Updated in 2021! The best Kauai activities for families, including great splurges, amazing savings, and tons of outdoor fun.
Do you remember the time we stayed in the cheapest hotel room in London? Our short term pain was definitely worth the long term gain - we saved enough to enjoy some amazing theater tickets! And, of course, our misadventures provided tremendous amusement for all our wonderful readers! That marriage-testing situation was a memorable travel experience - and it perfectly summed up our value travel philosophy. We are all about knowing where to save, when to splurge, and how to get a steal of a deal. And that translates into a TON of fun when it comes to planning out the best Kauai activities for families - whether you're a couple, a family with kids, a family with seniors, or multi-generational.
London may have been our most amusing save, splurge, steal scenario but it's a system we put into action in just about every destination we visit. It's such a part of who we are and how we travel that we wanted to start an entirely new series on the blog dedicated to how we save, splurge, and "steal" all around the world. And there's no better place to kick things off than Hawaii.
While Hawaii has plenty of tempting splurges (check out our list of favourite indulgences on the Big Island!) it is also one of the most affordable, value oriented destinations we've ever been to. We love sharing our passion for the more affordable side of Hawaiian life and the island of Kauai in particular is the embodiment of the best of the save, splurge, steal ideals. Here's what earned our money and our affections on the garden isle, staying with kayaking in Kauai.
Save: A morning of river kayaking.
If you want to simultaneously test the strength of your marriage, explore the beauty of Kauai's Wailua River, and enjoy a fun, affordable excursion, a three hour paddle and swim tour with Kayak Kauai is the perfect choice.
Kayaking in Kauai is a relatively easy, intuitive activity. Seriously, if I can handle it, anyone can (as per this anti-adventurist report.) But kayaking in the same boat as your spouse is one of life's unique challenges! Happily our guide didn't mind giving us some remedial lessons along the way to help us get in sync. The staff at Kayak Kauai were wonderfully patient and it was a pleasure to spend time with them out on the water - they clearly love what they do and are eager to share their enthusiasm with their guests. I'm really glad I was able to stop the grumbling in my head and enjoy the scenery as we made our way upstream.
The Wailua River is one of Kauai's most special places. Aside from the obvious appeal of its beauty and scenery, it has tremendous spiritual, cultural, and historical significance. This is the path of legendary voyages and ancient royalty and even a short paddle here brings you both into Kauai's interior and also into the island's heart.
I had always wanted to paddle in Hawaii but I was far too intimidated to go out on the open ocean (even in the more calm and sheltered areas). Kayaking in Kauai along the river was a much more accessible and easy choice. But it wasn't without its challenges - and I'm not just talking the marital ones! The quiet river had a steady current and, when we arrived at the swimming hole marking the halfway point of our trip, I was keen to jump in and cool off! The same goes for all the kids and grandparents on the trip!
UPDATE FOR 2021: It seems the three hour tour isn't commonly offered any more and has expanded to a five hour tour that includes lunch (sandwiches, chips, fruit, juice, cookies, soda etc...) The cost is $75 for children and $95 for adults.
Splurge: Whale watching, snorkeling, and cruising.
Like all the Hawaiian islands, Kauai is a wonderful place to splurge on an ocean adventure. But Kauai's Napali coast is especially nice to seek out. It boasts massive cliffs, caves, spectacular wildlife, and incredible beaches. But much of it is only accessible by sea. There was only one way to explore this famous section of coastline - by catamaran!
Of course, when I speak of exploring by boat, what I really mean is that I sent Ryan to explore. My stomach is way too tricky to be trusted on the high seas! Given my notorious motion sickness, I felt it was best for all concerned (including innocent members of the public) for me to stay firmly on land. But I am 100% a wimp and this is 100% on of the best Kauai activities for families and you'll see all ages on board.
For those with more sturdy stomachs than I, take heart. Holo Holo tours will take good care of you! Their modern vessel is equipped with two washrooms and tours come complete with a muffin and fruit breakfast, a lunch of build-your-own deli sandwiches, salads, and crudities, and a wide assortment of beverages (including beer and wine, for those with a truly iron stomach).
The team at Holo Holo tours has an honest love of the ocean. The owners have made five pacific ocean crossings and have been offering tours since 1997. This is their life and craft and they do it well. Tours are capped at a manageable 37 people and there's a real emphasis on everyone having a wonderful time.
Whale watching is normally a highlight of Holo Holo's tours but Ryan was lucky enough to have an up close encounter with another member of the marine family - a group of dolphins! These graceful creatures kept pace with the boat and were eager to show off their slick jumping skills. The cost of this particular adventure is $149 per person and you can find small discounts if you book directly online.
Ryan's notes - The scenery is absolutely stunning. Not only do you get to see the island from a perspective that most other visitors don't get to enjoy, but you're also doing it with an affable, knowledgeable crew who are very happy to have you on board and interact. A day of having the wind in my hair, a drink in hand, with a great group of people, and a pod of wild dolphin visitors? I couldn't have asked for better. Add in a chance to dive into the waters with a snorkel and camera? Perfect. This is the Hawaii I wanted. It may be listed in the splurge category, but I'd almost put it in the steal. Worth every penny.
Steal: A value packed hotel win.
We stayed at the Courtyard Kaua'i at Coconut Beach (Now rebranded as a Sheraton) and it was an absolute steal (and MUCH more spacious and luxurious than our London fiasco!) The sky's the limit for hotel prices in Hawaii and we were amazed that we found a 4 star property for such an affordable price. We found a last minute deal on a third party booking site and paid less than $100 a night -and we were upgraded to a pool and partial ocean view room!
Sadly, this price isn't their standard rate. $250-$300 is more typical. But if you aren't opposed to doing a little research, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you turn up. Guests should note that when we visited there was a $20 daily "resort fee". I could rant forever on my true feelings about this kind of expense but I was happy that the Courtyard Kauai's fee did include two small daily Mai Tai's. It was nice to feel like we got a little extra bang for our buck. I cannot tell if this charge is still included since the rebrand. Please let me know if you find out!
The room gave us great value in other ways - it's not just about free rum punch for me! The rooms weren't fancy but they were comfortable and well designed. We had a private balcony that opened up to a beautiful view and there was a big comfy armchair (not pictured) that was great for lounging. I had to devote one day of my stay to catching up on work and so I just rearranged some furniture and positioned the arm chair in front of the balcony. Writing win!
This property was the perfect, just-our-size kind of place. It was big enough that we had the excitement of a different amenities and services but it was small enough that we never felt lost, overwhelmed, or stuck in a more corporate machine. Definitely an affordable, value packed steal. Families will love the smaller size of this property, the gorgeous pool and nearby beach, and the amazing, welcoming staff.
Hawaii is one of those destinations we could return to again and again - and, in fact, we have! And it's the perfect place to pursue your own save, splurge, steal style challenge. There's always going to be plenty of temptations for the splurge but, happily, you'll find there's plenty of saves and steals as well.
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22/5/2016 01:22:36 am
I never would have imagined Hawaii to be a budget-friendly destination. Holo Holo Tours sounds like a fantastic experience and the price is pretty much in line with day tours I have seen elsewhere. I especially love your photograph of the two dolphins!
22/5/2016 09:05:50 am
Thanks Erika! Hawaii is definitely a destination where you could easily spend a fortune but we've always been able to find tons of free and value priced things to do. (And if anyone is into camping.... we haven't done it there but there's a lot of great camp grounds and of course the weather is perfect for outdoor living).
I love your style - I am big promoter of living within your means and it seems like you've got it nailed. Sometimes people go to a new place and do EVERYTHING then find out it wasn't worth it (kayaking in Ometepe during March was a rip off for us!), this splurge v save idea is genius. Thanks for opening my eyes to Hawaii being affordable!
22/5/2016 09:09:07 am
I hate, hate, hate the feeling of utter disappointment when something was not worth the price. It doesn't matter how much it cost, it's what you get for the price. In Hawaii, one big 'rip off' is the afternoon boat/snorkel trips you often see in Maui. They cost half of what the morning trips cost but by the afternoon the combined effects of the ocean waves plus the morning snorkellers mean that the water is often so cloudy you can't see a thing when you snorkel. Sometimes saving more isn't a good deal.
Interesting read as I wouldn't have thought Hawaii and inexpensive options went together (even ignoring my conversion rate). The rate you got for the hotel was amazing. You've written about some of the things I love about HAwaii too....the great outdoors, and the snorkelling and the whale watching sound great.
22/5/2016 09:10:42 am
We were THRILLED with the hotel price. We had honestly been expecting to pay upwards of $250 + a night and then this one popped up like a lifesaver! It really pays to search, search, search.
22/5/2016 09:12:40 am
I think rivers so often get overlooked when there's spectacular ocean coastline so nearby but I'm falling in love with them. They have their own unique beauty and history and - while of course some can be dangerous - it's nice to have a more gentle environment for new explorers to get their feet wet (water pun!)
22/5/2016 05:44:02 am
Your room at Courtyard Kaua'i at Coconut Beach was a complete bargain, well done on the upgrade, that was awesome. Oh and I hear you about resort fees, gahhhh! I'm now going to read about London, sounds like a tale I need to read.
22/5/2016 09:14:17 am
Resort fees!! I honestly cannot stand them. I have a theory I'm working on that goes something like this.... the higher the resort fees, the worse the Wi-Fi works and the crummier the in-room coffee.
22/5/2016 07:51:43 am
I love your outlook - there are definitely places to splurge and save and you seem to have it down pat! Congrats on not killing each other in the kayak too - even if I think an battle of the paddles would make for a great tale ;-)
22/5/2016 09:16:06 am
LOL - Yep, we managed not to kill each other! But, truth be told, if I had the choice next time I'd ask for my own kayak ;-)
27/5/2016 07:33:44 pm
Kayaking should be a require activity for all engaged couples to see just how compatible they really are.
Great to read about this different side of Hawaii: I'd love to go, the scenery looks incredible, but I always presumed it was all expensive resorts - this is much more our style of travel. I went kayaking in a river with my husband in Belgium, at the beginning if our relationship... i agree about the challenges it poses! But it was fun and we're still here so maybe we should actually do it in Hawaii too :-)
27/5/2016 07:34:55 pm
I would never think of Belgium as a kayaking destination but I really love exploring the smaller villages there so maybe nature is next?
23/5/2016 09:13:56 am
I want to go to Hawaii so bad! You always hear about how expensive it is, so it's great to read about more affordable options. And glad your marriage survived that kayaking tour! lol
27/5/2016 07:35:38 pm
For any travelers willing to give up the brochure style resorts they'll find a ton of affordable options.
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