For many travelers, a Hawaii vacation conjures up the image of lots of time sitting on the beach in a lounge chair with a tropical drink in hand. Those of us who are family travelers, however, know that even tropical trips are rarely quite so relaxing. Keeping the kids occupied and engaged is important too. Luckily, a Hawaiian vacation in Maui with kids can be full of lots of activities to keep families busy and entertained.
I recently returned from a trip to Maui to the Ka’anapali Beach area and discovered a wide variety kid-friendly things to do there and around the entire island. Whether your family wants to taste local food, experience Hawaiian culture, or dive into a few outdoor adventures, you can find something that fits both the interests of the kids and the adults in your family in Maui.
Here are 11 of the best activities and things to do in Maui with kids.
Things to do in Maui with Kids
1. Watch a Luau
Attending a luau is a must-do for most families on any Hawaii vacation. A luau combines both dinner and evening entertainment in one setting, making for easy logistics with little kids. Most of the Maui luau offerings are on the Ka’anapali and Lahaina side of the island at the major resorts there, although the Grand Wailea has one as well.
On my most recent trip to Maui, I watched the Drums of the Pacific Luau at the Hyatt Regency Maui. With bright costumes, fire dancers, and authentic (but also kid-friendly) food, it worked well for families with nearly any age child. For families with younger kids like mine, I especially appreciated that kids ages 5 and under are free. Although the luau is pricey, consider upgrading to VIP tickets (just $23 more for adults) which include no lines to enter, premium seating, first in line privileges for the buffet, and a real flower lei.
2. Visit Haleakalā National Park
National parks are on the radar of many more families in recent years, thanks to the centennial in 2015 and the Every Kid in a Park program. This program makes entrance fees free for families with 4th graders.
On Maui, Haleakalā National Park is well worth a visit, even with younger kids. The most popular tour is to arrive at sunrise, but a 3 am hotel transfer probably isn’t advisable for families with little ones. Consider a day visit instead, where you can hike, visit the summit, look out for nēnē (Hawaiian goose) or spot ‘ahinahina (giant silversword plants). The fee is $25 to enter. Consider an annual pass ($80) if you plan to visit other NPS sites in the year. My family has already more than broken even on fees this year with ours.
Look out for my guide to Haleakalā National Park coming soon for more information.
3. Take an Outrigger Canoe Ride
For an active outing with the kids, book at paddle tour aboard a traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe. It’s active without being too strenuous for the little ones.
One of the highlights of my recent trip to Maui was the trip I took with Ali’i Maui Outrigger Canoes around Black Rock on Ka’anapali Beach. Our group lucked into an up close dolphin experience and learned a lot of Hawaiian history (and the occasional tall tale) from our friendly guides.
4. Go Parasailing
If you have an adventurous kiddo, parasailing is one activity that is not to be missed. UFO Parasail on Ka’anapali Beach is one of the best-known operators in Maui with an excellent safety record. I was truly surprised to find that they take children as young as 3 years old! Once you are up in the air, however, you realize why. Parasailing is extremely peaceful and relaxing – not an extreme sport at all.
5. Explore Under the Ocean at Maui Ocean Center
Most kids are too young to scuba dive but that doesn’t mean they can’t explore beneath the ocean’s surface on a vacation in Maui. The Maui Ocean Center is an aquarium where kids can get up close and personal with marine life. The center has sharks, turtles, stingrays, tropical fish, corals, and more. It is centrally located to both the Lahaina/Ka’anapali area resorts as well as the ones in Kihea/Wailea. Buy tickets online in advance for more savings – there’s a four pack that is perfect for many families.
6. Eat Pie at Leoda’s
The hallmark of any good family vacation is enjoying great local food. Maui certainly has plenty to try, but a highlight for families is undoubtedly Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop near Lahaina. There’s plenty of Hawaiian comfort food on the menu for the main meal, but always save room for dessert. Pie varieties include apple crumb, olowalu lime, banana cream, macadamia nut chocolate, coconut cream, and many more.
7. Play (and Shop and Eat) at Whalers Village
Whalers Village on Ka’anapali Beach is a destination where most families will – and should – end up at some point on a vacation on that side of the island. The open air shopping center has a number of local stores where I could have spent a lot of time and money, but we all know the kids can’t shop for long. Take a break at the playground there or plan to visit on Tuesday nights when the mall offers free movies under the stars. The two sit down restaurants in Whalers Village, Hula Grill and Leilani’s, are both kid-friendly places for dinner as well where parents can still enjoy quality local food.
I was especially excited to learn on my recent trip to Maui of a brand new attraction coming to Whalers Village. Long time visitors to Maui may remember the Maui Whalers Village Museum which depicted the history of whaling in Hawaii. It is getting a new location, new name, and a brand new focus on marine and whale preservation. It is set for soft openings in early 2018. I got a behind the scenes tour of what is to come and it promises to be one of the top things to do with kids in all of Maui.
8. Snorkel ’til Ya Drop!
My husband and I are scuba divers but we are still a long way away from being able to dive with the kids. Fortunately in places like Maui, the snorkeling is almost as good as the diving, so you can get younger kids in on the action. Even toddlers can often participate with a good life jacket and boogie board to help them stay afloat.
Black Rock on Ka’anapali Beach offers some excellent snorkeling right off the beach – nothing but mask and fin rental required. Or, book a snorkel tour with your family. Tour operators know some of the secret spots and can monitor local conditions to give you the best experience on the day of your trip.
9. Devour a Dole Whip or Sample Shave Ice
I don’t know about you, but I treat the kids on vacation with more than their fair share of local goodies. Maui has plenty to try.
Disney fans are probably familiar with the world-renowned frozen pineapple treat that is the Dole Whip. Dole Whips can be found in a number of locations in Maui. I spotted them at Hilo Hattie in Lahaina, and have heard that Lappert’s Ice Cream carries them as well.
Why just stop at a Dole Whip when there are other frozen treats to be tasted? Shave ice is a favorite Hawaiian snack for all ages, so plan an outing to try the treat as well. Where should you go to get the best? Ululani’s is the gold standard of shave ice on Maui. You can find a somewhat secret location within the Hyatt Regency Maui near the pool where lines are usually short. Or opt for the main locations in Lahaina or Kihei.
10. Whale Watch
Huge numbers of humpback whales flock south to Maui from Alaska in the colder months, making it one of the best spots for whale watching in the world. You can spot the majestic creatures as early as October, with the season ending some time in April. Peak months are usually January, February, and March.
While it’s often possible to spot the whales from the beach, a number of local boat operators run whale tours seasonally.
11. Hit the Beach and the Pool
Last but certainly not least, make sure to plan plenty of down time on your Maui vacation at the beach and at the pool. With younger kids like mine, it’s the best – and cheapest – thing to do on a Hawaii trip.
For that reason, it’s important to do your research to choose a Hawaiian resort with the right pools and on the right beaches as you plan your vacation. On my Maui vacation, I was able to visit a number of the 12 hotels and resorts on Ka’anapali Beach and spend several nights in two of them: the Hyatt Residence Club Ka’anapali Beach Maui and the Ka’anapali Ali’i. The stretch of beach they are on is beautiful, separated by Black Rock at the dividing line between north and south.
The pool scene varies considerably from resort to resort, so you can take your pick for what works for your children. The pools at the Hyatt Regency Maui and Hyatt Residence Club (the two share pools and other resort privileges) are definitely the ones with more action. Both hotels have water slides, small splash and play areas, and poolside restaurants/bars.
Families with younger kids wanting more solitude would appreciate the Ka’anapali Ali’i’s lower key scene. With a shallow zero entry walk down ideal for younger kids and a few choicely-placed pool waterfalls, it offers more serenity.
Disclosure: The Ka’anapali Beach Resort Association and several of its member hotels, restaurants, and activity providers hosted me on my most recent trip to Maui. As always, all opinions are my own.