What were the three best things you did?
On the Big Island, walking around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was definitely a highlight. There's an endless array of smoking craters and steam vents to explore, and vast lava fields to walk on. The Crater Rim Drive actually skirts the lip of the main caldera; you can see directly into the most active crater (about 500 yards away from your vantage point). If you drive the 20-mile Chain of Craters Rd, you can hop from crater to crater all the way to the sea. It's pretty impressive to be on the mountaintop and then be right by the beach within 20 minutes - all the while surrounded by patterned lava.
People watching in Honolulu/Waikiki came a close second. It's fun to see what a diverse array of tourists converge on Waikiki (and New Year's fireworks were a highlight), but as you walk east towards Diamond Head the neighbourhoods change dramatically. Pretty soon, you're in a beautiful residential area, with mansions left and right and people who are in incredible shape (the natural scenery is a great exercise motivator!) running past. Walking west or inland provides yet another view of Honolulu, as you begin to realize that not everyone on the island is wealthy and lives on the beach.
Finally, I have to put in a good word for Mama's Fish House, on Maui. An excellent seafood meal with an incredible beach view, and some nice celebrity-spotting as well! My favourite aspect of Mama's, though, was the fact that the daily fish specials all came with the name of the person who caught the fish, as well as the time (generally around 5am).
What surprised you the most?
I always forget how Hawaiian Hawaii is. That sounds silly - and it is - but I often think of Hawaii as just another US state. But the Hawaiian language is everywhere, creeping into Hawaiian-English slang, and the entire state feels much more Polynesian than Californian. Service is on island time (read: a New Yorker would find it slow as hell) and drivers tend to go slower and act more courteously than on the mainland. Away from the chain restaurants, it's easy to forget that you're in the USA.
What’s your favourite Hawaiian thing to eat?
I'd love to say Spam, but I'd be lying terribly. My favourite Hawaiian dish is actually lau lau, which is a savoury combination of fish and pork wrapped up in a taro leaf and steamed. I should also mention shave ice (no, not shaved ice) - the original Slurpee and distinctly Hawaiian.
What was the best wildlife you saw?
A mama humpback whale and her calf, viewed from the beach in Wailea, Maui. I was flabbergasted by how close to shore the whales came. Made for some great beachside relaxing, for sure!
How did travelling with an infant change your Hawaii experience? Any tips for travelling parents?
Where to begin? I suppose the first thing I should have planned out better was accommodation. In a hotel room, once you put a baby down to sleep (for a nap or the night), there's nowhere to go. My wife and I spent endless hours in the bathroom catching up on reading. If you're travelling with an infant, I'd recommend babysitters or a suite.
That said, we found that travelling with a baby in Hawaii was incredibly easy. All hotels had cribs available, and rental car companies provided infant car seats. As long as we were flexible with our schedule, we could all have a great time.