Maui with kids is unmitigated magic

It’s no secret that Maui, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Maui is a honeymooners’ dream and perfect for couples, but it is also a family-friendly paradise once you get there.

That said, it’s also multiple long flights away from most of the US – and if the idea of long-haul flights with little ones doesn’t thrill you, you’re not alone.

Still, we braved those long flights not once but twice with our lucky little Xage. They traveled to Maui with us at 18 months of age, and again when they were five years old.

Both trips were magical for our family and, although Xage may not remember much of Maui, they do love looking at our photos, videos and memory albums. I like to think that someday we’ll return to that incredible island – and we know for sure we’re heading back to a different Hawaiian island this summer.

So how did we make those trips to Maui work with a little one, including those l-o-n-g flights? And what were some of the fun, kid-friendly things we did in Maui? Read on for all our best tips and tricks!

Long flights with kiddos

I think of my Mommers as the ultimate guru on flying with kids, because she took multiple transatlantic voyages with my brother and I every year on her own, without my Dad. Looking back, I don’t remember hating those flights at all – rather, she made them so fun that I always looked forward to travel. So how did she do it?

My mom always packed a carry-on bag full of stuff for us to do on the plane. Looking back, it was a magic bag because there always seemed to be something new and exciting coming out of it.

And remember, this was the 70s, long before the days of just handing kids a mobile device loaded with apps or movies. Instead, she had toys, small self-contained arts and crafts projects, books and play dough – but the bag’s bounty seemed to be never-ending. It seemed she could always pull out something new and interesting every time we started to get bored.

My brother and I also pioneered the art of getting comfortable on long flights. One of us would always stake out the floor beneath our three seats, stretching out down there with an airplane blanket and pillow so we could sleep away at least a few hours of the flight.

We’ve allowed Xage to do this on several overnight flights (to my husband’s chagrin, because he hates the idea of her sleeping on a dirty floor). Floor-sleeping may not be ideal, but it’s practical and it makes for a more comfortable and peaceful flight for literally everyone.

Obviously, I have continued my Mommers’ brilliant tradition of the magical, bottomless carry-on bag. When Xage was under 8, mine usually contained Crayola Color Wonder magic coloring kits, Melissa & Doug mess-free glitter projects and Wikki Stix.

I still carry Wikki Stix in my bag when we travel now, even though they’re almost 12, along with coloring and art supplies. Another favorite when kiddo was younger was TOOB play figurines themed to our trip – so for Maui, we’d go with the coral reef TOOB. Those little figurines are awesome to play with in a hotel room, in the bath, in the pool, on the beach and basically anywhere.

Be sure to bring your own in-flight snacks! Airplane snack carts don’t come around as often as they used to – nor are they as generous as they once were, because now they want you to buy snacks instead of getting them for free. I usually pack a selection of savory snacks, dried fruit, clementines or oranges, bananas and apple sauce pouches – plus a bag of Haribo gummies thrown in for a special sweet treat. Don’t forget chewing gum for take-offs and landings.

If your airline has the option of watching a live map of the world that shows your flight’s progress, check on that every hour or two with older kiddos to help them learn a little geography and get a sense of how the journey is going.

And when you finally land in beautiful Hawaii with your little one, be sure to splurge on a flower lei to celebrate their first aloha. It’s such a special experience and everyone should have it on their first trip to these magical islands! Keep in in your hotel fridge to help the blooms last a little longer, but your lei will never look as good as it does on that first morning so be sure to snap some pics.

Kid-friendly things to do in Maui

Maui’s natural beauty is so splendid and breath-taking that we always spend the first couple of days doing nothing. We walk around the resort grounds in the mornings collecting beautiful, fragrant blooms that have dropped from the trees overnight. Finding plumeria in creamy white, vibrant pink and yellow are some of our fondest memories of Maui – that scent always takes me back to the island. We used to call Xage the plumeria patrol because we were out there every morning picking up flowers, rain or shine.

Walking on the beach at sunrise (since you’re likely to wake up early due to the time change) is another favorite thing to do in Maui. Sunrise beach walks there are like nothing you’ve ever seen. While Maui doesn’t have a ton of shells, you may find one or two – and there’s always sea glass to be spotted, especially on Lahaina beaches.

The resort pools are another favorite spot. There are usually other kids there and you can often purchase floaties or pool toys – or simply repurpose some of the toys you brought with you into pool toys. Many resorts in Maui have kiddie pools with slides, fountains and more. If your children are anything like mine, it will be hard to convince them to leave the pool!

Kid-friendly beaches, such as baby beach in Lahaina, are another wonderful place to take kids. While the surf off Kaanapali beach can be a bit rough for little ones, you can always find a cove with gentle waters.

For littles who cannot snorkel but want to see Maui’s beautiful undersea life, the Reef Dancer yellow submarine in Lahaina was a fun experience on Xage’s first trip to Maui. Nursing underwater in a yellow submarine while watching out the windows for sea turtles was an unforgettable experience for me personally, even if Xage can’t remember it!

If kiddos are okay with car trips, the road to Hana is an incredible way to spend a day. Stop often for banana bread or fruit smoothies as well as incredible ocean, jungle and waterfall views. The road is extremely steep, twisty and turny, and there can be a lot of traffic unless you start out super early. This particular Maui adventure is not for kiddos (or adults) with a tendency for motion sickness.

Great for older kids

Maui’s Haleakala is one of our favorite national parks – and watching the sun rise from the top is unforgettable – but the pre-dawn drive to the summit is long, dark, steep and extremely twisty. It was not a favorite for our niece when we made the trip with her as a toddler – and I know Xage would not have been a fan, either. We did not do this trip with Xage on either of their visits to Maui.

If you’ve got an older child who is a strong swimmer, snorkeling in Maui is an amazing experience that I highly recommend! Practice with the snorkel in your bathtub before the trip so kiddo has good basic skills and knows how to blow out water if any gets in the tube. Snorkeling at Black Rock on Kaanapali with our five year old was an experience I will never forget. Xage got to see their first sea turtle in the wild, along with dozens of colorful fish.

Luaus are fascinating and fun for older kids, but perhaps not for younger kids as the fire dancing and chanting/ yelling could be frightening. Instead, watch for a hula dance demonstration at your hotel or resort, or at a public space like the malls. Little Xage loved watching and learning hula dancing, and they really enjoyed meeting and taking photos with the beautiful native dancers after each performance.

There are many published lists of other things to do in Maui with kids. The island is a kids haven! If you go, take tons of photos and consider hiring a professional photographer to capture your family in paradise. We did on both of our trips and it was money well spent.

If you’ve been to Maui with kids, what did I miss? As always, I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below or over on Facebook or Instagram.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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