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Maui has always held a special place in our hearts. My husband Steve and I honeymooned in Hawaii 10 years ago. We spent 12 days total visiting all four of the main islands and instantly fell in love with Hawaii the moment we stepped off of the plane in Kona on the Big Island. We spent 3 blissful days at the Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island, about 23 miles north of Kona. We then flew to Honolulu and boarded a 7 day cruise on NCLs Pride of America to all of the four main islands. Following the cruise we spent a few more fun days at the Hilton Hawaiian Resort on Waikiki. The entire experience was just incredible, but there was one place we visited that completely stole our hearts and that was Maui. We were lucky enough to dock there overnight on our cruise, so we had two whole days to experience the island. We rented a jeep and drove the famed Road to Hana on day 1, and spent the second day driving around and exploring some other areas of the island. When we had to turn our car in and get back onto our ship on the second day we were heartbroken to leave. I may have actually shed a tear or two from the balcony of our stateroom as I waved goodbye while we sailed away. We both agreed we could have easily given up the rest of our plans for our trip and just stayed in Maui forever. So for our first anniversary, thanks to some vigilant deal stalking by me, I was able to plan out an amazing 9 day trip to Maui. Back we went for 9 blissful days of relaxing, exploring, hiking, snorkeling, and of course eating and drinking. It was magical. During our vacation, I remember talking with my husband about how wonderful it would be to bring our future children there someday and enjoy this special place as a family. Although it took 9 more years to get back there, we finally made our fantasy into a reality. Below I’m going to provide a summary of our trip, including the highlights, the downsides, and the incredible food, along with some tips and advice on how to enjoy a trip to Maui with small kids in tow (yes, it is possible!)
I plan on writing a future blog post with more details on our flights there and tips on surviving long haul flights with little ones, but in summary it wasn’t quiet as bad as I had worried it would be. We broke up our flight into two days both ways by stopping over night in LA, which had some advantages and disadvantages. But all in all we survived and we made it to Maui and home mostly unscathed and we’re now confident that we can plan more long distance trips with our kids in the near future without worrying about the travel time.
Day 1: Checking in
We landed at the Kahului airport around 1:30pm, but unfortunately we were stuck on our plane for about an hour waiting for a gate to open up. By the time we finally got off, collected all of our luggage, got our rental car, and installed all three car/booster seats it was already 5pm by the time we were off to our Resort which was about an hour from the airport. We rented a midsize SUV through Hertz, but thanks to our elite member status we were upgraded to a full-size and wound up with a Ford Explorer. I was worried about fitting three carseats across, so we decided to bring a travel booster seat for my six year old instead of bringing his high back convertible booster we use at home. I did a lot of research on travel booster seats before leaving and decided to order this BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Seat. I was impressed by the great reviews and I loved the fact that it was inflatable, so it was very easy to pack as it took up very little space in our suitcase. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this product as we had several issues with it. For one, the seat kept sliding out from under my son’s bum, despite installing it properly. It was a constant struggle to get my son to sit completely still on each car ride to keep from it from shifting around. The other issue is that it still didn’t quite boost him high enough, and there was no additional adjusters to bring the seat belt lower. Given these two issues alone, we had a lot of concerns that this seat was not safe enough. To top it all off, about half way through our trip, the seat sprung a leak! It completely deflated within minutes of re inflating it. So it was completely useless, $30 wasted. I would have contacted the company for a refund or exchange upon getting home but since we were so disappointed with the product all together we decided to just toss it and eat the loss rather than drag it home with us. Plus in my jet lagged, back to school and real life haze I honestly forgot about it until it was too late anyway. Oops.
We finally arrived at the Honua Kai Resort and Spa around 6pm local time. The Honua Kai is located in Lahaina just north of the famed Ka’anapali Beach on the west side of the island. We were definitely exhausted from two full days of travel but the kids were so excited to finally be there that we knew we just had to head down to the pool before going to bed! I decided to book the Honua Kai because it seemed to have the perfect mix of everything we were looking for. I knew I wanted a condo rather than a hotel so we could have a kitchen and a washer and dryer, cutting back both on how much we had to pack and how much we’d have to spend on eating out while away. The extra room for a family of 5 was certainly enticing as well. While there are many condo rentals available on the island, I was also really hoping to find someplace that combined condo living arrangements with the amenities of a resort. My kids love water slides and fun resort style pools, and I love having a waiter serve me my mai tais poolside! When I found the Honua Kai Resort during my research I just knew it would be the perfect combination I was looking for, and I was right! We met with a representative of our rental company in the lobby when we arrived who took us up to our condo and set us up with all of our keys and important information for our stay. I’ll be doing a future post with a more in-depth review of our resort, so for now I’ll just say that we were definitely impressed with our beautiful and large one bedroom, one bath condo, and were very excited to have ten whole nights to spend there! We got our bathing suits on and headed down to dinner at Duke’s Beach House, the only main restaurant on property. It’s situated outside by the pools and granted us a beautiful view of the sunset as we ate our dinner. While the view and the atmosphere were wonderful and led to a fun casual dining experience, we found the food to be just okay. Not terrible but nothing memorable either. It was a good spot to eat with the kids since it was so loud and casual, but you definitely need a reservation. When we arrived for dinner there was an hour and a half wait time for a table. We lucked out and were able to grab a table by the bar that are open seating, but are outside and offer little shade. After a quick dinner we headed to what we referred to as the “family pool”. There are three pools at the Honua Kai and this is the one with the waterslide, waterfalls, and sandy bottom kiddie lagoon and splash pad. Although it was late and we were all exhausted, we enjoyed a wonderful short dip in the pool followed by a walk down the property to watch the sunset from the beach. It was so beautiful and we knew we were in for a great stay here! Finally around 8pm we went back to the room to crash for the night.
Day 2: Breakfast at Slappy Cakes, Pool Time, Shopping and Shaved Ice at Whaler’s Village
Knowing that we’d be jet lagged and exhausted from traveling (and that the kids would most likely be difficult to deal with as a result), I didn’t schedule any specific plans for the first few days of our trip. Since we got in too late the first night to do any grocery shopping, we needed to head out to breakfast for our first morning in Maui. After consulting yelp, we decided to bring the kids to nearby Slappy Cakes and it was a great decision. Slappy Cakes is a highly rated breakfast restaurant, the major appeal being the fact that you can cook your own pancakes at your table! There are four different batters to choose from, including a Gluten Free/Vegan option. There are then a huge assortment of fixings and toppings to select a la carte to create your ideal pancake. We went with the standard buttermilk and chocolate batters with some chocolate chips, shaved coconut, and some fruit for our fixings as well as whipped cream for topping. There was standard maple syrup on the table as well as a coconut flavored syrup that was a huge hit with my 4 year old. While the prices were pretty high for what you get (even considering that everything in Maui is expensive), the kids had so much fun creating their own pancakes! They have a full menu of other breakfast items too, including omelets, breakfast burritos, banana bread French toast, and large selection of creative styles of eggs benedict’s. They also offer adult beverages such as their “mauimosa” and bloody mary’s.
After breakfast we went to the grocery store next to the restaurant to load up on groceries and supplies for the week. By the time we got back to our condo, it was apparent that jet lag had hit the kids hard. They were all grumpy and misbehaving, and we were tired and over it ourselves. So Steve decided to stay back in the room and get some work done while the baby napped, and I took the older two boys down to the pool for a few hours. I was lucky to find a chair right in front of the main pool (which was very crowded on this hot sunny day) so I was able to keep an eye on the kids while relaxing poolside.
They had a blast playing in the kiddie pool and splash pad, and my oldest had so much fun going down the water slide over and over. Unfortunately my 4 yr old wasn’t tall enough for the height requirement on the slide, and he was very unhappy about it. To distract him I took him for a trip around the resort’s “lazy river”, which is really more of just a winding pool than an actual lazy river, so he wasn’t very impressed. After a couple hours of pool fun we went back to our condo for lunch and decided to head out for some shopping and exploring at nearby Whaler’s Village. Whaler’s Village is a pretty typical outdoor shopping center with a lot of chain stores with a surfer/Hawaiian theme including Billabong, Roxy, and Tommy Bahamas. There are several restaurants along the waterfront right on Ka’anapali Beach. We enjoyed walking around and doing some shopping, and our kids got to have their first authentic Shaved Ice experience. My middle son is allergic to peanuts and it can be a challenge finding safe treats for him thanks to cross contamination risks at most ice cream shops and bakeries, so we were more than happy to let him eat as much shaved ice on this trip as he could stomach. He was a very happy little boy! Steve and I also had THE BEST COFFEE we have ever had at Island Vintage Coffee. Their frozen Vintage Kona Mocha with macadamia nuts and coconut was absolute heaven on earth. We were so in love with this coffee we even stopped here on the way to the airport on our last day to get one last fix! I seriously still fantasize about it. Thanks to some very tired and cranky kids we decided it would be best to skip dinner out and head back to our condo for some frozen pizza and get into bed early.
Day 3: Napili Bay Beach and Maui Brewing Company
By the third day of our trip I was dying to stick my toes in the sand and spend some time relaxing on the beach. I had done some research in advance and formulated a list of the top family friendly beaches I wanted to visit during our trip, and Napili Bay Beach seemed like the perfect place to start. Napili Bay Beach is rated highly for families because the waters here tend to be more calm than some of the other west coast beaches, so it’s good for swimming, boogie boarding, and snorkeling. It’s also a bit more remote being farther removed from the large resort areas, which means it’s less crowded and more of a relaxing experience. The beach was just a short 10 minute drive from our hotel, but parking was a problem. There aren’t any parking lots and we had to park a ways down the road and walk through the street with our kids and all of our beach gear, which we were less than thrilled about. Luckily our condo came equipped with these fabulous backpack beach chairs, towels, a cooler, an umbrella, boogie boards, and even beach toys for the kids which made it so much easier to be able to explore beaches beyond our resort.
Despite the less than ideal parking situation, Napili Bay Beach was just incredible. The golden sand, clear blue green water, and view of Lanai in the distance made for a breathtakingly beautiful day. Although the waters tend to be more calm at this beach, we did have some large waves the day we were there making it a little tough for my kids to swim as they are still very young and not strong swimmers. At first they were really unhappy about it and making a stink about wanting to leave and try a different beach, but once I showed my six year old how to boogie board he was plenty happy to stay! He and I spent a big chunk of the day riding the waves together and at one point a sea turtle swam past us! It’s definitely a memory that I will never forget, and I hope it sticks with him as well. My husband and I took turns doing some snorkeling but we weren’t very impressed. Perhaps the visibility is better when the surf is more calm.
Steve and I really enjoy craft beer and sampling different breweries, so the most appropriate choice for dinner that night, being St. Patrick’s Day, was the Maui Brewing Company Lahaina Pub. There are two locations on Maui for the Brewing Company, one being the actual brewery itself located in Kihei on the eastern side of the island, and one being the Pub in Lahaina which is where we went. The pub serves all of the beer on draft that the Maui Brewing Company has available at their brewery, as well as a delicious menu of pub food with Hawaiian influence. We’ve always been fans of their beers that we’re able to get here in Florida, so it was really fun getting to sample their less known and seasonal beers. We each got a 4 beer sampler of ones we’ve never had and shared so we got to try 8 new beers. The food was incredible as well. We ordered a bunch of appetizers, including phyllo fried brie cheese with a caramelized pineapple sauce (yum!!!!) and poke taco bowls (which I found to be too spicy but Steve loved). For an entree we shared a Loco Moco, a traditional island dish but this one used a burger patty that was half beef and half bacon! The burger patty was served over white rice with two eggs over easy, fried onion strings, and duck fat gravy. It was delicious! The kids food was great as well. My kids are notoriously picky eaters and it’s not often that we leave a restaurant with all three kids having happily eaten their meals, but this time was a happy exception. My six year old ate an entire pizza by himself! The laid back atmosphere is very conducive to dining with kids as well, so I’d definitely put the Maui Brewing Company Pub on the top of my list of restaurant recommendations for family dining in Maui.
Day 4: Molokini Snorkel, Black Sand Beach, and Old Lahaina Town
Day 4 was by far my most favorite day of our entire vacation. For our first few days of our trip I was really starting to question whether traveling this far with the kids was really worth the money and effort we put into it. Although we had some fun our first few days, the kids were just so jet lagged, homesick, and cranky that it was starting to really wear on Steve and I. It was hard to keep a positive attitude and I was actually worried about how we’d manage to get through the next week without losing it. But day 4 is when we turned it all around. We had such a wonderful day that it changed the tone of the whole trip.
When Steve and I visited Maui on our 1 year anniversary, I was so excited to take a snorkel trip to Molokini, a crescent shaped partially submerged volcanic crater off of the coast of Maui. I booked our tour far in advance and was careful to pick a morning sail knowing that the trade winds can make it difficult to make it there in the afternoons. But as luck would have it, the morning of our scheduled sail was the one day out of the 9 that we spent there that the boats couldn’t make it to monokini and we instead wound up at Turtle Town. It was still a beautiful snorkel experience, we got to try snuba for the first time and even saw a humpback whale jump out of the water right next to the boat! However I was always disappointed that we didn’t get to go to Molokini. So when we began planning out this trip I knew that a Molokini snorkel trip was something I just had to do. Since we were bringing the kids with us, I was definitely concerned how we would pull this off. We attempted to take my six year old snorkeling in Cozumel in October on a cruise and it did not go well. He freaked out about how rough the water was and about the mask (even though I had bought him a full face snorkel mask thinking it would be easier and more comfortable for him to use) and went right back onto the boat. I knew my four year old would definitely not get into the water and keep a mask on either, so I searched for some creative options. I finally landed upon the Four Winds II and knew it was the best option for our family. The Four Winds II advertises itself as being extremely family friendly, and they definitely are. What I loved most about the Four Winds II is that they are the only catamaran that sails to molokini crater that has a glass bottom viewing room. This really sold me on this specific tour because if I couldn’t get my kids in the water I knew they would love watching from the glass bottom room. It also gave us a great opportunity to include our 1 year old in the experience without having to bring him into the water. The second thing I loved most about the Four Winds II was their sea boards with the sea through viewing windows. Knowing how nervous my kids are with open water and the fact that they struggle with snorkel masks, I knew this would be the perfect solution to allow them to get in the water and experience snorkeling in a way that was safer and easier for them. They also had a waterslide, plenty of shady areas to sit, kids under 3 go for free, and breakfast and lunch are both included in the price of the tour with a lot of kid friendly food options. There’s also an open bar available after snorkeling!
I honestly can’t put into words what an amazing day we had on board the Four Winds II. The staff was super nice and helpful, the food was great, and they really do a great job at catering to families with small kids. The sail out to the crater was gorgeous and the boat uses sonar to watch for whales and other sea life on the way out there. We were lucky enough to see a few whales from a distance and the kids were absolutely blown away. As we got closer to the crater we also watched a large pod of spinner dolphins doing spins and jumps along the side of the boat on our way in. It was magical. When we got to the crater, the water was a bit rough so I was concerned about how well the kids would manage in the water, even on their sea boards. Steve and I decided to take turns, each taking one of the older boys with us and the other staying on board with the other two kids. I went first with our oldest and he had an absolute blast! The sea boards were a life saver. My son was able to just hop on and I was able to snorkel and pull him along with me by the attached rope. I was able to point things out to him and he was able to clearly see everything going on beneath him without getting in the water. He was so upset when his turn was over and we had to go back onto the boat! Steve took our 4 year old out and although he was a little more nervous and apprehensive, he still really enjoyed it as well! After bringing our son back, Steve went back into the water to do a little solo snorkeling and I took the kids downstairs to the glass bottom viewing area. Our 1 yr old was fascinated by watching what was going on in the water around him. He was mesmerized for about a half hour just watching the fish and the snorkelers. When Steve got back from snorkeling I promised my oldest that he could have another turn on the sea board. He chose to go into the water down the water slide and was so excited about it! On our sail back we enjoyed some lunch and the onboard photographer showed our kids some great underwater shots he’s gotten of sea life in the area and gave them a little marine biology lesson. We really had a great time! My only regret from our experience is that we didn’t chose to hire a nanny to stay behind at the resort with the baby (something we went back and forth on before our trip). While the boat was very accommodating for little ones and he really enjoyed the glass bottom viewing area, we would have preferred to have spent more time in the water with the older boys versus taking turns watching the baby. It was also a five hour trip all together so the baby got cranky and a little bored, so we just would have had a slightly better time had we not had to worry about him.
After returning to the marina, we decided to get in the car and take a scenic drive of the east side of the island to One’uli black sand beach. Taking the kids to see a black sand beach was another one of my top priorities for our trip. However, the only one that I knew of was Wa’ianapanapa State Park near Hana. Having driven the road to Hana on our two previous trips, we weren’t sure it was something we wanted to do with our kids in tow this time. It’s a very tight, windy road with steep drop offs. My oldest gets motion sickness in the car and maneuvering those tight turns in our large SUV made us a little nervous. So I did research before I left and found that there is indeed another black sand beach on the east side of the island just past Wailea in Makena State Park. Steve and I had stayed in Wailea Beach on the east side on our anniversary trip so we were somewhat familiar with the area, although it has been developed a whole lot more over the last 9 years. We drove through Kihei and the Wailea resort area and finally arrived at One’uli black sand beach. It’s a bit hard to find as it’s down a small dirt road that isn’t clearly labeled. We passed the road at first and wound up at the main parking lot for Makena State Park and had to turn back. When we finally found it we got the kids out to explore and found that the sand was full of big pieces of lava rock and lava glass. It was a great learning experience for our kids. One’uli beach is great for visiting to see the sand and the occasional sea turtle, but the surf is very rough and rocky so it’s not great for swimming, especially for kids. We spent about 15 minutes walking the beach and exploring the sand for lava rocks before it began to pour down rain and we had to head to the car.
We started heading back to our resort, which was at this point over an hour drive away, unsure of what we should do for the rest of the day in the rain. As we got closer to the resort, the weather started to clear so we made a last minute decision to stop in Old Lahaina Town for some shopping and dinner.
I absolutely love Old Lahaina Town. I call it the Key West of the pacific. It’s a cruise port, so if you’re not into the somewhat crowded tourist type places than this isn’t the town for you. We happen to think it’s a really fun place to walk around, and the kids really enjoyed it as well. There was a little shopping bizarre going on around the big banyon tree in the center of the town, and there were people playing music and making art. We stopped in a few souvenir shops and the kids enjoyed playing with the ukulele’s and checking out the Hawaiian shirts. We scanned the menus at a few of the restaurants along our walk and finally came upon the Lahaina Fish Company and decided to stop there for dinner. One of the main reasons we chose this restaurant is because it’s right on the water and we got there just as they were opening for dinner and we were able to get a prime spot on the water front with a perfect view of the sunset over the ocean. The food was fantastic as well. We shared entrees of seared tuna and macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi and they were both delicious. The highlight of the meal for me was finally getting to order my first Mai Tai of the trip, and it was worth the wait. It was soooo good. I was slightly less impressed by the kids menu, since I’ve mentioned before that my kids are very picky eaters. My oldest got a hamburger which he was pleased with, but my younger two don’t care too much for beef or fish and there were no chicken options. I wound up getting them the linguini, but it only came with butter and parmesan, no sauce. They were not pleased. My four year old’s dinner that evening consisted of bread and the pieces of shaved parmesan he nibbled off the top of the pasta. The restaurant itself looks casual on the outside but seems a bit more fancy once seated, with a lot of the patrons showing up much more dressed up than we were. So although I was definitely impressed by the atmosphere and adult menus, I’m not sure we’d eat there again with our kids.
That’s where I’m going to end things for Part 1 of our 10 day trip.
In summary, the highlights of our first few days included:
- Pool time at the Honua Kai Resort and Spa
- Snorkeling Monokini Crater on the Four Winds II
- Napili Bay Beach
- One’uli Black Sand Beach
- Shopping and Shaved Ice at Whaler’s Village
Favorite food spots for family dining:
- Slappy Cakes
- Maui Brewing Company
- Island Vintage Coffee
Favorite food spots for dining without kids:
- Lahaina Fish Company
Downsides/Things we’d skip or do differently next time
- The BubbleBum inflatable booster seat. Next time I’ll rent a booster seat or bring one from home.
- The jet lagged children-not much to do about that, but we anticipated it and made it through
- Dukes Beach House- Not someplace we’d choose to eat again, but was convenient for where we were staying and was family friendly
Stay tuned for Part 2! To be continued…