Toddlers and Maui? Such bundles of energy and emotions don’t seem to mix with the romantic destination, but don’t think that for one minute: Maui is a perfect place to let a toddler’s natural curiosity out! With warm water to swim in, tropical fruit to taste, plenty of fishies to see and lots of new things to try, there are so many things that the under 5 set will love. The right place and the right pace is key. We scouted out some of the best things to do in Maui for you and your keiki (child)– so you can feel like you’re actually on a tropical vacation, and make sure everyone has fun. Read on for more!
Photo: Hawaiian Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson
Maui Ocean Center
What little kid doesn’t want to see colorful fish and turtles? Bring them to the Maui Ocean Center for a whole day of fun (and maybe some learning, too)! In the various encounters you’ll see neon fish, sharks, glow-in-the-dark coral, starfish, jellyfish, and more! A special exhibit brings the world of undersea mammals to life, and the open air touch tank provides an opportunity for gentle hands to feel spiky purple urchins and pokey orange starfish.
Get your kiddo their own Keiki Passport so they can hunt for petroglyph rubbings to color in, scattered all around the space. Be sure to stick around for a few demonstrations and talks like the Turtles, where you’ll learn what a turtle eats (seaweed and lettuce!) and fun facts, like that they can live to 50 years! Or the shark tank, where you’ll watch a scuba diver descend into the tank and talk to you through the water while a hammerhead swims by. Don’t miss a walk through the undersea tunnel where a giant rays might glide right above you!
To finish the day off, grab a Dole Whip for the perfect treat, on the menu at the Reef Cafe Plaza. Or if you’re ready for lunch or dinner stop by the Seascape Restaurant for a meal with a view.
photo: Katrina Emery
This tropical paradise is full of fun stuff to see and do! Beautiful gardens, shops, an ice cream cafe, a duck pond and even a zip line for older adventurers, you’ll find something for everyone. Toddlers will love the 45 minutes tram tour (choo choo!) that tours the plantation fruit and plants, like Ti leaves traditionally used to make hula skirts. They’ll also see a pineapple patch, coconut trees, mangoes, papaya, coffee, and bananas! Little ones will love seeing their favorite fruits “in the wild” and they’ll be able to gobble them up (because you know they’ll be asking) right afterward with the complimentary fruit cup at the end.
You’ll also see a fun coconut husking demonstration at the Tiki Hut, where kids can get a front row seat to the action, and can touch the husks and coconut meat afterward.
Back at the garden, adults can stop by the Mill Coffee House for 100% Hawaiian small batch coffee, or everyone can enjoy lunch in their award-winning cafe (try the chicken bao buns). Toddlers will love to wobble or run around the beautiful gardens and feed the ducks in the pond. Near the front entrance/exit, check out the farmer’s market stand for fresh produce and other items. Be sure to grab a pineapple for the road before you go!
photo: Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa
Drums of the Pacific Luau
You can’t head to Hawaii without seeing a Luau! Starting with a fresh lei when you first arrive, the performers and servers at the Hyatt Luau aim to make sure your night is a wonderful one. The bar is open, the music flows, the drums beat, and when it’s dark, the stars come out.
Both men and women dance in a variety of beautiful styles from around the South Pacific– you’ll see a haka from New Zealand, a beautiful love story from Tahiti, and plenty of hulas from right there in Hawai’i. Along the way you’ll learn some of the myths, values, and dance moves of the cultures. Kids (and adults) will even get the chance to get up on stage and learn some hula moves themselves– perfect for little spotlight-lovers!
Adventurous parents and kids can try the range of foods on the buffet like traditional fermented poi, but there’s always a full tray of chicken fingers, ketchup, and spaghetti as a fall-back. The performance stretches until a little past sunset, which can be tricky for sleepy little ones, but just plan naps accordingly and the fire dancers will take care of the rest. After all the excitement, they’ll sleep well that night!
Note that kids under 5 are absolutely free, so it might be worth it to spring for the VIP tickets– you’ll be much closer to the front and will be able to see the action better as well as eat sooner. Just be warned: your child might insist on becoming a fire dancer after this show!
photo: Hawaiian Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson
Take a walk around this historic whaling village for a chance to peek into Hawaii’s past! Stroll down Front Street for fascinating museums, whaling history, art galleries, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Kids will especially enjoy the giant Banyan tree in the park: an Indian species planted in 1873, the banyan tree grows by putting down new trunks as it spreads. It’s currently stretching 200 feet long with 16 trunks in the ground!
The popular town is a hot spot for many boat tours, including seasonal whaling tours, and offers great oceanside dining (reservations recommended for most places). But perhaps the best part of the day is the chance to visit to Ululani’s shave ice, full of colorful flavors that kids can choose from. They’ll probably go for Pink Bubble Gum or a rainbow mix, but adventurous adults can try Lychee, Matcha Green Tea, Pickled Mango, or even Tiger’s Blood. Don’t skip the Snow Cap– it’s a sweetened condensed milk mixture that’s poured over the top, adding a perfect creamy touch.
photo: Katrina Emery
Kapalua Coastal Trail
This short trail on the Kapalua coast is a perfect place to wander. The trail stretches from Kapalua Bay 1.9 miles up to DT Fleming Beach park, but the prettiest parts are in the first section. You’ll stroll through a wildlife sanctuary perfect for little eyes to spot birds, then walk past the cliffs at Oneloa Bay where turtles are often seen below!
Walking toddlers will love to explore the path, though you might want to bring a carrier for the very young, and watch tiny feet on the volcanic rocks section–so sharp! Break up the hike into any section, and end with a splash in the ocean or picnic on the beach. There’s not much shade, but the trail is not strenuous, as it’s mostly flat and goes over sidewalks and boardwalks. Access the trail at Kapalua Bay, Oneloa Bay, The Ritz-Carlton, or D.T. Fleming Beach Park.
photo: Hawaiian Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson
Iao Valley State Park
This gorgeous valley was a holy place for ancient Hawaiians, used as a burial site for royalty for centuries. It’s easily accessible, which makes it great for kids– the “hikes” are very short and sweet with plenty of views. You can walk up to take a peek at the namesake Iao Needle, a lush green point reaching into the clouds. Kids will especially love the big bridge, and exploring the forest and streams below. The valley is only about 15 minutes away from Kahului airport and doesn’t take long to see, so it makes a great stop on your first or last day.
$5 parking fee/car
photo: Katrina Emery
Napili Kai Beach Resort
This relaxed, family friendly resort is a long-standing jewel on the coast of Kaanapali. The lush grounds are beautifully landscaped with a few simple pools, and a small putting green in the middle (on Wednesdays the green hosts a Mai Tai Cocktail night!). The 163 rooms all come with kitchenettes (making snacktime and the nightly glass of milk a piece of cake for the young ones), and many can be joined together to make up to a 3 bedroom suite for traveling families.
The best part of any beach stay, though, is of course the beach. Easily accessible from all rooms, the bay here is a special spot, protected from any intense waves, making it easy to play and swim in the water. Another treat is the reef in the bay: rent a stand-up paddle board and give the little ones a ride to glimpse the fish and coral. Or if they’re too skittish, parents can borrow snorkel gear while the kids build a sandcastle empire (or just one really big pile, let’s be honest).
Extra services are aimed at making your vacation a great one: kids eat free in their award-winning beachside restaurant, and they offer daily cultural demonstrations like lei-making, and snacks like fresh pineapple. The concierge can arrange a beach photo session for the family, and on Tuesdays you can catch the free keiki (children) hula show, every week. Your little one might learn some moves they can show off all week long! The resort is also taking an environmental stand: they’re one of the first on the island to switch to paper straws, and they also offer and educate guests about using reef-safe sunscreen.
photo: Grand Wailea
Grand Wailea Resort
Get lost in the beauty! Your toddler might ignore the impeccable grounds and beautiful artwork, but they will love the friendly staff, flowers, fish ponds and many paths to explore. The winners are the pools and nearby beach, with more than enough water and sand for days of fun. It’s a breeze to pop back to your room for naptime while you enjoy the view from your balcony, then head back out for more pool splashing. The pool system includes a Baby Beach, perfect for little ones who want splash and dig without the worry of waves. A lazy river offers lots of places for mom or dad and babe to explore, a few smaller slides can be found that braver toddlers might try with help.
There are plenty of amenities that will take your stay to the next level: Rent a poolside cabana for a shaded place to relax when you need a break from splashing. The onsite shops mean even if you forget a phone charger, you’re all set, and there are several beautiful restaurants and cafes to choose from. If you can convince your travel partner to occupy the kids at the beach, slip away for provided activities like beach yoga, botanical and cultural tours, golf, or some spa time.
Aloha and MahaloWith nonstop flights from 13 cities across the mainland U.S., Maui offers a unique family destination full of fun and new experiences. Older kids and adults will find plenty of distractions, and while your toddler may only talk about that one turtle they saw all.week.long, you’ll know they absorbed a wonderful experience that will create lifelong explorers (be sure to leave some room in your suitcase for that stuffed turtle, though).
Check out Go Hawaii: Maui for more info as you get ready to say Aloha to Maui!
Note: This trip was subsidized by the Maui Visitors Bureau, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer