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Taking the Kids

Heading for Hula Holidays

November 06, 1994|EILEEN OGINTZ

The December holidays have traditionally been a popular time for California families to visit Hawaii. Many island resorts celebrate Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) and Hauoli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year) with special holiday-themed activities and children's programs, while lobby trees are festooned with ornaments made from shells and hand-carved wood.

But families dreaming of watching a lei-draped Santa arrive by surfboard or outrigger canoe had better hurry. For the first time in several years, many accommodations are already booked for the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

"There are some hotels left, but most of the condo space is gone . . . and what's available won't be cheap," warns Ricci Zukerman, owner of To Hawaii Only, a Costa Mesa travel agency that specializes in travel to Hawaii. "The bad economy over the past few years has programmed people to wait until the last minute to make plans, but this time around they won't be able to do that."

The current spate of holiday no-vacancy signs--the largest number since 1990, agents and tour operators say--is reminiscent of the late 1980s, when holiday space was usually snapped up by June or July. Contributing to the rebound are an improving economy in California, Hawaii's top market; last spring's introduction of low-priced charter-airline service from the West Coast and an increase in Japanese visitors. Hawaii-bound procrastinators still hoping to nab a room at the inn should be as flexible about dates and locations as possible. One- and two-bedroom condos on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island are in greatest demand, but families willing to settle for a studio will still find several choices, said Ken Phillips, of Westlake Village-based Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, one of the islands' leading tour operators.

The week between Christmas and New Year's is sold out at many properties, but those who can extend their stays into early January or wind up their vacations by Dec. 22 or 23 will have much better luck. Another possibility: Check for last-minute cancellations, since many tour operators who reserve blocks of rooms or seats release any unsold space 30 days before arrival.

Yuletide visitors to Hawaii will find a state with a multicultural melange of holiday traditions with many resorts going all out to give the keiki (children) and their parents a holiday to remember.

Outrigger Hotels' Royal Waikoloan, on the Big Island, offers lessons for families in different Hawaiian crafts on the 12 days before Christmas, while guests at Sheraton's Hotel Hana-Maui are invited to attend local Christmas Eve services in Hana. (Call Outrigger at 800-462-6262, the Hana-Maui at 800-321-4262.)

Before booking a resort specifically for its children's program, ask enough questions to be satisfied there will be something for your family.

Ask about price, too. Some children's programs are included in the cost of a room, such as the Four Seasons Resort's Kids for All Seasons on Maui; the children's program at the Halekulani at Waikiki Beach; and the camp at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on Hawaii. (Call the Four Seasons at 800-334-6284, the Halekulani at 808-923-2311 or the Mauna Lani Bay at 800-327-8585.)

The idea at most resorts is to give the kids a taste of Hawaiian culture. At the Embassy Suites Resort on Maui, kids can weave birds and fish from coconut fronds or learn a few Hawaiian words. (There is a $15 registration fee and a charge of $10 a day; $7 for additional children from the family, including lunch. Call 800-462-6284.)

Aston Kaanapali Shores' Camp Kaanapali on Maui offers kids hula lessons and takes them on walks to explore the native flora. (After the $10 registration fee, camp is free. Lunch is extra. Call 800-922-7866.)

Ritz Kids at the Ritz-Carlton Mauna Lani on the Big Island, meanwhile, visits ancient fish ponds and petroglyphs ($40 a day), while campers at Camp Hyatt on Kauai may tour archeology sites. ($45 a day). Campers at Camp Wailea at Stouffer Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort on Maui ($35 a day) might learn about different kinds of lava or make grass baskets. (Call the Ritz-Carlton at 800-845-9905, the Hyatt Regency Kauai at 800-233-1234 and Stouffer at 800-HOTELS-1.)

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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