Volcanoes, Dinosaurs & Mickey Mouse, oh my! - Our 10 Day Hawaii Adventure

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Advisor - Staci Kirk
Curated By

Staci Kirk

  • Hawai'i

  • Family Travel

  • Adventure Travel

  • Bucket List-Worthy

  • Outdoors

  • Foodie

  • Relaxation

The Stairway to Heaven of Oahu
Curator’s statement

My family recently took a trip to Hawaii, fulfilling a long-held dream on my parents’ bucket list. I also had the joy of checking off one of my Disney-related bucket list items, a stay at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa. We explored the Big Island's stunning volcanic landscapes and four climate zones before jumping into the rich history and lush scenery of Oahu. This breathtaking landscape has played a starring role in numerous Hollywood films, like Jurrasic Park, adding a cinematic touch to its already enchanting scenery. Along the way, we stumbled upon some amazing food spots that catered to every taste bud, including my mom's plant-based diet. Whether you're looking for adventure, relaxation or a bit of both, Hawaii caters to all ages and interests.

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Day 1: Arriving and Getting Settled

View of manta swimming in the water.

As our plane touched down in Kona, there was no mistaking we had arrived on a volcanic island, with runways surrounded by lava fields. We quickly picked up our rental car - a seamless experience with Hertz Gold membership, it’s free! No queues, no fuss. Our car was waiting for us and we hit the road faster than you can say 'aloha.' Soon we were pulling up to our home for the next couple of days, the newly renovated Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa.

The Voyager 47 experience was well worth the upgrade. After a full day of travel, we appreciated the evening "pupus" and exclusive access to the Voyager 47 lounge. The breathtaking coastal views from the lounge's balcony foreshadowed the unforgettable experiences awaiting us throughout the rest of our journey.

Fortunately, jet lag hadn't yet caught up with us as the evening approached, allowing us to make the most of the hotel's manta ray viewing area, where you can marvel at these incredible sea creatures gracefully gliding along the shoreline. One of the only places in the world!

Day 2: A Tour Around the Big Island

The Kilauea volcano is the most active volcano on the island.

It was an early rise and shine with our Voyager 47 perks, we enjoyed a continental breakfast and a hot cup of Kona coffee. Then, geared up for our epic Big Island adventure with the Shaka Guide as our trusty road trip buddy. I highly recommend the South Island Epic Coastal Journey to cover the below highlights.

The journey led us to a hidden treasure – Paradise Meadows Orchard & Bee Farm, where we nibbled on macadamia nuts, buttery shortbread cookies and an array of chocolate-covered delights. Moving forward, we arrived at Southpoint, a spot where the brave take the plunge from towering cliffs. Hang onto your hats; it gets windy here!

As the effects of our free sampling at Paradise Meadows began to fade and our stomachs rumbled, we stopped for lunch at Punalu'u Bake Shop, the southernmost bakery in the U.S. Their cafe had something for everyone to fill up on, and we snagged a malasada (or three) for the road – it's a sugary, puffy piece of heaven.

Next up, we faced the fiery spirit of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, at Volcano National Park. While a whole day could be spent here, with a couple of hours we witnessed the earth's breath through steam vents, looked out over the summit of the world's most active volcano, and strolled through a cave formed by ancient flowing lava.

Afterward, we continued our journey into Hilo, where we enjoyed local brews and unique dishes at Ola Brew. Their curry fries were a hit among both meat lovers and herbivores in our group. As the day came to a close, we set off for a drive to Mauna Kea Summit via Saddle Road. While rain clouds foiled our stargazing plans, we could picture the awe-inspiring views on a clear, starry night from one of the most isolated land masses on Earth.

Day 3: Arrive on Oahu

Experience Disney in this hotel location in Hawaii.

We could easily spend a whole week exploring the Big Island, but we were here for the highlights, and sadly, it was time to bid farewell to the largest island in the Hawaiian chain.

A quick flight landed us on Oahu, where we grabbed our car rental and drove to our next island home, Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa.

Aulani is the perfect fusion of Hawaiian culture and Disney charm. As you step into the lobby of Aulani, you'll find yourself in awe of the breathtaking decor that brings the essence of the islands to life. We had fun watching arriving guests walk in and experience that moment. The tropical aromas and welcoming atmosphere instantly transport you to a world of enchantment, making it the perfect place to unwind and soak in the beauty of Hawaii.

Here's a tip: if you've got soda and coffee drinkers in your crew, snag a refillable mug from Ulu Cafe for unlimited sips of soda, coffee and tea throughout your Aulani stay.

Once we grabbed our refillable mugs and got settled in our room, we took a stroll to Monkeypod Kitchen, conveniently located just across the street from the resort. This place offers excellent food, even better Mai Tais and live music to set the stage for part two of our Hawaiian adventure.

Day 4: Toa Luau

Hula dancing is famous in Hawaii.

We started our day with some resort exploration – we had ample time for poolside lounging and beachfront relaxation before our evening activities.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Tao Luau, a charming family-owned gem nestled in the stunning Waimea Valley on Oahu's North Shore. Surrounded by lush botanical gardens, we were invited to participate in activities like hula dancing, lei making and other cultural demonstrations. This family-owned five-star-rated luau offered a cozy intimate vibe, making it perfect for us since we were seeking a more immersive and close-knit luau experience. If the excellent food and entertainment weren't enough, our ticket also came with a valuable freebie – a Waimea Valley Pass, something that will come in handy later in our journey.

Day 5: Aulani

View of Aulani resort

The Ōlelo Room is known as a great place to grab a cocktail and sushi during the day, but few know it is also a great place to start your day. Here, we would start our day fueling up with the rich goodness of Kona coffee and, if we got there early enough, grab one of their mouth-watering cinnamon rolls - they vanish fast!

At Aulani, the fun never stops, there's something for every member of the ohana. We checked the daily resort schedule to see what fun events were happening that day and found any chance to snap photos with our beloved Disney characters – making our stay a magical memory.

When it was dinnertime, we stepped into Aulani's Off the Hook poolside restaurant. Trust me, the garlic shrimp flatbread there is a real winner. And if you're in the mood for a chill night in your room, you can get it to go through their mobile order feature.

Day 6: Hiking and a Beach Visit

Swimming at Waimea Falls

After we had a day of recharging those batteries, it was time to get ready for some island exploration! Our first stop was Waimea Valley, where our free pass from the Toa Lua granted us entry. It was a one and a half mile hike through botanical gardens to a stunning waterfall – we couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a refreshing swim in this natural oasis.

Afterward, we hopped in the car and headed to the North Shore, where a local treasure awaited us: Beach Haleiwa. This spot was our front-row ticket to watching sea turtles gracefully glide through the crystal-clear waters, with a picture-perfect backdrop.

For lunch, we skipped the touristy shrimp trucks and checked out Farm To Barn Cafe, a hidden gem catering to vegans and meat lovers alike. It was hard to keep space for dessert, but our next destination was the Dole Plantation. Here, amidst vibrant tropical plants and flowers, we indulged in Dole Whip ice cream with freshly sliced pineapples. As someone who loves Disney's Dole Whip, I have to say that the Dole Plantation's version is unbeatable in terms of fresh flavor. Make sure you don't miss out on trying it!

Back at the resort, we stopped by Ulu Cafe and grabbed one of their whole pizzas large enough to satisfy four hungry adventurers. If you're a fan of pineapples on your pizza, then you're in luck because you're in Hawaii! Ulu Cafe has a delicious BBQ pizza with pineapples that is worth the try, even if you fall on the other side of this pizza debate. After a long day full of adventure, it was nice to relax and dine in the comfort of our room.

Day 7: Well-Deserved Relaxation

Sunset over the ocean

After all that excitement yesterday, it was time for some relaxation. We spent the day kicked back taking in the island views from our balcony, floating along the lazy river, soaking up the sun at the beach, and letting our daughter entertain herself with the free beach toys and boogie boards! And if you need some kid-free relaxation, you can drop the kids off at Aunty’s Beach House, a complimentary one and a half hour supervised kids program.

For dinner, we took a stroll over to the neighboring Four Seasons Resort. There, we enjoyed a scrumptious Italian feast at Noe. Just imagine: you, on a breezy outdoor terrace, soaking in ocean views, and sipping on some wine while you enjoy homemade pasta dishes.

We were fortunate enough to catch the breathtaking sunset over the ocean during our walk back, and to top it off, we stumbled upon Uncle sharing one of his captivating tales around the cozy fire pit, making for an enchanting and magical evening.

Day 8: Pearl Harbor and Kualoa Ranch

On the movie set of Kong, featuring skulls and bones at Kualoa Ranch.

Our day started early with a visit to Pearl Harbor. It is a somber and educational experience that is worth the time spent. Tip: get there before 9:30 am to dodge the big crowds and don't forget to snag those reservations through recreation.gov for the USS Arizona Memorial – it's a must-see.

After we paid our respects at Pearl Harbor, we headed over to Kualoa Ranch. Here, Hawaiian history, Hollywood cinematic magic, and jaw-dropping scenery all collide. Whether you're an adventure seeker or a nature lover, the ranch offers a diverse range of tours and activities, promising an unforgettable encounter with stunning landscapes and the rich heritage of Hawaii. We chose the Raptor Tour, a thrilling journey that led us through breathtaking landscapes, Hollywood film sets, and encounters with abandoned dinosaurs from Jurrasic Park - expect to get dusty on this tour.

Back at Aulani, we walked over to Mekiko Cantina for dinner. We were greeted by a warm and welcoming staff who served up authentic Mexican food made with fresh ingredients. Don't pass on the churros – they're a sweet finale you won't want to miss!

Day 9: Lounging at the Resort

An encounter with Mickey Mouse.

For a magical grand finale, we treated ourselves to breakfast with our favorite Disney characters at Makahiki. As we savored the spread, a ukulele player serenaded the room as Disney characters stopped by our table, adding a bit of magic to our meal. Reservations are recommended for this popular experience, we secured our spot 30 days in advance.

The rest of the day was devoted to lounging at the resort, savoring our final moments, and taking in our last Hawaiian sunset for the week.

Day 10: Departure

Local Motion Hawaii is where you can buy surf wear and other souvenir.

Leaving paradise is never easy, but here's a little travel hack that made our departure day a little easier. We had a later flight on our departure day, so we reserved a slot at the hidden gem Aulani Luana Lounge. It was the perfect spot for a quick refresh before our journey home, especially after squeezing in those final hours at the beach and pool. As a guest at Aulani, we also had exclusive access to the Ko Olina Lounge at the airport - reservation required. While we waited for our flight, we stayed cool in the air-conditioned lounge, scrolled through our photos, and reminisced about the magical journey we just experienced.

And thus, an unforgettable Hawaiian adventure came to a close.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Sarah Chase-Carratt’s guide, Fun in the Sun - Hawaii.

Advisor - Staci Kirk

Travel Advisor

Staci Kirk

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Hawai'i.