Mention Ka’anapali Beach to my teenagers and a smile immediately comes to their faces. In its simplest terms, this stretch of Maui is a happy place for traveling families. Its sand, sun and warm surf are all popular with swimmers and friendly sea turtles. A family could easily spend days along Ka’anapali Beach, either without a set plan or packed chock-full of activities from sunup to sundown. My advice? Shoot for a balance of both, knowing that when it’s time to leave, you’ll be plotting how soon you can come back.
Maui and Ka’anapali Beach are famous for a select group of faithful visitors: humpback whales. Whale watching tours run during whale season, approximately December through May. (Whales don’t pay much attention to the calendar, so if you’re visiting a bit before or after those times, be sure to check if boats are running.) Some leave from the marina in Lahaina, but Trilogy offers tours that depart directly from Ka’anapali Beach.
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When whale season is not in full force, the beach comes alive with other family-friendly activities like parasailing. UFO Parasail (located in front of Whalers Village under a green umbrella) flies May 16 through December 14. Parasailors don’t need any skill — the captain and one-person crew will fit you securely into your harness, and up, up and away you’ll go. Once airborne, the view is memory-making and the silence is thrilling in a way you can’t understand until you experience it. Takeoffs and landings can be completely dry if you like, but splashing around a bit is much more fun.
Participants must be at least 3 years old. Those who want to fly alone must weigh at least 160 pounds, but family-friendly tandem and triple flights are also available.
A luau is one of those vacation activities many families consider but sometimes hesitate to book. They can be expensive and can wind up feeling very touristy instead of authentic. Drums of the Pacific Luau is an exception, performing songs, chants and dances from Hawaii and neighboring Polynesian Islands. Kids of all ages are encouraged to come onstage and learn to hula, but the highlight for most are the blazing blades of the Samoan Fire Knife Dance — something everyone will be talking about long after the trip.
The dinner buffet includes an open bar and features traditional island dishes and desserts, including ahi poke, Molokai purple sweet potato, huli huli chicken and creamed taro and leaf with coconut milk. And, perhaps best of all, it takes place at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, which is walkable even for those staying at the opposite end of Ka’anapali Beach.
If your kids are night owls, consider heading to the Hyatt Regency rooftop for a Tour of the Stars. From planets and stars to galaxies that are far, far away, you’ll see them all. Director of Astronomy Eddie Mahoney has been in love with the sky since he was a kid, and it shows as he maneuvers numerous telescopes like a well-choreographed dance, giving guests glimpses into the outer edges of galaxies thousands of light years away.
As impressive as the skies above Ka’anapali Beach can be, I think the biggest stars are found beneath the warm waves at Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock. Green sea turtles, known as honu, are plentiful at Black Rock, making it a favorite snorkeling spot for visitors and locals alike. There’s no getting on a boat; just drop your towel in the sand, put on your snorkeling gear and walk into the water.
When visiting Ka’anapali Beach, it’s fun and easy to simply stay put. That said, the resort’s location makes day trips scenic and straightforward. My teenage daughter got up with the sun one morning to head with me to Makena Landing for mermaid swim lessons with Hawaii Mermaid Adventures. As expected, she was a natural once fitted with her shiny tail.
Another highlight was a morning of snorkeling at Molokini Crater with Trilogy, which included an unexpected humpback whale visit. (Remember what I said earlier about whales not paying attention to calendars?) The boat departs from Ma’alaea Harbor right next door to the Maui Ocean Center, The Aquarium of Hawaii, where families can learn even more about Hawaii’s marine life.
Accommodations are plentiful along Ka’anapali Beach, and with a variety of top-notch amenities, it’s easy to get spoiled. Ka’anapali Alii offers one- and two-bedroom luxury condos with gourmet kitchens, laundry rooms and a fabulous amount of space for families to spread out and be comfortable. The oceanfront pools are just steps from the sand. Kids can swim while parents work on dinner and get cooking tips from the Alii grill master who mans the resort’s popular oceanfront gas barbecue grills at dinnertime. If eating out sounds like a better plan, it’s a quick and easy walk to dining and shopping at Whalers Village.
The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa wins the prize for best turtle access. It’s located next to and atop Black Rock, so quality turtle time —in between dips in the pool and lawn games — doesn’t get any easier.
With all the exotic appeal of a foreign locale and none of the hassle, Hawaii is a match made in heaven for kids >
Editor’s Note: Dana’s trip was sponsored by the Ka’anapali Beach Resort Association. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
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