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Tips for planning an Okinawa Self Drive Trip with Kids

And so, it was a dream come true for me, we finally embarked on our journey to Okinawa via Taiwan. We did an 8 day 7 night Okinawa (Self-drive) via Taiwan Child-Friendly Trip.
We stayed 4 nights in Okinawa and 3 nights in Taiwan though I'd love to spend 5 nights in Okinawa instead, the return flight tickets on the 6th day was so much more expensive hence gotta drop that idea.

As with most of my trips with a kid in tow, I've spent a considerable amount of time doing online research, choosing the most suitable itinerary for us hence I thought of sharing some of the information and 'tips' in this post with you.

Okinawa is such a beautiful destination but it has never been popular with Singaporeans. Largely due to the fact that there wasn't any direct flight from Singapore to Okinawa till Jetstar launches its direct flight to Okinawa.
Hailed the Asian version of Hawaii with the hospitality of the Japanese, it makes it an excellent destination for travelling with young kids.

How to plan a Kids Friendly Okinawa Self Drive Trip
As with any holiday, planning a free and easy trip to a country new to you can be pretty intimidating. But thanks to google map and some of the travel apps, it makes our life so much easier! 

1. Join this facebook group 沖繩 彭大家族自助錦囊  

A Taiwan friend introduced this facebook group to me. Okinawa is a popular destination among Taiwanese since it's a mere 1.5 hours flight away. It's hard not to fall in love with a country like Okinawa. Ok, 90% of the members here are Taiwanese so expect to read tons of Chinese. 
Once you've mastered the art of reading loads of information in Chinese, you'll get an information overload.The Taiwanese are helpful and offer tons of information about Okinawa. The only downside is that the landmarks, hotels and places of interest are all listed in Chinese there but well, there's nothing google can't help with. All you need is to google and you'll be able to find the English translation of the place.
Alternatively, you can explain politely that you're not so well versed in Chinese and ask if they have the English description of the place. 

2. Shortlist the attractions you would like to visit
This can be easily done with google. All you need to do is to google attractions in Okinawa with kids and read through tons and tons of information. You may get lots ideas already from 沖繩 彭大家族自助錦囊 facebook group.

My personal highly recommended locations are:
  • You must visit at least 1 playground with their awesome high / long slides - Urasoe Dai-koen 浦添大公園, Wakanatsu playground etc
  • Bios no Oka - if you love nature, this place is worth going
  • Neopark - up close with birds and little pets such as guinea pigs and doggies
  • Ashibina outlet mall - especially GAP outlet - so much cheaper there 
  • Spend a day at the beach if it ain't winter 
Click here for some of the top playgrounds in Okinawa
This is another useful link for the list of things to do in Okinawa 

3. Study the Okinawa Map 
Okinawa is pretty easy to explore so it's really not difficult to plan a Kids friendly Okinawa Self Drive trip on your own. If you look at the map, the shape of the island is in an elongated shape. The best way to explore Okinawa is to drive north and come down towards the south where the NAHA airport is.
One of the super helpful and Okinawa passionate member did this map which will be extremely helpful for you to plan. 

If you look at the map above, you may not be able to read the places of interest but it's divided into North Okinawa (turquoise), Central Okinawa  (pink), South Okinawa (green).

North - Nago, Motobu area, some attractions include:
  • Churaumi Aquarium - touted as a MUST GO tourist attraction
  • Neopark
  • Dinosaur Park
  • Pineapple Park
  • Fruits Land
  • Motobu Genki Village
  • Kouri Island

Central Okinawa - Chatan, Urasoe, Uruma, some attractions include:
  • Children Zoo
  • Minimi Zoo
  • Aeon Mall Rycom - largest shopping mall
  • Urasoe Dai-koen 浦添大公園, 15 mins drive from NAHA
  • Busena Marine Park
  • Cape Manzamo
  • American Village
  • Bios no Oka
  • Cape Zanpa
  • Lots of kids friendly park with their famous long slides

South Okinawa - Naha, city area
  • Shouri Castle
  • Kokusai Shopping Street 
  • Gyokusendo Cave - highly recommended too, one of the largest limestone cave
  • Makishi Public Market
  • Ashibina Outlet Mall - 10 mins drive to/from Naha airport
4. Plan your itinerary

A screenshot on what I've initially planned using google maps. With the routes, you can see how smooth your planned route is. Noticed how convenient and 'on the way' it is from point A to Point D?

Some suggest using google maps to add the list of attractions you would like to visit and see if the route makes sense to reduce travelling time. I actually read of people spending 1-2 hours on the road travelling up north and back Naha city then up north again. So be very careful especially when you're doing your free and easy Okinawa trip self-drive with kids.
I've planned ours in a way we stay 2 nights in Central Okinawa and 2 nights up North to minimise travelling time and it works perfectly for us. We skipped Naha city altogether since we only have 4 nights.

You can also download this ap "Funlidy" from the app store. It helps to calculate the estimated amount of time taken to travel from point A to point B, extremely helpful. Google maps will be able to help you do the same as well. Read up on a tutorial here.

4. Apply for your International Driving Permit 
You will need an International Driving Permit to rent cars and drive in Okinawa. Trust me, car rentals are not expensive in Okinawa and it's much cheaper to rent a car than take a bus in Okinawa. For example, a bus ticket for a trip up north to Churaumi Aquarium from the city would cost you $70 per pax to and fro whereas a car rental cost $50 a day.
That explains why most tourist chooses to do a Free & easy self-drive trip in Okinawa.
Love the convenience of applying for the driving permit online here. Save the hassle of having to go down to apply for your permit in person.  For some reasons, if you need it urgently, then you can visit the branches to get your international driving permit on the spot.

5. Renting a car in Okinawa

Due to the high demand from tourists, there are plenty of car rental companies for you to choose from. OTS car rental is the most popular choice among Taiwanese and they have staff who speaks Chinese as well. They do have competitive rates with full cover insurance. However, we went with Toyota Car Rental since they partnered with the hotel we're staying, Okinawa Grand Mer Resort. It's ultra convenient for us! As we arrive late in the evening, we took the FREE airport shuttle to the hotel and collected our car from the hotel only the next morning.

A comparison chart from the above facebook group. From the chart, you can see that OTS car rental offers the most comprehensive plan. Toyota Car Rental is not on this list though. It is comparable with OTS and offers comprehensive packages as well.

Go for car rental companies that offer full insurance cover, which means you do not have to pay anything extra in the event of a collision, accident or even slight scratches. Both OTS and Toyota car rental provide such services and they're not expensive, estimated like SGD10-20 more for a peace of mind. 

6. Choose the right time to go
Of course especially if you're planning to dive and snorkel. Afterall Okinawa is known for its beautiful beaches and sea life and marine activities. As we didn't plan to visit Okinawa when we booked our tickets to Taiwan, it's still considered 'winter' when we visited in March so most marine activities are closed. 
Their winter season is from Nov to March, other than that you're pretty safe as Okinawa is a pretty warm country with its average temperature ranging around 25 - 27 degree.

7. Choose the right hotels
So once you've got the list of attractions you'd like to visit as well as the mode of transport and date you'll be going, it's time to plan the hotel. Personally, we hated the idea of having to change hotel every day. So you can consider staying 2 days up north and 2 days in the city. You don't really need to self-drive while in the city since they have the Yui railway as the mode of transport. Or consider having an itinerary similar to ours with 2 days in central Okinawa and 2 days up north.

You'll be spoilt for choices when it comes to your choice of stay. I'd still highly recommend Okinawa Grand Mer Resort for the free shuttle bus pick up from the airport and the fact they can arrange car rental for you, the Japanese style tatami room and awesome service.

Now you've got everything settled, get really excited about your trip and continue to read up to keep your mojo up! Have fun in Okinawa, I hope the tips above will be useful for your planning.


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