There are many things you can do with your toddler that will be exciting and new, but every once in a while an opportunity pops up that will blow you both away. While we were on the island of Kauai, the garden island of Hawaii, I got to say something I never thought I would to my 3-year-old son. “Dek, we are going on a Island Helicopter Kauai ride tomorrow!” He was beyond coherent words.
Manawaiopuna Falls, Kauai (AKA Jurassic Falls)
Finding adventure on the island
The garden island has more than a few activities to keep solo travelers, couples, and families entertained; surfing, stand up paddling boarding (SUPing), whale watching, scuba diving, not to mention the number of beaches to explore. If you are a family looking to do more than just play in the sand most of the activities come with a catch- your child needs to be over a certain age, usually age 5. There are actually very few things you can do with a baby and toddler when it comes to adventures with kids on the island. Seeing this as a challenge I was determined to find out what we could still do together that would make this trip more memorable than our last.
Whale Watching goes bust
We’d had our hearts set on a whale-watching cruise. We hadn’t seen the humpback whales since Dek was 5 months old on Maui. I wanted to see how Dek reacted to seeing them as a toddler. I also wanted to get up close and personal with the beautiful beasts again. After a bit of research and talking to tour groups on the island our whale-watching dream was a no go. Unlike Maui, the boats took passengers into the open sea. The water was rough and very few, if any boats, wanted to take the risk or had the insurance to cover babies and toddlers. We had to come up with a new plan.
Why not a helicopter ride?
A very helpful activities director at the Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort understood my frustration and suggested a helicopter tour. I was astounded that any company would take young children, but it made sense. If my kids could go on an airplane why couldn’t they go in a helicopter? We wouldn’t be able to go on a doorless helicopter, but I’m not even sure I would want to if I had the option. I’m not afraid of heights, but falling to my death over the Napali Coast kind of bugs me. My trust in seatbelts is not that great.
Island Helicopter Kauai to the rescue
I reached out to Island Helicopters Kauai and they were excited to let our family experience our very first ride. We were all set to go. Dek had packed his toy helicopter so we got to prep a little before we even left the ground. In theory he knew what was coming. How he would react to the reality was yet to be seen.
There are two tours that Island Helicopter Kauai offers: the Jurassic Falls Helicopter Landing Adventure and the Grand Circle Tour. Landing at the waterfall that was used in the first Jurassic Park movie would have been an incredible experience, but it just wasn’t in our budget. The Grand Circle Tour was budget friendly, still flew by Jurassic Falls, and was a shorter trip for our two little men who had never been in a helicopter before. If one or both of the boys had issues flying we didn’t have to worry about strapping the kids back into the helicopter and heading back.
Toddler takes off
Our tour started off with a quick safety drill; we all strapped life vests around our waist and Ty had one put over his head. I was surprised that Ty didn’t fuss over the life vest; I think he was more intrigued with what the heck was going on more than anything else. Dek quietly waited while our instructor talked us through how we would need to board and handed out dark clothing to anyone wearing a light short. The glare bouncing off the windows of the helicopter could show up in our photos; these guys thought of everything.
Dek and I were the last to board; he got the window seat. Thank goodness he is short and didn’t block my view. Seatbelts were buckled, headsets were popped on, and we were ready to take off. Our pilot welcomed us aboard and before I could even count to ten we were in the air flying over the Lihue airport on our way around island.
The pilot knew where all of the best shots of the island had been filmed in recent movies, including the Descendants, and of course Jurassic Park. Music by artists like Enya, Delirium, and Enigma played in our headsets while we soared over trees, resorts, and beaches with the pilot breaking in every now and then to point out a notable place or fact. We were free to ask questions, but the pilot let us enjoy the view without a nonstop commentary, which we all really appreciated.
The best part of the flight for me was when the pilot would announce we were going to see waterfalls or some other major sight. Dek would turn to me and yell “mommy, we are going to go see waterfalls now,” as if I hadn’t heard the same thing. My heart swelled a little bit as I realized he was paying attention and excited to include me in his experience.
Enjoy the view
We flew over waterfalls, past Jurassic Falls (more commonly known as Manawaiopuna Falls), through Waimea Canyon and out over the Napali coast, one of the most rugged and iconic coastlines in the Hawaiian Islands. Mike and I had seen the western coast of the island by boat before we had kids, but it was a totally different, and almost better, experience from the air. Our pilot pointed out a humpback whale splashing off shore. He even flew out over the ocean so we could get a closer peek. This attention to detail and our interests (we had all gasped with excitement when the whale was first spotted) really showed that this company cared and was willing to diverge from the usual flight path when a surprise experience presented itself.
Our chopper headed northeast over Tunnels Beach, one of the best snorkeling beaches on the island, past Hanalai Bay, and inside the crater of Mount Waialeale volcano where more waterfalls than I could count poured down thousands of feet. Wailua Falls was one of the last great sights we saw as we headed back to the airport and the end of our journey.
Baby hiccup on route
While Dek was having a the time of his little life, Ty was another story. About 2/3 of the way through the trip Ty spit out his pacifier. Mike, who was holding him, wasn’t able to catch the pacifier before it hit the floor. If you have ever seen the inside of a helicopter you will know that it’s impossible to get down and search for an item as small as a baby pacifier. It was lost. We still had at least 15-20 minutes left in our trip.
Ty was not happy. I was able to delay a meltdown with a bottle, but he just wanted to be soothed. I whipped my headphones off and put them on his head as a distraction, which did work and also reduced the noise he was hearing. Being the fabulous mom that I am I didn’t even think to ask for an extra set of headphones for him. Our Island Helicopter Kauai was full; there were only enough for the seated passengers, not a lap baby. After a few tears Ty calmed down, listened to the quiet music in his ears, and settled in for the rest of the trip. After we landed our pilot was gracious enough to compliment Ty on being the best baby that he had ever flown with. Phew! Those crocodile tears that I was sure were going to crash us weren’t as bad as I thought.
As we left our Island Helicopter Kauai ride I asked Dek if he’d had a good time. He was all smiles. Would he ever want to do it again? Yes, without a doubt. Would Mike and I? Of course! This was one family adventure that was a true hit with everyone; I’ll just remember a few extra pacifiers next time.
Know Before You Go
- Island Helicopter Kauai, Tel: 800.829.5999
- Family owned and operated for over 30 years, all pilots are trained by the owner and have perfect safety records. They are the only helicopter company permitted to land at the Jurassic Falls.
- Budget Tip: Save if you book online, and/or pay cash. The Grand Circle tour is discounted on Sundays and Thursdays making it a little more family friendly for the budget conscious.
- What to wear: dark clothing to avoid window glare in your photos.
- Baby tip: If you are bringing a lap child ask for an extra set of headphones for them to wear to protect their ears.
- Best seat? Ask for a seat on the left side if you are flying around noon or later.
- What to pack? A small snack and fizzy beverage in case of motion sickness.
- Splurge: If you can spring for the Jurassic Falls tour do it. The waterfall is spectacular and the easiest way to access it is by helicopter.
- Strollers? No. Baby carrier? Probably not. Check with your tour manager.
- More tips on flying in a helicopter with babies check out Traveling with Baby: 5 Tricks to Taking a Family Helicopter Tour
Special thanks to Island Helicopters Kauai for providing complimentary seats to Dek and I. As always my stories and opinions are my own. If they aren’t you will be the first to know.