Some helpful information, based on our experience, for anybody traveling to Kauai with an infant. Our daughter was 7 months old when we had gone, even though you would think traveling with an infant to an island would be a no-brainer or no big deal - some places in some instances that wasn't the case. Sadly, a few places didn't welcome infants (or small children), or were really tough to accommodate.
We bought that highly recommended book called "Kauai Revealed- The Ultimate guide to Kauai." Even though its one of the better books because it is updated every year, some things were REALLY hard to find (simple things like directions or landmarks weren't in there). Hopefully our experiences and information will help others get the most of their trip. So with that, here's our tips and recommendations:
Our daughter traveled very well on the airplane, in fact, she slept most of the time or was given tours by the stewardesses who were gawking all over her. Not sure if it was because we were sitting in first class or not. Which leads me to my first suggestion for travelling with an infant. Upgrade the flight seating when you arrive at the boarding gate desk! A great "hint" was given to me by simply asking about upgrading to first/business class when the plane isn't filled and also finding out about a "special" pricing upgrade. We were able to upgrade to first class for a pretty low price. We also did the same on the way home, which was a little more than the flight over. Still much cheaper than what the seats normally go for.
Waimea Plantation Cottages in Kauai. This place was amazing! Almost exactly what we pictured a relaxing vacation to be and very kid-friendly. They even provided a crib in the bedroom and stocked the 'fridge' up for you (if requested).
This resort moved quite a few plantation homes built in the 20's and 30's, to a great palm tree filled garden, and then had them remodeled with modern amenities, but they still look old-fashioned (like in a Pottery Barn/Pier One kind of way).
But the grounds were absolutely amazing. Drawback, the beach isn't swimmable (really rough currents) but they have a pool (and kids wading pool).
The "second" half of the trip we rented a guest cottage call "Beach Hideaway" on the North Shore in Anini. A very cute, clean, private place behind a residence. The owner, Barbara, is very friendly and professional. She had a great recommendation list 'hand-written' in the cottage. The downside though, it was literally built on an ant hill, one morning we woke up to ants all over us in our bed and our daughter (like an episode of Fear Factor, not good!). We couldn't use the kitchen or have ANY food whatsoever in the place. Unfortunately we had to use ant spray a little too much, which seemed to help temporarily and stunk like "repellent fresh pine". Mosquitoes were also a major hassle. We had a problem keeping them from eating us alive. So DEET became our good friend, but after awhile if became salad dressing to them. Waking up every morning to new bites became common. Overall, we tried to stay out of the place as much as possible. After the 2nd night, we were seriously considering leaving and going to a hotel (yes, that bad). We've been to and stayed at some pretty primitive places but, honestly, nothing can compare. The beach there is nice though. When of course when we weren't getting rained on. But that's not the cottage's fault - this year they had higher than normal rains. Oh yeah, and don't use DEET spray, the OFF lotion works MUCH better.
Nice Eats (South and East)
We ate at allot of places, but these stood out. A little place called "Shrimp Station" in Waimea that has amazing shrimp taco's (with pineapple salsa) and the best coconut shrimp I've ever had. Also, we discovered what was the best Shave Ice on the island from a place called "Jo-Jo's Clubhouse". The service was really slow since there was only one guy running the place. But we tried Shaved Ice 3 times and none compared to Jo-Jo's. "Bubba's Burgers" in Kapa'a was a good place to eat lunch, it reminded us of "In-N-Out" here in California. "Koloa Fish Market" in Koloa had the BEST wasabi tuna I've ever had; it's a small place that only has take-out plates, which are great to eat at a local beach. A place called "Coconut" in Kapa’a was very good, but crowded since the place is a little small. Our absolute favorite dining was at "Hanama'ulu Cafe", walking into the place you would never guess they have Tea Rooms and a great garden in the back (the front room is really ugly). But make reservations!! If was very crowded, you don't want to eat here and sit in "the front room". Our daughter had fun sittting on the ground and watching the kids run around the garden.
Well we can't compare many since we only went to one that was highly recommended, "Smith's Tropical Paradise" right at the Wailua river marina. A native family runs “the Smith’s” it, (Grandfather was English, mother was Hawaiian) the place is hard to desribe, but if Disney had a Lu'au here this would be the show. The grounds are amazing; if you arrive early they have a tram tour that takes you on a tour. After an all you can eat buffet (with included Mai-Tai's and Chi-Chi's) the very large group goes to an outdoor amphitheater with a stage over a lagoon. The show was very entertaining especially when the faux volcano erupts or when they lights fireworks. We were a little amused since the waiters and the buffet were also the performers. Bring OFF lotion, the bugs come biting at night.
Best Beaches (South and West)
"Polihale/Barking Sands" had to be our, by far, favorite beach. Long sand beach, not too crowded, with huge mountains in the backdrop looking towards the Na Pali coast. But the trip over was very odd. Oddly enough the city roads don't go to the state parks so you have to drive on private roads near the sugar farms. We found ourselves second-guessing if we could even drive on them since most signs say stuff like "Private Road" and "No Trespassing". Thankfully we had that great guidebook (Kauai Revealed) that reassured us what roads were legal to drive. Another nice beach was "Po'ipu" except there's quite a few resorts in that area, which made us clostrofobic . The most amazing beach we visited (again cryptic signs and off-road driving, pick up that guidebook mentioned above) was "Maha'ulepu", namely Gillin's Beach (or bay?). This had huge rocks on one side, with a swimming break, and a HUGE sand dune area. Most windsurfers are in this area, which were fun to watch. This is a great place just to pick up some food and spend an afternoon doing nothing.
Beaches on North
Since it rained like a mo-fo on the North and sharks were coming in near the shore (because of the muddy waters from the streams. Local said "muddy= don't go in) we barely stepped into the water. 'Anini was very nice; the waves broke far away from the shore. Good for kids (when the sharks aren't around). Also "Ke'e Beach" all the way on the North were the highway ends was very nice. You get a North view of the Na Pali coast. Another nice place was "Hideaways" (or "Pali Ke Kua", as locals call it) and "Pu'u Poa", the only problem is it's right in front of the Princeville Hotel (Which, I swear, looks like Las Vegas in Hawaii). The only nice thing about the hotel was the view from the sushi bar/lobby. It's definitely worth the trip just to see the place (the hotel).
Note on rental cars
Rent a SUV or Jeep! Yes, since most private roads are off-road. We saw too many standard cars and mini-vans that couldn't make treks to beaches and trails. So spend the extra $9/day and upgrade to an SUV (at the rental counter...they'll give you a deal if you push). Besides, we found it very convenient to change our daughters diapers out of the back rather than in the back seat. The only downside is the gas prices on the island -- yikes!! I never thought they could be HIGHER than L.A. But of course, it is an island.
"Botanical gardens" (Poipu)-Not only aren't infants allowed on the "garden" tour, but any kids under age 10! Maybe they serve alcohol like a bar, or have nudist cage-dancer gardeners, or maybe kids carry some virus that infects plants...I'm not sure. But this was a big shock to us since nothing in the guidebook mentioned it and when I made reservations nobody said anything. Or maybe it was just our daughter chewing on tobacca' on the walk in...we'll never truly know. But they were really snappy that we even brought a child onto the premises when we arrived. The gift shop sells children's items by the way (I guess for the senoir citizen visitors grandkids)
Hikes in the north - Not only was it raining, but it was muddy. The view is suppose to be amazing looking towards the Napali Coast. We'll never know.
Helicopter tours - I guess this would be obvious. My wife and I considered taking turns on the flight, but do I really want to sit in the middle on the back seat of a helicopter? The guidebook said it's not worth the cash ($200+)to do so.
Great historical site!
At the mouth of the Wailua River there's this sad gated up deteriorated resort area that my wife and I gawked over. The architecture and signage of the place looked like my idea of Hawaii in the 50's 60's, but in a good way. We asked around about it and found out that it was the famous CoCo Palms resort; it was severely damage from Hurricane Iniki in '92. The last queen of Hawaii lived on the grounds, but even more important Elvis's Blue Hawaii was filmed there! Apparently the new owners just green lit a huge project and major rebuild. And they promised to make it look like it did when Elvis was there (included and Elvis museum!). My recommendation for the new owners - start a Elvis themed Luau. I would pay Vegas show prices for something that cool! Anyhow the new resort is opening in summer 2008. So if we ever decided to go back, we're definitely making plans to stay there.
There is a Wal-Mart just north of Lihue's. Although I'm no fan of Wal-Mart but I was a fan of this one. Everything on the island was so expensive; I couldn't get over how much cheaper things were there. Honestly reef shoes in the average store were $30, Wal-Mart $6. Cereal $5-6. Wal-Mart $3. I'm serious! The only problem is, the local government restricted them from putting a sign on the main highway (maybe to keep tourist from going there perhaps?). You can pass it twelve times and not know it was there. It's right near the hospital (Maybe for that heart attack after paying $5 for a small bag of Dorritos at a hotel).
South is much more relaxing, low-key, less commercial, MUCH more family-friendly than the north, or even the east island. Although the North has nice sites, it only accounts for a day-trip. Also, after speaking with locals and other visitors March isn't really a crazy rainy season, this was unusual (even accounting for that dam break was 2 days after we had gone) It rains, but nothing like what we had. But our stay in the South didn't have that much rain. We've been asked many times, "When are you going back?" To be honest, we're not sure if we're ever going back to Kauai. There are so many other great places to visit in our minds that it would be a waste to go to the same place again (Unless of course it were Tahiti's Bora Bora, Huahine, or Moorea--a truely tropical non-commercial islands). But after finding out about Coco Palms, we just might consider it.
Please feel free to add anything on the comments and also if you find anything helpful if you do visit. Aloha!!