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For Kids and Families
With dozens of adventures to take, discoveries to make, and loads of kid-friendly beaches, Maui is a blast for families with children. The entire family, parents included, will enjoy surfing, discovering a waterfall in the rain forest, and snorkeling with sea turtles. And there are organized activities for kids that will free parents' time for a few romantic beach strolls.
Choosing a Place to Stay
Resorts. All the big resorts make kids' programs a priority. When booking your room, ask about "kids eat free" deals and the number of kids' pools at the resort. Also check out the ages and size of the groups in the children's programs and find out whether the cost of the programs includes lunch, equipment, and activities.
On the South Shore, the best bet for families is the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui where the accommodations are spacious suites. Kids will love the beach right in front of the Mana Kai Maui on the island's south side. The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, with its long list of activity programs for kids and adults, is a good choice in the Kaanapali Resort. Also in West Maui, Napili Kai Beach Resort sits on a protected crescent of white-sand beach that is perfect for body boarding, playing in the water, and sunbathing.
Condos. Condo and vacation rentals are a fantastic value for families vacationing in Hawaii. You can cook your own food, which is much less expensive than eating out, and often easier, and you'll get twice the space of a hotel room for about a quarter of the price.
If you decide to go the condo route, be sure to ask about the size of the complex's pool (some try to pawn off a tiny soaking tub as a pool) and whether barbecues are available. One of the best parts of staying in your own place is having a sunset family barbecue by the pool or overlooking the ocean.
On West Maui, all the Aston Hotels & Resorts properties, like Papakea Resort, offer children's packages such as "Kids Stay, Play and Eat Free" and have a keiki (child) activity program that ranges from sandcastle building to sightseeing excursions.
On the South Shore, Kamaole Sands is a family favorite, with an excellent location right across from three beach parks that are good for swimming and have grassy fields good for games and picnics.
Hawaii is all about getting your kids outside—away from video games. And who could resist the turquoise water, the promise of spotting dolphins or whales, and the fun of body boarding or surfing?
On the Beach. Most people like being in the water, but toddlers and school-age kids are often completely captivated. The swimming pool at your condo or hotel is always an option, but don't be afraid to hit the beach with a little one in tow. Several beaches in Hawaii are nearly as safe as a pool—completely protected bays with pleasant white-sand beaches. As always, use your judgment, and heed all posted signs and lifeguard warnings.
The leeward side of Maui has many calm beaches to try. Good ones include Wailea Beach in front of the Grand Wailea and Four Seasons resorts and Kamaole beach parks on the South Shore. Napili Bay in West Maui is great for kids and also for body boarding. On the North Shore, at the Kahului end of Baldwin Beach Park, check out the shallow pool known as Baby Beach.
On the Waves. Surf lessons are a great idea for older kids, especially if Mom and Dad want a little quiet time. Beginner lessons are always on safe and easy waves and last anywhere from two to four hours.
The world-class waves of Maui's North Shore are best left to the pros. The gentle swells off West Maui are where the Nancy Emerson School of Surfing provides lessons designed for beginners. Big Kahuna Adventures will also show you how to ride the waves in the calm mornings off Kalama Beach Park in Kihei on the South Shore.
The Underwater World. If your kids are ready to try snorkeling, Hawaii is a great place to introduce them to the underwater world. Even without the mask and snorkel, they'll be able to see colorful fish, and they may also spot turtles and dolphins at many of the island beaches.
It's easy (and inexpensive) to learn the basics and see amazing underwater life immediately at Kaanapali Beach in front of the Sheraton Maui on the island's west side. For guided snorkel tours that offer beginner instruction, try Trilogy Excursions, a family-oriented day trip from Lahaina to Lanai, or Maui Classic Charters out of Maalaea Harbor.
In addition to beach experiences, Hawaii has rain forests, botanical gardens (the Big Island and Maui have the best), numerous aquariums (Oahu's and Maui's take the cake), and even petting zoos and hands-on children's museums that will keep your kids entertained and out of the sun for a day. Older kids (over 10) may be interested in a zipline adventure.
Central Maui abounds with activities for children, including the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum with its interactive displays, and the hands-on Hawaii Nature Center next to Heritage Gardens Kepaniwai Park at the entrance to Iao Valley.
If the weather's not great for seeing marine life in the ocean, see it at the excellent Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea on the South Shore, where all manner of live marine creatures including reef fish, sea turtles, manta rays, and sharks swim behind glass. It's expensive, but kids (and adults) can learn a lot from the displays.
To discover all there is to know about Maui's biggest annual visitor, the humpback whale, children will enjoy the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on the South Shore and the worthwhile free museum at Whalers Village shopping center in Kaanapali on West Maui.
For a moving experience, hop aboard the Sugar Cane Train that chugs between Lahaina and Kaanapali and features a singing conductor. Yup, it's corny, but the train is a favorite with kids of all ages.
At nighttime, younger kids get a kick out of luau, and many of the shows incorporate young audience members, adding to the fun. Older kids might find it all a bit lame, but there are a handful of new shows in the Islands that are more modern, incorporating acrobatics and lively music.
We think the best luau is the Old Lahaina Luau, which takes place nightly on the oceanfront at the north end of Lahaina. The show is traditional, lively, and colorful; it will keep the whole family entertained. Book in advance to avoid disappointment; this is extremely popular.