Here’s how I find the best of Hawaii, in ways I wouldn’t have expected.
Immediately at arrival, I’m taken with the lobby murals that tell stories of Hawaiian history. Paintings, sculpture and an endless supply of wood carvings from a legion of island artists figure into resort decor, creating one of the largest private collections of Hawaiian art anywhere. In rooms and suites, calabash bowls serve as light fixtures and outrigger-canoe beams show up in headboards. And though their discovery is meant to be a kids’ game, I find myself searching for the menehune, the little forest people of lore, cleverly hidden into design work throughout the resort.
After the long flight to Honolulu, my first stop is the Laniwai Spa, given the Hawaiian name for “freshwater heaven.” I get to create kilikili, a custom scrub with my choice of essential oils and botanicals to use in the shower after my treatments. In the open-air, hydrotherapy garden, the islanders’ reverence for nature feels heightened with a proliferation of brilliant flowers and abundant soaking tubs. Also in the 23,000-square-foot dream space, there’s a family spa suite and a place called Painted Sky, a separate spa for teens ages 13 to 17.
On the beach, I take part in a yoga practice at dawn, where the view from my mat is the Pacific. Early-morning adventurers are first in line to rent kayaks and paddleboards, which are easy to maneuver in the tranquil resort lagoon that opens to the ocean (though guests are cautioned to not swim beyond the entrance to the lagoon). Just a few yards away, I snorkel amid tropical sea life in Rainbow Reef, a man-made pool filled with seawater and angelfish, butterfly fish and many more. At the nearby Shake-A-Shaka Pool Party, there’s a wholly different kind of family entertainment incorporating surfer games, dancing and the arrival of Disney characters.
The pool scene also involves floating down the Waikolohe Stream, where water slides burrow through rock formations and misty caverns, and where hot springs blast a bit of steam in modified volcano fashion. But when the play becomes too rowdy, I’m off to the Wailana Pool, a separate retreat with its own bar. Or, I’ll arrange for a poolside cabana, with a ceiling fan, a refrigerator and Wi-Fi, and where I’ll lounge on fancy furniture and eat fresh fruit.
Parents don’t have to feel guilty when parking their kids for supervised fun at Aunty’s Beach House, the play place where keiki (children) shed their flip-flops and spend the day learning the hula, playing games with Disney characters, watching movies, running around in a backyard or creating something arty. And when it’s time to go off-site, the excursions desk books trips for hiking in a rainforest, learning about art and history in guided tours through Honolulu museums, taking a ghost tour in haunted island corners, or sailing on a catamaran to see dolphins and whales.