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10 Hawaiian Experiences That Are Better Than Disneyland

Are you debating between Hawaii vs Disneyland? Keep scrolling to find out why Hawaii might be even more fun than Disneyland for your family!

Hey fellow parents!

If you’re on the fence about swapping a theme park vacay for the lush landscapes of Hawaii, let me share some insider info.

As a mom who’s navigated the Hawaiian Islands more than 40 times with my two boys in tow, I’ve discovered that Hawaii offers some unique experiences that can easily rival a day at Disneyland.

So, buckle up and let’s chat about 10 Hawaiian adventures that might just make you reconsider your next family getaway.

Awesome Hawaii Experiences Your Kids Will LOVE

1. Meeting Disney Characters at Aulani Resort – Without the Lines

First up, let’s talk Disney because, yes, you can still get a sprinkle of that Disney magic in Hawaii without the hefty wait times.

Find out how to meet characters at Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a family posing for a photo wiht Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
We seriously walked right up and got a photo without waiting! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

At Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, you can chill with Mickey, Moana, and friends in a way more relaxed setting.

The best part? You won’t have to endure those long lines typical of the theme parks. It’s like having your Disney cake and eating it too, surrounded by Hawaii’s stunning views.

While you do have to stay on-site to meet most Aulani characters, the workaround is that you can book the Aulani character breakfast and meet Mickey, Minnie, and usually Pluto without staying at the resort.

2. UTV Adventures at Kualoa Ranch

Forget about the Autopia cars; let’s kick things up a notch. Kualoa Ranch offers UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle) tours that are an absolute blast for families.

Read this honest Kualoa Ranch ATV tour review by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a line of ATVs and UTVs at Kualoa Ranch in Hawaii
My husband LOVED cruising around in our UTV! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Picture this: you and your kids, exploring Jurassic landscapes where movies like “Jurassic Park” were filmed. It’s an off-road adventure that lets you see the breathtaking beauty of Oahu up close.

My boys still talk about our UTV escapades as one of their favorite Hawaii memories. We’ve also done their movie tour and the jungle tour and they were both super fun!

3. Mountain Tubing Through Kauai’s Tunnels

Slide over, Splash Mountain, and make way for mountain tubing in Kauai. This unique adventure takes you floating down historic irrigation channels and through tunnels hand-dug in the 1800s.

A fun kid-friendly Kauai adventure is going mountain tubing
It’s a super gentle ride! Photo credit: Kauai Backcountry Adventures

It’s a gentle ride that combines history with the thrill of exploration, set against the backdrop of Kauai’s lush landscapes.

My son loved wearing a headlamp so he could see when we floated through several tunnels!

Plus, it’s an experience you won’t find in any theme park.

4. Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay

Imagine swimming alongside Nemo and Dory in their natural habitat. Hanauma Bay in Oahu is a snorkeling paradise, teeming with colorful marine life.

Hanauma Bay on Oahu in June
Hanauma Bay on Oahu is super cool.

Unlike the controlled environments of theme park attractions, this is the real deal.

You’ll be amazed at the underwater world that opens up, and it’s an incredible way to teach kids about marine conservation firsthand.

5. Hiking to Waterfalls

Why watch artificial waterfalls (cough cough Jungle Cruise) when you can hike to the real thing?

Akaka Falls Hike review by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a boy standing at the Akaka Falls Scenic Lookout.
Akaka Falls on the Big Island is super easy to get to. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Hawaii is dotted with trails that lead to stunning waterfalls. There’s something magical about hearing the sound of a waterfall getting louder as you get closer, then feeling the mist on your face as you behold its majesty.

A few fun waterfall hikes for kids include Manoa Falls on Oahu, Pua’a Ka’a Falls on Maui, and Akaka Falls on the Big Island.

It’s a rewarding experience that combines physical activity, adventure, and the awe-inspiring beauty of nature.

6. Nighttime Manta Ray Snorkeling

For an unforgettable marine encounter, take your family on a nighttime snorkeling trip to see the majestic manta rays off the Kona coast.

Manta Ray in Hawaii
Brave kids will LOVE this experience!

Floating on the ocean’s surface at night while watching these gentle giants glide beneath you is surreal and far surpasses any simulated ride experience. It’s peaceful, thrilling, and educational all rolled into one.

7. Exploring Volcanoes National Park

Walking through a theme park is one thing, but exploring an active volcano? That’s next-level adventure.

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

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, you can walk through lava tubes, see steam vents, and learn about the powerful forces that shape our planet.

It’s a hands-on science lesson that’s way cooler than any classroom or theme park attraction.

We always stay at the Volcano House because it’s right next to a crater and when Kilauea is active, you can see the lava glow from the rooms there!

8. Stargazing on Mauna Kea

Forget about Tomorrowland; stargazing from Mauna Kea will give you and your family a glimpse into the universe that’s hard to beat. The clarity of the night sky from atop this dormant volcano is unparalleled.

Image of Mauna Kea on the Big Island at sunset
Mauna Kea is one of the top stargazing spots in the U.S.

Many tours offer the chance to gaze through telescopes, bringing the wonders of the cosmos right to your eyes.

It’s an awe-inspiring experience that puts the vast beauty of the universe into perspective.

But, it’s really geared for older kids. It’s super cold up there PLUS the altitude can be tough for little ones.

9. Learning to Surf

Surfing lessons in Hawaii offer a rush that no theme park wave pool can match.

There’s a sense of achievement in catching your first wave that’s incredibly rewarding.

Image of a boy and a surfing instructor on the Big Island
My son had a blast learning to surf on the Big Island. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Plus, it’s a skill that your kids can continue to develop and enjoy for years to come.

The instructors are fantastic at making sure everyone has fun while learning to respect the ocean’s power.

Here are our favorite kid-friendly surfing lessons on Maui and Oahu.

10. Traditional Hawaiian Luau

No visit to Hawaii is complete without experiencing a traditional luau. It’s a feast for the senses, with delicious food, vibrant dances, and stories that bring Hawaiian culture and history to life.

Image of hula dancers using hula implements at the Hawaii Loa Luau on the Big Island
We love the Fairmont Orchid luau on the Big Island! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Unlike quick-service meals at theme parks, a luau allows you to slow down and savor the experience together as a family.

It’s a celebration of Hawaiian hospitality and traditions that’s both entertaining and educational.

Here are our favorite luaus on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.

Making Memories That Last

The beauty of these Hawaiian adventures lies not just in their novelty, but in their ability to create lasting memories.

Image of a boy chopping down a banana tree
My son STILL talks about how he got to chop down a banana tree on Kauai! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Each activity teaches something new, whether it’s a respect for nature, an appreciation for culture, or the joy of trying something out of your comfort zone.

From personal experience, the laughter, the shared challenges, and the moments of wonder are what my boys and I cherish the most.

These aren’t just fun days out; they’re experiences that have brought us closer as a family and have given us stories to tell for years to come.

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    Wrapping It Up

    While theme parks hold a special place in many hearts (mine included!), Hawaii offers a different kind of magic. It’s a place where adventure is as vast as the ocean and as towering as the volcanoes.

    So, if you’re considering a family trip to the islands, know that you’re in for experiences that are not only unique but transformational.

    Remember, it’s not about choosing one over the other; it’s about what kind of memories you want to make.

    And if you’re leaning towards Hawaii, I can tell you from 40 trips worth of experience: you won’t regret it.

    Here’s to your next great adventure! Aloha!

    Looking for more Hawaii family travel tips? Check out 50 Best Places to Visit in Hawaii with your Family plus head to our pages on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island for the best things to do, places to eat, and places to stay in Hawaii.