Maui is one of the most kid-friendly of all islands, and this is especially true of the Hawaiian Islands. We traveled there when our son was only six, so we wanted a good mix of not-to-big cities, safe and fun beaches, and since our son is obsessed with ocean animals, whale watching was a must! We found all these and more on Maui and had one of our all-time best family beach vacations to date. Here is a list, in no particular order, of what we found to be the top 10 family activities in Maui.
1. Sugar Cane Train: If you have a train addict, this is a must-do. If not, you can skip it. When staying on Ka’anapaali Beach (which I highly recommend!) this train is a fun, if a little hokey, way to get to Lahaina for the day.
2. Air Maui Helicopter: Any helicopter tour company that you choose will be fine, but we chose them based on their safety record. To be fair, many others have great safety records, too. Since more than half of the island is inaccessible by car, we chose to take this memorable flight over Haleakala’s crater and the surrounding volcanic landscape. Children should be equally thrilled at the experience of riding in a helicopter and the magnificence of the view… our son was!
3. Pacific Whale Foundation whale watching: I recommend this company in particular because it a scientific and preservation based organization, not just a tourist attraction. They strictly adhere to the rules about not chasing the whales and not getting too close… although that’s not to say that the whales don’t get close to them. On our tour, a mother and baby swam within 10 yards of our boat, and a male swam directly underneath! It was a definite highlight for all of us!
4. Ka’anapaali Beach: It’s the safest beach for kids, as well as having the best snorkeling spot for kids. For our first-time snorkeler, it was great to be able to take a few steps into the ocean, plunk our faces in the water and see tons of small colorful fish! (see top photo) Children should always wear a life vest in the ocean, even if only taking a few steps in because of possible strong currents. The black rocks underneath you are lava outcroppings, and make a great backdrop for the colorful fish. After snorkeling, we bought a placemat that had a diving map on it and listed many types of fish with their Hawaiian and English names. It was fun for my son to try to figure out what fish he saw.
Also on Ka’anapaali Beach in Lahaina Village is the Whalers Village Museum. This museum documents the sleepy port city’s evolution to a whaling boomtown. Home to an impressive collection of whaling memorabilia, the museum shows what life was like between 1825 and 1860 for the men who led the harsh whaling life aboard tiny boats chasing 45-ton quarry. The exhibit includes harpoons, sea chests and a re-creation of the typical six-man crew’s quarters. Films about whales and whaling history are shown throughout the day.
5. Note the local animals and words that are fun for kids to say:
- pupu – appetizer
- humu humu nuku nuku apua a – name of the state fish
- keiki – child or children
- pepe – beef (my son thought it was so funny that if he wanted a beef appetizer he could say pepe pupu.
- animals that can be seen here: humpback whales, manta rays, tons of tropical birds, and several geckos, to name a few.
6. Attend a luau: What kid doesn’t love watching men eat and throw fire? Several hotels have luaus, we saw the one at the Westin on Ka’anapaali Beach. We did the VIP seating, not sure if it was worth it, but we did have unobstructed view of the performers, which was fantastic. Try the Poi… or maybe not, it’s like a purple unsweetened pudding.
7. Drive the west side, skip the road to Hana: The road to Hana takes several hours, and there’s nothing to do when you get there, plus it doesn’t go all the way around the island so you have to go back the way you came which makes two-way traffic get a little heavy on narrow roads. You won’t see as many waterfalls as you will on the road to Hana, but if you do the helicopter tour, you won’t miss it. The west side has some great views, especially as you get to the north. The whole drive can be done in an hour round-trip, or you can make some stops along the way and make an afternoon of it.
8. Haleakala National Park: No child will forget a visit to Haleakala, a 10,023-foot-high dormant volcano. Views from the crater to its 24-square-mile floor will create a lasting impression, as will the park’s hiking and camping opportunities; one trail loops all the way through the volcanic crater. Haleakala Crater Road, Makawao 808-572-9306
9. Lahaina: shopping, whale watching, sugar cane train, restaurants, watch the cliff divers at Black Rock (best seen from the Sheraton Maui Resort)
10. Maui Ocean Center: This 75,000-gallon aquarium allows children to feel as if they are swimming with the 2,000 fishes, sharks and other sea creatures as they view marine habitats from an acrylic tunnel beneath the water’s surface. The Ocean Center features a “Discovery Journey,” in which participants descend from black lava and sandy beaches past underwater coral and rare fish through sea caves and into the depth of the ocean. 192 Ma’alaea Road, Ma’alaea 808-270-7000. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.