Wailea Beach Villas
Kahului Airport (OGG)
Kapalua Plantation Course
Leoda's Pie Shop
Mama's Fish House
Waianapanapa State Park (black sand beach)
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
Feast at Lele
Maui Sunriders Bike Co.
My late mother-in-law wanted to plan a big, blowout vacation while she was still feeling well during her battle with cancer. We were all on board for that idea, but finding a destination that suited everyone’s checklist was more challenging than we expected. My brother-in-law loves animals and activities, my father-in-law loves adventure, my mother-in-law needed rest and relaxation, and my husband loves great golf. After nixing an African safari and a European river cruise, we settled on a grand trip to Maui. I can wholeheartedly say that it met all of our requirements and exceeded all of our expectations. We spent a sunny, laughter-filled week together making memories that I will not soon forget.
If I had the trip to plan over again, I would leave a little more free time in our schedule for relaxing. There are so many activities to choose from that it’s difficult not to overbook yourself. Make sure you have time to rest and enjoy the view. That being said, we had great experiences with all of the companies we booked, and I’m happy to recommend several options below.
How to get there:
Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) receives interisland and mainland US flights. Most flights from the mainland are routed through west coast cities, such as Seattle, San Francisco, and LA. Flights from Asia, Australia, and other North American cities are often routed through Oahu’s Honolulu International Airport (HNL).
Most resorts on the west coast are served by airport shuttle companies, and many of the tour companies offer shuttles from major hotels (for an extra fee), so you can get by without renting a car. However, a car rental is very helpful for getting around the island and may add up less than the shuttles, depending on how many people are in your group. If you want to drive the Road to Hana, grocery shop, or go to activities (like hiking) without a tour company, a car rental is a necessity.
The main resort areas are mostly within an hour’s drive from the airport.
Most of the major hotels and resorts are on the west coast of Maui in the Wailea, Kaanapali, and Kapalua areas. A number of popular activities are based near the airport or Maalaea Harbor, which are in between those resort areas.
Wailea Beach is a newer, planned community about 30 minutes from the airport. There are a number of high-end resorts, including the Four Seasons Maui, Andaz Maui, Fairmont Kea Lani, and Grand Wailea. There are also luxury villa properties, like the Wailea Beach Villas and Wailea Point. A walking path winds between the ocean/beach and the resorts, and a shopping area with boutiques and restaurants is walking distance from most of the hotels. Nearby Kihei has a Safeway grocery store, liquor store, and more shops and restaurants.
Up the western coast near Lahaina are the resort areas of Kaanapali and Kapalua. They are about an hour from the airport, though traffic on the two lane road can make it much longer. Here you’ll find resorts such as the Hyatt Regency Maui, Westin Maui, Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, and the all-suite Montage Kapalua Bay. The old town of Lahaina doesn’t have resorts, but there are smaller hotels, restaurants, luaus, and shops just a short drive from Kaanapali and Kapalua.
We decided that a house or villa would best suit our needs as a family because getting three hotel rooms per night adds up quickly and doesn’t allow any private, common area to congregate. Having a kitchen meant we didn’t have to eat out every night, which was good for our budget and waistlines. We ultimately opted to go the villa route because it gave us the space and conveniences of a house and the amenities of a resort community.
The Wailea Beach Villas are individually owned condos, mostly rented through VRBO / Airbnb or other rental companies. We chose a 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath, ground floor unit with a private plunge pool, lawn, and outdoor shower (Unit F102, “Bali Hai”). It was pricey, but not much different than three rooms per night at a nice, beachfront resort. The unit included a top-of-the-line kitchen with every appliance, spice, or utensil we needed, including fun things like an espresso maker and local tea. The living room’s wall of glass doors folded back to bring the breezy, Hawaiian air into the main living area. The terrace had a built-in grill, outdoor dining table and additional seating. Each massive bedroom had an ensuite bathroom, and the common areas gave us plenty of room to spread out. The gated Wailea Beach Villas community–which is situated between the Grand Wailea and Wailea Beach Marriott resorts–features two pools (one beachfront), a gym, towel service, and housekeeping, among other amenities.
Mama’s Fish House is not an easy reservation to score, nor is it an inexpensive menu. But the history, view, and food make it worth the pricetag for a memorable meal. (Valet parking)
Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop is a humble, roadside restaurant halfway between Maalaea Harbor and Lahaina. They serve fresh salads, sandwiches, burgers, and breakfast dishes, but the stars of the menu are their locally-inspired pies. (Ample, free parking in lot)
Star Noodle serves housemade noodles and creative, Asian-inspired shared plates at communal tables. This trendy hotspot serves lunch and dinner in a business park just outside of old town Lahaina. (Small lot and street parking)
Eat your way down the Road to Hana. Stop by the roadside stands to try local banana bread, coconut ice cream, fresh pineapple, and barbequed Hawaiian pork.
If you’re planning to eat in, you can stock up on family-sized groceries at the Costco near the airport.
See & Do:
See the island(s) by air with a helicopter tour. I highly recommend Blue Hawaiian’s tour of Molokai’s sea cliffs, the tallest in the world!
If you’re visiting between December and April, don’t miss the unique opportunity to see the mating and calving humpback whales swimming in Maui’s warm waters. We chose a private boat charter with Maui Fun Charters, which offers a more personalized (and less claustrophobic) approach than the big boat tours for a similar price.
Snorkeling is the easiest way to get an up close look at Maui’s spectacular marine wildlife. Many tour companies offer boat rides out to crowded coral reefs, but we opted for a shore-based snorkeling excursion with Suzzy at Maui Snorkel Tours. The guide chooses a custom location based on the day’s conditions, and the groups are no larger than 7 people, giving a very hands-on, educational experience. Be sure ask about and learn the proper pronunciation for humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the state fish of Hawaii!
I’m not sure that a truly authentic luau experience exists, but it’s one touristic activity I didn’t want to miss. The entertainment is the main attraction at most Maui luaus, but the food at the Feast at Lele in old town Lahaina was actually enjoyable. The beachfront program guides lei-donned guests through five chapters/courses of cuisines and dance styles (with drinks a’plenty).
Take a day to drive the Road to Hana. The winding road will take you to waterfalls, black sand beaches, centuries old churches, and roadside stands with local specialties. We used this detailed Frommer’s guide for ideas of where to stop. My favorite part was the black sand beach and lava rocks at Waianapanapa State Park. My best advice is to ignore the rental car rules and drive all the way around the back side of the island; it’s otherworldly (and the road is just fine)!
Bike down Maui’s Haleakala volcano for panoramic views of Maui and the surrounding islands. We did a self-guided tour with Maui Sunriders so that we could go at our own pace (fast). Their tours include a van ride to the summit and all the equipment you need. It would be more accurately called “braking down a volcano” because it’s almost all downhill and steep. You can also drive up to the 10,023 foot summit on your own and hike the moonscape-like crater. Dress in warm layers and stop for lunch at the Kula Lodge on the way down.
Play golf at the world famous Kapalua Plantation Course. You can see the ocean from all 18 holes of this bucket list course next to the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. Once you get past the sticker shock, it’s hard not to enjoy the beautifully conditioned course that is a favorite among PGA players. Aim for a morning tee time for the best course conditions, and allot more than the standard 4 hours for your round… you aren’t the only one who will stop to take pictures!
Why I loved it:
We are so grateful to forever remember this special week as our last family vacation together. The variety of unique activities and truly breathtaking scenery are hard to beat. The weather is pretty ideal, and the relaxed, Hawaiian vibes are good for your soul. Oh, and the pineapple. It’s so good!
Here’s a glimpse of our trip on video:
We traveled as a family of 6 (adult children) in April 2016.