Maui: An Idyllic Tropical Road Trip for Families

by Carmel L. Mooney

Aside from being a tropical paradise destination, the Hawaiian island of Maui encourages vacationing families to bond, slow down, and create treasured experiences with its unique blend of beauty, activities, history, and variety.

With its ever-shifting landscape, perfect year-round climate, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, crystal skies, warm tropical waters, and spectacular beaches, Maui offers a family paradise for a vacation or world-class adventure.

Whether it’s enjoying the variety of beaches and sand, a submarine dive, a lei-making class, wine tasting, ATV rides, fine dining, casual snacks along the Hana Highway, waterfalls, pools, or a goat farm, Maui appeals to everyone.

Although we’ve been to Maui in previous years, our most recent trip stands out as the most diverse visit as Maui has successfully blended the old with the new and we were fortunate to explore and experience all the rich facets of Maui including many new activities and hot spots.

We arrived on Maui, the “Magic Isle” via the Kahului airport, rented a car and embarked on our unforgettable adventure.

Our first Maui-style meal, we savored at the fun Pineapple Grill at Kapalua Resort. This casual yet elegant dining establishment has impeccable service. We’ll never forget the beautiful presentation of each offering like my macadamia-crusted goat cheese salad and monchong fish, not to mention the melt in your mouth desserts like Maui gold pineapple bread pudding with pineapple brandy sauce. The Maui gold pineapple upside-down cake and apple pineapple crisp were the best I have ever tasted. Yes, I sampled them all! No wonder they have won numerous awards.

For our first few nights, we stayed at the beautiful Napili Kai Resort just a few minutes from Lahaina.

Five pools on ten acres, fun daily activities to bring the guest families together, full kitchens, the most spectacular beach for snorkeling and swimming, and more relaxed low-rise two-story buildings that blend naturally into the natural beauty are the recipe that makes this resort a favorite. A beautiful place for families, no wonder manager Gregg Nelson says, “First-time visitors frequently arrive saying, ‘This is what I thought Hawaii would be like.'”

On our second full day, we embarked on an adventure on the Atlantis Submarine. Located at Lahaina Pier #30 we enjoyed viewing fish and sunken ships as we sunk to a depth of just under 200 feet.

Another unforgettable meal unfolded at David Paul’s Lahaina Grill where we enjoyed New American cuisine. A list of awards too numerous to list is no surprise after one taste of specialties like Kona Lobster Crab Cake, Tequila Shrimp, Kalua Duck, and Maui Onion and Sesame Seed Crusted Seared Ahi. Desserts like “The Road to Hana,” must be both seen and tasted to be fully appreciated.

Wanting to experience the culture and history a bit we enjoyed Maui Theater’s presentation of Ulalena. Telling a compelling story in a theatrical experience of amazing effects, Ulalena presents some of Maui’s most talented musicians and performers as they weave a history from the first Polynesians to Captain Cook.

Another experience that must be lived in Maui is the Old Lahaina Luau. Although we have a special place in our heart for the original magical and historically significant location from years ago, the newer location and presentation offer a sampling of wonderful Hawaiian luau fare while watching Hawaiian dance and music on stage. This luau continues to be a great place to mix with other island visitors and find out their discovered “hidden Maui gems.”

We stayed at the beautiful Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa for the middle portion of our visit. We enjoyed the unique pool with rivers of fun, lei making and hula classes, nightly cliff diving, and 23 oceanfront acres where we could swim or snorkel enjoying the resident turtles and fish. Ten minutes from Lahaina, it is the perfect hub from which to enjoy Maui’s activities.

tropical beauty in Maui

A few days into our visit we embarked on the Molokini and Turtle Arches Snorkel Ec-Adventure. This amazingly fun family activity blended with good food, snorkeling with fish and turtles, and education is a perfect fun-filled day. After snorkeling with the tropical wildlife, we enjoyed an educational presentation about fish, turtles, coral, and ecology on board.

Right after our day was done we walked over to the nearby Maui Ocean Center. This Hawaiian Aquarium provides an opportunity to view Maui’s tropical fish, sharks, turtles, and other aquatic life. If you don’t snorkel you will feel like you did after a visit here.

Our last few nights were spent at the gorgeous Fairmont Kea Lani Maui Resort, a mecca for movie stars and affluent Maui visitors. One moment at this spectacular property and it’s no mystery why this resort is in a class of its own. The moment you arrive, one is presented with a fragrant fresh lei, and servers offer fresh tropical juices as you check in.

The true Aloha spirit is exemplified here by every staff member genuinely and refreshingly that making your every minute as a guest, one of tranquility and feeling completely welcome.

Guests can stay in elegantly appointed suites or lovely private villas overlooking the beach with their private plunge pools.

Every detail from the beautiful pool and water slide to the finest dining Maui has to offer, along with the extraordinary spa, creates a magical family paradise within a paradise, at Maui’s Fairmont.

One early morning at the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui Resort, we met two Hawaiian men on the resort’s private beach for an unforgettable Hawaiian Cultural Canoe Experience where together we paddled a huge white outrigger around the local coves and area as they taught us local history and culture and Hawaiian chants and lore. We even stopped the outrigger to jump out and swim together with sea turtles. It was amazing.

No stone is left unturned at this magical property where hospitality, attention to detail, activities, dining, and recreation are meticulously and perfected orchestrated.

With five award-winning restaurants and three bars, no need is unmet. We savored specialties like Maui Onion soup and Lobster Tempura on the property. They were simply amazing.

Upcountry Maui is another paradise altogether where farms and ranches abound high above the sprawling coastline.

There we explored the Surfing Goat Dairy where we sampled award-winning cheeses and delicacies like a passion fruit cheesecake made from goat’s milk. The delicious products from this farm are shipped to the best hotels and restaurants around the world. A guided tour of the farm was educational and fascinating. Our kids loved petting their “kids.”

Finally, upcountry, we enjoyed the lovely Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm where we toured the grounds and learned so many interesting uses and histories of the various lavenders after a relaxing tea service of lavender scones and tea.

Our final Maui dining experience we enjoyed at the Sea Watch restaurant (which is now Gannon’s Restaurant) where we savored masterpieces with local Maui treasures like Maui onions, purple Maui sweet potatoes, fresh vegetables, and microgreens from local Maui farmers, and the best, freshest Maui seafood available. “The fresher it is the better is it,” is the chef’s motto. Serving three full meals a day, this restaurant on one of Maui’s finest golf courses offers outstanding dining with unparalleled views of whales and astounding sunsets. The food, ambiance, and service were perfect in every way.

While Maui has grown tremendously in recent years, some things never change. Maui is considered the “best island” by millions and for good reason.

In Maui, the family question, “What shall we do today?&” is met with endless, wonderful choices. Car touring is popular since such a vastly varying landscape is available within a two-hour drive anywhere on the island. Quiet beaches provide places for quiet reflection or conversation or just hanging out and making sandcastles and swimming.

Bamboo forests and lava outcroppings provide spots for hikes and exploration. Boutiques, galleries, and wineries allow one to engage in browsing and sampling even more of Maui’s rich culture.

Discover the magic yourself by planning a family getaway of wonder, delight, and excitement on Hawaii’s best island for families – Maui.

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Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist, author, and radio talk show host. She is the editor of Road Trips for Couples.