Visiting Maui with kids wasn’t on my family’s radar until we joined Marriott Vacation Club®. Until then, it was overwhelming to think about planning a multi-island Hawaii vacation — not to mention paying for all those hotel rooms.
My husband, Alex, and I became Owners in 2017, and last year we still had bonus Vacation Club PlusPoints from our purchase that were going to expire. It seemed like the perfect time to consider a Hawaiian vacation, since our 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter were old enough to handle the long-haul flight and enjoy more adventurous island activities like hiking.
We figured that if we were going to travel all the way to Hawaii, we’d make the most of it and spend an entire two weeks island hopping. After doing research and talking with friends who’d traveled to Hawaii several times, we created a family-friendly itinerary that let us experience the highlights of several islands. First up: four nights at Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club.
A Sunrise to Remember
Our friends recommended that we start with Maui and go up to the Haleakala Crater to see the sunrise. They said our sleep schedule would be so out of whack, it wouldn’t feel like a big deal to get up early to reach the summit before daybreak.
So, our first morning on Maui, we woke up at 3:45 a.m. to make the nearly 2-hour drive from Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club to Haleakala National Park. When we reached the summit, it was amazing to see the sun rise over the clouds and crater walls. At first it was really cold, and we were glad we’d packed our jackets, hats and gloves. Once the sun was up it got much warmer and we explored the park for an hour or so.
At the Haleakala Visitor Center at the summit, we learned about the area’s geography from knowledgeable park rangers and a 3-D topographical map of the craters. We also took a short hike with great views of a nearby observatory with some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Doing the crater excursion on the first day definitely turned out to be a great idea because we had jet lag, anyway.
- Park entry is $20 per car. To see the sunrise at the crater you must make a reservation online for $1 per ticket. You can reserve up to 60 days in advance but if tickets sell out, a few last-minute tickets are released 48 hours in advance at 4 p.m.
- Through the Every Kid in a Park program, the National Park Service offers free admission to 4th grade students. Since my son had this pass, our entire car of people got in for free.
- While we opted to drive ourselves, you can also reserve a bus tour that will pick you up from your resort. Some itineraries even offer a bike ride down from the summit.
- If you take your own car, stop by the Alii Kula Lavender Farm on your way back to the resort. This beautiful hidden gem offers scenic walking paths, guided tours and a fun treasure hunt for kids.
Whale Watching Two Ways
Seeing whales was on my bucket list, and it’s one of the reasons we visited Hawaii in early March, near the end of whale season. At Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club, we had an oceanfront guestroom and — amazingly — we could see whales from the balcony. We brought binoculars, which gave us an even better look, but even without them we could see whales breaching and slapping their fins on the water.
We also encountered whales during a snorkeling tour. After climbing into our wetsuits (which were provided by the tour company, along with snorkeling gear), we enjoyed coffee and snacks before making our way onto the boats. Despite the choppy waters, the journey was very comfortable. We got into the water at six or seven different stops, and two guides joined us and pointed out the wildlife around us.
At Molokini Crater, a small underwater volcano, we snorkeled through an amazing coral reef. As we swam, we spotted different colorful sea life including Moorish idol fish and a spotted spiny lobster. While underwater we could actually hear whales communicating with each other, which was an incredible experience. Later we moved on to Turtle Town, where we swam with several sea turtles. We also saw whales breaching and flapping their fins nearby as we sailed.
- Go snorkeling in the morning to take advantage of fewer crowds and calmer waters. This is particularly helpful if you’re traveling with kids who might get seasick.
- You can also snorkel right at the resort. Equipment is available for rent, and there’s fantastic snorkeling nearby at Black Rock.
- Many snorkel tour providers have an array of flotation devices and boogie boards available for kids.
Exploring Island Culture
Another day we visited the Maui Tropical Plantation, which grows 40 organic crops including pineapples, coffee, papaya and macadamia nuts. During a narrated tram ride through the plantation, we learned fun facts about the plants and growing process. The driver showed us how to husk a coconut, and we also got to taste fresh pineapple.
The plantation also offers zip lining and an art gallery, but we opted to spend some time leisurely exploring the grounds before enjoying lunch at the on-site Mill House. The restaurant serves food created with ingredients grown right at the plantation. We dined al fresco while sitting on the open patio and enjoying gorgeous mountain vistas.
Back at the resort, we were nicely situated within walking distance of Whalers Village, a beachside mall including 90 shops and restaurants, a children’s play area, cultural activities and a whale museum. If you take the oceanfront boardwalk from the resort to the village, it’s a really nice stroll.
Relaxing in Nature and at the Resort
For another scenic island perspective, we enjoyed hiking to the 1,200-foot Iao Needle in Iao Valley State Park. Historically the eroded peak served as a lookout point for Maui warriors; today there’s a paved pedestrian path from the parking lot to the rock outcropping. We enjoyed the view before strolling through the park’s botanical garden and skipping rocks on the creek — the perfect way to spend a leisurely day in nature.
During most of our Maui stay, we were out and about exploring the island. But we did have the chance to enjoy down time at the resort and take advantage of several amenities. We were impressed by all the little details, from the basketball hoop, waterslide and volleyball net in the pool to the giant Scrabble board (our kids’ favorite activity). It was a great place for recharging between adventures.
- Visit Iao Needle in the morning to avoid midday clouds. Bring rain gear, just in case.
- Kids will love the resort’s pirate ship pool, complete with waterslides and a sandy play area. Children of all ages can also take part in plenty of on-site crafts and activities including a kids’ movie night.
Discovering Local Flavors
During our first night at Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club, we ended up eating at an on-site restaurant because we were so exhausted from traveling. But it turned out perfectly: we got to sit outdoors and listen to an acoustic guitar player while looking out at the waterfront. Plus, the food was really good!
One of our favorite local finds was the 100-year-old T Komoda Store and Bakery. This off-the-beaten-path gem is located in the small cowboy town of Makawao. It’s a total dive but the pastries were phenomenal. We popped in one morning right before heading to the airport and discovered a mouthwatering array of crème puffs, donuts and malasadas — all homemade. Naturally we bought a box of treats and ate them at the airport.
During our Hawaiian vacation our children made it their mission to visit (and rate) as many shaved ice spots as possible. On Maui we all enjoyed Island Cream Company, which is a 10-minute drive from Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club. This is where we experienced our first shaved ice of the trip. The kids loved choosing from dozens of different flavors.
The Magic of Maui
For me and my family, Maui was a nice in-between island. It’s not as lush and natural as Kauai or the Big Island, and it’s not as busy as Oahu. Maui is what I thought Hawaii would be: a place where you can enjoy plenty of natural activities like snorkeling and whale watching, but also wonderful restaurants and great shopping. And it was just the first stop on our once-in-a-lifetime, multi-island family vacation. Stay tuned for part two of our Hawaiian itinerary.
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