Thursday, January 27, 2011

Traveling with children to Maui: places to go and things to do


I've traveled to Maui twice, once in the mid 1990s before having kids, and once in 2009 on a family trip with the kids (they were 2 and 6 years old at the time). Both times I've enjoyed my time there immensely, and I count Maui as one of the best family holiday destinations I've ever traveled too. It is definitely a great place to vacation with your children.

The flight
Flying with children to Maui from Vancouver is not too strenuous a trip, especially if you're used to long-haul flights to Europe like my family is. Last time, we flew out of Sea-Tac airport after flying down there from Vancouver the night before. We stayed in a motel near the airport, and it was an ok arrangement. I would have preferred to fly directly out of Vancouver, but the deal was just a lot better when flying from the United States.

The accommodation
The view from our place in Kaanapali Royal.
Maui is a beautiful island. It has a small-town feel wherever you go, and a very relaxed atmosphere. Lots of beaches, lots of little shops and restaurants, lots of gorgeous scenery. For our vacation there in 2009, we stayed in Kaanapali on the west-side of the island (the touristy side), and I really liked that area. We were a fair way from the beach, and if I could pick without considering price, I'd definitely want to stay closer to the ocean. However, the rates for accommodation are definitely more affordable if you're a little distance away from the sand.

We stayed in an apartment at Kaanapali Royal, rented privately through the VRBO network. We had no trouble with the rental, everything was exactly as it had been presented online, and we loved our stay there. The apartment had everything I consider essential when you're traveling with kids: TV, kitchen, and also a washer and dryer.

The beaches
There are lots of amazing beaches in Maui, and I've picked three of my favorites for a family vacation. One tip for all beaches on West Maui: the ocean is a lot calmer in the mornings than later in the day. If your children are young, that can be a very good thing, because when the surf's up the waves and currents can be hard to handle even for adults.
Baby Beach.

1. Baby Beach, aka Pu'unoa Beach
For the kids, the best beach was definitely Baby Beach near Lahaina. At Baby Beach, I saw families with toddlers, preschoolers and infants: kids all ages really. It's protected by a reef, has shallow water, and  palm trees along the beach for shade. The actual sandy part of the beach is quite narrow, but there are grassy areas that make for good relaxation too. There is coral growing in the shallows in some areas, so the kids got a nice up close view of that without even needing to snorkel!

When the winds pick up in the afternoons, most beaches on the west-side of Maui get fair-sized waves, but Baby Beach was still ok even for the 2 year old to go in and splash around. My son loved to play in the waves, and usually just rolled around with the waves and swell. Baby Beach was the beach where I felt most relaxed with the kids. On the other beaches we visited, I felt a little more tense when the kids went in the water because of the waves and the currents.

There are no showers or other facilities on Baby Beach, but I highly recommend this beach for anyone with small children. Locals come here too with their kids, and it's a nice place to relax under the coconut palms.
The northern end of D.T. Fleming Beach Park.

2. D.T. Fleming Beach Park
This out-of-the-way beach is located at the northern end of West Maui. It's not as little-kid friendly as Baby Beach, but still good. There are lots of things to look at on the beach and in the water, especially if you head down towards the cliffs and rocks at the ends of the bay.

The kids looked at mussels and clams on the rocks near the northern most point, made sand castles, played in the shade of the tree at the beach's edge. There are showers, picnic tables, bathrooms and change-rooms. As usual in Hawaii though there are no concession stands, or other places to eat on the beach. This means you should bring snacks and drinks with you, but also means that the beaches are not so busy and commercialized.

There is nice snorkeling here too if you head out a bit, and I did get to swim with a turtle. Lots of fish and coral to see too. In the afternoon it got windy and the waves got pretty big. Not so great for little kids, but potential fun for bigger kids and adults.
Underwater resident.

3. Kaanapali Beach
Kaanapali Beach was the closest beach to the apartment we were staying in, and it's a beauty. At the northern end is Black Rock, which is great for snorkeling. There are lots of hotels and stores and restaurants just off the beach and there are all sorts of activities available.

This beach is a looooong stretch of golden, soft sand but does get very hot near midday. By the afternoon, the waves are big, but if you get there early in the morning, the kids can go in if they're not too small. This is a very beautiful and easily accessible beach, and it's a nice destination in the evenings too when you can have a meal or a drink while listening to the ocean.

Restaurants

There are lots of great restaurants in Maui. These are a few of the places we enjoyed eating at that also had excellent kids' menus.

1. Sea House Restaurant
This restaurant is located next to Napili Bay, and the first time we went there we ended up there completely by fluke because we got a flat tire and were waiting for our roadside assistance. It's a beautiful, airy restaurant with great service, gorgeous views and tasty food. The kids loved the cheese pizza, served in the shape of a fish, and I loved the fish tacos. Reasonable prices, and it is really, really close to a nice beach as well.

2. Penne Pasta Cafe
This small restaurant is located in Lahaina and serves all kinds of pasta for pretty good prices. It's not fancy, but the food is really good and the portions are large. You get your own food at the counter, but it's definitely not cafeteria food.
The view from Mala Ocean Tavern.

3. Mala Ocean Tavern
This is a fine dining place located in a tiny little building on what looks like a nothing and nobody street near Mala Wharf outside central Lahaina. The restaurant isn't exactly fancy-looking inside. It's nice and cozy, if a little on the small side, but the food is spectacular, and if you get to sit on the oceanfront lanai, you are basically sitting perched just above the waves. On one of our visits, we saw the surf actually splashing up where people were sitting! They have a good kids' menu and friendly atmosphere. It's not cheap, but worth it if you want a special meal.

Another good place is the Hula Grill in Kaanapali with some of the tables sitting in the sand. I'd also recommend the Kobe Japanese Steak House in Lahaina where chefs cook your food at the table. The food is alright, but the big attraction is the dramatic cooking, onion ring volcanoes included.

Things to do
If you want a break from the beach, there are other things to see and do in Maui.
  • The volcano: head up to the top of Haleakala, but be ready for a winding, long, steep drive that can make some people rather car sick. It's a spectacular place to see, and well worth it in my opinion.
  • The Maui Tropical Plantation: you can take a guided tour of the plantation on board a gas-powered train that drives through the entire place. Educational and fun even for adults.
  • The Maui Ocean Center: this aquarium located in Maalea is definitely worth a visit. It has beautiful coral reef displays and some very cool exhibits that appeal to kids.
  • The Sugar Cane Train: hop on the steam train at the stations in Lahaina or Kaanapali and ride this guided rail-tour.
  • Reefdancer, the glass-bottom boat: a good way for kids to get to see some of the underwater creatures. It's pretty noisy on board, but you do get to see lots of ocean life, some of it brought right up to the observation windows by the accompanying scuba divers.
At the Maui Ocean Center

Finally: if you go, eat the local fruit. The pineapple, the mangoes, the avocado, the papaya are all so darn sweet, juicy and delicious that it feels like you've never eaten those fruits before. And at the airport, do buy those boxes of ripe pineapple. It was the best thing we brought home with us from our visit.

Read more about traveling to Maui here!

2 comments:

  1. Good article, our little guy will be 8 months old when we go back to Maui in August. We're hoping to take a shorter flight closer to then as a trial run.

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  2. Thank you for the kind comment! I'm sure you will have a fantastic time: and definitely try out Baby Beach near Lahaina. Maui is such a great destination. Wish I was going back there too!

    ReplyDelete

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