Fabulous Maui Family Vacations

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Maui is a popular destination for families with kids of all ages. The island is known for its beautiful white sand beaches, expansive coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, soft adventure opportunities, warm aloha spirit, and so much more. There's something for everyone on Maui, which makes it a perfect choice for family travel and multigenerational family vacations.

Here are ten great reasons to take the family to Maui on your next vacation:

1. Marvel at Marine Life.  It's no wonder that the Maui Ocean Center was named Hawaii's top attraction by Zagat Survey's U.S. Family Travel Guide. Sprawling over three acres in Ma'alaea Harbor Village, the Maui Ocean Center is the largest tropical reef aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. The complex features over 60 exhibits as well as three restaurants and one of the island's best gift shops. Some of my favorite exhibits include Turtle Lagoon filled with Hawaii green sea turtles, Hammerhead Harbor, the Sea Jelly Gallery, and The Open Ocean - a 750,000-gallon salt water aquarium filled with sharks, fish and rays. Walking through the 54-foot-long clear tunnel and getting a 240-degree close-up view of sharks and massive fish is particularly cool.

2. Summit a Volcano.  Haleakala National Park is one of Maui's most surreal places. Standing 10,023 feet high, Haleakala (House of the Sun) is the earth's largest dormant active volcano with a crater that spans over 19 square miles. Haleakala is a sacred spot for Hawaiians and those who come here will quickly understand why. It's an amazing place. There are many ways to see Haleakala. One of the peak travel experiences of my life was watching the sunrise from Haleakala's summit. If seeing the sunrise isn't possible, simply make the drive up Highway 378 (Haleakala Crater Road) during the day. Ascending steeply from sea level to over 10,000 feet, Haleakala Crater Road has over 30 switchbacks as well as blind turns and steep drop-offs without the benefit of guardrails. Bring warm clothing, fill up your gas tank before making the drive and check on current conditions - although the weather changes constantly. Other popular ways to see Haleakala are via bike and on horseback. Several Maui tour companies offer these sightseeing options as well as group Haleakala tours for families who'd prefer to let someone else do the driving.

3. Spread Out in a Villa.
  Families and multigenerational groups love spending time together, but they also crave having their own personal space as well. That's why it's no surprise that 2.5 million family reunion travelers stayed in a vacation rental or villa last year. This is particularly true for families traveling with teens and young adults, not to mention grandparents bringing the kids and grandkids along to celebrate a major family event. Maui offers a wealth of villas, condominiums and homes to make vacationing easy for families, and Destination Resorts provide some of the best options. Destination Resorts at Wailea Beach Villas is an outstanding choice for families, offering luxuriously furnished spacious rooms, dreamy views, and a superb beachfront location. These villas are particularly popular with high profile celebrities vacationing with their families due to the property's superb guest services, attentive staff, upscale decor, and added security.

4. Try Maui's Shave Ice.  Shave ice is one of Maui's true delights. Please don't call it "shaved ice" - it's so much better than the crushed ice snow cones that mainland tourists often expect. Blocks of ice are finely shaved into snow-like consistency and mounded into a huge ball atop a paper or plastic cup, then topped with a variety of syrups such as coconut, pina colada, mango, passion fruit, strawberry and melona. Local Boys Shave Ice and Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice are popular Maui shave ice spots and definitely two of my favorites. If you go, make sure to get your shave ice with a scoop of Roselani ice cream on the bottom and Kauai Cream on top - it's delicious.

5. Sail Away on a Catamaran.  Catamaran cruises are a relaxing way for families to spend the day and get a close-up view of Maui's reef system and amazing marine life. Ship tours and operators such as the Pacific Whale Foundation take vacationers out to various great snorkeling spots including Molokini, Lana'i, Turtle Arches, and other spots. Here, you'll have the opportunity to snorkel alongside sea turtles and tropical fish or simply laze on the deck soaking up the sun. From late November through mid May, the Pacific Whale Foundation (Maui's top choice for whale watching) takes families out on popular whale watching cruises to observe and learn about the thousands of humpback whales that come to Maui to mate and give birth to their young.

6. Take an Airborne Adventure.
  Seeing Maui from the air is a special treat. For a birds-eye view of Maui's beauty, take a helicopter excursion with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters or Sunshine Helicopters. Maui also has a number of zipline tours that are popular with families. Piiholo Ranch features 4- and 5-line side-by-side dual ziplines as well as a tower with seven climbing challenges. Skyline Eco-Adventures offers a zipline tour on the way to Haleakala's crater featuring five ziplines and an "Indiana Jones" type swinging bridge. Families with kids as young as five years of age can get their thrills at the Maui Zipline Company. Marketed as "Hawaii's most extreme zipline," Flyin Hawaiian Zipline's attraction consists of 8 ziplines stretching from 250 to 3,600 feet - the longest in Hawaii.

7. Feed Your Inner Foodie.  Maui is well known for its lovely beaches, but the island's upcountry region is also a fantastic destination for food loving families. Families can rent a car and drive through this area, stopping to explore along the way. Sample award-winning goat cheese spreads and scrumptious gourmet goat cheese truffles at Kula's Surfing Goat Dairy. Kids will love feeding the goats here. Stroll through the grounds of the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, try a lavender scone, and breathe in the rejuvenating scent of lavender. If your family consists of young adults, head to Tedeschi Vineyards - Maui's Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch. This commercial winery produces sparkling, pineapple, grape, and raspberry dessert wines for sale. Daily tours are offered and complimentary wine tasting (proof of age required) is available for visitors ages 21 and older.

8. Go Deep Under the Sea.  Want to see Maui's underwater beauty, learn about marine life and go down to depths of over 100 feet below sea level - all without getting wet? A deep sea adventure with Atlantis Submarines is the right tour for you. Atlantis Submarines offers daily tours aboard its 65-foot, 48-passenger air-conditioned submarine. Large viewing portals allow every passenger to comfortably view tropical fish, coral reefs and a wide variety of marine life. Families might even see humpback whales during the winter months. One of the tour's highlights is seeing the Carthaginian, a whaling ship replica that Atlantis sunk in 95 feet of water to create an artificial reef. Throughout the tour, the Atlantis Submarine crew keeps things fun and informative. This is an excellent experience for families and anyone interested in the fascinating underwater world surrounding the Hawaiian Islands.

9. Visit a Rainforest.  Pass through Wailuku and curve north into the 'Iao Valley, an eroded volcanic canyon-like caldera shrouded in rainforest. This region is home to the 4,000-acre 'Iao Valley State Park and the 'Iao Needle, a rocky vegetation-covered pinnacle rising 1200 feet up from the valley's floor. Plan to spend several hours up here hiking and exploring the area - it's magical. Located along 'Iao Valley Road, the 35-acre Hawaii Nature Center is an excellent stop for families. It features a lovely rainforest walk and numerous exhibits providing information on the life of native Hawaiians and the history of the 'Iao Valley area.

10. Stay at a Family-Friendly Resort. Maui is loaded with resorts perfect for families, including the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Fairmont Kea Lani, Grand Wailea Resort, and the Four Seasons Resort Maui. Located on lovely Kaanapali Beach, the Sheraton Maui offers one of the best locations for families to enjoy a relaxing Maui vacation. The Sheraton features unique 'Ohana Family Suites as well as wonderful children's activities. Snorkeling opportunities around the Sheraton are superb, too. In addition to great accommodations, many of Maui's top family resorts offer appealing ecotourism and cultural activities perfect for both adults and kids. If you're staying up in the Kaanapali Beach area, try taking an informative coastal hike and tide pool exploration trek with Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ambassadors of the Environment Program at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. The Fairmont Kea Lani's Hawaiian Canoe Experience is a must-do activity for families staying at the resort, but make sure to sign up as soon as possible. It's very popular.

If You Go

  • For more information on planning your visit to Maui,
    go to The Magic Isle's website at www.visitmaui.com.

  • If you think you might want to rent a car while your ship is visiting Maui, make your reservation in advance. Rental cars are readily available on Maui, but they can be in high demand. Companies such as Budget Rent-a-Car have offices at Maui's Kahului Airport and in Wailea.

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