Maui Family Vacation: Part 2
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Read Part 1 of our 10 day Maui family vacation March 2018 here. Read below for Part 2!
Day 5: Maui Zipline, Maui Tropical Plantation, The Mill House, Hiking the Lahaina Pali Trail
Day 5 of our vacation was definitely the most exciting and adventurous day of our trip. Before we had left for our trip, I had a lot of conversations with my kids (my oldest in particular) about what their top wish list activities would be. I was a bit surprised when my six year old immediately declared that he wanted to go zip lining! I didn’t even know he knew what zip lining was! Apparently he had seen it on one of his YouTube channels and was instantly determined to try it for himself. He talked about it nonstop for months before we went and even searched for places in Maui that had zip lining all on his own! Maui Zipline on the Maui Tropical Plantation seemed like the perfect experience for my son. They advertise themselves as a family friendly introductory course for children as young as age 5. There’s a 45lb minimum weight requirement that my skinny kid just made, but most other courses I looked into didn’t allow kids that young or small. I didn’t book this experience in advance because I wasn’t sure what day we’d want to do this, if at all. I was concerned my son would chicken out and I didn’t want to do it on a day that was too hot or pouring rain. This day was forecast to be overcast and cool with rain on and off, so it seemed like a good day for this kind of activity. Luckily we were able to purchase tickets just a few hours before we went, and we could have even booked on site if we wanted. Since my younger two kids weren’t able to go, the fact that Maui Zipline is located on the Maui Tropical Vacation made it easy for me to join my oldest while my husband took the younger two walking around and exploring the Plantation grounds, rather than being stuck back at the hotel or having to do an entirely different activity. The zipline course is easily visible from the plantation grounds so Steve and the kids were able to watch us as we went from tower to tower.
The employees at Maui Zipline were fantastic. They made sure to give my son extra attention and one on one directions and instruction before getting started. They also had helmets with attachments for my brand new GoPro Hero 6 that I was very excited to get to use for this activity! It started to sprinkle as we were getting started and they provided ponchos to everyone at no extra charge. I couldn’t believe how excited and fearless my son was during the whole experience. He asked to be the first one up the tower and to be the first one to go on the fist line and the employees were more than gracious to let him go first and made him feel important. The course itself has 5 lines that go around the plantation and provide views of the beautiful grounds and gardens, the west maui mountains, and Haleakala Volcano. This was not my first zip line experience, so if I had gone on my own I would have opted for a more adventurous course, but it was definitely a great experience for my son and for someone new to zip lining. The views and the friendly guides definitely made the experience.
While I was zip lining with our oldest, Steve and the younger two walked around the plantation grounds and watched us from below. My four year old had fun chasing around the nene geese and looking at all of the beautiful flowers. Once we were finished with our zip line adventure, we decided to head to lunch on property at the Mill House Restaurant. OMG what a meal we had! The Mill House is one of the highest rated restaurants on Maui and for good reason. The menu is composed of creative items carefully crafted with ingredients grown on property at the plantation or locally at other farms on the island. Every single thing we ordered was beyond delicious. We started out with hand crafted cocktails with alcohol from local distilleries. For appetizers we got the Swiss chard fritters, which are basically like a savory donut. They were so good that even my incredibly picky son was devouring them and we ordered another plate of them! The kids menu offered an appetizer of farm fresh fruit with yogurt dip. My one year old was in heaven. For our main dishes, I ordered the gnocchi with zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, fried quinoa, and chili butter. It was so fresh and delicious and surprisingly light for gnocchi. My husband got the beef ragu pasta and that was incredible as well. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had such a creative, fresh, and delicious meal. If you are visiting Maui, The Mill House restaurant is a hands down must try! I was a bit apprehensive about taking the kids there, as it seemed like a fancier restaurant, but the dining room was completely empty when we showed up for our early lunch and the staff assured us that they have kids in there all the time and that they wouldn’t be bothered by them making noise or running around. They had children’s menus with coloring sheets and crayons, so they obviously do cater to families regularly. That being said, if we were to return I think I’d stick to eating there for lunch with the kids rather than attempt eating there during dinner when it is most likely more crowded.
On our drive home, we decided to stop off at the entrance to the Lahaina Pali Trail directly off of Highway 30 in Lahaina. It was a bit treacherous climbing up the steep rocky path to get to the main path, and the main path was also slim and had steep drop offs, so it made me very nervous with little ones. We hiked about a quarter mile up and the view was absolutely gorgeous. I would have loved to continue on if we hadn’t had the kids with us, but I felt it really wasn’t safe to do as a family.
We continued on Highway 30 towards our resort and stopped off at Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop. Obviously they are known for their dessert pies, but they also offer a full menu of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and savory pies. At almost any time of day, lines can be seen going out the door and around the building. I hopped in line and bought a coconut cream pie, a chocolate hula pie, and a macadamia nut chocolate pie. Most of the pies come in 3 or 5 inch options. I got the three inch options of the macnut and coconut cream, and one large slice of the chocolate hula. They were all worth the wait in line! While the pies were small, they were incredibly rich and I could only eat a few bites at a time, so all three pies lasted us the rest of the week as our nightly desserts. There is a fresh fruit market located on the same property as Leoda’s, offering a great selection of locally grown fruits and vegetables. We did some shopping in the market and then got back on the road.
By the time we got back to our resort in the late afternoon, the rain had finally stopped and we decided to head for a dip in the pool. Steve swam with the older two boys while I walked our sleeping toddler around the property in his stroller and took in all of the natural beauty that Maui has to offer. For dinner, we cooked food for the kids that we had in our kitchen and decided to get take out for ourselves. We had seen the Maui Fish Market while shopping near our condo, and we had heard good things, so we decided to get some food to go and have a quiet relaxing meal on our lanai. I ordered the seared ahi steak platter and Steve got the seared ahi sandwich. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed. The ahi had zero seasoning and was way overcooked for “seared” ahi. The only good thing about my meal was the home made macaroni salad I got on the side. I definitely wouldn’t order the ahi from there again. They are better known for their fish tacos than their plates, so we had planned to order tacos another day of our trip to compare but we never got a chance. While the food wasn’t the best, being able to sit on our lanai with some local food and beer and watch the sunset while our kids slept inside was heavenly. You just can’t beat a Maui sunset.
Day 6: Steve’s Birthday! Wailea Beach, Drums of the Pacific Luau
Day 6 of our trip was Steve’s 35th birthday! He had been wanting to get a high quality, authentic ukulele as his birthday gift while we were in Hawaii so we asked around and did some research and Mele Ukulele in Wailea seemed to be the place to go. We packed up our beach gear and made the hour long scenic drive from Lahaina to Wailea in the morning and went to the public area of Wailea beach, located between the Grand Wailea and Four Seasons Maui Resorts. Contrast to our previous beach day in Napili Bay, Wailea is a much more crowded touristy beach destination. Wailea is a big resort area so the resort guests use the same strip of beach as all of the public visitors. There are vendors on the beach offering water sports and many amenities near by. Although it doesn’t have a secluded exotic feel to it, it’s still a gorgeous beach with clear waters and amazing views. The weather wasn’t on our side that day and we only got about 45 minutes of beach time before the rain began. We packed up and headed to the Shops at Wailea for lunch and some ukulele shopping. We sat for lunch at Cheeseburger Grill and Tap Room. It was a pretty standard Cheeseburger restaurant with a good selection of their own brewed beers. The food and beer were good. Nothing overly special but a good choice for a cheap, casual lunch spot. Afterwards I walked around with the boys while Steve picked himself a Ukulele. I wasn’t about to bring three small boys into a shop full of expensive breakable items!
You can’t visit Hawaii and not go to a Luau! My kids were practicing their hula dancing for weeks before we left, and they thought that Daddy’s birthday would be the perfect night to go! I decided to book the Drums of the Pacific Luau for two reason. One, it was very close to our resort, located at the Hyatt Regency Maui on Ka’anapali Beach just 10 minutes from our resort. Two, they were one of the only Luaus I had researched that offered a separate kids buffet with foods that I knew my picky eaters would actually eat. The price was comparable to several of the other big popular Luau’s in the area. We bought Preferred Seating tickets, which was supposed to get us seats at a table in the middle of the second row. But when we showed up most of the tables in that section were full so we got a free upgrade to the front row VIP section! We had such a good time at the Drums of the Pacific Luau. We each received shell Leis and complimentary Mai Tai’s as we entered (fresh juice for the kids), and we got a family photo taken. The buffet had a great selection of Hawaiian food including Kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon, and macadamia nut crusted island fish. The kids buffet had chicken nuggets and pasta, which my kids were thrilled with. Following dinner was a dessert buffet of a variety of brownies, rice pudding, and small bites of assorted pies. The best part of the meal was a free open bar all night long!!!
The show began with the unearthing of the pig before dinner. Following dinner they called all of the children on stage to learn how to dance the hula. Kids younger than 5 had to be accompanied by an adult so I was subjected to dancing on stage in front of the crowd as well, but it was a fun time. The kids loved it and my husband got a few adorable videos of them trying to follow along to the dance routines. The entire show was about an hour long and featured different drum shows, a variety of dance routines of ancient Hawaii and other Polynesian islands, and of course the fire dances and fire eaters at the end. My kids were blown away by the fire dancers and still ask when we can go to another Luau. I would definitely return to the Drums of the Pacific Luau on a future trip to Maui and highly recommend it to anyone, especially other families traveling with kids.
Day 7: Haleakala National Park and our Rental Car Nightmare
Well, day 7 of our vacation did not go as planned. We had planned to drive up Haleakala National Park to the Summit, spend a short time up there seeing the views, then head back down and spend the afternoon in upcountry Maui visiting the Surfing Goat Dairy farm and possibly some of the other farms, wineries, and distillery depending on the time. Our day started out just fine as we headed up the mountain and into Haleakala National Park. We stopped at the visitor center upon entering the park to use the bathroom and check out the little shop and information center. That’s when things went downhill. We had been noticing a strange smell during our drive and thought it was from something that may have spilled out in the backseat of the car. But when we stopped my husband noticed some smoke coming from the hood of the car and when he opened it up we saw that the entire car battery was completely corroded. The car wouldn’t start back up again and the battery couldn’t be jumped because of the corrosion and leaking. So we found ourselves stranded at 7,000ft, 90 minutes away from civilization, with three young kids. It took several calls and three long hours of being stuck there, but our rental company was able to send someone up the mountain with a new rental car for us. We transferred our things over and were finally able to continue to the summit. Unfortunately when we got there the cloud cover had become so bad that there was almost zero visibility from the visitor center up top. It was really disappointing after everything we went through to get there that day. Luckily as we headed back down the clouds suddenly cleared and we were able to get some amazing views from the overlook. My oldest is very into space and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up so the fact that he felt like he was on the surface of mars was super exciting for him.
Unfortunately after spending so many hours dealing with our car, it was too late to do anything else and we never got to visit any of the areas of upcountry Maui that we had hoped to see. It was after 6 by the time we finally made it back down and with over an hours drive to our resort and the fact that we were exhausted from the whole aggravating day, we just went back to our condo, made some quick dinner, and went to bed.
Day 8: Family Photo Session, Pool Day, Whaler’s Village and Dinner at Monkeypod
I’m really awful when it comes to getting professional pictures of my kids. The only family photo session we ever did before this trip was when my second son was three months old, over 4 years ago. So when we planned this trip I thought it would be a great opportunity to get some updated pictures in a beautiful setting that has so much meaning to us. I spent months trying to find an affordable photographer with no luck, so I decided to check out the Facebook marketplace and that’s where I found Hannah McFall Photography. She was a great professional photographer who had just moved from Utah to Maui and was offering discounted photo shoots to the first few people to book. For what I found to be a very fair price, we were able to get a nearly two hour session with 75 edited digital images. I have to give Hannah so much credit. Getting my kids to pose and listen is completely impossible and I was skeptical that we would wind up with any decent pictures at all. But I was so pleasantly surprised to see that she worked some serious magic and we wound up with so many incredible pictures! I’m not sure if she’s still located there because their move was only part time, but wherever she may be I highly recommend her!
As bribery to get the kids to behave for the pictures, we promised them another breakfast at Slappy Cakes afterwards (read about our first breakfast review in part 1). Our photo shoot was for the sunrise, so we were done very early and went off to breakfast. We made our own pancakes again for the kids, but this time my husband chose to have an omelet and I ordered the banana bread French toast which was absolutely decadent. You really can’t go wrong with breakfast at this place! After breakfast, we were finally looking at a day with good weather after many days of rain and clouds so we knew we had to take advantage of a fun pool day. It also gave us a nice chance to slow down and relax after so many activity packed days the previous week. As I mentioned before, the pools at the Honua Kai were one of the main reasons I chose this resort. They are perfect for families with small kids. We started the day at the main infinity pool which is right next to Dukes and has a shallow pool area perfect for our toddler. I was able to sit poolside with a lovely adult beverage served in a carved out pineapple and truly enjoy feeling like I was on vacation. After a few hours at the infinity pool we moved over to the big family pool so our big kid could have a few turns down the water slide and we climbed into the sand bottom kiddie pool with the younger two. Everyone had so much fun.
For dinner we chose to go back to Whaler’s Village and try out one of the waterfront restaurants we had heard so many good things about. I checked OpenTable (my favorite app for finding restaurants and booking reservations) earlier in the day and was able to get us an early dinner reservation at the Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman. We got a table along the back wall of the restaurant so we didn’t have the best view of the beach and sunset, but the food was delicious. I started off with their famous Monkeypod Mai Tai with the honey-lilikoi foam and it was the best tropical drink I have ever tasted. The appetizer menu was so enticing that I couldn’t settle on an entree and decided to order several appetizers instead. We shared the shrimp and mushroom potstickers and the lobster deviled eggs, and I ordered the poke tacos appetizer for myself as my meal. Steve got the pork and pineapple pizza and a local draft beer. It was all excellent. The kids menu had a great selection and my older two boys loved their pizza and quesadilla. Something I really really loved about this restaurant was the fact that the chef offers pasta for children under 3 at no cost! The waitress explained that they understand that most toddlers don’t eat much and they don’t feel right charging people for a full meal that will likely go uneaten. I found this to be so amazing. As a mom of toddlers and picky eaters I don’t even want to add up how much money we must have spent over the past few years on kids meals that were never eaten. So of course we went with the pasta for my toddler, which included tomato sauce (not just butter and cheese like a lot of other restaurants in the area charge for). He loved it, I think he ate almost the entire bowl! The restaurant was packed with other families with small children and babies so it’s clearly a great spot for a good dinner with kids.
After dinner we took a walk down the beach and explored a few of the other resorts along the strip. Then we went back to whaler’s village for another round of Shaved Ice and Island Vintage Coffee before heading home to bed.
Day 9: Another pool day, Kid Free Night Out
For the second to last day of our trip, I was really hoping to do another beach day or explore a few more hiking trails, but the weather was just not on our side. The morning was cloudy with occasional sprinkles, so we spent a while being lazy around our condo and trying to decide what to do. We ultimately gave up and decided to just stay at the resort and go back to the pool, it didn’t seem worth it to pack up and head out somewhere just to have our plans rained out. Luckily the rain at our resort let up and we were able to enjoy a few cloudy hours of swimming and relaxing poolside. We ordered lunch to our chairs from Duke’s and the toddler took a nap in the stroller. It was another nice relaxing day in paradise.
While planning our trip, Steve and I were discussing how nice it would be if we could have just one nice night out alone without the kids. So I hopped on some travel forums and asked around and everyone highly recommended The Nanny Connection. They are a nanny service that mostly specializes in helping out tourists with their babysitting needs. They offer nannies for your entire trip, or just as needed. They are expensive, charging a $25 service fee per service, plus $17/hr cash paid to the nanny for the first child and $3/hr per additional child with a three hour minimum required. So for my three kids we were looking at a minimum of $94 for a night out. But the Nanny’s are all experienced, highly screened, and CPR and first aid certified. After a lot of referrals and calling the service to ask a bunch of questions, I felt confident and safe using their service for one evening of our trip so that Steve and I could enjoy a nice night alone to celebrate our anniversary and his birthday. Our Nanny showed up around 4:30 and we headed off for our 5pm dinner reservations at Merriman’s Kapalua.
There were several fine dining restaurants on Maui that I was trying to decide between for our night out, but I decided on Merriman’s for its proximity to our resort and their breathtaking views. The restaurant is located on the oceanfront of the Kapalua Resort and offers stunning views of the ocean and the sunset. I made our reservations for 5pm because they seat on a first come first serve basis, so the first people to arrive get the tables with the best view. They open for dinner service at 5pm and we were one of the first people there, therefore landing ourselves an incredible outside table with the most amazing views. We honestly took forever to order any food because we were so immersed in watching the surroundings. Merriman’s is owned by the same people as Monkeypod which we had eaten at the night before, so we knew we were in for some good food. I started again with the famous Mai Tai with the foam on top (so so so delicious!). We started with the shrimp and pork chow fun noodles, which I personally found to be too spicy but Steve enjoyed them. We followed that with the fresh lobster, tomato, and avocado salad which was delicious. For a main dish I got the filet mignon and Steve got the fish of the day. Both were very good, not the best I’ve ever had especially for the money, but the view and ambiance made up for anything lacking in the food. There was live music playing on the patio and we got to enjoy the full sunset. For dessert I went with the coconut creme brûlée but I was so full I could barely eat it. It was such a wonderful evening, I’d definitely recommend trying to have a meal here for anyone visiting the island. While I wouldn’t recommend bringing children to dinner (even though they do have a kids menu), they do have a more casual Sunday brunch which would be more appropriate for the whole family. I wish we could have gone back there to try it with the kids, so it’s on our list for next time.
Day 10: Maui Ocean Center, Ho’okipa Beach, March For Our Lives
On our final day in Maui, we woke up to pouring rain that was expected to last the day. Again we were forced to give up our hopes of having one more beach day or hiking another trail, so we headed out to the Maui Ocean Center. My kids love aquariums and sea life, so the ocean center was something at the top of our rainy day plan list. While it is a great activity to do with small children, I’m not sure it’s an activity we’d do again on a future trip. For one thing, the cost is really high for what is offered. For a single day pass, it’s $30 per adult and $20 per child ages 3-12, so it cost us $100 to get in. While they do have some great exhibits and provide a lot of information about Hawaiian sea life, it’s rather small and you really can do the entire place in an hour or two. We’ve been to several other aquariums that have a lot more to offer for a much lower price. The other downside is that a lot of the exhibits are outdoors, and the exhibits that are inside are spread out requiring you to walk outside to get from one to the other, so on a rainy day like this one we got completely soaked even with our umbrellas. The third thing that made this experience less than ideal was that it’s not very accommodating for strollers or those in wheelchairs. The indoor areas are incredibly tight and crowded making it hard to navigate through the crowds. There are a lot of steps leading into the different buildings and outdoor exhibits, and very few ramps. I found myself having to walk all over the place just to find a ramp for the stroller to get from section to section and I had to skip a few areas, such as the sea turtle observatory, because I couldn’t get my stroller down there. Due to the overcrowding, the rain, and the difficulty navigating with our stroller, our kids started melting down and we rushed our way through and got out of there as quickly as possible.
I had spent our entire trip trying to fit in a visit to Ho’okipa beach to see the sea turtles, so although it was raining we decided to go for it. Ho’okipa is located just past Paia on the Hana Highway. It’s world renowned for windsurfing and is a great spot for watching surfers, kite surfers, and wind surfers. Due to the high waves it’s not a great spot for swimming, and only truly experienced surfers should venture out here. The other thing Ho’okipa is known for is it’s Honu (sea turtles) that can usually be seen coming up on shore and sunbathing close to sunset each day. We got there in the afternoon and were lucky because we got to see a whole bunch of them! It was chilly and raining on and off but it was so worth it to get to see these beautiful animals up close. There’s usually a naturist present to protect the turtles from the crowds and answer questions, but due to the rain there was nobody there on this afternoon. Several locals were on the lookout though and came over to try to help manage the crowds and remind us tourists to back off and give the turtles some space. They are protected and it’s illegal to touch them. Unfortunately we did see some people ignorantly ignoring the advice of the locals and going right up to and touching the turtles, and the poor animals were becoming so overwhelmed that they were turning back to the water. So please, if you ever visit Maui and see a sea turtle, admire from a distance and leave them be.
Living just outside of Parkland, FL, the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 had a major affect on us. When we found out the date of March for Our Lives, we knew we would be in Maui and we were sad that we wouldn’t get a chance to take part in such an important event. We were very pleasantly surprised to learn about a week before we left that the students at the University of Hawaii Maui had organized a march there. Living so close to this tragedy, my kids knew what had happened and we had to have many serious discussions with them that month about it. My oldest son had heard about the March at school and he had asked to be able to participate. So we spent the last afternoon of our vacation participating in an event that was incredibly personal and important to us. It was heartwarming to see how many people so far away from where this tragedy occurred pouring out their hearts in support. We hadn’t had a chance to make any signs but there were a few other little kids who graciously made extras and gave them to our kids so they really felt more involved. I was so impressed by my kids and their ability to truly understand and comprehend the situation, and actively state their own opinions on it. It was a very special moment I will never forget.
For our last dinner, we just had to go back to Maui Brewing Company. The food is just so good and the atmosphere is so fun. If we lived closer, I think it would be one of our top go to places for family dinners out. We then went back to our condo to pack and relax on our last night in this beautiful place. The next morning we had to stop for just one more coffee at Island Vintage Coffee in Whaler’s Village and then we were off to the aiport.
To summarize the second half of our trip, our highlights included:
- Maui Tropical Plantation
- Maui Zipline
- Hiking the Lahaina Pali Trail
- Wailea Beach
- Drums of the Pacific Luau
- Pool time at the Honua Kai Resort
- Whaler’s Village
- Ho’okipa Beach
Favorite food spots for family dining:
- The Mill House (lunch only)
- Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
- Slappy Cake’s
- Monkey Pod Kitchen
- Maui Brewing Company
- Island Vintage Coffee
Favorite food spots for dining without kids:
- The Mill House
- Merriman’s Kapalua
Downsides/Things we’d skip or do differently next time:
- The Lahaina Pali Trail – It was too difficult to do with the kids. I’d love to do it again without the kids, but next time we’ll stick to easier trails that are safer
- Maui Fish Market – Just didn’t live up to the hype in my opinion. We had much better fish elsewhere.
- Haleakala Summit – Our car troubles aside, while I’m glad we finally got to the summit and our kids got to experience it, I don’t think it’s something we’ll do again with the kids. It’s a lot of time spent in the car that could be better spent on other activities and the kids really weren’t all that fascinated by the whole experience.
- Maui Ocean Center – Was not worth the money
Things I wish we got to do on this trip that we didn’t:
- More beach time – Unfortunately the weather just wasn’t on our side on this trip, but I have a long list of beaches I was hoping to get to that I’m bookmarking for the future
- Hiking – I really wish we had make more time for hiking trails and nature sight seeing. There’s just so much to do on Maui it’s impossible to fit it all into 10 days. Weather was a factor in this as well.
- Snorkeling – I really wish we had time to fit in another snorkel trip to a different location. While Molokini was an incredible experience, I know from experience that there are much more beautiful areas to snorkel around the island. Next time we will skip Monokini and focus on a few other areas instead
- Road to Hana – Okay, this was something we talked about at length before and during our trip and went back and forth over. The bottom line was we were too nervous to do that winding dangerous road with kids in the car. We were also concerned about car sickness and the kids being bored since they couldn’t see out the windows of the car very well. While I’m confident we made the right decision this time around, the road to Hana is an incredible drive with a lot to do and see along the way and should definitely be on one’s list of things to see and do while in Maui. I look forward to experiencing this when my kids are much older.
Our first big family vacation to Maui was just incredible. While there were definitely challenging moments dealing with the kids and the aggravation of traveling and being so far from home, I would absolutely do it again in a heartbeat. We had such an incredible time, we’re still all talking about it months later and are really hoping to plan a return sometime soon. I have no hesitations about recommending a trip to Maui with kids to anyone!
Maui With Kids
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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…
Embracing the Chore Chart
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For the past few months my kids, for lack of a better description, have been acting like completely disrespectful little assholes. Super cute and lovable, but assholes non the less. Nasty back talk, fighting with us and each other, and refusing to do even the simplest things for themselves. It became glaringly apparent to my husband and myself on our family vacation last month that we were in serious need of a change in the way we were running things. We spent 10 days in paradise, but struggled to enjoy ourselves as we listening to the kids throw tantrums and fight with each other. As I mentioned in a previous post, vacations give my husband and I a great opportunity to examine our parenting and come together as a team. After this particular trip, we were both left feeling completely fed up and defeated. We both new that we needed to start seriously improving in the discipline department.
A glaring issue that we knew we needed to address was our inconsistency when it came to setting rules and following through on consequences. We had fallen into a bad habit of throwing out empty threats that we knew we’d never follow through with. “If you don’t behave, we won’t be going to the birthday party!”, when we damn well know we’re going to the party no matter what. We (me especially) were also guilty of caving in to whining and just giving them whatever it is they wanted just to get them to stop being pests. So our kids learned that they could push our limits and often still get to do whatever they wanted. They were also outgrowing some of our old methods of disciple, such as time outs. They just didn’t care about those repercussions anymore. We needed to set a new plan an stick to it.
Obviously, this isn’t the first time in nearly 7 years that we’ve had to figure out disciplinary guidelines for our kids. My oldest in particular has always been a very strong willed child. This, in combination with his sensory processing disorder, has led to a long history of behavioral issues that we’ve needed to find new ways to address throughout the years. I never saw myself as a chore chart kind of mom. I’m not crafty, creative, or especially organized. We never had one in my house growing up either, we just did what my mom asked when she asked for the most part. It always seemed too much for me and my lack of organization. I also didn’t realistically see myself putting it together and following through with it. However, I reluctantly implemented our first chart when my oldest was 4 years old under the instruction of a behavioral therapist. We met with her a few times under the advice of our developmental pediatrician to help us with some of his SPD related behavior issues and find ways to make our lives run a little smoother. The therapist stressed the importance of setting up a daily schedule to give my son consistency and confidence in his everyday life. Something with just pictures that my son could “read” on his own and could reference throughout the day to know what he was expected to do. We focused on simple tasks that he could follow through with and if he did it without putting up a fight he’d get a reward. While I don’t have a picture of the one I made, it was very similar to this chart by Monkey & Chops
It was simple enough to set up and follow through with. Our chart included a basic step by step picture list of the things we did consistently each day such as getting dressed, brushing teeth, and our bed time routines. It also included a couple things he was expected to be responsible for on his own such as putting away his backpack and shoes after school, and finding a quiet activity to do independently during his brother’s nap time. At the end of each day if he followed his routine well he got to pick a “treasure” out of a treasure box I put together that included some simple dollar store toys and treats such as stickers, slap bracelets, and candy. I was surprised to find out just how much of a difference this simple chart actually made in our daily lives. It gave my son a boost in his self confidence and helped manage some of his meltdowns since it kept his days consistent and focused on specific tasks and rituals. This helped with my levels of stress and anxiety as well since I’m a very routine and schedule oriented person myself and this led to our days running much smoother. The reduction in the screaming, yelling and crying (for us both!) was the biggest benefit of all.
Although it helped things a lot at first, after about six months of following our schedule chart I felt like my son had really outgrown it. The daily routine was so ingrained at this point that following his tasks was second nature and he was getting rewarded for things he barely had to put any thought or effort into. He began fighting with me over getting his rewards and about what kind of reward he wanted, which was counterproductive to the entire point of the chart! I needed to find a way to balance out the rewards and make him more accountable for his own behavior. I searched around a bit for some ideas and landed on this fantastic Melissa & Doug Responsibility Chart
I absolutely LOVED this chart. It comes with over 90 magnets that include responsibilities, positive behaviors, and rewards. There were two blank magnets included and the bottom half of the chart is a dry erase board, so it can be customized to suit your family’s needs. Since my son’s behavior was a big concern at the time, the fact that it had a whole bunch of positive behavior magnets such as “show respect”, “stop whining”, and “say please and thank you” was a big plus for us. We also added some simple responsibilities to make him accountable for taking care of himself and helping out around the house. Dressing himself was a big fight that we faced every morning, and adding the “get dressed” magnet to his chart and being able to put his own reward magnet on his chart after he accomplished getting dressed on his own every morning helped motivate him to get it done without a fight. We were finally able to get passed the issue and spend our mornings with a lot less screaming and crying (for all of us!). His self esteem soared as he delighted in doing new tasks around the house and watching his reward magnets build up on his chart.
I decided to move away from the treasure box reward system since it had started to backfire on me. I wanted to focus on something he liked to do but needed to earn. Screen time has always been a huge issue in our house. When my older two were babies, I strictly limited iPad time to outings only. It was a saving grace that helped us make it through dinners out and long doctor’s appointments, but I didn’t want them staring at them at home. I was one of those new high and mighty moms that was still trying to do everything right (hahahaha!). Then came the day that my oldest son stopped napping. Not only did I find myself exhausted and in desperate need of a break, but I also needed to find ways to keep him quiet so he wouldn’t wake up his brother. As much as I hate to admit it, I wound up giving him his iPad more often than not in an attempt to gain some quiet time and regain the last shreds of sanity I was holding onto. Of course, this led to bad habits and fighting with him over how often and how long he could have it. The Melissa & Doug chart was a perfect solution to our iPad problem. I decided to make every magnet he earned worth 5 minutes of screen time (iPad, video games, or a movie). He had the motivation he needed to try his best to work on his behavior, and I was able to get some moments of quiet screen time without as much guilt. Win win! The best part about this chart was how easy it was to change and update, so I was able to switch out some of the behaviors and responsibilities as he got older. It worked really well for our family for about 2 years.
Now that my oldest son is approaching his seventh birthday and the end of his kindergarten year, I thought it was time to step things up from basic responsibilities to actual household chores. My middle son is 4 now and has always been a more easy going kid so a behavior chart wasn’t really needed in his case, but he has started becoming obsessed with screen time as well so I knew I needed to find a way for him to have to earn his screen time just like his older brother. Since they are different ages and have very different dispositions I couldn’t make the Melissa & Doug chart work for two kids at once. I started searching around for different charts that are suitable for more than one child at a time. As I mentioned above, my husband and I realized we also needed a way to develop consistent consequences for negative behaviors, as well as the rewards for positive ones. My oldest has a behavior chart in his classroom that he talks about all the time. If they misbehave, they get moved down to a different color and each color has a consequence. After taking all of this into consideration, I scoured the internet (and asked friends and family) for advice on what chores were age appropriate that were realistic for my kids, and my husband and I discussed consequences for their behaviors that we could be consistent about and realistically follow through with as a team. In the end, for their chores, I decided to go with this fully customizable magnetic dry erase responsibility chalk board for the refrigerator.
That’s my actual chart on my refrigerator. It came with four chalk markers so I was able to color code each kid’s list so they know which color is their own. My youngest is having a harder time catching on without pictures to reference, but I started off with most of their jobs being the same so he can follow his brother’s lead. As some of the easier tasks become more routine to them than task, I’ll replace them with a new chore. We still use 5 minutes of screen time for each check mark they receive. I was surprised by how excited they actually were for our new chart and to take on new chores in our house! Instead of me nagging them to clear their plates from the table or feed the dog, they take initiative to do it on their own! My oldest has even been suggesting new ideas for chores that I can add to his chart, which I am all to happy to oblige!
For behavioral consequences, since my son references it every day anyway, I decided to copy the exact same chart that my son’s teacher uses in their classroom
Like I’ve said before, I’m not crafty or artistic in the least so it’s not exactly fancy or cute but it’s functional. We already had these magnets with their names on them so I posted the chart on the other side of the refrigerator so everything is all in one place. They start each day on “Super Seahorse” and move down each level when they misbehave. I always give a warning before moving them down, and if they continue the behavior they then get placed on the next spot down and have to pay the consequence. For now, the consequences are: green = 5 minutes standing in the corner (basically a time out), orange = losing their bedtime story for that night, and red = all checkmarks on their chart get erased and they lose any earned screen time. So far we’ve had really good results. We’re able to remind them of the chart when they start acting up and just the threat of getting their names moved down a level causes them to pause and reevaluate what they are doing.
All in all, for as reluctant and dismissive I was at the thought of them, these charts have been really helpful for our family. Of course it’s not a foolproof system and we do encounter the occasional downfall. The boys competing and fighting over who has earned more check marks, for example, has been an issue I didn’t expect and am now trying to find ways to remedy. We also have to be vigilant about following through with it. We’re definitely guilty of getting lazy and forgetting to follow up on it for a few days or weeks here or there, but we eventually get back to it and the kids respond positively each time. The system only works if you work it! But I must say, I’m really glad that I finally found some sort of way to manage even a fraction of the chaos that occurs in a house full of three boys under 7. So as long as the chore chart continues to work for me, I’ll be keeping up with it for sure! It’s safe to say that I’ve officially learned to embrace the chore chart! I absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a relatively simple way to manage the chaos in their lives as well. If this exhausted hot mess of a mom can do it, I promise that you can too!
Wanderlust With Kids? 5 Reasons Why We Prioritize Family Travel
“Why the hell would you want to take the kids with you?!” Or “Are you out of your mind? You’re going to spend how many hours in a (car, airplane, boat, etc) with three kids?! Why???!” These are questions I’ve gotten on many occasions when telling people about some of our family travel plans. I admit that they do have a good point. No one in their right mind REALLY wants to spend hours and hours traveling with small children, unless you’re some sort of masochist or have the patience of a holy saint. It also isn’t because I love my precious angels oh so much I just can’t bear to part with them for even a day to travel without them (I mean, I DO love them, but Mommy needs some space sometimes). Being a stay at home mom I also get plenty of quality time with my children right at home on a daily basis, so it’s not like I necessarily need to get away to experience togetherness with my brood. So why do we seem to always find ourselves on the go? Below I’ve outlined the top 5 reasons why we travel so often with our kids
I definitely suffer from a bit of wanderlust, which is a big reason that we travel as much as we do. My one biggest regret in life is that I didn’t catch it earlier and travel more extensively before starting a family. Before having kids, my husband and I were known to randomly set off on vacations whenever the mood struck and we could swing it financially. We didn’t do a lot of adventurous or international travel, but living in south Florida made it easy to jump on a last minute weekend cruise deal or get in the car and head to Disney or Key West for the weekend. I always like to have a trip coming up to plan. I get anxious and feel trapped when I don’t. Even if it’s just a day trip to a nearby city. I love seeing new places and experiencing new things. Having vacations to plan also helps give me something to look forward to while I’m trudging through the tough days and long nights of raising three young kids. Knowing I have a small escape coming up helps keeps me positive and moving forward. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at researching and finding great ways to save money on trips to allow us the ability to afford to get away here and there as well. Of course a lot of parents who enjoy travel and have the ability to leave the kids at home will still continue to do so on their own, but that brings me to my next point:
2) We don’t have much of a choice
While I’d love to be able to spend a few quiet weeks a year drinking wine in the Italian countryside alone with my husband, that’s just not something we are able to pull off at this point in time. We’ve been very lucky to have the occasional kid free vacation over the years, but it’s not something we can easily do more than once every year or two, and only for a few days at a time. Our parents still work full time, and we certainly can’t afford to leave them with a nanny (and I wouldn’t be comfortable with that option even if we could). Between everyones work and school schedules just trying to find any small block of time that works well for everyone involved is nearly impossible. Plus let’s face it, taking on the responsibility of three young boys for more than a few hours is a big favor to have to ask of anyone! So while we are extremely grateful for the times that all of the stars and moons align and we can get someone to take the kids for us to escape for a few days here and there, I don’t want to limit all of my life’s travels to a few days every two years. So, referring back to my wonderlust mentioned above, if we want to go and see and do, the kids have to come along. So while our days of our carefree, kid free type of vacations are mostly behind us, we decided to keep going away here and there when we could make it work, but with the kids in tow. It definitely isn’t always easy, and we’ve had quiet a few trips that were downright awful and disappointing and left us swearing we’d never take the kids anywhere again. However, being a stay at home mom, my days are filled with meltdowns, fighting, schlepping, sleepless nights, and an endless list of other miseries. So for me, dealing with these problems away from home doesn’t even bother me too much. The way I see it, I can deal with it all at home while also having to cook, clean, and deal with the normal daily grind. OR…I could put up with some of the usual crap from the kids while also sitting on a beach with a cocktail or driving through gorgeous mountain ranges and get a nice break from having to clean and cook (or at least much less than usual). There are lots of other benefits to family travel as well:
3) Family Bonding
Okay so this one is obvious, but I still had to include it because it really is so important. Of course we try to find ways to spend time with each other and our kids at home, but time together on vacation is just different. One of my favorite things about family vacations is getting to really spend time experiencing our kids together. My husband works long hours and our weekends tend to be crammed with social activities or things we need to get done and it doesn’t allow us a lot of time for the five of us to all be alone together. My husband and I often find ourselves taking a “divide and conquer” approach to balancing life with the kids which allows us each to get quality time with the kids one on one, but rarely both of us at the same time. So on vacation it’s really great to get to spend so much time with my husband and my kids all at once. This allows us to regroup and work together as a team and really examine our parenting and areas we need to change or work on. At the same time we get to marvel at what an awesome job we really are doing, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. It also gives the kids a lot of quality time with their Dad which they absolutely love. The kids spend more time playing together and having fun with each other too. Taking away the stress of daily life gives us all a chance to have fun together and learn new things about one another.
4) Life Lessons
Not only does traveling together as a family give my husband and I a chance to spend more time together and see and experience a lot of the places we want to without having to stress over child care arrangements, but it also helps provide my kids with valuable life experiences and opens their minds to places and things outside of their own environment and comfort zone. They get a chance to learn things about themselves and explore the things they have an interested in. At first we made the most of our family vacations out of necessity. We had no choice but to bring them so we took a “lets try to enjoy it the best we can” mindset and learned to adapt to a different way of experiencing our vacations. But now that our kids are getting a little bit older, it’s actually exciting for us to watch them experience new places and new things and seeing their true personalities emerge. It drives me to be more adventurous in our destination choices and the activities I want to plan for us. We recently returned from a ten day vacation to Maui, by far the biggest vacation we’ve ever taken with the kids, and my six year old had a blast. He got to snorkel off of a catamaran, go ziplining, and learn to boogey board. My four year old was endlessly fascinated by the small details of nature, collecting rocks and leaves and noticing all of the wildlife around us we weren’t even paying attention to. The baby was able to overcome his fear of the water and really enjoy himself splashing around in all of the great kiddie pools the resort had. They all experienced and enjoyed the trip in wonderfully different ways, and it was so amazing to watch. This is what makes it worth it. This is why I want to keep traveling with the kids as much as we possibly can while they still actually WANT to go places with us.
5) Experiences over Things
For the past few years we’ve really been trying to put an emphasis on spending money on experiences versus things. People strive to attain happiness in their lives, and in our society today a lot of people turn to a variety of expensive material objects in an attempt to bring them happiness. However, several scientific and psychological studies have shown that the real contribution to long lasting happiness and overall life satisfaction comes from spending ones money more on experiences than on physical objects. While a physical object may make us happy in the moment, our satisfaction with said object tends to fade over time, and we desire newer and better. But with life experiences, our satisfaction with the memories those experiences bring us does not fade. It contributes to our overall wellbeing and appreciation of life. We are in total a sum of all of our life experiences, good and bad. We form deeper relationships with people based on shared interests and experiences, not from someone owning the same possessions that we do. I want my kids to learn that material objects are not what matters in life. I want them to to experience the most life has to offer and be shaped by a wide variety of experiences outside of their day to day lives. Travel, museums, learning a new hobby, playing sports, all of these things help contribute to a life full of experience related enrichment. Yes, I understand that you can put a price on a vacation, or most activities for that matter, but you can’t put a price on the life lessons learned and the incredible memories you create. The same can’t be said for rooms full of toys and a closet full of designer clothes. We aren’t wealthy. We can’t just pick up and take the kids wherever we want, whenever we want without worrying about the cost. We budget and sacrifice just like all families do, we just try our best to fit occasional travels and activities into our budget. A little bit of money put away here and there, along with careful planning and deal hunting can make the occasional vacation a lot more doable than a lot of people think. I’d rather spend my money on a weekend trip to the beach or dinner at a new restaurant than a new purse or pair of shoes. Some years we are able to do a lot more than others, and we aren’t going to waste money that is better spent on something else we need, but we keep travel a priority in our lives. (Future blog posts on how to save money on travel will be coming soon!)
If there’s one top tip I can offer any parent looking to expand on their family travel plans, it’s to keep a positive mindset. Will a trip with little kids be all fun and happiness? No, no it won’t. Kids are kids and the meltdowns and tantrums and sleepless nights don’t come to a stop just because you’re on vacation (in fact, they can often be worse when away from home). It’s up to you to not let it discourage you, stress you out, and get you down. Let the little things go, keep a positive mindset, and focus on what truly matters. You’ll all have a much better time if you do. Get out there and enjoy the world with your kids, it’s worth it!
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Efficient Packing Tips for Family Travel
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We’ve done our fair share of traveling with our kids over the past six years. Most of our extended family lives out of state, and even out of country. We’re also big cruise junkies and Disney loving annual pass holders. It’s pretty safe to say we take at least one short trip every few months each year, and at least one or two long distance vacations. With all of this travel has come a whole lot of packing. Over the years I’ve learned a lot of about the do’s and don’t of packing for a family of (now) five and wanted to share my personal advice I’ve learned along the years for ways to pack more efficiently for all sorts of travel.
MAKE A LIST AND CHECK IT TWICE! (AND THREE, FOUR, FIVE TIMES JUST TO BE SURE)
I usually start my packing list about a week in advance. If I try to write out a list the day before I’m packing (or don’t write one at all) I’m bound to forget at least a couple of important items. It’s not easy keeping track of everything needed for five people, so I need to have things written out and organized on paper before I can begin to actually pack. I keep my list on a pad out where I can easily see it, usually on my kitchen counter, so I can add things on as I think of them. This also includes making a list of things that I need to shop for in advance, prescriptions that need to be filled, etc so I’m not stuck running to the store at midnight the night before we leave!
CHECK WEATHER IN ADVANCE, AND PACK ACCORDINGLY
This has always been a no brainer to me, but I can’t tell you how many families we’ve seen freezing and shivering their way through Disney in shorts and tank tops on a 50 degree day because they just assumed that Florida is always hot. Never ever assume just because you are going somewhere tropical that you will have hot sunny weather every day. Same goes for cold locations. We once found ourselves in NJ on Christmas Day sitting outside in t shirts during a freak 70 degree winter heat wave. I always always always check the weather reports for where we are going in advance so I know how to pack accordingly. If it’s somewhere we’ve never been or aren’t familiar with I like to do research on the average climate for the region for that time of year as well. As a general rule, if we are traveling somewhere hot I will still pack a light sweater or jacket for each family member just incase we come across a cold night or over air conditioned restaurant. I’m a big fan of packing rain gear as well, such as our rain cover for our strollers, these super convenient disposable rain ponchos, and small travel size umbrellas. Be sure not to forget your foot wear when packing for different climates as well! You don’t want to find yourself in the chilly pouring rain with nothing to wear but sandals. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
I am absolutely obsessed with packing cubes. I got my first set about a year ago and I honestly don’t know how I ever managed to pack efficiently without them. They help save space in suitcases, keep everything organized, and make unpacking at your destination a breeze. I simply move the cubes from the suitcase and into a drawer and I’m done! I can fit a surprisingly large amount of clothing into each cube and press it tight which helps minimize space in suitcases and the overall amount of bags we have to pack. Which brings me to my next tip:
The less amount of things we have to drag around with us and keep track of on a trip the better. This is especially important to us when flying as most airlines now charge for checked luggage and the carry on size allowances seem to be getting smaller and smaller. I’m almost always able to pack all three of my kids in one suitcase and my husband and I in another. The fact that packing cubes can be stacked vertically as well as horizontally allows me to pack not only clothes but usually shoes, loveys, and toiletries all in one. The thought of having to pack one suitcase for each member of the family literally gives me a headache.
TRAVEL SIZE TOILETRIES
I absolutely LOVE the travel size sections of Target and Bed Bath and Beyond. So many convenient little items all in FDA approved carry on sizes! Even if you plan to check your luggage, minimizing your toiletries as much as possible is a great way to save space and stay organized. When I can’t find something I need in a travel size I place it in my own travel bottles like these. I always put anything that could potentially leak or burst into a plastic ziplock bags to protect everything else in the suitcase
PACK ENTERTAINMENT, SNACKS, AND A CHANGE OF CLOTHES FOR EACH CHILD
The first trip I ever took as a parent, I packed an entire large suitcase with an assortment of baby toys and gear I was sure we couldn’t survive without. It was ridiculous. Now, six years and two more kids later, I’ve learned that kids don’t need “stuff” to have fun on vacation, or you’re not vacationing right! However, you most definitely don’t want to find yourself mid flight or a few miles into a long road trip with nothing to feed or entertain the kids. For my four and six year olds, they each bring along their own child sized backpack as a carry on filled with things to keep them busy. This usually consists of a tablet preloaded with videos and games that DO NOT require an internet connection, hand held video games devices, headphones, coloring books and crayons, activity books, one or two small non noisy toys of their choice (usually a stuffed animal or action figure and some hot wheels or bagged legos), and of course snacks and drinks. I also pack an extra change of clothes incase we encounter any major spills or accidents along the way. For the baby I pack what I can into my diaper bag, usually a couple of small books and toys are enough as well as any snacks, drinks, bottles, etc. I also pack enough diapers, wipes, cans of formula, baby food, and any other essential into the bag for at least 24 hours as well just incase we find ourselves stuck or our luggage gets lost. Obviously every child has different interests and only you know what the right things to pack will be for keeping your child busy, but the key is to keep things small and portable and not overpack the bag so it’s too heavy for them to carry on their own. You don’t want to find yourself schlepping a handful of your kids heavy backpacks through an airport on top of everything else!
WEAR YOUR HEAVIEST CLOTHES AND SHOES AND PACK THE REST
This one tends to annoy my husband, but it makes perfect sense to me. If he’s bringing both his sneakers and his flip flops, I insist he wears the sneakers and pack the flip flops. This goes for my whole family. Wear your biggest shoes while traveling and pack the smallest. Similarly, if we’ll be needing any heavy sweaters or coats, we wear them onto the flight as well so as not to increase the size and weight of our suitcases. This also makes it easier to get out of the aiport at our destination so we’re not opening suitcases at the luggage pickup and rummaging through for all of our appropriate outerwear before stepping outside. We can just grab our stuff and go.
PACK LOVEYS IN THE SUITCASE
One of my all time lowest moments of parenthood was the time we left my son’s blankie behind at a hotel we stayed at, never to be found again. To add insult to injury, this particular blanket was a family heirloom. My great grandmother made it for my brother when he was born and my brother passed it on to my son before he was born. Completely non replaceable. It was devastating for our whole family. At this time, we still packed my son’s blanket in his carry on so he could have it on the plane or in the car. My son must have pushed it far down below the covers of his bed so we didn’t notice it when we did a final check of the room. My husband and I each assumed the other parent had grabbed it or that he himself was carrying it. He eventually got over the loss and found himself a new attachment blanket but the fear and guilt continued to haunt me. Now, to reduce the risk of them getting lost in transit, I pack all three kids lovey’s (which for mine all happen to be blankets) in the suitcase, right on top. This way every time I go to zip up the suitcase I can check that they’re all there. It also ensures that the loveys will not be getting dragged around a dirty airport, into public restrooms, etc or dropped by your child somewhere along the way to your destination.
DO LAUNDRY WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
I know it’s not the most fun thing to do while on vacation, but it will save you so much space on packing, not to mention reducing the amount you have to wash when you get home! It’s obviously easier to do this if you’re staying with friends or relatives at their home, or in a condo or efficiency that has a washer and dryer in the unit. However, most hotels and even cruise ships have coin operated laundry machines on property, making it possible to do laundry at least once during the course of your stay. I pack a couple laundry detergent pods from home for convenience. I usually throw in a load of laundry when we get back to our room for the night and our kids are settling in for bed. I set a timer on my phone to remind me to move the wash into the dryer and again when the drying cycle is done. The kids go to bed and I relax and watch tv or read while the clothes are being washed. No big deal whatsoever taking no time away from my enjoyment of my vacation. If you’re truly opposed to the idea of doing laundry on vacation and can afford to splurge, consider sending your clothes off to be laundered. A lot of hotels offer laundry service for a fee, or find a local laundry facility that offers fluff and fold.
PACK COORDINATING PIECES
For my kids especially I pack an assortment of mix and match tops and bottoms. This way if something gets spilled on I don’t have to change the entire outfit. Considering the fact that I usually do laundry while I’m away, I only pack enough outfits for half of the days that we’ll be away at most. When the pieces coordinate, I can stretch the outfits even further if I don’t make it to the laundry as quickly as I’d like to.
DON’T PACK BULKY ITEMS THAT YOU CAN BUY WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
This is especially true for travel with small babies. Don’t pack a suitcase full of diapers, formula, baby food, or any other items that are easily found anywhere you can stop to shop for at your destination. Go over your packing list and consider what is really necessary to pack in advance, or what might be easier to just purchase once you are there. This also applies for large items you’d want to use for your vacation but can get cheaply to use and throw away while you’re there. Rather than pack beach toys for beach vacations, we’ll seek out the nearest dollar store and buy some cheap beach sets to use just while we’re there, than throw them away or pass them onto another family we see on the beach before we leave. The few dollars we spend is worth avoiding the hassle and mess of dragging the stuff there and back. Similarly, on certain trips I’ve actually shipped things I know I’d need ahead of time to our destination and shipped them home to myself from there. In certain cases it was actually cheaper to do this than to pay the cost to check the items onto the airplane, plus it reduced the amount of luggage we had to transport.