In September 2013, my husband, my four year old, and my in-laws took a trip to Maui. Our motivation for traveling to Maui was simple – his parents had taken him and his younger brother to all lower 48 states together before my husband started professional school. My husband and I had traveled to Hawaii for our honeymoon years ago and had visited both the Big Island and Oahu, but we had never been to Maui, so we decided to travel together to Maui for his mom’s upcoming milestone birthday.
Shortly after we decided to travel to Maui, my husband learned that the Maui Marathon was scheduled to take place while we were there and decided to enter. The Marathon became a good home base for planning our trip. Since we had a good 10 days in Hawaii, we decided to spend a few nights at the Maui Westin, which was sponsoring the Marathon, before moving on to a vacation rental we secured via Homeaway.
The Westin is located on Ka’anapali Beach in Lahaina. It’s a wonderful resort spot for tourists and if you find that off putting, rest assured, it’s nothing like Waikiki. It’s a much slower paced vacation town than Waikiki and at no time did we feel overwhelmed or crowded.
The Westin’s facilities were amazing – they had numerous pools (water slide included!), and it was a great home base for the three things we had planned in Ka’anapali – the Maui Marathon, a submarine ride on the Atlantis, and my son’s first real introduction to the ocean.
Because we were there in late September, the resort wasn’t busy and the beach was relatively deserted. We had no trouble doing whatever we wanted to do – swim in the pool, eat at the restaurant, fly kites on the beach.
While we were there, the hotel was in the middle of major renovations and so, while our room was outdated, it is my understanding that all of the rooms were part of the renovation. And, although the room was more worn down that I would have liked, it was perfectly serviceable, and the remaining facilities at the hotel were so outstanding that it did not diminish our visit.
The Maui Marathon
The main event of our stay in Ka’anapali was the Maui Marathon, which was exceedingly well organized. My husband had no issue getting his race bib the night before and the opening festivities, which included their own Hawaiian flair.
One thing we definitely noticed about the Maui Marathon was that the race truly embodied not only the island spirit but also included personalized flair that I certainly have never experienced in any other run we have participated in. Each runner was identified by name and hometown as they crossed the finish line, and when my young son decided to run across the finish line with his dad, the announcer actually added in the fact that my husband was being joined by his young son in the race to the finish! In any other race, this likely would have caused a security uproar – but the Maui Marathon took it in stride and seemed to welcome and enjoy the break from protocol.
Our next big adventure after the Marathon was a submarine ride on the Atlantis. I’ll admit to thinking this was relatively silly when booking online, but a co-worker of mine highly recommended it as she had done this a handful of times with her young child. Surprisingly, this turned out to be an adventure that the adults enjoyed even more than the kid!
The Atlantis begins with a boat ride out to the submarine, after which you climb down the ladder into the submarine. Per the website, children must be at least 36 inches and able to navigate the ladder themselves, so while this is something that worked great for my 4 year old, this would likely not work with a child under 3 years of age.
Once inside the submarine, a digital screen showed the depth of the submarine in relation to sea level.
As we descended, there wasn’t much to see initially, but as we got closer to sea level, we saw schools of swimming fish before coming to the Carthaginian. Per the website,
Atlantis embarked on creating an artificial reef in December 2005 by sinking the aged Carthaginian replica of a 19th century supply vessel. The sunken Carthaginian, which needed major repairs and would have been scuttled at sea otherwise, is anchored to a sandy bottom in 95 feet of water that is devoid of coral reef. The resulting artificial reef will develop into a self-sustaining habitat for indigenous fish, coral and other marine life.
Our group of five thoroughly enjoyed the submarine ride and would highly recommend it. The adventure lasts just under two hours and reservations are highly recommended. We booked ahead of time online and were able to find coupons that ended up allowing my toddler to participate for free. I believe if you were to attempt to book onsite, not only might you run into reservation/space issues, but you would also be paying full price!
After a few nights at the Westin, we moved on to our vacation house in Paia, a Hawaiian Plantation Village on Maui’s northern coast. Here, we stayed for 4-5 nights and were able to do small day trips.
Makena Beach Kayaking/Paddle Boarding:
My hands down favorite activity while in Maui was when we rented kayaks/paddle boards and went snorkeling with my son. Unfortunately, the resort that we rented the paddle boards from, the Makena Beach & Golf Resort, closed on July 1, 2016, but I would highly recommend looking into paddle boarding or kayaking during your stay in Maui. There are a number of different outfitters that will plan kayaking / snorkeling / paddle boarding adventures for your family and having done this now in both Maui and Alaska, I can say that with a knowledgeable guide, this can be fun for children as young as 3 years old! At age 4, I felt comfortable with my son kayaking and snorkeling in calm water with a life vest on. Although he did not paddle board in Maui, I think he will be ready to do so when we travel to Costa Rica next year!
Another day trip involved driving the famous Road to Hana. Although many websites suggested taking a tour instead of attempting to drive it ourselves, we decided to just drive in our rental car using one of the many guided CD’s available at grocery stores in the area. As we were staying in Paia, we began our drive to Hana by picking up a picnic lunch before embarking on the full day long drive. The drive itself was interesting, but it was also extremely winding and, as someone who is not a fan of long car trips, it ended up being more than I was really interested in. Although we saw interesting things like a poi (Hawaiian for taro) plantation, enjoyed shaved ice, and made friends with the numerous stray but friendly cats who came out to say hello at the various stops, this is not something I would willingly do again with small children. There are also some necessary precautions that you must make, including ensuring that you have a full tank before leaving Paia because there are no gas stations between Paia and Hana!
One surprising and necessary stop on the Road to Hana was the Garden of Eden Arboretum.
Not only did the Garden of Eden provide a necessary break from the long car ride, but it also was a nice provided some nice views of the ocean!
My favorite thing to do in Paia, however, was to just enjoy the beautiful weather and location. Our house was conveniently located only one block from the ocean. A short 5 minute walk and we were in paradise.
The house was well equipped with sand buckets, boogie boards, an outdoor shower, and my personal favorite: a hammock.
The house was within walking distance to the town of Paia so we enjoyed being able to just walk into town for dinner. The town has a number of small artsy stores, a wonderful little hippie grocery store, and little walks that take you to spectacular ocean views.
Although the house no longer appears available for rent, I highly recommend this off-the-beaten-path kind of Hawaiian vacation stay. Although the resorts are lovely, they are also difficult places to enjoy things like rocking away in a hammock for a few hours. It’s also much more comfortable for a traveling family to have space to spread out, instead of being cooped up in a hotel room!
To this day, Hawaii remains one of my favorite vacation destinations. I was thrilled to share Hawaii with my young son, but also experience Maui for the very first time together as a family of three. Although it has now been four years since our trip to Maui, my son still has fond memories of snorkeling together and kayaking in the ocean. When asked just this week, during his first week of third grade, where he would like to visit, his response was “Hawaii.” It’s moments like these when I am really thankful that we have been able to travel with him and take him to the places we have been together.
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