The words would not leave my head. For weeks before I boarded the plane, I was singing, mischievous, marvelous, magical Maui from the chorus of “Maui, Hawaiian Supaman,” by the late, great Hawaiian singer-songwriter Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.
My son and I fell in love with his music on our trip to Kauai (see page 29). As I anticipated this trip to Maui and the smaller nearby island of Lanai, this song was looping through my brain. And I was wondering: Would I fall in love with these islands as I did with Kauai?
In the center of Hawaii’s chain of eight islands, Maui is the second largest, at 729 square miles. It is shaped almost like a sideways number eight. It’s actually one of four islands—including Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe—that make up Maui County. It is nicknamed the Valley Isle, because a volcano sits at the center of each of the circles in the figure eight.
The Haleakala Crater, with an elevation of 10,023 feet, is the centerpiece of the east side of the island. It’s so high it creates its own weather and, as a result of all sorts of fascinating meteorological magic, the east side of the island is a lush tropical rain forest.
Where we stayed I was traveling with my sister, Vicki Schultz-Unger, a Baltimore gal who is the mother of three girls ages 9, 14 and 16. We were guests of the Maui Visitors Bureau and stayed in different hotels across Maui and Lanai. It gave us a sense of the island’s variety and the different feel between east and west—or rather east and everywhere else on the island.
The different hotels made us feel a bit like Goldilocks—one was too much, one was not enough, and two were just right.
Our first just-right was the Napili Kai Beach Resort, on the west side, (rooms start at $200 a night). It is beautiful and we had a full kitchen—great when you combine children and the beach. There are times when lunch and a rest in the room is the right recipe for kids. Nestled in Napili Kai Bay, there is a swimming and snorkeling beach, miniature golf course and classes—more than enough to keep kids busy.
The resort felt low key calm without being boring. The first night we were there, adults and kids sat on the beach and applauded as the sun went below the horizon. How often do we take the time to appreciate nature’s daily miracles?
The last few days of our visit, we stayed at the not-enough Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. The 430-room hotel (rooms start at $175 a night) refers to itself as the most Hawaiian of Maui hotels. It is very respectful of the culture and people and even has a foundation which supports teaching children Hawaiian heritage.
This was a place I wanted to like—the staff was friendly and helpful. But the hotel was just too large and stereotypical, although it was a great hotel to use as we made daily excursions elsewhere.
The other not-great fit was the Manele Bay Hotel in Lanai. This small island that once was home to pineapple production is a ferry ride away from Maui. We took the last boat and watched the moon rise over Maui. The luxurious hotel (rooms start at $400) has a spa, lush gardens, an outside gym overlooking a Koi pond, wonderful restaurants and a staff ready to cater to your every need. It’s perfect for a romantic getaway or golf vacation. But neither of us thought it a good family destination. We got little sense we were in Hawaii or that children would have much to do at the hotel or on the island.
The last just-right hotel was Hotel Hana Maui. On the east side of the island at the end of the breathtaking road to Hana—the road clings to cliffs as drivers navigate over at least 54 one-lane bridges. (You cannot go to Maui without driving this road but don’t get caught in the dark if your kids are in the car.)
Hotel Hana Maui had all the luxury of Manele Bay (rooms start at $375) but felt more Hawaiian. It is private, small, with a spa and vistas to remember for your lifetime. And children fit right in here.
We spent the day, had lunch and rode horses along the rocky beach to watch the crystal blue waves crash as we wandered through the herds of cattle on the ranch adjacent to the hotel. This side of the island reminded me of Kauai.
Where we played We loved the ride to Hana. This 35-mile trip can take a day there and back if you stop at the various waterfalls and enjoy the hikes. And the whole east side of the island felt more Old World than the touristy rest of Maui. I could spend an entire vacation in Hana with no regrets.
We took an early morning drive to see the sunrise at the top of Haleakala, the volcano on the east half of the island. The road is steep. By the time you reach the top, you go through several thousand feet and several climates. It was Chicago cold up at the top, but the view was worth it.
We spent a night to remember at the Old Lahaina Lau in the town of Lahaina. This show goes to great pains to honor and respect the people who are your Hawaiian hosts. It is a real look at how things changed when outsiders landed in the 1700s.
We also loved wandering Lahaina, which has a funky, artistic feel to it. They apparently throw a Halloween party that rivals New Orleans.
We arrived in Maui at the end of October, just at the start of whale watching season. The first humpback was spotted that weekend—but not by us. We went for an afternoon snorkel adventure with Maui Classic Charters, hoping to catch a glimpse of a whale. We didn’t but we had a lovely afternoon snorkeling the coral gardens of Molokini, a small island that serves as a bird sanctuary .
This is a family cruise ($39.95, adults; $29.95, ages 3-12), including lunch, a swim and running commentary from the captain. Smaller children can enjoy the glass bottom view on the catamaran. On the boat trip home, we stopped and saw sea turtles—a sign of good luck and good health.
One of our last stops was at the Maui Ocean Center. Because we have the wonderful Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and because we had snorkeled so much, I thought this was unnecessary. Again, I was so wrong. This is a perfect way for children to understand the wildlife around them. It really shows visitors how special the waters are around Maui and it incorporates well the outdoors into the exhibit space.
Susy Schultz is editor of Chicago Parent and would like to be a frequent visitor to Hawaii.