Parents’ insider guide to family travel: Hawaii’s Four Seasons Lana’i

Parents’ insider guide to family travel: Hawaii’s Four Seasons Lana’i

By on July 6th, 2013

If you need to unplug and relax with the kids, Hawaii’s smallest island, Lana’i, is the ultimate in a family vacation destination.

Hawaii is more popular than ever with practically zero off-season time. Where can you go in Hawaii to totally unplug and escape the tourist factor? (Hand raised) I know…

With just 3,000 residents, Lana’i is the smallest inhabited Hawaiian island and feels like it’s miles from civilization. The main town, Lana’i City, has no stoplights. In fact, Lana’i has only 30 miles of paved roads; traffic of any kind is nonexistent. For families who lead ultra busy lives, Lana’i is the ultimate “real life” detox.

Despite its size, Lana’i is a place of contrasts: with out-of-this-world, wild landscapes complementing one of the most picturesque tropical bays on the planet. (Read my Ciao Bambino! reviews of Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay and Four Seasons Resort Lana’i, The Lodge at Koele.


Why go?

*As close to a private island experience as you can get on Hawaii.

*Indulge in a Four Seasons extravaganza with zero logistics. This small island has only three hotels, and two of them are managed by the Four Seasons.

*A beauty queen. Hulopo’e Bay, home to Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay, is consistently rated one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world.

*A Hawaiian original: Four Seasons Resort Lana’i, The Lodge at Koele is a magnificent country estate on historic ranch land at nearly 1,700 feet above sea level. This is a unique island experience found nowhere else in Hawaii.

*A great pairing. A stay here couples the best of a Hawaii beach vacation (Manele Bay) with country estate living—aka croquet, lawn bowling, putting, horseback riding (Koele).


What the kids will love

*Bodysurfing on protected Hulopo’e Bay, where the surf has enough action to be fun, but is gentle enough for young kids to play for hours in the waves.

*Snorkeling right from the beach.

*Playing shuffleboard in Manele Bay’s The Sports Bar at sunset over smoothies and pupus.

*Beating Mom and Dad on the 18-hole putting green at The Lodge at Koele.

*Tide-pooling en route to Sweetheart Rock on a short, but spectacular hike around the bluffs on Hulopo’e Bay.


What you will love

*The peace and quiet. Both Four Seasons properties are wonderfully serene. The dreaded “to do” list is a million miles away here.

*Nobu. Four Seasons in Lana’i is the first Four Seasons in the world to host Chef Matsuhisa’s much-loved restaurant.This is the perfect chance to try Nobu with a Pacific Ocean view.

*A massage in an Oceanside Hale at Manele Bay where the ocean breeze and sound of the surf will lull you into instant nirvana.

*Golf at two world-famous courses—one designed by Jack Nicklaus; the other by Greg Norman—on a single vacation.

*Indulging in a his/hers custom perfume-making session. A specially trained esthetician creates personalized blends, just for the two of you.

*Sunset over The Stables at Koele from Adirondack chairs on an expansive veranda.

*The Mars-like red rock landscape at the Garden of the Gods (Kaehiakawelo).

*You and the kids can adopt a seal. Lana’i is the preferred hangout for Hawaiian Monk Seals. Known to locals as Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or “dog that runs in rough water,” the seals are one of the world’s most endangered mammals, with an estimated 1,100 in the wild. Both Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele work with the Monk Seal Foundation to help protect the seals. Guests can adopt a seal for $75, which funds scientists’ efforts to understand the species and help the animals thrive. Sponsors take home a personalized adoption certificate, seal biography and Monk Seal toy. (The kids’ club also runs seal conservation educational programs.)


Look for:

Pods of Spinner Dolphins frolicking in Hulopo’e Bay.

Eat this:

Both Four Seasons resorts on Lana’i have exceptional dining options. Guests can easily get around the island for meals using the island’s shuttle service.

Dine in—
Nobu Lanai at Manele Bay is a culinary treat. From specialty sushi to extravagant signature dishes such as Lobster with Wasabi Pepper Sauce, a meal at Nobu is one for the record books. The set-up in Lanai includes cozy sofas overlooking the resort, so meals feel leisurely and perfectly set up for families. There’s even a Nobu kids’ menu—a first!

Kailani is Manele Bay’s poolside restaurant: Italian food using fresh local ingredients. It’s low-key and open for lunch and dinner.

ONE FORTY, American Steak, Hawaiian Seafood is a sophisticated modern steakhouse with an island twist at Manele Bay. This is also the venue for breakfast, an elaborate buffet affair with every fresh baked good and fruit you can think of…

The Terrace at The Lodge at Koele is about casual dining by an open fire. And yes, it can get cold at Koele given the mountain setting. The open fires are a wonderful and welcome addition to the estate ambiance.

The Dining Room at The Lodge at Koele is the resort’s fine dining restaurant: perfect for parents’ night out, with a creative chef’s tasting menu.

Dine out—
Hotel Lana’i in Lanai City is an old-Hawaiian-style eclectic restaurant with warm service and classic island cuisine. Temptations include Pecan-Crusted Fresh Catch of the Day with Chipotle Honey Butter and Seared Diver Scallops with Wasabi Pesto Potatoes, Tomato Corn Salsa and Sweet Corn Purée.


5 family to-dos:

1. Join a Lana’i local for a shoreline fishing lesson right on the sand in Hulopo’e Bay. Laugh and swap stories while hooking lunch.

2. Have family game night at The Sports Bar at Manele Bay, where shuffleboard and pool over a simple meal with an ocean view promotes family vacation bonding.

3. Take a trip to Shipwreck Beach. You’ll see the hull of an old oil tanker that crashed here in the 1940s protruding out of the water.

4. Be a Hawaiian cowboy for an afternoon: horseback ride through Lana’i’s scenic trails and valleys.

5. Engage in a little family competition on the 18-hole putting green at The Lodge at Koele.


Kids’ fun by age group. Best for …

*Babies: The soft sand beach at Manele Bay will keep wee hands happy and entertained. Pool time. The beach. Scenic hikes with baby in the carrier. Take advantage of the resort’s babysitting service for a date night out.

*Toddlers: The truly endless green grass at Koele Lodge is a toddler’s dream. Beach days and pool time are musts. Play time at the Kids For All Seasons* kids’ club with a parent or nanny.

*Kids 5-10: Protected Hulopo’e Bay is ideal for school-age kids: they can enjoy the surf without putting their parents in a constant state of worry. Snorkeling, pool time. Croquet and lawn bowling; the putting green. The Kids For All Seasons* kids’ club at Manele Bay. Tennis. Voluntourism.

*Tweens & teens: Take a half-day private surfing lesson with Lana’i resident Nick Palumbo. Try fishing lessons. Snorkel. Beach and pool time. Learn golf—or play 18 holes with Mom and Dad. Tennis. Learn the hula. Voluntourism.


The best part

You don’t need a car. Four Seasons gives guests access to unlimited shuttle services (a minimal, one-time fee), and there are no crowds to fight given the limited accommodation selection. Amazingly, Lana’i is just 45 minutes from Maui via the Expeditions ferry service, making it easily accessible for families who want to fly direct to Maui, or pair pampering at Four Seasons Lana’i resorts with time at the cult luxury favorite, Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea.


*Kids For All Seasons (KFAS) is a Four Seasons complimentary recreational and educational program for children of resort guests. Most KFAS clubs are designed for youth four to 12 years old, and open daily from 9 to 5. (Younger children can often join KFAS with a nanny or parent, or resorts can arrange for babysitting.) But details vary from property to property, so check the resort’s website for more information. 

Kids can go all day or just for an hour or two. Activities inside and out include games, sports, music, treasure hunts, swimming, arts and crafts, cultural education, environmental preservation work and yoga. Not your average camp, the VIP offerings are pretty extraordinary—for example, at Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, there’s a Dive-In Movie Night where kids watch a film from inflatable seats floating in the pool with the screen suspended between two palm trees. The fun roster includes Spanish lessons, mini golf, pizza making with the chef and—on special occasions—traditional Costa Rican nights with live Merengue and Salsa, stiltwalkers, traditional garb, acrobats and drumming.


Read more about Lana’i—Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele in Four Seasons Magazine.


Read our “Concierge Recommendations” for Lana’i—Manele Bay—in Four Seasons Magazine.

Post Author
Amie O'Shaughnessy

Amie O'Shaughnessy manages Ciao Bambino, an award-winning family travel resource, from the San Francisco Bay Area where she lives with her husband and 10-year-old son. The experience of planning her first international trip with a baby inspired Amie to dedicate her career to providing parents with all the essential information they need to explore the world happily with children in tow.

View all posts from Amie
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