My family of four – my wife, son (14), daughter (11) and I – went to Maui from August 21-28. My wife and I went to Maui and Kauai in 1995 for our honeymoon – and we thought our kids were old enough to appreciate its beauty. Well, they were old enough, and we enjoyed the best family vacation we ever took. I will share some of the details, although it is impossible to share the beauty without being there. We can “ooh” and “ah” at photos of Maui, but you cannot truly appreciate the geographic or societal beauty unless you are actually there.
We flew American Airlines from LGA to OGG. When we booked in January, most round-trip flights were $700-800 per person. We spent $2500 on four tickets. We flew from LGA to DFW, DFW to HNL and then Hawaiian Air from HNL to OGG. On the return, we flew OGG to LAX, LAX to DFW and DFW to LGA. My family would not have appreciated a direct, non-stop flight. We needed to break up the segments. That said, if I had to do it again, I would try for two legs only – with an LAX stop.
We reserved a full-sized vehicle through Enterprise. We received a Chevy Impala and spent $238 for seven days. After getting luggage, we walked two minutes to the rental car area outside and took a quick shuttle over to the off-site Enterprise building. It took all of three minutes to process the reservation and we were off. On return, it took about a minute to drop off the car and get on the shuttle back to the terminal. Car handled quite well. Took it up Haleakala – no problems. I’d heartily recommend Enterprise for price and customer service.
We rented a condo through VRBO. Based on the reviews, we knew we wanted to stay at Honua Kai. My wife and I spent an inordinate amount of time researching the various units. For the end of August, rates ranged from $200-$600 per night depending on whether one sought a studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom. The winner was – Konea 206. This unit is advertised as a one-bedroom with a den, but has been converted into a two-bedroom since the “den” has a queen-sized bed, door, closet, tv, etc… We were less interested in the lanai view and more interested in a place that could comfortably fit the family without forcing the kids to sleep in the same bed. Well, Konea 206 was PERFECT. We spent about $2100 for seven nights, which included the cleaning fee. The unit is immaculate. The booking process with the owner was seamless. Kaanapali Beach Rentals provided SUPERB customer service prior to and during our stay. If you Google Konea 206, you’ll see photos and get a list of amenities. We would absolutely return to this unit – and were quite sad to leave it.
Outside of Konea 206, Honua Kai captured the essence of Maui. It was beautiful. You felt like you were in Maui when you wandered the grounds. That cannot be said of all condo/hotel properties. The property was beautifully maintained. Others have lamented the foul odor emanating from the nearby sewage treatment plant. Well, the winds were blowing from every possible direction during our stay, and we did not notice it very much. My wife said she detected a sulfur odor for a few minutes while on the beach. Whatever it was, it did not affect our trip at all. That is just our perspective and should be weighed with the other feedback.
There were four main pools. Some people have described an “adult pool.” There is no adult pool. The top pool is a quiet pool with signs posted accordingly. We enjoyed this pool with our kids – and ironically – the adults violated the quiet policy more than the kids. The “lazy river” isn’t really a lazy river – it is just a “C” shaped pool with 4-5 feet of water. We ordered food poolside from Duke’s twice – the prices were a little high – but you get that at all poolside restaurants. The food quality was better than the average pool fare.
As others have described, the beach by Honua Kai has excellent snorkeling, but is not by any means a swimming beach. We knew we could venture 5-10 minutes down the beach to Black Rock for better swimming and snorkeling. We were content where we were. The beach is somewhat thin, but how much sand does one really need? The beach was never crowded. It was quiet. The views of Lanai and Molokai were breathtaking. And you could see fish only 10-20 feet from shore. I am not sure the Honua Kai beach is a destination beach, but it should not discourage anyone from staying there.
The location of Honua Kai was perfect. There is a shopping center across the street with a Times Supermarket that had a very good selection of products. Good variety of stores – Tex-Mex, pizza, coffee, shaved ice, BBQ, Snorkel Bob’s, swimwear and more. We were a 10-minute drive to Kahana/Napili/Kapalua, a 5-minute drive to other Kaanapali resorts and Whaler’s Village and a 10-minute drive to Lahaina. It took 45 minutes to get to/from the airport. The drive to the summit of Haleakala took two hours on the nose – without any traffic.
Bottom line – we’d stay at Honua Kai again. No reason to look elsewhere.
We read many of the Trip Advisor reviews before our trip and got a fairly good sense of where we wanted to dine. We didn’t want to patronize any chains that we could eat at back home. I am the only seafood eater in my family, so we had to select places with varied menus.
We had our first and last breakfast at the Sea House at the Napili Kai. I cannot imagine you’d find a better setting or better breakfast food. Our breakfasts cost about $45-50, inclusive of tips. I enjoyed Da Kitchen Sink Fried Rice – jasmine rice, onions, garlic, chorizo, shrimp, chicken, peppers with two eggs on top. Get it – and enjoy! Samples some sweat bread French toast – outstanding! My wife had the Haleakala pancake stuffed with pineapple, nuts and banana. I’d give it a ten.
Why did we go twice? Well, we hoped to try the Gazebo on our second time out, but the line at 9am was about 50 people long. I appreciate its reputation, but no breakfast was worth waiting 45-60 minutes. I am aware we could have ordered “to go” and skipped much of the wait, but I wanted waitress service in case I desired a refill or just wanted something more.
This place is in the Fairway Shopping Center in Kaanapali – about 5 minutes from Honua Kai on the right on Route 30 as you head towards Lahaina. The outstanding reviews are well deserved. There is a varied menu – and everything we tried was excellent. I had the loaded pancakes with banana, pineapple and walnuts. Oh, and coconut syrup! Outstanding! Breakfast for four was about $40. No tropical views, but a great spot for a tasty breakfast.
As many recommend, we stopped at the Kula Lodge on our way back from the Haleakala summit. Million dollar view for sure – food was good – not as good as Sea House or CJ’s. We spent about $60 for breakfast – not cheap – but the view and gardens made it worthwhile – and you will be hungry after the ride up and down!
Located in the Times Supermarket shopping center, my son and I picked up a large cheese pie after the 20-hour voyage to Maui. It was 930pm (read 330am EDT) – and we just wanted comfort food. Pie was $20 and forgettable. Perhaps their shish-kebobs are better, but I would not return for a pie.
HULA GRILL – BAREFOOT BAR
A friend of mine from college and law school happened to be at the Hyatt with his family with a one-day overlap, so we had to meet them for dinner. We ate at the Hule Grill. Made reservations for 5pm and were glad that we did because the place was hopping! Awesome atmosphere. Food was good – not great. One fish sandwich, one burger, one pulled pork sandwich, one kids meal, one beer and three sodas came to $90 with tip. Festive place. Might go there again, but the food is not the attraction here.
At our friend’s recommendation, we went to Kimo’s the next night. Look, it was fine. The food was very good as was the service as was the sunset view. However, it is very pricey for what you get. I am guessing its reputation and location permit it to charge what it does. One snapper entrée, one order of ribs (so so), one sirloin steak (tough to the point of being almost inedible) and one kids meal with a coconut shrimp appy, two drinks and two sodas - $170 with tip. We enjoyed ourselves, but not sure we’d return. Many other places with the million dollar view and tasty food.
DRUMS OF PACIFIC LUAU
We booked because we HAD TO take the kids to a luau and didn’t want to spend $400 at OLL or FLL where the kids would not eat much or see a fire dancer. So, we booked the Hyatt luau for $250 for four. The food was very average. Not bad – but by no means great – probably because they were cooking for 500 people. The show was boring until the fire guy came out and thrilled the audience. Service was ok, except our server made it known he expected a tip. And, due to construction, it was obvious we were in a temporary set up. In 1995, we went to the Royal Lahaina luau and had a nice time. If we were to go to another luau, it would not be at the Hyatt.
ALOHA MIXED PLATE
Standing ovation! One of the best dinners we had! Wow! I know the Mixed Plate gets mixed reviews, but not by my family. I could have dined there every night. We thoroughly enjoyed the coconut shrimp appetizer, a large garden salad with fresh Maui onions (I could have eaten six of those salads), three very flavorful smoothies (forget soda – have a smoothie), an order of wings, one mixed plate (steak, fish, Huli Huli chicken, rice and mac salad), one pulled pork sandwich and teriyaki beef. It came to $82 with tip. Great sunset view. Service was pleasant and attentive. Two thumbs up – way up – for the Mixed Plate!
MAUI BREWING COMPANY
This place wasn’t on our pre-trip radar, but after the Hana tour, we wanted a place that was local and had a varied menu. Good choice. Everything we had was very good. Two beers, two sodas, order of nachos, five sliders, wings and jumbalaya was $100 including tip. My jumabalaya was VERY spicy, but I enjoyed it.
DUKE’S BEACH HOUSE
So, the ironic thing is that I was aware of the great reviews for Duke’s and knew it was right at the Honua Kai, yet I didn’t have a burning desire to have dinner there perhaps because I had spent a lot of time nearby. We decided to eat there on our last night. Turned out to be the best dinner of our trip. We didn’t have reservations (probably should have), so they offered to seat us immediately in the “bar menu” area, which happened to be a front row view for the sunset! I’d choose the bar area over the formal restaurant because of the choice of dinner menus. Best onion soup I’ve ever had. I knew it from the first sip. I had the seafood risotto – also very flavorful. Two onion soups, two alcoholic drinks, two sodas, one ribs/chicken combo, one ribs, one seafood risotto, one chicken quesadilla and two (free) Hula pies - $140. Service was very attentive. They had a musician playing familiar tunes with Hawaiian twists. We were SO glad we dined at Duke’s – it is a can’t miss.
ULULANI’S SHAVED ICE
Ok. How the heck can they turn ice into the texture of ice cream? We knew the Trip Advisor reviews, so we figured we’d go there. Well, we all enjoyed the $10 shaved ice more than the preceding $170 dinner at Kimo’s. Went there twice – to try out different flavors. Nice folks working behind the counter – always ready to strike up a convo while they prepare your shaved ice. Flavors are really authentic. Still don’t know how they create the smooth texture, but sure it made Ululani and her husband some money! Just go there – you won’t regret it. Didn’t even consider going to another shaved ice place.
We drove to the summit on Friday, August 23rd. Left Honua Kai at 235am – arrived at summit at 435pm which included a quick bathroom break at the visitor center. While the rest of my family brought warm clothing, one of us (ahem) wore shorts and a long-sleeved thin tee-shirt. So, like a good tourist, I brought the white down comforter from the room and my daughter called me Marshmallow Man. I have a slight fear of heights, so it was slightly unnerving for me to drive very close to the edge of the road knowing full well while lied below! Aside from that, it wasn’t a bad drive at all. Roads paved nicely. Marked nicely. There were a lot of S-curves, but just use common sense and slow down. It is definitely navigable by experienced drivers – a much easier drive than Hana. The sunrise was surreal. I am not a nature lover (except on Maui), but there is no experience quite like it. The clouds looked like they were on fire just before the sun rose. This is a can-miss experience.
ROAD TO HANA – AND BEYOND
I drove to Hana in 1995. I had no recollection of how I reacted. My wife reminded me that it was white-knuckle driving. That is one of 10,000 reasons why I love my wife! So, we spent $500 for four people to be taken to Hana by Valley Isle Tours. I was skeptical of the cost vs experience. By day’s end, I knew I had spent my money well.
Barry M. was our tour guide. Words cannot express how much he contributed to our experience. He cared so much that we had a great trip – and that meant more than any waterfall. Picked up at HK at 630am and returned there at 530pm. Stopped for breakfast at a golf course by the airport – light continental breakfast with croissants, pastries, POG and coffee. Nothing special. Barry then took us on the Hana Highway. Stopped off for photo ops. He taught us a lot about history, local culture and plant life. He even showed us a plant that when you touch it, it bends back! Stopped at Keanae Peninsula, Waianapapa black sand beach and Oheo. He asked us if we wanted to see the Lindbergh grave – half of the bus was kids – we said no – so he gave us more time to swim. Had lunch at a flower garden. Was fine – baked chicken, salads, soft drinks. Nothing gourmet, but you don’t go on this trip for the food.
What was fascinating to me was the Pi’ilani Highway beyond Hana – the one you aren’t supposed to drive on. Wow! Words cannot describe it. Paying money to be driven was worth it just to see the topography on the south route. It was astonishing. Hardly anyone else around. You went from tropical rain forest to desolate to farm land in an hour. I do not encourage anyone to drive the route themselves, although it is a free country (and Hawaiians cherish their freedoms as much as anyone). Having seen the south route, I can say that Hana would not have been complete just returning the way I came.
I could type another several pages, but this report is too long as it is. We have been fortunate to have taken the kids on many nice vacations – Anguilla (one of my favorites), Grand Cayman, Antigua, etc… One cannot compare a Caribbean vacation with Maui. Trite to say it – but it is paradise. You just forget about your real life and are transported to a new life amidst incredible scenery and beautiful people. If anyone would like further details about any aspect of the trip, feel free to ask.