Alaska and Hawaii are both well-known holiday and tourist destinations, but for vastly different reasons.
One offers a warm, tropical paradise full of perfectly formed beaches and hot summer sunlight, while the other is a very fresh and mountainous space that is perfect for hikers.
If you are unsure where to take the kids this year as part of your family vacation, then these are two of the best (and most accessible) destinations you might want to consider.
However, their wild differences mean that they are perfect for different kinds of people – and different kinds of vacations.
Why compare Alaska and Hawaii?
It might seem bizarre to compare these two states when they have so little in common on the surface, but they can actually appeal to two majorly different styles of vacation. They are so different that they can both be an amazing experience, but they are each lacking some things that the other has.
If you live in the US, then Alaska and Hawaii can be two easily accessible, reliable vacation destinations that you can reach in just a flight or two. Whether you want a budget vacation or are just aiming to get out of your own state for a while, these are the two best options.
But what do they actually offer, and which one might be best suited to a family with children? A lot of thought goes into most vacations, so figuring out the core benefits and drawbacks of these two states makes it much easier to choose the one that meshes with your vacation preferences the best.
Which is better?
It would be pointless to try and offer a one-word answer on whether Alaska or Hawaii is better since a huge part of the decision is making a subjective choice based on your own preferences and needs. Still, going over some of the most important factors in a vacation can shine a light on their strengths and flaws.
Alaska tends to have higher food prices than the states below it, mostly due to its isolated location and the struggle that Alaskans often have when trying to farm. This is not always a problem for a short vacation, but it can begin to add up if you are spending a lot of time in the state.
More importantly, though, is the fact that your accommodation and flights can be more expensive too. Just getting there can be quite pricey unless you find cheaper methods of transport, but once you are there, you can usually avoid spending too much.
Hawaii is also quite expensive, but you tend to have more choice in the food that you can buy. This means that it is much easier to get cheaper brands: the issue is not a lack of farming, but mostly just because Hawaii prices are high in most stores.
Either way, if you are going to one of these states, you should expect to pay quite a bit if you are not finding cheaper deals. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, but it can mean that you will have to budget more and think further ahead if you want to keep the costs down.
Food and Dining
Both Alaska and Hawaii have some amazing food choices, most of which are either exotic or simply a local delicacy that you can’t easily get elsewhere.
Alaska’s most impressive meals are hearty, such as big salmon dishes and reindeer sausage breakfasts. They are guaranteed to keep you warm in the cooler parts of Alaska, and you can get them quite easily from a range of different stores or restaurants.
While you might be paying slightly more for your food, animals like salmon are abundant, so they can actually be more affordable than in certain other states. It is not hard to find somewhere serving them, either.
Hawaii is more focused on the exotic, ranging from rare meats to juicy, sweet fruit meals. The food is all presented incredibly well, and the commercial nature of the vacation spots on the Hawaiian Islands means that you can also get your usual grocery store foods there.
However, since Hawaii prices tend to be high, you will want to get your money’s worth by sticking to meals that you have never had before. If you are just buying the same things that you buy back home, expect to pay very high amounts for even basic things.
Alaska’s cold and often-snowy nature means that a lot of tourist accommodation tends to be various types of cabins or lodges, many of which are specialized in certain ways. You can stay in more public lodges near major cities or ones designed to let you watch wild animals like bears.
There are also remote lodges that you can only reach through air travel or with a boat for the more extreme nature lovers. These give you an outdoor space to enjoy, free from the constant pressure of urban life or having to deal with other people.
Generally, they are going to be quite rustic lodges that do not have that many unnecessary amenities unless you deliberately go for any hotels in the state’s normal cities. Since these lodges are a big part of the appeal, they are usually some of the first things you should try to book ahead of time.
Hawaii is much more varied in accommodation, ranging from simple three-star hotels to major resorts that are part of well-known brands. Since the state is so focused on tourism, there are a lot of different beachfront resorts to enjoy, but they can be very expensive.
If you just want basic accommodation and do not care what you get, then it is not hard to go for a cheaper and more reliable hotel somewhere in one of the state’s towns and cities. Just be aware that they will still be more expensive than in other states, especially near the shore.
On the plus side, you will get access to a lot of activities and amenities, no matter where you set yourself up. The only things to consider are the price, the location, and the kind of surroundings that you will actually have once you settle down there for your vacation period.
Alaska’s landscape is a perfect mixture of beauty and perfect-for-hiking practicality, giving you stunning sights almost anywhere in the state. Whether you are on foot, traveling by car, or even onboard a ferry, you can get some great views and enjoy it at your own pace.
While Alaska is cold, it is not too cold to be uninhabitable. You might want to pack extra clothes and some emergency food, but there are countless different places to explore that have been made as safe as possible. Even if you are not a fan of hiking, you can take a casual stroll around some rural areas.
More importantly, Alaska has plenty of tours and cruises going around particular landmarks, lakes, and fjords within its borders. You can either go on your own self-directed trip or take one of these official tours to see the state at its best, all while being sheltered from the elements.
Hawaii is all about sand, sun, and warm water. While you can go on hikes or nature walks through forested areas, the country does not have as many land-based creatures to meet and take photos of. Instead, a big focus is on the ocean.
Hawaii’s landscape is tied directly towards being a cluster of islands, meaning that you can often see the rest of the islands from nearly any beach you choose. Of course, the beaches also look directly out onto the ocean, giving you a beautiful view of the water meeting the horizon.
On the land, most of Hawaii is set up for tourists, meaning that you will find quite a few carefully planned walks and other routes that let you explore. The presence of old volcanoes and other landmarks can really give you some interesting hotspots to visit, so do not be afraid to leave the beach for a while.
Hawaii has a lot of different attractions on offer, most of which involve nature-related experiences. You can go and take surfing lessons, explore volcanos and volcanic craters, or even visit the still-active Kilauea Volcano and watch the constant eruptions from a safe distance.
That is not even mentioning the simpler attractions, like sitting on the beach to enjoy the sun or taking a walk through the trees. If you want to enjoy the water more directly, you can also go diving, swimming, or even snorkeling with dolphins and turtles.
What you decide to do is up to you, but Hawaii has a lot of variety, so it is worth looking to see what is available before you go. With so much to enjoy, it is easy to feel overwhelmed if you do not plan any kind of itinerary ahead of time.
Alaska is very attraction-rich, offering a similar set of nature-focused options that can really show you how beautiful the state actually is. You can hike through the tundra, watch whales breaching the ocean from either the shore or a safe boat and take a tour specifically to view brown bears up close.
Beyond that, you have got all kinds of local attractions to enjoy, including things that are specifically limited to a certain town or city. It is impossible to cover all of them, but if you are going to a specific place, then it is a good idea to research what they can offer before you arrive.
There is also the ever-present chance that you might catch the Aurora Borealis glowing across the entire night sky between September and April. No matter what else you visit Alaska for, the Aurora Borealis should be one of the things you need to experience before you leave.
Which is best for family vacations?
One of the issues with family vacations is that the entire family needs to agree on something, making varied vacations much more reliable in terms of satisfying everybody. Both Alaska and Hawaii can do that, but the difference is in how they do it.
Hawaii is very commercialized. A lot of the things you see there will be tourist-focused, and many of the state’s economy can rely on tourists coming in and spending money. This is not bad, but it means that you will want to have a good budget ready before you arrive.
While Alaska is expensive, it somehow feels more out of necessity, probably because you can easily visit the state and hole up in a cabin for the entire trip if you want. Your vacation there is almost entirely self-guided, whereas Hawaii offers very intentional vacation activities in specific places.
Why choose Alaska?
Alaska is your best bet if you want a vacation that gives you an authentic adventure-seeking experience. Not only is there a huge amount of wildlife native to the state, but you can explore it at your leisure or take part in structured tours if you prefer a direct approach.
While it can be expensive, you are paying for an experience that is not really replicated anywhere else. If you do not mind paying the extra money, then it can be a perfect way for the entire family to witness a flood of new experiences.
Why choose Hawaii?
Hawaii is a little more accomodating to people without a high budget, even if it can be difficult to manage sometimes. It is a state that knows it wants tourists and will offer you all kinds of excellent accommodation or activities to get you invested in your time there.
If you prefer having activities available rather than trying to guide yourself into them, then Hawaii works well. It is also the best place to turn if you want to get comfortable on a beach, open a cold drink, and enjoy the sunset over the ocean.
Whichever state you pick, you will be getting experience that you can’t get anywhere else. You only need to ask what kind of holiday you are looking for because Hawaii and Alaska are so wildly different that they are almost opposites in many ways.
More about our TFVG Author
A seasoned traveller, Dad, and avid sports tourist, James foundered The Family Vacation Guide to share his expert vacation experiences- especially when it comes to being a travelling family man.
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