Our Guide: Dole Plantation
It's a regular tourist stop, but we found several reasons for kama‘āina to make a trip to this North Shore attraction.
Photo: dole plantation
Where: Dole Plantation in Wahiawā.
Who: Two adults and their 5-year-old daughter.
When: A Saturday morning in May.
How: A 45-minute car ride to Wahiawā from downtown Honolulu, via the H-1 and H-2 freeways.
At Dole Plantation, it’s easy to blow more than $60 in two hours. But if your child is like ours and loves to ride trains, devour fresh pineapples and toss pellets at fish, your money is well spent. Located in the quaint town of Wahiawā, Dole Plantation is a historic farmland and tourist attraction paying tribute to the sugarcane and pineapple days of the early 1900s. Your kids will learn valuable lessons in Hawai‘i’s agriculture, economy and ethnic roots.
Our most recent jaunt to Dole Plantation was on a Saturday morning before busloads of tourists arrived, snapping selfies by the landscaped “Dole” sign and Plantation Center. Parking for us was easy. We scored a shaded stall beneath a tree within 30 seconds.
Dole Plantation is a fun-filled land of options, so allot three hours to explore, eat and relax.
1. Save the main building for later. The Plantation Center houses the Plantation Grille, bathrooms and souvenir shops. Unless your kids were strapped into car seats for over an hour and need the bathroom, bypass the red-roofed main building and follow the walkway to the Pineapple Display Garden, where you’ll see half-dozen plots of pineapples in various growth stages. You might even spot feral roosters pecking at the plants. This paved walkway to the right of the main building marks the entrance to the Pineapple Garden Maze, Pineapple Express Train Tour and Pineapple Garden Tour. A perfect place to start your adventure – or gather if family members get lost.
The Pineapple Express is a two-mile, narrated tour across a working plantation. Photos: Cathy Cruz-George and Dole plantation.
2. Note the departure times on the Pineapple Express. Buy train tickets at the window, then walk several steps to the depot where the Pineapple Express departs every half-hour. The depot has benches, but who wants to wait for 30 minutes? Note the departure times when buying tickets. Prior to boarding, Dole employees snap a photo of your family holding a pineapple, then the diesel-powered train sends you on a 20-minute, wind-in-your-face journey across the plantation. Local band Mānoa DNA plays over the sound system while a pre-recorded narrator tells the story of pineapples. Our train chugged past the Tanada Reservoir and aging farm equipment, and through thick rows of sugarcane, pineapple and tropical fruit trees.
Train tickets: $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for kids 4-12;and $7.75 for kama’āina and military. Photo price: $15 for a framed photo at the end of the ride. Coupon for train ride: Download the brochure on the bottom left-hand corner of Dole Plantation’s website for 10 percent off an adult admission.
Fifty cents will buy you a handful of pellets to feed the koi. Photo: Cathy Cruz-George
3. Bring plenty of quarters for the Fish Feeding Pond. To the right of the Plantation Center at the end of the Pineapple Display Garden lies a fishpond where hundreds of koi (carp) fight for food. Fifty cents at the dispenser gets you a handful of fish pellets, which the koi absolutely adore. Toss the food into the pond, and watch fish slither around like an aggressive species of orange-hued eel. Stand close enough, and feel water splash on your legs. We waited in a line to buy fish pellets before joining a crowd of families at the pond. Who knew there was fish-feeding frenzy at Dole Plantation? And for chump change, too. Don’t miss this one.
Photo: Dole Plantation and Cathy Cruz-George
4. Don sunscreen and bug repellant for the World’s Largest Maze. The pineapple-shaped maze – with high hedges, sharp turns and eight hidden checkpoints – is ideal for kids ages 6 and up. Infants and toddlers might get bored. In some places, the maze is too narrow to fit an all-terrain jogging stroller. Watch for puddles, by the way. The maze grounds were wet thanks to early-morning rain on the day of our visit. Sadly, we called it quits after finding two checkpoints (and mosquitoes, a bee and dozens of muddy puddles.) But we had fun. So did nearby teens yelling every time they found a checkpoint. We also heard an out-of-town visitor tell his friend, “I should have worn my hiking boots!” Yep, those puddles are something.
Maze tickets: $6 for adults; $4 for kids 4-12; and $5 for kama’āina and military.
Dole Whip, $5.25. Sandwiches and two bottled waters cost $25. Photos: Cathy Cruz-George
5. Bring a coupon for Dole Whip. You must try the plantation’s signature dessert, Dole Whip, a non-dairy frozen treat that melts in your mouth like velvety pineapple. Go to the website and download the brochure (bottom left corner of the homepage) for a “buy-two-get-one-free” Dole Whip coupon. Our family spent $25 for a spicy chicken sandwich with fries and fresh pineapple, two bottles of water, an upside-down pineapple cake slice, a small cup of Dole Whip and a kids’ grilled cheese sandwich with chips and pineapple chunks. Plantation Grille has outdoor patio seating and indoor bar stools for air-conditioned comfort.
The Plantation Garden is home to a lily pond, waterfall and tropical plants. Photo: Dole Plantation
6. Visit the Plantation Garden if you don’t have a backyard. With its majestic palms and gorgeous landscaping, the garden calmed my daughter’s pineapple-induced sugar high. We didn’t play the audio wand that came with garden admission and instead strolled past fruit trees, listened to the waterfall and watched koi lazily swim in a quiet pond (no fish-food dispensers here). Our family truly enjoyed the garden! Perhaps because we live in a cramped condo overlooking Kaka‘ako construction cranes. The trickling waterfall sent potty signals to our daughter, so we left after 20 minutes to hunt for bathrooms.
Pineapple Garden Tour Tickets: $5 for adults; $4.25 for for kids 4-12; and $4.50 for kama’aina and military.
7. Use the less-crowded bathroom in the west wing of the main building. There are two sets of bathrooms in the Plantation Center, which houses the Plantation Store and Plantation Grille. The bathrooms on the west end (left, if you enter the building from the parking lot) seems less crowded. However, both facilities are clean with a half-dozen stalls and sinks, baby-changing stations and motion-sensor soap and paper-towel dispensers.
After washing her hands, our daughter put two germ-infested quarters into a penny-souvenir machine in the hallway outside the bathroom. Proudly displaying her smashed token and ready for round two of Dole Plantation adventures, she proclaimed, “I want to stay at Dole ALL DAY!” Thank goodness, our girl agreed to leave. After we promised to return in a few months.
Overall pros: Dole Plantation is a novelty playground where kids ride trains, eat Dole Whip and walk through a giant maze. Plus, they learn about history and farming. Where else in Hawai‘i can they do that?
Overall cons: Entry to Dole Plantation is free, but you must buy separate tickets for each activity. It’s easy to exhaust your family’s entertainment budget if you don’t choose adventures wisely. Again, download the plantation brochure on the website, and see below for discounted packages.
- 64-1550 Kamehameha Highway, Wahiawā
- Visitors Center: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily (closed on Christmas Day).
- Plantation Grille: 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Maze and Train: $13.50 for adults, $9 for kids 4 to 12 years, $12 for kamaaina and military
- Maze and Garden Tour: $10 for adults, $7 for kids 4 to 12 years, $9 for kamaaina and military
- Train and Garden: $12.50 for adults, $9 for kids 4 to 12 years, $11.50 for kamaaina and military
- (Best Value) Maze, Train and Garden: $17 for adults, $13 for kids 4 to 12 years, $15 for kama‘āina and military