Oahu for kids
The moment my parents told me we were going to Oahu Island, I wanted to pack my suitcase and hop on the plane. My friends told me it was a tropical paradise, and after months cooped up in a classroom, I was so ready for a few days relaxing on a sun-soaked beach.
Then my mom added, “We’re going with your Aunt Greta and her daughter.”
I gasped in dismay. My cousin, Cecelia, was an awful stick in the mud. She never lifted her head from the book she was reading! Even worse, we were exactly the same age, so our parents often paired us up for activities.
“Come on Elise,” my dad said. “It’ll be fun! We’ll see the sights and taste the local cuisine. Aren’t you looking forward to it?”
I wasn’t so sure anymore. But I did still want to see Oahu, with its wondrous geography of dormant volcanoes and lush valleys—so I nodded my head. A week later, we met up with Aunt Greta and boring Cecelia at the airport.
Little did I know that by the end of this trip, Cecelia and I would have the most magical island adventure together.
Arriving in Paradise
My first surprise happened at the Honolulu International Airport. Just after we grabbed our suitcases from the baggage carousel, I spotted a group of colorfully-dressed people waving at us. One of them held a placard with our last name on it.
The flight had been perfectly ordinary, so I was startled by this twist. I wasn’t sure how to react to the smiling woman gesturing at me. I felt a sudden nudge at my elbow. “It’s a traditional Hawaiian lei greeting,” Cecelia whispered. “See that necklace of flowers? That lady is going to drape it on your shoulders and either kiss you or hug you.”
I went toward the woman. Just as Cecelia said, she placed the garland of flowers around my neck and pecked me. “Aloha,” she said, which I knew meant hello.
Oahu for kids
After Cecelia got her own flowery garland, I walked over to her. “How did you know about the leis?” I asked.
“I read about them,” she explained. “I like learning about the places we visit.” Then she frowned. “My mom says I’m not allowed to read anything during vacation, though. I don’t know what I’m going to do the whole time.”
“Well,” I said, “you can always talk to me.” This earned a giggle.
“Did you know,” Cecelia said, “leis are a symbol of love and affection? And each one is carefully made with special protocols for picking and preparation.”
“That’s amazing,” I replied feeling honored. It was just the beginning of our magical journey!
Welcome to Oahu
We spent our first day in the Polynesian Cultural Center. When I saw the name in our itinerary, I groaned, thinking that it was going to be a long, boring museum trip. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The center was made up of six island villages, each of them representing a unique culture. I learned something new in each one of them! For example, on Hawaii Island, a group of dancers taught us laid-back Hawaiian hula choreography. This was so different from the Maori war dance we had learned in New Zealand on our last trip!
Our final activity was the Ha: Breath of Life show, which told the story of Mana and his beloved, Lani. I gasped when Mana walked through the fire to prove his love and adoration for his bride. The special effects made it look so real. Cecelia, though, was unimpressed. “It’s just a cheesy love story.”
I gaped at her. “What kind of story do you like?”
“Well,” she said, “in Maori mythology, the prophet Te Kooti had a white horse-“
I clapped my hands over my ears. “No horses!” I declared.
“You don’t like them?” she asked.
“Horses terrify me,” I admitted, and she laughed.
As much as I liked learning about culture, though, the next few days had the activity I was looking forward to the most: catching waves at Ty Gurney Surf School. Every afternoon for the next three days, Cecelia and I would get dropped off at the school to play shoreline activities and learn how to surf.
It wasn’t smooth surfing at first, however. It turned out that Cecelia never swam in the ocean before! She was so scared.
But by now, I had complete faith in my clever cousin. “You’ll pick it up easily,” I promised her. “And I’ll be right here with you!”
She managed to do a bottom-turn maneuver that very first day! After that, it was all fun and games on the waves of Waikiki Beach.
On our last day in Oahu, my parents asked me what I wanted to do.
I thought long and hard about it. Truthfully, I could’ve gone for another day at the beach. But after spending so much quality time with Cecelia and seeing her be brave enough to try new experiences, I decided I wanted to get out of my comfort zone as well. I asked to go horse riding at Kualoa Ranch.
Horses always seemed like huge, snorting monsters to me. I almost ran away when I saw one gnawing grass at the ranch. Cecelia squeezed my hand and smiled. Horses were her favorite animal.
It turned out to be one of the best things we did in Oahu. The guide trained us on horseback riding safety tips, like never walk behind a horse—unless you want to be kicked. Then, we put on our helmets, clambered up onto our saddles, and explored the valley’s vibrant forests and dirt trails with our new horse companions. My heart was beating fast as I gripped the reins. But it wasn’t out of fear, I was excited to be trying something so out of my comfort zone.
I felt a little sad when we landed at my hometown’s airport. I was going to miss Oahu—and I was going to miss Cecelia. This girl who, one week ago, I referred to as “boring Cecelia” was now my friend.
Fortunately, there was one more surprise in store for me. While my parents were saying goodbye to Aunt Greta, Cecelia took me aside and opened her backpack. Inside, carefully preserved, was another flowery lei. She set it on my shoulders and gave me a long hug. “Did you know,” she said, “aloha also means goodbye?”
I hugged her back. “Until we say aloha again.”
Visiting Hawaii was always going to be a dream vacation—but being open to new experiences made it so much more magical. Now I can’t wait for my next adventure with my cousin!