Mention Ka’anapali Beach to my daughters 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 both Teralani and Trilogy offer tours that depart directly from Ka’anapali Beach.
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. Parasailers 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 5 years old. Those who want to fly alone must weigh at least 160 pounds, but family-friendly tandem and triple flights are also available. To allow for social distancing, boats carry a maximum of six passengers at a time.
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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 a fun exception, performing songs, chants and dances from Hawaii and neighboring Polynesian Islands. Entertaining visitors for nearly 40 years, the the blazing blades of the Samoan Fire Knife Dance are a highlight for most — something everyone in the family will be talking about long after the trip.
The three-course dinner, with the likes of kalua pork, huli huli chicken, and ahi poke, is plated and delivered to each table. Every party has their own table; tables are distanced six feet apart to maintain social distancing.
The luau 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. For parents on the fence about booking a luau, the Hyatt Regency offers a “Luau From Your Lanai” experience where you can watch the performance from the lanai in your guestroom. Dinner, cocktails, traditional Hawaiian leis and an LED fire knife stick, are delivered via room service, making it a great option for parents with young children who might not make it through an entire performance.
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.
The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali
Fresh off a $100 million transformation, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali offers a one-of-a kind experience with six pools overlooking the beach. Long known for its amazing water world, the property upped its game again by adding a keiki splash zone and an adults-only pool with an infinity edge that offers views of the ocean.
The resort has 770 rooms spread throughout 12 acres; rooms in the newly-redesigned Hōkūpaʻa (the Hawaiian name for the North Star) Tower have a modern nautical vibe and come with access to the Lanai lounge. Along with an assortment of cultural activities like ukulele lessons and lei po’o making, the Lanai serves a complimentary light breakfast.
Ka’anapali Beach Hotel
A huge transformation has also taken place at nearby Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. A majority of its rooms have been modernized, with special care to keep an authentic sense of Hawaiian culture. (Fans of the property’s traditional rooms need not worry — they are still available to book; there are just fewer of them.)
Two new restaurants make it even easier never to leave the property. Beachfront Huihui (“star constellation” or “to join, intermingle, mix” in Hawaiian) serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, while new poolside grill Welowelo (“shooting star” in Hawaiian) offers a casual option for lunch or an early dinner.
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 resident grill masters who man 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.
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa wins the prize for best turtle access. It’s located next to and atop Black Rock, or Pu’u Keka’a, so quality turtle time — in between dips in the pool and lawn games — doesn’t get any easier. The Sheraton is also home to the Ka’anapali Beach Resort’s one and only lobby bar. And it’s incredibly family-friendly. The evening menu of appetizers, called pupus in Hawaiian, make for casual family dinner at The Sandbar. For picky eaters not easily excited by Hawaiian favorites like Maui ceviche and poisson cru, there are pizza-style flatbreads and Shaka French fries. Pretty much every chair comes with a great view of the sunset and the nightly Pu’u Keka’a cliff diving show.
Editor’s Note: For review purposes, Dana received media packages from some of the properties mentioned. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann except where noted.
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