Maui, Hawaii, May 22, 2014
While the ideal of a perfect vacation experience may be elusive, Maui is a perennial favorite among those who find themselves captivated after a first visit. From then on, Maui becomes a love affair whenever the Aloha Spirit beckons.
Even if you only have a week’s vacation, you can experience some of the best that this tropical island paradise has to offer: an abundance of fun, food and attractions.
If you plan on seeing much of Maui, then you almost certainly need a rental car. Budget Rental Car is located a short shuttle ride away from Kahului Airport and has an expedited fast break counter if you are a member.
Where to stay:
Driving about an hour will bring you to the Napili Kai Beach Resort in Lahaina– a laid back, low rise, piece of old Hawaii right on Napili Bay. You are only steps away from the water where you can swim with the sea turtles directly off their brown sand, crescent-shaped beach.
At night, the sound of the waves lapping the shore will lull you fast to sleep, refreshed for some grand activities.
Make an advanced reservation for the Alii Nui half-day snorkel adventure. This is arguably one of the most popular activities in Maui with options ranging from whale watching, romantic sunset cruises and snorkeling. The half day snorkel sail visits two locations, one of which is the popular volcanic crater of Molokini. Alii Nui offers free hotel transportation to Maalaea Harbor, the windiest in the U.S., where you board their custom 65-foot catamaran. A full hearty breakfast, lunch and libations are included in the price of $165 per person.
Molokini is known for its clear waters and abundance of tropical fish, including yellow tangs, black durgons, butterfly fish, needle nose gars, parrot fish, eels, and blacktip reef sharks.
Upon returning, around 3 pm, take a nap, lounge by the various pools or take a dip in the bay. For dinner, enjoy award-winning cuisine on-site at Napili Kai’s Sea House restaurant as you watch the sun set on the horizon.
Twice weekly, the property hosts the Slack Key Concert series featuring the masters of Hawaiian slack key guitar. This is an old style method of playing guitar that is re-gaining much of its earlier popularity. ($39.99 per person plus tax).
Have breakfast at the Sea House, voted the best on the island in 2011 by readers of Maui No Ka Oi magazine (Maui’s premier lifestyle publication). Afterwards, spend some leisure time on the beach or rent snorkel gear and check out the local aquatic life, keeping an eye out for the sea turtles found in abundance here.
Check out of Napili Kai and head to your next destination, The Westin Maui Resort, also in Lahaina on Kaanapali Beach. The Westin is a visually striking property with part of the original construction resembling a wave. The blue Pacific is as your doorstep with winding paths that traverse five pools, waterfalls concealing hidden grottos; lush green landscaping that includes palm trees and hibiscus flowers, and local wildlife like parrots, pink flamingos and even a not-so-shy black swan named Newman.
Other amenities include a spa, workout center and full complement of water activities such as snorkeling, parasailing, stand up paddle boarding, and sunset cruises.
For lunch, keep your swimsuit on and stroll over to their Relish Bistro Burger where you can choose from a variety of tropical drinks and appetizers, but for your main course, have a signature Kobe beef burger–the envy of burgers everywhere.
For your evening’s entertainment, take the Westin’s free hourly shuttle to nearby Lahaina Town. Once the historic capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom and a whaling ship harbor, Lahaina is now lined with historic sites, restaurants, retail shops, and art galleries along Front Street. At the southern end of the street is a 114 year-old treasure in the form of a huge banyan tree with roots shooting to the ground across an entire block. This is the oldest such tree in the United States and provides the perfect canopy for a lovely picnic.
You can have a cheeseburger in paradise, sip a Mai Tai or design your own shave ice at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, rated #1 by adoring TripAdvisor fans. The secret to the success of this little shop seems to be a combination of pillow-like ice, homemade pure cane tropical syrups (They say their mango tastes more authentic than the actual fruit.), and little vents in the ice that allow for the saturation of the entire confection.
After a fun-filled evening, head back to the Westin to enjoy a heavenly rest on their signature Heavenly Bed®.
Morning coffee is available in the rooms or downstairs where you can grab breakfast at several spots or take a walk along the boardwalk, which extends in both directions from the property alongside the ocean, and choose from restaurants along the path.
As Maui works its magic, you will find yourself feeling more relaxed with each passing day. Perhaps it is the gentle trade winds that can soothe furrowed brows? Whatever the reason, you can reserve a beachfront cabana and snorkel gear and enjoy the morning in front of the ocean. During whale season, you can see these mammals breaching and putting on quite a spectacular show. You can also snorkel right off the beach amongst colorful tropical fish.
As lunchtime approaches, take a short walk along the boardwalk to the Hula Grill. With bar (sand on the floor) and dining room seating, you can enjoy fresh air, great views and guitar music.
The food at Hula Grill is quite good and wait times for open tables are the norm. Start off with appetizers (pupus) such as the tasty crab and macadamia nut wontons and move on to the entrée. Their fresh fish tacos with cilantro jalapeno aioli and salsa are particularly good ($17.95).
Save room for one of their desserts like baked Hawaii or a homemade ice cream sandwich with ganache and raspberry sauce (More than enough for two–$8.00) and reserve time in the afternoon for pampering in the Westin’s Heavenly Spa®. Start with a steam sauna and whirlpool bath followed by an individual or couple’s massage—just the thing to reduce you to a stress free bowl of jelly.
You might want to take a nap after all of this indulgence but then there’s dinner to start thinking about. Make sure you have reservations and drive over to another nearby Westin property, the Ocean Resort Villas, to dine at the Pulehu Italian Grill.
If you arrive at sunset, watch the torch lighting ceremony from your table while enjoying their award winning Molokai sweet potato gnocchi and a glass of wine. Entrees include local fish and signature dishes made with fresh, natural ingredients.
If you will be traveling with family, the Ocean Front Villas are a nice alternative to a hotel. One and two bedroom villas sleep up to four adults and include full kitchens, high-definition televisions and washers and dryers. The villas also have three restaurants, a pirate ship pool for the kiddies, 2 general stores, and even DVD rentals. Prices start at about $250 per night.
Spend the day lounging at the resort and pool and try out the 270-foot slide, which appears to be more popular with adults than children. Swim through waterfalls with hidden grottos, including one that is equipped with whirlpool jets. You can also schedule any number of water activities for the day. Stand up paddle boarding is quite popular and lessons are available to keep you mostly upright rather than in the ocean.
For the evening, you are going to want to make reservations for the Old Lahaina Luau, a continual winner of the Maui News’ “Best of” reader’s survey. Providing an authentic taste of old Hawaii, this luau is a not-to-be-missed experience in Lahaina and features traditional dancing, music and mouth-watering cuisine like roasted pork, mahi-mahi, marinated chicken with guava sauce, and assorted desserts such as lilikoi mousse. Prices are $95 for adults and $65 for children plus tax.
After breakfast, check out and head to Kihei along Maui’s southern coast. Kihei has some of the driest and sunniest weather on the island with 6 miles of soft sand beaches. Ranked #1 on TripAdvisor, The Maui Coast Hotel is an affordable place to stay with friendly staff, personalized service and a host of amenities that are included for the resort fee of $17.50 per day.
After checking in, spend the morning exploring the beach and the nearby town of Wailea. On your way back, stop in at S&Q’s Coffee and Shave Ice Shack just down the street from the hotel and try the ice with POG (papaya, orange and guava), dragon’s blood (not real dragon’s blood) and ice cream on the bottom.
In the afternoon, head towards Maui’s upcountry for three attractions you will love. The first is to O’o Farm for a fun and tasty farm to table experience. This can be a little difficult to find so bring a map or use your GPS.
Started as a proprietary source for the owners of Pacific’O Restaurant in Maui, O’o Farm began by promoting agritourism and offering a full lunch prepared by their farm chef using locally grown fruits, vegetables and edible flowers. These tours have become wildly popular and sell out quickly.
One of the crops of the farm is coffee and their on-site barista provides fascinating commentary on how the beans are grown, processed and turned into a rich, smooth cup of joe. In May 2014, O’o Farm will start offering a “crop to cappuccino” add-on tour featuring cupping (coffee tasting). (Price $58. Call 808-667-4341 for reservations and ask about the new coffee add-on.)
Just up the road from O’o Farm and located on the slopes of Haleakala Crater is Ali`i Kula Lavender Farm. With more than 45 varieties of lavender, a fragrant haven awaits you on one of their guided walking tours. Afterwards, stop into the gift shop to peruse their selection of products made with this essential plant oil. (Tours run from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm and cost $12 per person or $10 with an advance reservation).
For the perfect romantic end to your evening, drive up to the summit of Haleakala to watch the sunset, and for dinner, try the Kula Lodge & Restaurant on the western edge of the volcano. At 3,200 feet, enjoy the cool mountain air and the twinkling town lights below.
Take a 15-minute walk along the ocean and residential areas to the Kihea Café, a popular breakfast spot with locals with reasonable prices and huge portions. You probably won’t be hungry until dinner.
Check out in the early afternoon and drive to the North Shore town of Paia and explore their small boutiques, art galleries and coffee houses before completing your Maui experience at one of the most popular restaurants on the island—Mama’s Fish House.
Rated #2 in the United States by Open Table, Mama’s was Maui’s first fresh fish house and is a dining must in the spirit of Old Polynesia. From their signature cocktails to their pan seared opah with Maui onion, Haiku tomato and Black Forbidden Rice to their work of art desserts like Polynesian Black Pearl (chocolate mousse and lilikoi cream in a pastry seashell), your visit to Mama’s will be a truly memorable culinary experience.
If you have time to add another day or two, continue your stay at Mama’s Inn. Charming studios, cottages and lavishly decorated suites with all the amenities you may want or need are available starting at $175 per night for a studio.
As you watch the sunset from Mama’s or nearby Ho’okipa Beach Park, you will understand why Maui attracts so many repeat visitors. From the friendliness of its people to its blue waters, gorgeous beaches and many attractions, you may find yourself planning your next trip even before you get to the airport.
Alii Nui Snorkel & Sailing Adventure
Slack Key Concert
Old Lahaina Luau
O’o Farm & Luncheon Tour
Ali`i Kula Lavender Farm
Organic Ocean Vodka Distillery Farm
Mama’s Fish House
Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau