What I Learned On My First ‘Family Friendly’ Vacation With My Son
Five years ago, if I saw the words “family friendly hotel” I would have thrown up in my mouth.
I remember when a vacation meant wine tasting in Bordeaux in the morning and eating fruits de mer in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Biarritz in the afternoon.
When a Jamaican jaunt in an oceanfront bungalow started with morning sex and was followed by cliff jumping, joint rolling, afternoon sex, a three-hour nap, pre-dinner sex, rum punch, after-dinner sex, a sound clash and late-night sex. When in-room amenities were bottles of chilled Cristal champagne and a copious bag of weed (Yes, this was actually in a gift basket placed in my room in a trendy London hotel.)
Now those excursions seem like someone else’s life, a lifetime ago. The haphazard itinerary of some jetset prima donna with endless hours in the day and endless disposable income. Because now I am in another lifetime. I’m married and we have a 14-month old son and we are on our first vacation to a “family friendly” Hawaiian resort.
Five years ago, if I saw the words “family friendly hotel” I would have thrown up in my mouth a little. OK, maybe a lot. I’m an admitted hotel snob. Judge me if you want but I prefer boutique properties with cultivated wine lists in their exceptionally lit restaurants featuring farm-to-table ingredients. Where curated playlists pipe through speakers into Jonathan Adler designed lounges. Where your bathroom features Malin+Goetz products and 200,000 thread count organic bamboo linens hand woven by a culturally conscious matriarchal society in Bali. You get my gist.
But that is not where we are now. Now, we are at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. Sixty-five sprawling acres alongside a jagged strip of coastline complete with three massive towers of guest rooms, man-made beaches and lagoons, modest swimming pools connected by downtrodden plastic water slides, and even a meager pond featuring a few captive dolphins with whom you can pay to swim. In lieu of a bespoke cocktail program and a sunset happy hour, there are daily children’s activities ranging from hula hoop contests to scavenger hunts. The resort is so massive, you can journey around on a tram that moves at the lackadaisical speed of a tortoise on edibles. Or you can walk by traversing a two-mile-long footpath decorated with replicated Oriental art running the gamut from Imperial Horse sculptures to Ming vases. Eateries are scattered throughout the resort and offer every variety of price-gouging “cuisine” ranging from $25 overcooked chicken fingers to $30 poké nachos. I feel like I belong here about as much as raw fish belongs on corn chips with cheese.
When are arrive, it’s well past 11pm and it’s quite dark outside. Our baby boy is exhausted, as are we. We check in and we ride the neon-lit tram to our room. The lighting is hardly anyone’s best friend at this hour. In fact, we can’t really see much except construction for desperately needed renovations. The ocean is enshrouded in a weighted black blanket and the lagoons are eerily still. I almost expect to see Swamp Thing. We get inside. I’m too tired to be as judgmental about our surroundings as my snobbery would normally allow. We collapse into slumber.
The next morning, the baby is kind to us and sleeps until 6:30am Hawaiian time. The sun has just come up and tickles the bottom of the blackout curtains. I pick up my son and take him out onto our balcony. This is the first time he has ever seen anything like this in his 14 months of life and without hesitation, he very eloquently expresses how he’s feeling.
“WHOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAA…” he says to me.
And he looks at me with eyes so wide and filled with wonderment that my own eyes immediately swell. And I begin to take in the scene before me through his fresh eyes instead of my own long-affected vision. A vibrant palette of tropical blue and green explodes around us. The lagoon sparkles like emeralds now in the early morning sun. Schools of fish swim in the ponds just below our balcony. And to the right, what was black and void the night before is a now an eternal sea of twinkling turquoise and sapphire ocean. With his arms around my neck, my son continues to stare with his gorgeous little mouth agape at the thousands of palm fronds gently swaying in the breeze and beckoning us like the open arms of nature’s hula dancers.
“Whoaaaaaaaa,” he says again. Exactly. I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
In the afternoon, we go down to the little kiddy beach, and for the first time ever, my son touches sand. It’s coarse and pebbly and I watch his senses ignite and I laugh when he grimaces and tries to shake the sand from his hands. He doesn’t want the sand on his feet either and he urges me to pick him up. He is definitely my son. He will probably prefer a chaise lounge by the pool just like his mama. He will probably fancy hamachi sashimi and roll his eyes at a tuna melt. And just like his mama, he might even end up thinking that camping is a hotel with no room service.
But in the here and now, his hesitation slowly fades away as we toddle into the water hand-in-hand. He giggles when I teasingly splash him. We sit on the little patch of fake beach and I teach him how to play with a shovel and bucket and he thinks it’s the best thing ever because he has no expectation or preconceived notion of what enjoyment is. And right now, digging with his mama is the best thing ever.
I would give back all my globetrotting five-star jaunts If I could make this moment with my son last forever; sitting together in the gravel with a bucket between us surrounded by paunchy sunburnt tourists drinking Mai Tai’s in plastic cups. Because right now, this is truly heaven on earth.
Our vacation just happened to fall during Mother’s Day and when the baby is napping, I take a long walk alone around the winding paths of the resort property. Away from all the touristy bustle on a far-flung quiet cliffside respite, I find myself in front of a stunning enormous ivory Buddha statue with a lei of fresh orchids adorned around his neck and the splendor of the endless ocean as his backdrop. I sit in front of him, raise my hands in prayer position and bow to him. And I swear he winks at me.
I will always remember the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Not for its tacky grandeur or its overpriced luau, but for teaching me to re-examine life through the rose-colored eyes of my child.
Image via tumblr.com.