visit in Hawaii for families. There are lots of things to do in Kauai with toddlers including a train ride, cool playgrounds, lagoon beaches, free hula shows, botanical gardens, and more.

What’s the best island in Hawaii for kids?

That’s a tough call! The main four islands in Hawaii (Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island) all have unique and memorable adventures for the entire family. Plus, they have an array of kid-friendly accommodations and restaurants. You really can’t go wrong with any of them!

Should You Visit Hawaii with a Toddler? Here are 5 Reasons Why it’s a Smart Idea!

1. Most Hawaii Activities for Toddlers are FREE

There is so much to do in Hawaii with toddlers. You can take tours that are free for kids 3 and under (just check the age restrictions before you book).

And most luaus are also entirely free for babies and toddlers too so this saves even more money

2. You Aren’t Limited to School Breaks

Vacations are a great way to spend time with your family, but it can be tricky when you have kids in elementary school. Only traveling during school breaks is the hardest part because it’s so much more expensive than other times of the year.

Plus, as your kids get older, they might be involved in sports and other activities that make it harder to get away for a family vacation.

So, take advantage of your flexible schedule while they are still little!

3. You’ll Save on Food Costs

It’s no secret that food in Hawaii can be expensive. The good news is that toddlers don’t eat as much as teens and tweens do, which means you’ll save money at restaurants.

You can usually just share some of your food with your toddler in Hawaii restaurants. Or you can order them an inexpensive kids’ meal or even just an appetizer.

4. It’s Perfect with Kids With Short Attention Spans

There are plenty of things for kids to discover on every island in Hawaii. Whether you’re going hiking, walking along the beach, or taking a concert tour through town – there will always be something new!

And if your kids get bored, it’s easy to move on and find something else that captures their attention.

5. Hawaii is One of the Most Kid-Friendly Destinations

We’ve been to many kid-friendly destinations, but Hawaii is by far one of our favorites. There are so many places where you won’t feel bad about bringing your toddler and they’ll be excited too!

My only tip is to avoid resorts with an adults-only vibe (or at least don’t hang out at the adult pool with your child) and don’t bring them to romantic restaurants full of honeymooners or people on date nights.

Book a Family Photo Shoot

Whenever we travel, we almost always book a family photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy and affordable AND guarantee that I’ll be in some photos. You can get $25 off if you book through this link or use the code HAWAIITRAVEL.

4 Things to Know About Flying to Hawaii with Toddlers

What’s the top question you see about traveling to Hawaii with a toddler? It’s how people survive a 6-hour flight (or longer). And it can be stressful if your child is not happy or excited about flying!

So, I have a few tips that will save parents a bit of anxiety.

1. Book a Direct Flight

When you fly to Hawaii from the West Coast, a direct flight is your best bet.

Otherwise, you’ll have an inter-island flight from Honolulu. After traveling all day, kids (and even parents) might be antsy about doing another flight.

The worst part about traveling with toddlers though isn’t just being confined inside of an airplane; it also includes those long waiting periods before taking off which can really wear out even little ones who aren’t used yet.

So, my top tip is to book a direct flight to your specific island, even if it costs a little extra. It’s worth it.

2. Should You Fly with a Car Seat?

One of the most frequently asked questions about traveling with children is whether or not you should use a car seat on an airplane. It all depends upon your kid and how used they are to sitting in their own seat. Personally, I think it’s the safest choice.

The annoying thing about using a car seat on an airplane is that even though you can use an FAA-approved car seat, some airline flight attendants might give you grief about it or insist that you can’t use it during take-off or landing. You just never know.

CARES Safety Harness is FAA-approved and easy to install in an airplane seat.
My son used a CARES harness when he was a toddler. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Another option is to use the CARES Safety Restraint. It’s easy to attach to the airplane seat and keeps kids more secure than just using the lap belt. Check out the latest prices and more details.

How to Check Your Car Seat

If you aren’t using your car seat on the plane but you’re renting a car in Hawaii, you’ll want to check it. It’s free to check a car seat!

I recommend packing it in a car seat bag to protect it a bit. Sometimes we even through in extra diapers or clothing to help pad it more.

You can check it at the gate or at the ticket desk. We always check it at the ticket desk so we don’t need to lug it around the airport.

3. Should You Bring a Stroller to Hawaii?

There’s no right answer when it comes to bringing a stroller on vacation.

If you plan on staying in Waikiki or near resorts with restaurants/shops that have paved walking paths, then the use of one may come in handy for your trip!

Image of a grandma pushing a stroller and a mom holding hands with a 4yo as they walk in Waikiki Hawaii.
Walking around Waikiki with kids. Photo credit: Cindy Marie Photography

The same goes if there’s an opportunity during dinner hour–especially when kids tend asleep after eating themselves tired (as ours often do).

But, if you are thinking it will help you at the beach or your toddler prefers walking, you can skip it.

When we don’t bring a stroller, we usually bring our Tula carrier.

How to Check Your Stroller on the Plane

If you are flying with a stroller, you’ll need to check it as luggage (it’s free to do this.)

Whether you want to gate check it at the ticket counter or at the gate is totally up to you. We usually gate-check our stroller so we can use it as we walk through the airport. Then, we get a special tag from the gate attendant to put on our stroller.

You do need to remove everything out of your stroller and remove attachments (like cup holders) that will fall off as it gets moved on and off the plane.

Then, you pick up your stroller right outside the plane as you exit.

Strollers vs. Wagons

Lots of families have collapsible wagons at home (Costco usually sells them) and I’ve been seeing them at airports more and more frequently.

It’s an easy way to haul kids and gear through the airport as well as if you plan on doing a lot of beach days. Just make sure the wheels are sturdy enough for sand.

If you go this route, I’d suggest contacting your airline just to make sure they count it as a free checked item (like a stroller).

4. Hawaii Packing List for the Plane Ride

First things first, let’s talk about your carry-on bag. I highly recommend using a backpack when traveling with toddlers. It’s the most comfortable way to carry gear and hang onto your toddler.

Image of a mom wearing a Hawaiian print backpack while wearing a baby in a baby carrier at the Lihue Airport on Kauai.
I’ve used this Da Kine backpack for the past 6 years. Photo credit: Julie Wirtz

I also suggest putting your carry-on bag under the seat in front of you vs using the overhead bin. That gives you easy access to all your items, even if you have a turbulent flight.

Here’s what I pack inside my Hawaii carry-on bag:

  • Lots of Snacks: You’ll want to bring WAY more snacks than you think you’ll need. It’s a great way to keep kids occupied and less angry. Plus, you can always use them during your trip.
  • Reusable Water Bottle: You will get free drinks on the airplane, but those plastic cups filled with ice can get really messy with kids. Pour the drink into a water bottle or sippy cup to alleviate some stress about spills.
  • Quiet Toys: Leave the noisy toys at home and opt for a few new toys that will hold your child’s interest. Here are some awesome airplane toys for toddlers worth checking out!
  • Indestructible Books: These books hardly take up any space (and they are lighter than board books) and they are super durable. There’s even one about a Beach Baby!
  • Extra Clothing: You never know if your kid is going to puke, have a potty accident, or spill water all over themselves. Be prepared with extra clothing.
  • Wipes/Diapers/Pull Ups: I like to keep these in a separate nylon bag so it’s easy to grab for diaper changes in the lavatory.
  • Lovey/Pacifier: If your toddler has a binky, lovey, or special stuffie, make sure to bring on the airplane.

Renting a Car in Hawaii with Toddlers

Unless you are staying in Waikiki, you’ll want to rent a car in Hawaii. It’s the easiest way to get around Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island.

And like on the Mainland, Hawaii does require that toddlers be in a car seat (and not a booster seat.)

I recommend bringing your own car seat from home because you already know how to install it and your child is used to it.

We have rented car seats in Hawaii and haven’t had great success. One time the car seat was super dirty and the other time it wasn’t even the right size for our toddler.

However, if you’re traveling solo to Hawaii with a toddler (or multiple kids) and aren’t sure if you can physically haul a car seat with everything else, renting a car seat from your car rental place might be your best option.

Where to Stay in Hawaii with Family

There are SO many options when it comes to where you can stay in Hawaii with toddlers.

The main thing you’ll want when picking an accommodation comes down mostly how much room there will be for running around. And you’ll want to choose a place with amenities for your entire family (including the grown-ups)!

Let me break down the best places to stay in Hawaii with kids.

Best Hawaii Resorts for Toddlers

It’s really up to you whether or not it’s worth staying at a Hawaii resort with kids. Something to keep in mind is that many Hawaii kids club programs (like Disney’s Aulani Resort) are geared for kids ages 3 and older. Some are free and some are an additional fee.

The big perk of staying at a resort in Hawaii is that there’s usually great on-site dining, room service, awesome pools, and sometimes a luau, making it super convenient. And a lot of them have kiddie pools and toddler-friendly activities (like hula lessons)!

Some of the best resorts in Hawaii for toddlers include the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, Grand Hyatt Kauai, and Grand Wailea on Maui.

Best Hawaii Hotels for Toddlers

Another option for places to stay with toddlers is a hotel in Hawaii. These can range from budget to moderate to luxury. There’s really something for all price points and they tend to be cheaper than resorts.

The main difference between a hotel and a resort is that hotels are usually just a hotel room and (usually) a pool area. While there might be a bar, there usually isn’t an actual restaurant or other amenities on the property.

Some of the best hotels in Hawaii for toddlers include the Embassy Suites in Waikiki on Oahu, Maui Coast Hotel, and the Aston Islander on the Beach on Kauai.

Airbnb or VRBO?

There are so many places to stay in Hawaii with kids, it’s tough deciding where.

A vacation rental home can be a great option if you want full kitchens and bedrooms set up for privacy- which is perfect for families with young kids or multi-generational travel!

We’ve used Airbnb but had better luck using VRBO–just something worth considering before booking your next getaway.

One thing I must mention though is that Hawaii is actively cracking down on illegal vacation rental homes. It’s actually a big problem in Hawaii and that means your host could cancel on you if you don’t carefully research to make sure it’s legit.

Best Things to do on Hawaii Vacations with Toddlers

By now, you should have a pretty clear understanding of how to fly to Hawaii with toddlers, whether or not you need a car seat, and where to stay in Hawaii with kids.

So, let’s get into the fun stuff: the activities!

What’s the best Hawaii island for families with toddlers? Honestly, any of them are pretty amazing and they all offer toddler-friendly activities!

Oahu with Toddlers

Oahu is the perfect destination for toddlers and families alike. With so many things to do, it’s hard not getting bored! And if you’re looking for some great shopping then this island has it all (including the largest outdoor mall in the world)!

Image of a mom wearing Minnie Mouse ears while holding a toddler posing next to Donald Duck and a 4yo boy.
Hanging out with Disney characters at Aulani Resort in Hawaii.

Things to do in Honolulu with Toddlers

  • Breakfast with Mickey Mouse: Head to Aulani and book a Disney character breakfast (you don’t have to stay at the resort to do this.)
  • Dole Plantation: They have a cute train ride, pineapple maze, an awesome gift shop, and you can eat Dole Whip!
  • Polynesian Cultural Center: This is fun for older toddlers who want to do hands on crafts, learn to dance, and play music. Plus the entertainment is fantastic! Find the best prices here.
  • Kualoa Ranch: They have a toddler-friendly jungle trek where you can drive around looking at Hawaii movie sites. Check out the latest prices and more details.
  • Waikiki Beach: Not only is this fun for people watching, but the water is super calm and perfect for little ones! It’s one of the top things to do with kids in Honolulu.

Maui with Toddlers

You’ll always have a blast visiting Maui with your kids. It’s such an easy-going island and it offers plenty of opportunities to explore both on land or sea! And they have some of the most kid-friendly resorts in Hawaii.

Things to do in Maui Hawaii with Toddlers

  • Maui Ocean Center: This is a cool aquarium with indoor and outdoor exhibits, plus they offer cultural programming throughout the day. Find the best prices here.
  • Road to Hana: This may be controversial, but we’ve done the Road to Hana with a toddler and it was a lot of fun. But, don’t do this if your child gets car sick.
  • I’ao Needle: Go for a super easy hike that toddlers can do on their own. Make sure to put on bug spray though!
  • Shave Ice: Ululani’s Shave Ice is the best shave ice on Maui. They have a few different locations and it’s always a hit with our family.
  • Submarine Tour: Hop on the Atlantis Submarine for a fun, underwater adventure where everyone stays dry! Find the best prices here.

Kauai with Toddlers

We’ve visited Kauai with toddlers many times because that’s where my mom lives. It’s a super chill island and we usually spend our time playing at the beach or doing half-day adventures. Kauai is a great island for families who love tasty food and exploring nature.

Kilohana Plantation Railway and Lu`au Kalamaku, one of the best luaus on Kauai
Kilohana Plantation Railway Train on Kauai. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Things to do on Kauai Hawaii with Toddlers

Big Island with Toddlers

The Big Island is perfect for families who want a slower pace of life and do experience some adventures. There are kid-friendly beaches, activities, and tons of scenic drives. Most people stay in Kona.

Things to do in Kona Hawaii with Toddlers

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: While this is actually about 2.5 hours from Kona, it’s the top thing to do on the Big Island. Ask the park ranger for toddler-friendly hikes or easiest toddler activities.
  • Seahorse Farm: This is a unique opportunity to see seahorses and learn more about them. And your admission goes to support seahorse conservation efforts.
  • Kona Farmers Market: Farmers Markets are a great way to taste local Hawaiian fruit and pick up some tasty baked goods.
  • Kamakahonu Beach: One of the best kid-friendly beaches in Kona is Kamakahonu Beach (aka Kam Beach) because of its calm waves. It’s right on Ali’i Drive and close to many hotels.
  • Akaka Falls: This is on the Hilo side, but it’s one of the best waterfalls on the Big Island for kids. It’s easy to get to and totally worth a stop as you explore the Big Island with kids.

Should You Take Your Toddler to a Hawaiian Luau?

Luau tickets can be expensive and it’s hard to know if they’re worth the price.

I have two kids, but both my little ones love going to luaus with me! The food at a luau is always yummy–especially since there are so many options for them to try. And they are mesmerized by the show itself.

However, it really depends on the kid.

If you’re worried your toddler might start crying or scream as it gets closer to bedtime, you might hold off going to a luau this year. Or plan on an adult taking your toddler away until they are calm.

Here are the top kid-friendly luaus on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island.

Other Things to do in Hawaii with Toddlers

No matter which Hawaiian island you choose to visit, there are lots of fun things to do with toddlers in Hawaii. And a lot of them are either free or fairly cheap.

  • Hit the Beach: Find out the best kid-friendly beaches and plan on spending a morning there. Bring sand toys or inflatables for extra fun. Sometimes your vacation rental or the hotel lobby will have items you can use during your trip.
  • Shave Ice: Each island has lots of shave ice options. These are our favorites on Maui, Kauai, and Oahu.
  • Pool time: If your hotel or resort has a pool area, take advantage! And it’s always worth bringing pool floaties or toys.
  • Go for a Walk: There are lots of paved walking paths in Hawaii that are perfect for stroller walks. The Kauai beach path and the Wailea beach path on Maui are my top picks!
  • Share a Plate Lunch: Hawaiian plate lunches are huge and large enough to share with little kids. They come with rice and macaroni salad, so your kids will probably eat at least that if they don’t like the meat entree.

How to Plan Your Hawaii Itinerary with Toddlers

Are you trying to figure out a realistic Hawaii itinerary that your whole family will enjoy?

You want to give your family the best vacation possible, but it’s hard when you’re trying not only to satisfy everyone involved (kids + adults) with an amazing variety of things they’ll enjoy doing in Hawaii.

Image of a toddler running on stepping stones on Kauai.
Running around on Kauai. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

However, you don’t want to pack your itinerary too tightly because that will lead to meltdowns (and not just your kiddos)!

Here’s a general schedule that worked well when my kids were toddlers:

  1. Make Breakfast: It’s easiest to fill your fridge with milk, yogurt, and fruit, and then have cereal or other breakfast favorites on hand to feed kids when they way up super early. And then, you can really hit the ground running.
  2. Schedule Your Morning: Toddlers are usually happiest in the morning hours. So, that’s the perfect time to head out on an adventure or take a half-day tour.
  3. Plan One Activity Per Day: If you are doing a scheduled paid activity, don’t book more than one thing per day. And plan those early in your trip (in case it gets canceled due to weather.)
  4. Lunchtime: You can pack a picnic lunch to eat at the beach or enjoy eating at a restaurant. There’s lots of outdoor seating, which is always nice with kids. Plus, food tends to be cheaper at lunchtime versus dinnertime.
  5. Plan for Nap Time: If your toddler takes naps, figure out if you’ll be heading back to your hotel for nap time or if you’ll do a long drive instead (and they can nap in the car.)
  6. Leave Afternoon Open: Toddlers are fickle. It’s best not to plan anything for the afternoon in case they are a hot mess. But, it’s helpful to have a list of optional activities you can do if they seem like they are good to go. Playing at the pool is usually a winner for us!
  7. Dinnertime: I personally find dinnertime with toddlers to be stressful, so I prefer getting takeout food to eat at our accommodations. That way, if they melt down, we can get them ready for bed or go for a walk without having to wait to pay a restaurant bill.
  8. Bed Time: If we are staying in a vacation rental, we usually put the kids to bed early and then we can hang out on the lanai to enjoy dessert or cocktails kid-free. If we’re in a hotel, we tend to co-sleep and all go to bed at the same time.

Hawaii Vacation Photography

I love taking professional photos while on vacation. If I’m not stressed about taking “good” family pictures, then the outcome is usually better than if we had tried to do it ourselves!

Find your perfect Maui photographer with Flytographer. | Image of a mom, dad, and two boys all wearing Aloha shirts while posing at Kapalua Bay on Maui.
We love doing professional photo shoots in Hawaii. Photo credit: Marie from Flytographer.

It makes for an easy way of getting holiday card shots and hanging them up at home as reminders about all our great times together–especially those early years when kids change so much every day (and year).

There are tons of Hawaii vacation photographers to choose from. We like to use Flytographer because it’s easy to find an affordable Hawaii vacation photographer who is available during our trip. Plus, you can take advantage of their $25 discount!

Check out our photoshoots on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island!

Hawaii Packing List: Toddler Edition

When you start getting ready for your Hawaii vacation, it’s time to work on the perfect packing list. I recommend starting a few weeks ahead so that there will be no last-minute scramble to find items at store prices rather than buying them online beforehand (which can save money).

If you are staying in a hotel or resort, you’ll want to pack enough clothes for every day of your trip plus extra clothing, in case of accidents. Or you can splurge for the hotel laundry service.

However, if you are staying in a vacation rental with a washer/dryer, you can pack enough for half your trip and do laundry mid-way through your vacation. You can pack your own detergent.

Here are some things I suggest adding to your packing list for Hawaii:

  • Swim Diapers: This is essential if you want to use a hotel pool, even if your toddler is potty trained. Find the best prices here.
  • SPF Rash Guards and Swimsuits: You’ll want a few of these if you plan on swimming every day so they have time to dry. They even make cute family matching swimsuits!
  • Sun Hat: The sun is really strong in Hawaii and it’s a good idea to protect your child’s face.
  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen: You can totally get this in Hawaii, but if you are particular about a brand, make sure you bring it with you.
  • Water Shoes: It’s a good idea to pack water shoes for kids if they like to explore the beach or tide pools.
  • Sandals: It’s especially great if they have a thick sole if you might be walking a lot.
  • Shorts, Shirts, Dresses: Lightweight clothing is best and it’s nice if colors coordinate so you can mix/match if there are spills.

Things to Buy in Hawaii with Kids

There are some items that just don’t make sense to pack from home. So, it’s much better to just buy them once you arrive in Hawaii. These items include:

  • Sand Toys: There’s no reason to lug these in your suitcase since they are pretty inexpensive and easy to find in Hawaii. You might even see if you can just borrow over there.
  • Pool Floaties: You can find all sorts of inflatables at most stores in Hawaii.
  • Hawaiian Clothing: If you are going to a luau, it’s seriously cute to have your toddler wear an Aloha shirt or Hawaiian dress. This is also great for Hawaii photo shoots.
  • Snacks: We love getting Hawaiian crackers and cookies to munch on at the beach.

Optional Items Some Families Swear By

Hawaii Toddler Wrap Up

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful and informative. We’ve covered flying with toddlers, the best kid-friendly resorts, a sample daily schedule, and toddler-friendly activities on all the islands.

Once you’ve made some decisions, you’ll definitely want to check out our other Hawaii content!

Love this post about traveling to Hawaii with toddlers? Learn how to plan a trip to Hawaii, how to book affordable Hawaii family photos, do you need Hawaii travel insurance, and the best Hawaiian island for kids!

Want a Hawaii travel guide? I’ve got detailed guides and 7-day itineraries!

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