Traveling To Maui With Kids: A Magical Island Perfect For Families
In March, my family and I experienced a place that can only be described as a little piece of heaven. Ranked by Conde Nast as the #1 island to visit in the world, Maui is not just a vacation spot, it’s an experience, one that will inject you with a new found respect for our planet. Whether you are discovering historic sites, walking along the beach or dining at a local restaurant, Maui fills you with a sense of calm and relaxation – pure heaven!
We were invited by the Maui Visitor’s Bureau to discover this island that is raved about, loved and admired by so many and decided to make it into a family excursion. After all, kids are the best critics aren’t they?
After leaving Toronto on the morning of March 10th and just a couple of transfers later, we landed in Maui at 10:00 p.m. Hawaiian time which works out to be 3 a.m. our time. I was a little worried as to how the kids would hold out, but they were champs throughout the flight and in between.
TIP: When flying to Maui with kids, I wouldn’t suggest taking a direct flight. The transfers were a blessing in disguise as my girls took the opportunity to run around, stretch their legs and enjoy a change in scenery.
Arriving in Maui was an experience in itself. Imagine entering an airport filled with the scent of fresh plumeria, where Hawaiian women dressed in traditional garb walk the halls and greet select guests with fresh leis. It was beautiful!
Once we claimed our luggage, we made our way to the car rental where we proceeded to pick up our vehicle. First thing I noticed was that everyone was on edge, jumpy and in an incredible rush – not something you would expect from Hawaiians. Now you have to realize that we had been traveling all day and were completely our of touch with the world news but as I waited for the attendant to fill out our paperwork, I turned around and saw BREAKING NEWS flash across the television screen. Japan had been hit by a 9.0 earthquake and was in a state of emergency having just experienced a Tsunami.
I turned to the receptionist and voiced my concern on the situation and she proceeded to inform me that Maui was under a Tsunami warning. As tired as I was, I didn’t fully grasp the seriousness of the situation until we began driving and heard the sirens and radio warnings. After driving around for awhile, we finally made our way to our hotel, The Grand Wailea and asked them what the situation was.
I was surprised and relieved at the sense of calm and professionalism this girl portrayed. She informed us that the Grand Wailea was announced as an official evacuation zone, which was very comforting! She then checked us in and advised us that our room, on the seventh floor was also safe from evacuation as it was so high up.
There were no disruptions, panicking guests or other incidents that evening. Everyone was well informed, organized and ready for the first wave to hit at 2 a.m. Thankfully we all had an uneventful night and in the morning learned that the Tsunami wasn’t as bad as what they had originally thought. The island pulled zero punches when it came to this emergency and I was incredibly impressed with the organization of everyone.
Grand Wailea served a complimentary buffet breakfast for all of the guests that morning in lieu of the incident. We enjoyed our breakfast on the terrace where we were treated to a gorgeous view of the ocean. I also indulged in my first taste of fresh Hawaiian pineapple – divine! The girls devoured their breakfasts and then we set out on our little tour.
Walking around the hotel it is evident they take great pride in their establishment. The service at the Grand Wailea is impeccable and everyone goes over and beyond to make your stay as enjoyable as they can. You can view my full review of the hotel here.
Before I go on any further, I want to give you a tip for traveling in Maui – rent yourself a car. It is one of the most important things you can do when visiting the island! During our trip we experienced the west side and south side of Maui and it wouldn’t have been possible without a car.
For the first three days we enjoyed Wailea and the surrounding area. Home to the Four Seasons, Grand Wailea and other four star resorts, I found the south end to be a more elite area of Maui. In regards to beaches, our favorite in the south was Makena Beach also known as Big Beach. A roughly 5 minute drive from the Grand Wailea, Big Beach offers plenty of fine golden sand, strikingly blue waters and a family-friendly atmosphere (don’t confuse Big Beach for Little Beach as it welcomes more… underdressed visitors ;).
Kihei is a short drive from Wailea and features plenty of resorts and stores right alongside the beach. Although we did most of our dining at the Grand Wailea, we also tried a couple of local restaurants in the south end and loved the Stella Blues Cafe in Kihei and Maui Tacos.
Stella Blues is a casual sit down restaurant that provides plenty of options for everyone (vegetarian and otherwise). The servings are HUGE, in some cases suitable for 2 people, and the prices are very reasonable. Maui Tacos was a huge hit with our girls and I was happy to find a fast food style restaurant that served up large, fresh and healthy portions. If you like tacos, definitely check them out!
Oh the places you will go! We packed in as much as we possibly could during our stay, taking part in fun activities and visiting some spectacular sites.
The Maui Ocean Center is a must-visit while you are on the island! We were treated to a private tour of the centre complete with a beautiful dinner catered by their onsite restaurant. What I loved the most about this center is how they use an open seawater system, pumping water straight from the ocean instead of manufacturing artificial saltwater.
There are over 40 exhibits to discover where you can get up close and personal with hammerhead sharks, eels, octopus, jelly fish, sea horses, Hawaiian green sea turtles and so much more. I tried to take some good pictures of the Sea Jelly Gallery, but couldn’t capture the mesmerizing magic of these creatures.
My daughter Celina’s favorite exhibit was the 54-foot long clear acrylic tunnel that provided a miraculous view of over 2,000 fish. Just before we enjoyed our delicious dinner, the head diver gave a full question and answers session while underwater. My daughter just couldn’t get over the fact this man was able to swim alongside the sharks – it was priceless!
Maui Tropical Plantation
I’m going to be honest. I wasn’t overly excited about visiting the Tropical Plantation as I didn’t think it would be a big hit with my 4 and 2 year old – boy was I wrong! In a 35-40 minute ride, we were transported through lush gardens and breathtaking scenery we had the chance to see some of the crops – Macadamia Nuts, Taro, Sugarcane, Coffee, Papaya, Avocados, Bananas, Mango, Guava and more.
My girls were intrigued with the Coconut Husking Demonstration and enjoyed a taste of the fresh coconut meat. Although it doesn’t seem that children would appreciate an educational tour such as this, both of our daughters really enjoyed themselves and talked about their experience on our way back to the hotel.
When visiting the Tropical Plantation, be sure to check out their general store. The Coffees of Hawaii is some of the best coffee my husband and I have ever had! Another yummy treat is the candied coconut, so good!
After spending several days at the Grand Wailea, and exploring the South end of Maui we moved on to Lahaina, the west end of the island. The drive was simply spectacular! If you look to your left all you see is ocean, it’s visually stunning and a beautiful experience in itself.
During the second half of our stay we were guests at the Honua Kai Resort & Spa. Ranked #1 in Lahaina by TripAdvisor.com, this resort is conveniently located on Ka’anapali Beach and centrally located to many of the activities and other beaches in the area. Best feature of the resort – the suites. Equipped with full kitchens and a washer and dryer made these rooms a family dream come true! Our full review on the resort can be found here.
Lahaina has a completely different vibe compared to Wailana and Kihei. You almost feel as though you are in a different island, at least that is how it came across to us. In regards to beaches most of the resorts are located on the Ka’anapali Beach. Personally, I wasn’t a fan as the waves were quite rough and not the greatest choice for little ones. The nicest beach and must-visit was Baby Beach. Unlike any of the others we went to, Baby Beach offers calm, shallow waters that are crystal clear. It’s ideal for babies and small children!
Activities In Lahaina:
A super fun activity for children is the Sugar Cane Train Ride. Situated between the resorts of Ka’anapali and the town of Lahaina, this rustic and older open air coach offers the nostalgic charm of old Hawaii. We treated the kids to some shaved ice before boarding the train and then sat back and enjoyed the view.
During the ride, a narrator entertained the travelers by singing old Hawaiian tunes and pointing out areas of interest. The train ride gave us an opportunity to experience the most spectacular views across Lahaina. We were able to see the West Maui Mountains, Pacific ocean and views of the local areas. This is a really fun excursion for kids and the views alone are worth the ride!
Old Lahaina Luau
Who hasn’t heard of the Old Lahaina Luau? Ranked as the #1 Luau on the island, Old Lahaina has received numerous awards from travel publications and has welcomed their share of celebrity guests. The performances are visually appealing and as traditional as you will get.
For one price you can enjoy all you can eat Hawaiian fare, all you can drink (liquor, beer or virgin drinks for the kids) and a night filled with entertainment. Although our youngest fell asleep halfway through the performances, my eldest daughter was enamoured by the dancers and enjoyed the food immensely. We had an excellent view and were seated by the platform where the performance was held.
Being part of a Luau really drew me into the Hawaiian culture and history. It is incredible how music and dance can move you so deeply. The performances were A+ without a hint of tackiness. It was excellent!
You can’t visit Maui without embarking on a whale watching excursion now can you? One thing you will notice when you walk along the Lahaina Harbour is the vast array of whale watching businesses that tempt you with their low fees and colorful boats.
It was just before breakfast time when we arrived at the harbor. My husband and I found a cute little restaurant just on the corner called Pioneer Inn and Bar. The atmosphere was very relaxed and you had the option of eating inside or out.
Prices at this restaurant were reasonable and we had our food served to us within 15 minutes. While waiting, the kids had fun chatting to the parrot in the corner. A great family find and super convenient if you decide to take whale excursion.
After breakfast, we opted for the Pacific Whale Foundation’s tour. The Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 in order to help save the whales from extinction. Their whale watch tour helps to support the foundation and protect the ocean through ongoing research studies.
We enjoyed our outing tremendously and were able to get up close and personal with some baby whales, mama whales and
the “big daddy whales” as my youngest dubbed them. The tour was also educational as the guide on the boat informed us on the habits and lifestyle of these incredible creatures.
TIP: When whale watching be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and a sun hat as it can get HOT! The PWF’s boat has an interior for those who prefer to stay inside, but if you want the best view possible, you are better to grab a seat outdoors.
After our tour we stopped at the famed Banyan Tree – one of the largest and oldest Banyan Trees in the United States, The tree was planted in 1873 and covers the entire block (over 225 feet!). Quite an amazing site, I must say! It is also an excellent spot to take some pictures!
After enjoying a shaved ice from Local Boys while sitting underneath the shady Banyan tree, we decided to have lunch at the famed Bubba Gump restaurant. Located right on the ocean, this whimsical spot is filled with memorabilia from Tom Hanks’ classic film.
I can’t even begin to tell you how thrilled I was as Forrest Gump is one of my favorite movies of all time. Sketches from Jenny’s outfits, fun sayings and an all round casual atmosphere made this the perfect spot for families. We sat in a booth right across from the ocean, where we enjoyed a magnificent view while eating our lunch. The food is terrific and they do provide you with fairly large portions. Prices were about average.
Front street is a great spot to walk around, shop and dine. We walked up and down this street after dinner on our last evening in Maui and picked up a few goodies while walking the side streets.
Another reason for our trek was that before we even left on this trip, I had made it a priority to stop at Ululani’s Shaved Ice.
You see, I had a mission to test out every shaved ice joint in Maui while we were on the island and Ululani was the last stop during this mission.
I will say it is definitely THE best shaved ice spot in Maui. The flavors are richer and more robust then any other shop and the customer service beats all.
In conclusion, the sights and activities in Maui are virtually endless. There are a few I haven’t mentioned here and many that we were unable to take advantage of, but if you can spend more than 7 days in Maui I highly recommend it! Splitting your trip up into 2 is also a great idea as it gives you the chance to experience either side of the island.
I feel Maui has received a reputation as being the idealistic place to Honeymoon and although that is definitely true, it is also a paradise for families. Everything is suited and geared towards providing a rich, cultural and unforgettable experience for children of all ages. We’ve been on many trips as a family, and this has been by far the best experience my husband and I have ever had with our children.
Celina, my eldest daughter cried real tears when we left because she didn’t want to leave “the beautiful place”. She has never been so quite attached to any place as she was to Maui, just another reason while we will be sure to return!
*A big thank you to the Maui Visitors Bureau for inviting us on this extraordinary experience. Mahalo!*
Photo Credit: Maui Visitor’s Bureau & Hawaii Tourism Authority. All watermarked photos property of Child Mode.