Book 'Em, Daddy-O

Eight great resorts on four islands with activities for all. Be there. Aloha.

    Photo: PhotoDisc

On my family's first visit to the islands, we impulsively opted for the sampler tour: three days each on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii. Okay, the manic itinerary was my idea—my husband thinks I need a 12-step program for my gonzo, must-see-it-all travel jones. But it was a great way to lap up the islands' strikingly diverse landscapes, particularly great from the plush vantage point of Hawaii's royal-treatment resorts. At these highly evolved hostelries, the in-house spa might serve up morning yoga by the lagoon, and the hang-gliding-instructor-cum-concierge will point you toward a flotilla of kayaks. But the sine qua nons are the kids' adventure camps, which keep topping themselves with boogie-boarding lessons, caving expeditions, hikes to ancient petroglyphs, and rides on outrigger canoes. Getting our three boys (ages seven, five, and two) to let go of the camp counselors at the end of the day was like negotiating the Florida ballot count. We all found it hard not to be lulled into a resort-fog (that state of advanced this-is-the-life bliss), but there are fantastic places on each island to explore with your kids (see our "Must-See" sections). We even managed without any help from the concierge, really.
HAWAII

Best Bet: ORCHID AT MAUNA LANI
Retracing Thor Heyerdahl's incredible journey, navigating by the stars all the way to Tahiti: priceless. But for $95, chargable to probably any old credit card if you're staying at The Orchid at Mauna Lani, you can bring the kids and recreate a few hours aboard the Flying Manta Ray, a traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe. Little campers at the Orchid at Mauna Lani get to swim in a secret pond where kings and queens once swam. Also way cool is hiking through ancient shelter caves to find petroglyphs carved into the lava by Polynesian explorers (the guys Heyerdahl was so crazy about) centuries ago. Admirably eco-sensitive, the camp makes a point of teaching kids how they can help preserve Hawaii's coral reefs.

Nuts and bolts: room-and-car package from $350 per night; second room for the kids only, $10 a night; full day at the Orchid's Keiki program for kids ages 5-12, $50, including lunch; half-day, $35. Contact 800-845-9905, www.orchid-maunalani.com.

Runner-Up: ASTON KEAUHOU BEACH RESORT
Though this condo complex doesn't have a formal children's program, it does sponsor activities relating to the Big Island's rich cultural and geological granddaddy-of-the-Hawaiian-chain history. There's the usual snorkeling and scouting for sea turtles. But kids also get to pretend they're real Hawaiian kings, playing make-believe in the actual summer cottage of King Kalakaua on the resort's grounds, and fishing in his ancient fishing ponds. Activities are free for kids and adults (children who are old enough can participate on their own). Nuts and bolts: doubles from $185. Contact 800-922-7866, www.aston-hotels.com.

Must-See HAWAII
Meet Kilauea, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the most active volcano on the planet. Hawaii Forest and Trail's Volcanoes Adventure (adults $145, children 5-12 $99, kids 4 and under are free; 800-464-1993, www.hawaii-forest.com) will make the introductions. Clamp on headlamps and venture into the dank recesses of the Thurston Lava Tube. Peer into the Halema'uma'u fire pit, a lake of molten lava in the volcano's caldera (whose rocky crust belies the churning lava beneath). Then hike down Kilauea's flanks, along the rift zones that periodically spew giant boulders, tons of cinders, and rivers of lava that can flow as fast as 35 mph en route to the sea. There—get your cameras out—the explosive result is an inferno of sulfurous steam, smoke, and fiery lava.

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