Maui is for honeymooners.
And let’s be honest: the last thing these newlyweds want is for everything to be ruined by someone else’s kids.
We know, because we took our kids to Maui. We took them shopping in Lahaina (our first mistake), visited the Four Seasons (our second), and then dragged them up to Haleakala (numero tres).
But there were a few moments when we felt as if our kids — who are not known for being quiet and demure — were in the wrong place.
As it turns out, that wasn’t quite true.
Upscale — and that’s the way they like it
Maui is one of the most beautiful Hawaiian islands. If you don’t believe me, take a drive along Highway 360, which runs from Kahului to Hana, on the eastern side of the island. Around each hairpin turn, you’ll see impossibly beautiful seascapes, lush rain forests and waterfalls you thought only existed in the movies.
But if you have young children, you’ll need a stiff drink once you reach Hana. Want to make a rest stop to buy banana bread from a food truck? Better keep an eye on your youngsters or they could slide down a steep embankment into the Pacific.
Our kids didn’t worry about any of this. But we did.
It’s not that Maui doesn’t try. We dropped by the Four Seasons to visit a friend, and the hotel offered not only a children’s menu in its restaurant, but also a menu for teens. Among its “kid-friendly” amenities were a game room and goodie bags for kids when they check in. They even had a kids pool. But that didn’t make it any easier to escape the stares of the other guests — the ones that said, “You brought your kids here?”
Is there anything for children?
It’s a fact that finding things to do with kids in Maui, an island with a well-deserved reputation for being exclusive and expensive, isn’t always easy. Even the attractions you’d assume would appeal to the little ones aren’t really ideal for children, especially very young ones.
(For example, don’t even think of taking your toddler to the waterfalls at the lower Kīpahulu entrance of Haleakala National Park. It requires hiking boots, a good sense of balance, and swimming skills. I almost lost my balance a few times trying to negotiate the slippery rocks.)
But turns out Maui does have a few kid-friendly attractions. The educational Maui Ocean Center, for instance, is well worth a visit with the little ones (and conveniently located near restaurants that serve yummy soft cookies and shave-ice). On our last visit to Maui, we also went horseback riding in the upcountry, and felt right at home and welcome.
But this time we stayed in Lahaina, on the southern side of the island — which is a historic but hopelessly touristy town that reminded us a lot of our hometown, Orlando — surrounded by honeymooners and newly disembarked cruise ship passengers in search of souvenirs. Not a person under 21 to be seen, save our children. We probably should have known better than to take them into an art gallery (and shouldn’t have been surprised when its owner scolded our son for being too loud).
The tepid welcome continued as we walked through town. Some merchants on Maui are crystal clear about their preferences: they have signs outside their stores warning parents to attend to their children or (the more lighthearted version) promising to present unsupervised kids with “an espresso and a kitten.”
Just as we were about to give up on Maui and spend the balance of our visit doing homeschool lessons and visiting the pool at our vacation rental, we heard about the Keiki Halloween Parade. The Hawaiian word for child is keiki, and at first we could hardly believe there were enough kids on Maui to hold an event like this.
But, boy were we wrong!
Suddenly, downtown Lahaina was overrun by kids in Halloween costumes — and some of the same eagle-eyed merchants who held a kitty and a cup of coffee at the ready were offering them candy. Our kids marched right alongside them, never hesitating to climb up on stage to receive a bag of candy from Maui’s mayor. (Hey, it’s free candy, right?)
Had we not seen the keiki parade with our own eyes, and been part of it, we would never have believed Maui could be so child friendly.
But once you get past the tourist traps and dodge a honeymooner or two, this place really loves kids.