Practical Travel Tips: Highlights of Maui

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Jim “The Travel Organizer,” who last wrote about The Road to Hana, Maui’s “upcountry“, Hong Kong, Austin, San Antonio, Valley of Moon, California, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Split, Croatia, Krk, Croatia, Koper, Slovenia, Mendocino County, California, Auckland, Oslo, the small German town of Speyer and Deidesheim, Oahu, Napa Valley, Venice, Singapore, Bangkok, Sonoma County and Myrtle Beach, and here are his tips should you decide to visit Maui.

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Maui is my favorite Hawaiian island for many reasons. It offers an incredibly diverse range of things to do – from whale watching (in season) to milking goats (see  “Practical Travel Tips: Upcountry Maui”) to one of the most iconic drives on earth (see “Practical Travel Tips: The Road to Hana”). In this destination report, I’ll cover what I consider to be some of the best experiences Maui has to offer that aren’t covered in the 2 Maui destination reports referred to in the previous sentence.

Whale watching

This is my wife’s favorite activity; as a result, we’ve visited Hawaii 3 of the 4 past years. If you’ve never been on a whale watch before, it helps to understand three things about this unique activity:

  • it’s highly seasonal,
  • there’s no way to predict what you will – or will not – see on any given tour and
  • it’s really difficult to describe the awe these gentle giants inspire.

Therefore, if whale watching is one of your priorities, plan to visit from mid-December to mid-May with peak activity occurring February-March when the shallow waters off Maui are called “whale soup.” Select an operator that offers a voucher good for another tour (on a space available basis) if you don’t spot any whales. With this in mind, book your tour as early during your visit as possible so you can redeem such a voucher if necessary.

Tips: (1) Some companies include a demonstration of a hydrophone so you can hear the whales’ “song;” we found this added to the value of our experience. (2) Discounts are offered for booking online and/or booking the first tour of the day. Although there are no guarantees, the first tour of the day we took on our most recent visit was spectacular! A male pulled up right alongside our boat before diving under it and surfacing on the other side. And 2 pods of spinner dolphins accompanied our boat for well over a mile – and this was the least expensive tour we took!

Here is a comparison of the 3 different companies we have used:

Company Cost/Person Guarantee Hydrophone Refreshments
Pacific Whale Foundation $38.00-$105.00 Y Some tours Some tours
Hawaii Ocean Project $30.00-$45.00 Y No For purchase
Trilogy Excursions $60.00-$89.00 Y Yes Yes

Lodging

There’s no shortage of wonderful lodging options on Maui; your choice will turn on personal preference, price sensitivity and the hotel program, if any, with which you have status and/or points. One bed and breakfast option stands out, however, and one resort offers outsized value to anyone with a stash of World of Hyatt Points or Chase Ultimate Rewards points (which transfer instantly to the World of Hyatt program):

The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono

If you don’t need to be on the beach, The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono, just a short drive from the airport, offers an authentic Hawaiian experience of aloha. This historic property was built in 1924 as a wedding gift for the owner’s daughter-in-law. Ulupono, which means “to grow and flourish in righteousness,” is the name of the property, not its geographic location. An ulu (breadfruit) tree continues to flourish where it was planted on the day the property was blessed. The Inn has 10 Hawaiian-themed guest rooms, some with private gardens and lanais. The star here, though, is the sumptuous 2-course breakfast served daily at 8:00am. Service begins with fresh fruit in season, some of which is picked right on the grounds. The rotating menu of entrees includes banana pancakes topped with macadamia nuts, breakfast enchiladas, French toast topped with a cheese and mint sauce, etc. Other complimentary amenities include use of beach towels and mats, coolers for picnics, snack jars kept filled with cookies and chips, mini-refrigerators for personal items, and WiFi. Tip: It may make sense to book directly with The Old Wailuku Inn as third party booking sites may not display all available rooms.

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa (Ka’anapali Coast)

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a resort vacation on the beach, consider the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. Rooms can be booked for 25,000 World of Hyatt points/night; 33,000 if you want to include Regency Club access for continental breakfast and evening hors d’ouevres and desserts. The resort fee of $32.00/night added to paid or points + cash reservations is made somewhat palatable since it includes a lei greeting, Wi-Fi, area shuttle to shopping and dining at Whaler’s Village as well as the Royal Lahaina Luau (see below), 24-hour gym access, yoga/fitness classes, cultural programs (e.g., lei making, hula lessons, penguin feedings, etc.), daily tennis or basketball court time, etc. Hyatt waives resort fees on paid stays for World of Hyatt members with Globalist status and if you pay for your reservation entirely with World of Hyatt points, the resort fee is waived regardless of membership level.

Tips:

  1. If you ride the complimentary Ka’anapali Trolley to Whaler’s Village, you can catch the Lahaina Shuttle ($2.00) which goes as far south as the Cannery Mall at Lahaina’s north end.
  2. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly to the World of Hyatt rewards program at a 1:1 ratio, putting award redemptions within reach of almost anyone.
  3. Avid golfers can book “The Perfect Round” package which includes a 1-night stay, 2 rounds of golf on the Ka’anapali Kai Golf Course, golf club rental, a sleeve of golf balls and breakfast for 2 at the resort’s Swan Court Breakfast Buffet through December 19, 2019.

Luaus

Think Hawaii and one of the first images that will come to mind is a luau. This quintessential Hawaiian experience features a meal (usually a buffet that is fairly forgettable), drinks, hands-on activities, and a show. Here is a comparison of 3 somewhat different luau experiences:

Old Lahaina Luau Royal Lahaina Luau Feast at Lele Luau
Venue Oceanfront Resort oceanview Oceanfront
Cost $125.00 (adult) $78.12 (child) $115.00 (adult), $50.00 (child) $135.42 (adult), $98.96 (child)
Greeting Fresh flower lei Shell lei (flower VIP seating) Fresh flower lei
Food Buffet Buffet Private table, 5-course dinner
Drinks Open bar Open bar Open bar
Activities Pre-show games and crafts No No
Show Traditional Hawaiian Polynesian with fire dance Polynesian with fire dance

Restaurants

In addition to the almost obligatory luau, Maui offers a plethora of dining options. Some of my favorites include:

Mama’s Fish House (Paia town)

Mama’s Fish House has received numerous, prestigious awards; it was ranked in the top 10 of U.S. restaurants by TripAdvisor in 2016 and best restaurant in Hawaii in 2018 by Hawaii Magazine to name just two. The seafood here is as fresh as it gets, the service is impeccable and the view is to die for. All this comes at a price, of course; expect an average cost/person of $61+.

Tip: Be sure to make a reservation (Mama’s is on the Open Table platform) well in advance, especially around sunset; Mama’s is often booked solid.

Casanova Bistro (Kahului)

Casanova Bistro is less than 10 minutes away from the airport in an office building tucked behind a branch of Central Pacific Bank. After parking your car, walk toward Lono Avenue and turn right at the corner of the building facing you; the restaurant entrance is halfway up this side.  The specialty here is house-made pasta; I ordered the linguine with chicken morsels and wild mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce and my wife ordered the black linguine with assorted seafood in a zesty tomato sauce with garlic, capers and black olives (both $18). At dinner, the black linguine is served with smoked salmon sautéed in a white wine sauce with peas, leeks and tobiko (roe of flying fish).

Tip: Casanova Bistro participates in the Dining Rewards network so you can earn cash back or frequent flyer miles in the program of your choice if you dine here Sunday through Thursday. You can also make your reservation through OpenTable and earn points toward future dines.

Three’s Bar & Grill (Kihei): Happy hour” 4:00-6:00pm and 9:00-10:00pm

If you are a Food Network fan and get a sense of déjà vu when you enter the dining room, it’s because Three’s Bar & Grill was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives in the July 21, 2017 episode entitled “Barbecue, Batter & Beer Can Chicken.” The happy hour at Three’s is awesome! We enjoyed the kalua pork quesadilla ($7.50 during happy hour, $14.00 at dinner) and coconut crusted fish tacos ($3.75 each during happy hour, $7.50 each at dinner). Well drinks and Three’s margaritas are just $3.75 during happy hour; oysters are just $2.00 each.

Tip: In addition to participating in the Dining Rewards network as well as the OpenTable reservation system, you can earn 5% cash back from Dosh for dines here.

Scenic walks

We walk as much as we can on vacation in order to get some exercise and enjoy a slower pace. Maui has some great walks/hikes which are free (unless admission to a natural park is required):

Wailea Beach Path (Kihei)

This easy 1.6 mile (one way) developed path runs between Ulu’a and Polo Beach Parks, traversing oceanfront property of some of Maui’s top-end resorts. Tip: There are some real advantages to scheduling scenic walks early in the day; parking is easier to find, crowds are thinner and the light is better for photography.

Kapalua Coastal Trail (Ka’anapali Coast)

Kapalua Coastal Trail – Photo: (c) 2019 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

We parked at D.T. Fleming Beach to access the northern trailhead for this scenic 1.76 mile (one way) walk which ends at the south end of Kapalua Bay. It essentially traverses the expansive grounds of the Ritz Carlton Kapalua and the Ritz Carlton Club and Residences, Kapalua Bay. The scenery is amazing, especially the rugged lava outcropping (pictured here) which serves as a nesting area for native seabirds.

Lahaina Historic Walking Tour

Most Lahaina visitors come either to board a boat for one of the many water-based excursions departing its harbor or for the touristy shops that line Front Street. But there’s a lot of interesting history here which is best covered on a 1.4 mile self-guided walking tour that takes about 90 minutes.

Tips:

  1. If you arrive early in the day, there is free parking for 3 hours in the lot at the corner of Front and Prison Streets.
  2. I am happy to send a free 3-page, annotated guide (with map) covering 22 stops to readers of The Flight Deal.

Haleakala Crater Hike (Kula)

The dormant volcano Haleakala (“House of the Sun” in Hawaiian) dominates the skyline on Maui and its summit area is the most popular attraction in upcountry Maui. Venturing inside its crater is an otherworldly experience. Hikes range from an easy 0.4 mile walk to a full-day, 11 mile (one way) trek across the crater floor.

Note: The oxygen level in the air at Haleakala’s summit is more than 30% lower than at sea level. Weather conditions can also change rapidly and expect temperatures about 30 degrees lower than at your lodging.

Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge (Kihei)

Located between Ma’alaea and Kihei is this uncrowded (less than 120 visitors/week) 700 acre bird sanctuary.

Tip: If you plan your Maui visit around the whale watching calendar, you get a bonus – free guided bird walks are offered every Tuesday @ 9:00am and every third Saturday. You can even borrow binoculars for free!

Maui Brewing Company (Kihei)

Board listing beers on tap at Maui Brewing Company – Photo: (c) 2019 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

This craft brewery is really investing in expanding what it has to offer visitors and customers. The food trucks that used to offer lunch have been replaced with their own full service restaurant offering gourmet lunch options 7 days/week from 11am-11pm. The menu features a variety of appetizers, creative salads, craft pizzas, sandwiches and “big plates” featuring a huge loco moco and local catch fish tacos. Maui Brewing Company offers 45-minute brewery tours 6 times each day ($15). Beer lovers may have a difficult time choosing between the many varieties offered — everything from IPAs to ales to lagers to Pilsners — with names like Bikini Blonde, Big Swell (a tribute to surfing), Night Kisses, etc., etc.

About the Author:

I organize things; it’s what I do! I enjoy the natural adrenaline high of travel as much as the next person but I also try to limit the likelihood that the surprises I experience along the way will be unpleasant ones. To this end, I spend more hours than most preparing for each trip. Fortunately for me, I enjoy the anticipation of travel as much as the experience of it. The focus of my trip reports will be to help those who read them to enjoy high value experiences — maximizing enjoyment while minimizing cost. I’ve been a minister, nonprofit agency executive, professor and consultant; my “job” in retirement is planning our next trip. If you would like additional information and/or recommendations, please feel free to contact “The Travel Organizer” via email.

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