Drive up Maui’s 52-mile-long Road to Hana, and you’ll pass dozens of waterfalls amidst a vine-strewn jungle. Then come back down to Maui’s drier western side, and laze on famed golden beaches, snorkel in the crystal-clear Pacific and visit kid-friendly attractions such as the Maui Ocean Center. But watch out — Hawaiian travel can be downright addictive. “I think everyone falls in love with the scenery and the aloha spirit,” says travel writer Sheila Beal, editor of GoVisitHawaii.com.
If you’ve thought about family travel to Maui, now’s the time to go. The island’s a bargain — even during the summer high season — because of a downturn in mainland visitors. Here are our tips and tricks, along with cost-cutting ideas from other experienced travelers.
Fly for less
Look for nonstop flights on off-peak days (usually midweek) or out of neighboring airports, such as Portland or Vancouver, B.C. Web calendars for carriers such as Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines show how much you’ll save by flying on a Wednesday versus a Sunday, and can help you avoid high-traffic weeks or weekends. At press time, round-trip tickets could be had for as low as $300–$400.
Or use frequent-flier miles to knock down fares, as Seattle’s Pinsoneault family did. The Pinsoneaults accrued Alaska Airlines miles through flights and the Alaska Airlines Visa, and then used those miles to pay for three free tickets.
Drive for less
On our last trip, we rented a car for a mere $15 per day by booking it through Priceline.com. But before you bid, find out what other travelers are getting on the consumer website Bidding for Travel, and follow the site’s bidding instructions.
Sleep for less
Smart families rent condos or kitchen-equipped hotel rooms. “We always stay in a condo and cook. Kids just don’t want to be dragged to restaurants all that often,” says Tricia Schroth of Kirkland, who has visited Maui yearly since her children were born (they’re 7 and 9 now). You’ll benefit from privacy, bathrooms, washer/driers and a full kitchen.
This summer, many Maui hotel and condo properties offer free-night stays, coupons for groceries, and extras such as beach chairs, sand toys and water equipment for the kids. Stay open-minded regarding your location. “I’ve found most of the deals being concentrated around Lahaina, Kaanapali and around Kihei,” Beal says. She suggests using sites like vrbo.com for finding independently owned condos. Alternately, bid through Priceline. “If you want 4- or 5-star in Wailea, you’ll stay on the beach for a fraction of the price,” Schroth says. Her family scored a 4-star resort for just $89 per night.
Eat for less
No matter how you slice it, island food costs more. Pick up groceries right by the Kahului airport, using your Costco membership card; Beal suggests obtaining discount-rich loyalty cards for Safeway or Foodland. Look in newspaper circulars for in-season, island-grown produce or other specials. Lunchtime offers the best dining deals for families.
“Mixed plate” lunches provide an authentic island meal, usually a kid-friendly mix of meat, rice and macaroni salad. Beal recommends Da Kitchen and Aloha Mixed Plate. We liked Okazuya & Deli Honokawai (3600-D Lower Honoapiilani Road, #R, Lahaina), located across the street from a great little playground.
Play for less
Sup by sunset. “The beaches are practically deserted at sunset, so when you have a sunset picnic it can feel like being on your own private beach,” Beal says. Favorite Maui beaches include Kaanapali, Wailea and our favorite — the palm-fringed Kapalua.
On a mountaintop, that is. Head for the 10,000-foot-high dormant volcano Haleakala, where you can welcome sunrise. The whole family will already be up by 5 a.m. because of the time-zone difference, so why not? And with the right planning (and gear), you can camp overnight in the Haleakala National Park.
Meet Hawaii’s official animal, the Humuhumu-nukunuku-apua’ (trigger fish). Maui is known for accessible, spectacular snorkeling. Rent your gear by the week and ask for kid-friendly snorkel spots at a local dive shop, like Snorkel Bob’s. Beal suggests using an organized tour, such as Trilogy, which also provides lessons and food. “I think you get a better experience if you go on a smaller snorkeling tour versus the big boats,” Beal says.
Look for the low-key
See kids perform kahiko (ancient hula) and ‘auana (modern hula) at the Lahaina Cannery Mall (lahainacannerymall.com) on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. Kids love the show’s big drums and small feet. Watch wave-riders. Schroth suggests grabbing tacos at the Paia Fish Market, then sitting on the grassy hill by Ho’okipa and watching the big-wave surfers and windsurfers. Coupons and cards. Look for dining, activity and shopping coupons at sites such as eCouponsHawaii.com. The truly ambitious might look into the Go Maui Card, which covers sailing and snorkeling tours, surfboard rentals and attractions such as the Maui Ocean Center, a Hawaiian aquarium. But the card only pays for itself if you fit many expensive activities into a few days.
To market, to market
Try exotic and affordable produce offered at roadside stands and local markets in Honokawai, Kihei, Makawao and Kahului (visit maui.com). At the Maui Swap Meet, sample jackfruit or buy an inexpensive, handmade souvenir.
Lora Shinn is a freelance writer and photographer.