A week in Hawaii on vacation with my toddler cost $4,500, and she'll never remember it. Here's why I'm glad we went anyway.
In 2022, I planned a big family vacation to Hawaii for me, my husband, and our toddler.
We spent a week on Oahu, dividing time between Honolulu and Aulani, a Disney Resort in Ko Olina.
At $4,500, it was expensive, and my daughter is likely too young to remember it. But I'm glad we went.
Last summer, I wanted to plan my family's first big vacation that wasn't a road trip to somewhere tropical.
Before the summer of 2022, my travels with my husband and then 1-year-old daughter were strictly close-to-home road trips or visits to see family.
While we've flown cross country before, we never embarked on a far-flung family vacation, and as my child neared her second birthday, I felt more than ready for one.
Until then, we put big trips off for a variety of reasons: the pandemic mostly, but also budget as we prioritized a cross-country move, and the fact that it was just easier to travel with her by car and stay closer to home. After all, traveling with a toddler requires a lot of planning.
But last summer, we were ready to take a big adventure, and ideally, one that involved a beautiful beach.
We didn't feel ready for an international trip, and as a West Coast-based family, we decided Hawaii was our top option.
My husband and I initially considered Mexico or the Caribbean for a tropical getaway, but both felt more comfortable with the idea of Hawaii for our first big trip.
We didn't want to worry about going through customs and keeping track of passports, changing COVID-19 rules, or the hassle of a flight that required layovers.
Hawaii wouldn't require international travel, felt more accessible to us as newly-based West Coast residents who could take direct flights from Los Angeles, and was the epitome of the tropical paradise we both wanted.
While we had each visited Hawaii before, we wanted to go back.
Right away, my research showed it would be pricey. I ruled out my first island choice, Maui, and decided on Oahu as it was more affordable.
I've spent time on Maui before and love it for the variety of activities and ample natural beauty.
I thought Maui would be more remote-feeling than built-up Oahu but more family-friendly with a young child than Kauai or the Big Island, known for great hiking that we knew we wouldn't do with a young, fidgety child.
I found cheap flight deals to Maui from Los Angeles but was shocked by my hotel search results. I wanted to stay in a nice hotel with child-friendly pools and food and drink service as opposed to a condo or Airbnb where we'd have to make our own meals.
I was a parent who wanted to be on vacation, after all.
But a standard room in a four-star hotel cost nearly $1,000 per night when I searched on Google a few months in advance. Even smaller hotels with fewer amenities commanded $700 per night.
On Oahu, in Honolulu, on the other hand, I found standard hotel rooms for around $250 to $300 per night on Google.
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, which had all the amenities I wanted, starts at $279 for a standard room, depending on the time of year, a representative for the hotel told Insider.
I could book a one-bedroom suite there for the same price as a standard room on Maui.
Not wanting to spend all our time in Honolulu, we decided to start at the Hilton for three nights, followed by a two-night splurge at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, before wrapping up at The Royal Hawaiian back in Honolulu on Waikiki Beach for two nights, which I booked with credit card points.
Seven nights at four-star hotels would not have been possible for us on Maui, and all three were in places we had never been.
Usually, when I travel for a week with my husband and daughter, I expect it to cost between $1,000 and $2,000. Our trip to Hawaii cost more than double that.
Even though Oahu hotels were cheaper than the ones I considered on Maui, they still added up.
Insider received a media rate for a suite at the Hilton, which cost around $850 for three nights.
Two nights at Aulani in a standard ocean-view room with tax was $1,826.
And I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve points to book a junior suite at The Royal Hawaiian, where I only owed taxes and resort fees upon check-in.
Still, that came close to $3,000 before flights, food, rental car, and activities for the three of us.
I estimate we spent close to $4,500 all-in for everything over the course of a week in Hawaii.
So why'd we do it? We thought satisfying our tropical wanderlust was worth the cost.
As a travel editor who used to take several international trips a year, and who hadn't planned anything big in over two years thanks to pregnancy and a pandemic, I desperately wanted to go somewhere different.
My wanderlusting heart craved adventure and somewhere new, and my tired parent brain begged for a pool chair overlooking a tropical, beautiful beach.
Plus, I realized as a parent that beach vacations with little ones are just the most accessible travel option.
I also wanted to start to make the family memories I had as a child of traversing the world and expose my daughter to new places, cultures, and experiences.
We had spent far less on travel in recent years, and I thought my Oahu itinerary was a responsible mix of savings, splurges, and well-used points.
Going into the trip, I knew the memories I wanted to make with my daughter would be ones I was more likely to cherish.
Truthfully, I'm not sure how much my daughter will remember from this trip in a few years.
She was 21 months old at the time, and I doubt that one day in the future, she'll recall the stunning blue waters of the ocean or the glee she felt riding down her first waterslide with me.
I'm not sure she'll ever remember meeting her heroes, Minnie Mouse or Moana, at Aulani or laughing uncontrollably while playing in the resort's numerous interactive splash pads.
Some friends I know wait to take big trips with their kids until they're older for this reason, hoping that later on, they'll be more likely to "appreciate it."
But I ultimately decided that while big vacations cost money, life is meant to be lived. I still wanted to travel as a family even though I knew she might not even remember the trip in a few years.
Truthfully, on the trip and immediately after, most of what I remembered was the frustration of traveling with a toddler.
Traveling with a toddler is really hard.
Keeping them busy and entertained on a 5-hour flight alone is a true challenge. Follow that with jet lag, missed naps when hotel rooms aren't ready for check-in, and restaurant tantrums, and the result is a cranky, screaming child — and a parent who, more often than not, wants to resort to tears, too.
Going to Hawaii wasn't a total idyllic escape where I spent my days lounging by the pool, reading a book, and drinking a cocktail while my child quietly and responsibly played next to me.
Instead, she straight up refused to go to the beach unless it was dinner time when I wanted to sit and enjoy my meal.
She liked the pool, but for short bursts. I was often tasked with chasing her on the go rather than sitting in a lounger.
Instead of toasting sunset Mai Tais together, my husband and I took turns walking around with our daughter while one of us sat at a table alone.
Long morning walks on the beach were capped short because she wouldn't sit in her stroller. And at night, when she couldn't sleep and was able to stand up in her crib and make eye contact with us in the same room, we took turns sharing the extra bed with her to get her back to sleep.
In all honesty, I came back from this trip more tired than when I left, and with the promise that I wouldn't be dining with my daughter in a restaurant again any time soon.
But now, months later, we always talk about what a good trip it was.
They say many people choose to have a second child because they forget how hard pregnancy and delivery are in a cloud of both exhaustion and true love.
I think that sentiment extends to traveling with your kids, too.
Now that our Hawaii trip is long behind us, I keep thinking about how beautiful the scenery and hotels were. I daydream about how nice it was to be somewhere totally new. And mostly, I think about how happy it made my daughter to splash around in a pool, eat ice cream, or listen to Hawaiian music.
I don't think about the cost, because we planned and saved for it and didn't take other trips as a result.
I don't think about the stress, either, because I'm too busy wishing I could go back.
The other day, we were looking at pictures of our trip on my phone. I showed my daughter pictures of herself going down the pool slide, videos in the splash pad, and meeting Disney characters.
"That's Hawaii," I said. "Remember when we went to Hawaii?"
"Yes," she answered, followed by, "I need Hawaii."
Me too, kid. Me too.
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