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10 Big Island Secrets Every Parent Must Know Before Booking Your Trip!

Are you planning your first trip to Hawaii and want some helpful Big Island travel tips? Find out things no one tells you before planning a trip to the Big Island!
This post about how to plan a trip to the Big Island was written by Hawaii travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Hey, fellow parents!

Are you dreaming of a family vacation that’s more enchanting than a sunset luau but feeling overwhelmed by the mere thought of planning it?

Don’t worry; I’ve been exactly where you are—staring down the barrel of vacation planning with a mix of excitement and sheer panic.

But after countless trips to Hawaii’s Big Island with my little crew in tow, I’ve gathered a treasure chest of insights that turned me from a frazzled parent into a savvy travel guru.

So, let’s jump into the ultimate family-friendly guide to the Big Island, guaranteed to make your trip unforgettable (and save you from those vacation planning blues)!

Why the Big Island? Because It’s Epic!

First off, why choose the Big Island for your family adventure? Simply put, it’s an epic playground for all ages.

Image of Marcie Cheung and her son in a cave at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
The Big Island has tons of unique places! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

With its volcanic landscapes, lush rainforests, and pristine beaches, it’s like stepping into a real-life adventure book. My kids can’t get enough of it, and yours won’t either.

1. The Car Rental Chronicles: Your Key to Freedom

The Big Island is vast, and its treasures are spread far and wide. Trust me, securing a rental car is non-negotiable if you want to make the most of your adventure.

Image of the Budget car rental place in Kona
It’s easy to rent a car right at the Kona airport. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

While public transport and tours are options, they just don’t offer the flexibility (or trunk space) that a family on the move needs.

And yes, I’ve learned this the hard way—trying to navigate with two kids, a stroller, and what seemed like enough snacks to feed a small village, all without our own set of wheels. Spoiler: It wasn’t fun.

Pro tip: Book your car in advance and consider options like Discount Hawaii Car Rental for the best deals. And don’t forget, packing your own car essentials (like that all-important booster seat) can be a lifesaver.

2. Flight Hacks: Direct is Best

If there’s one thing I love more than a good adventure, it’s snagging a great deal on flights.

Image of a boy throwing a peace sign in an airplane
We’re lucky to have so many direct flights from Seattle! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Opting for a direct flight to the Big Island can save you not just money, but also the precious sanity of not having to corral your kids through multiple airports.

Because let’s face it, airport layovers with kids can feel like a special kind of purgatory.

3. A Day (or Two) at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park isn’t just a stop; it’s an experience. Allocate at least a full day here.

Image of Marcie Cheung and her son climbing on hardened lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
There are SO many places to explore at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

From exploring lava tubes to marveling at active volcanoes, it’s a real-life science lesson (that your kids will actually enjoy).

Remember, this is no small outing—pack snacks, lots of water, and maybe a surprise or two to keep spirits high during the drive.

4. The Luau Lowdown: Not All Luaus Are Created Equal

Luaus are a must-do, but they’re not all the same. Some focus on dazzling entertainment, while others pride themselves on authentic Hawaiian cuisine.

Image of hula dancers using hula implements at the Hawaii Loa Luau on the Big Island
The Hawaii Loa Luau is such a fun Hawaii luau for the whole family! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

We’ve tried a few, and each offers its own flavor of magic. My favorite is the Hawaii Loa Luau at the Fairmont Orchid.

My advice? Don’t just pick one—immerse your family in the diverse cultures of Hawaii by attending different luaus if time (and budget) allows.

5. To Split or Not to Split? Kona vs. Hilo

Can’t decide between the sunny shores of Kona and the lush landscapes of Hilo? Why not experience both?

We always swing by Rainbow Falls in Hilo. Photo credit: Owen Cheung

We’ve done the split-stay, and it allowed us to soak up the island’s diverse beauty without feeling rushed. Just be prepared for the drive between the two—it’s an adventure in itself.

6. Active Volcanoes: Check Before You Go

The allure of seeing an active volcano up close is strong, but nature is unpredictable.

Image of a mom and boy at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
It’s pretty cool to see the lava steam! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Before you promise your kids a glimpse of lava flows, make sure the volcanoes are indeed active. It’s better to manage expectations than to deal with disappointment on what should be the trip of a lifetime.

7. Resort Life vs. Local Vibes: Where to Stay

If you’re dreaming of poolside relaxation and luxury amenities, Kona’s your go-to with its array of resorts.

My son did NOT want to leave the Fairmont Orchid! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

But if you’re after a more laid-back, local experience, Hilo offers charming vacation rentals that might just be your cup of tea (or Kona coffee).

8. Speaking of Coffee… Visit a Kona Coffee Plantation

And speaking of Kona coffee, do yourself a favor and visit a plantation. It’s not just about the coffee (which is spectacular); it’s about the experience.

Image of the Greenwell Coffee Farm on the Big Island
Greenwell Coffee Farm is pretty popular for families. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Plus, you get to bring a taste of Hawaii home with you. It’s a win-win.

9. Merrie Monarch Week: To Visit or Not to Visit?

Merrie Monarch Week is a cultural spectacle not to be missed—if you’re into that sort of thing. But if crowded events and spiked prices aren’t your jam, plan your trip for another time.

We’ve done both, and there’s really no wrong choice, just different experiences.

10. Night Diving with Manta Rays: A Must-Do!

Lastly, if you do one thing on the Big Island, make it a night dive (or snorkel) with manta rays.

Check out this honest Big Island Manta Ray snorkel tour review by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a Manta Ray in Hawaii.
The Big Island is one of the few places where you can swim with Manta Rays in the world!

It’s an ethereal experience that’s hard to put into words but will leave your family with stories to tell for years to come.

Wrapping It Up: Your Big Island Adventure Awaits!

There you have it, friends—my top tips for a family trip to the Big Island that’s as smooth as a shave ice on a hot day.

From navigating car rentals to choosing the perfect luau, it’s all about planning smart and embracing the adventure.

So pack those bags, grab your sense of wonder, and get ready to make memories that will last a lifetime.

The Big Island is calling, and trust me, it’s an adventure you don’t want to miss!

Looking for more Big Island travel resources? Check out 22 Best Things to Do in Kona Hawaii, 23 Best Things to Do in Hilo Hawaii, How to Get from Kona to Hilo Easily + Hassle-Free, and How to Find an Affordable Big Island Photographer!