How To Make The Most Of Your Trip To Maui
by Melanie Stangle
Editor’s note: This is a guest article by Melanie Stangle, who has been to Maui many times. She offers these suggestions from her experience. – Jon
I’m usually a good listener, but on our first morning of a recent return trip to Maui, I found myself gazing at a beautiful plumeria tree rather than listening to the details of a disgruntled tourist. She and her husband had just arrived the night before, after spending a very long day traveling from the mid-west. It was clear that her impression of Maui had already been marred in their first 24 hours. An occasional “ohhh, that’s too bad” was about all the empathy I could manage. Not that I’m a travel wizard, but I think more advance planning could have saved her a lot of aggravation.
When booking a flight, consider how important an ideal flight time is. The least popular flight times will often be the least expensive, and usually the most desirable flight times are the most expensive, but worth the extra cost.
Those of us fortunate enough to live near a major airport on the west coast should appreciate that Maui is merely a 6 hour non-stop flight away. “Merely” and “a 6 hour non-stop flight” don’t necessarily fit together, but compared to what others endure to reach the Hawaiian islands, it’s pretty easy. Even for those living on the west coast but not handy to a major airport, it takes some planning to ensure a less stressful journey getting from Point A to Point B. If it involves a few hours of driving (especially on the freeway where traffic delays are a factor) I recommend spending the night before your departure at a hotel near the airport and take the hotel’s free shuttle service. Pack your PJs and clothes for the flight on the very top of your suitcase…plus anything else you’ll need for this overnight stay.
For those of you who do not live on the west coast, for a less exhausting trip, you can fly to an airport on the west coast, spend the night at a nearby hotel, and continue on to Maui the next day. We do this often when flying from California to a Caribbean island…we fly as far as Miami (that’s a 6 hour flight on its own), get a good night’s rest in a hotel near the airport and then continue (rested, refueled and refreshed) on to our destination. It can make a big difference on that first impression of paradise. I understand that some travelers may not have the extra day or the (possible) added expense, so in that case I suggest doing all you can to get rest during your long flights.
Planning ahead is sound advice to make the most of your vacation. One of the big reasons my new acquaintance from the mid-west was already finding her stay unpleasant was because they got lost on the way from the Maui airport to the condo. I can’t imagine how dreadful it was to be suffering from jet-lag and not be able to find your accommodations! It’s essential (and makes good travel sense) to become familiar with getting around in a location that’s unfamiliar. I’m a visual person, so I opt for maps. I also like landmarks along the way… which requires a little more detailed research, but the more I’m familiar with where we’re going, the more relaxed (translate: less stressed) I am about driving in unfamiliar territory. Signage on the island probably isn’t the same as what you’re used to at home. There are no freeway exits and often times there’s not a lot of notice as you approach an intersection. Be prepared! Get specific directions from your hotel or condo in addition to GPS-ing the address. This will be invaluable throughout your stay…whether it’s driving to dinner, seeing a particular sight, or finding that particular beach that you’ve heard so much about.
Here is a list of tips I share with friends and family who ask for information about traveling to Maui.
PACKING YOUR SUITCASE: Although most of the time you will be in warm sunshine, pack a lightweight jacket or sweater for cool, breezy evenings or wet weather. It sounds like a useless item, but you’ll be glad you packed it! Better yet…take a sweater in your carry-on or layer it over what you’re wearing, since the airplane tends to get chilly during that long trip! If you’re so inclined, pack binoculars to check out various sights — whether it’s a windsurfer, dolphin, whale (in season), the gorgeous countryside or a neighboring island.
If you plan to do laundry you don’t have to pack as much. Detergent (like everything) is more expensive on the island so pack detergent ‘pods’ or fill zip-lock baggies with detergent and stash them in the corners of your suitcase or in your shoes.
TAKE ON THE PLANE: Besides the obvious (digital devices, magazines, deck of cards) bring paper and a pen for two lists…a plan of attack (so you don’t waste precious time on the island) and a grocery list (more on that later). Small snacks can come in handy if you get the munchies before they serve food during your flight. It’s a good idea to buy a bottle of water at the airport (or fill up an empty bottle that you brought from home using an airport drinking fountain after you pass through security) in case you’re thirsty before the service cart comes by (or you need to take some meds ASAP).
PRE-BOARDING SUGGESTIONS: The best plan is for everyone to carry their own backpack or carry-on. Anything you’ll need during the flight should be removed just before you board the plane (maybe transferred to a smaller bag). Once your carry-on is in the overhead compartment, it’s not easy (or popular with the other passengers) to retrieve it during the flight.
THE FLIGHT: You’ve got a long flight ahead of you! It may be an hour or so before you are served your meal (hence the “bring a small snack/bottled water” suggestion). That last hour of the flight is a good time to make a “plan of attack” for your time on the island. Don’t waste precious island time sitting in your hotel/condo wondering “what are we going do?” If you’re staying in a condo or accommodations with a kitchen or kitchenette, make a grocery list on the plane, too. To save on meal expenses, buy breakfast food; makings for lunch (to eat at the condo or to take a picnic to the beach); snacks and cold drinks. (Yes, grocery prices are much higher there, but cheaper than fast food or a restaurant.) We resign to the fact that going to the grocery store is part of the process of our first day…just get it done! The next morning when you’re hungry for a bite of breakfast, you’ll be glad you did. So — do that grocery list ON THE PLANE! During the first half of your flight, set your watch to Hawaii time. There’s a Costco (near the airport) to hit on your way out of town (Kahului) and generally you’ll have several grocery store options (depending where you’re staying).
TIME SAVER UPON ARRIVAL (at Kahului Airport): This suggestion is something we do to save time. Decide on one person to take the shuttle to pick up the rental car while the other person goes to Baggage Claim to get the suitcases. There’s a planter box with a cement bench outside Baggage Claim you can sit on and wait for the person with the rental car to arrive. This is a great time saver if you’re comfortable doing it.
Have the directions to your accommodations easily accessible so you can access them when you get in the car.
IN BAGAGE CLAIM: There are several kiosks with free brochures that include lists of restaurants, sights, activities and maps. Pick up several.
PLANNING AHEAD: Planning ahead can make or break having a great time. Whether it’s on the plane or during that first sunset, it’s a smart idea to put some thought into what you plan to do. That way you won’t run out of days to fit in the things you want to do the most. (Actually, NO vacation on Maui is long enough!) While discussing the things you want to do, you may realize that two things work well to do on the same day because they’re in the same area. Or you might find that the only day you can make reservations for a snorkel cruise or a luau will move your plans to do some sightseeing to a different day. In most instances, it’s good to plan to do two or more things during the same trip “into town” (Lahaina) or wherever, to save time and driving. Lahaina not only has a great choice of restaurants (on and near Front Street), but has some wonderful shopping.
There are some sights to see or activities to pursue that would be best to save an entire afternoon if not an entire day for, so that you don’t feel hurried. The trip to Hana is a full day of driving, including the stops you’ll want to make along the way. Pack a picnic lunch, an additional snack, drinks and a sweater. Definitely wear comfortable shoes, not slippery sandals! It’s doubtful that you will feel like going to a restaurant for dinner after such a full day of driving, so plan to eat dinner on the way back (the small town of Paia has been a welcomed stop!), get take-out or cook something simple at your condo! It’s a good idea to plan your drive to Hana mid-way through your stay. That way it’s not right before or right after a full day of sitting on the plane. (This is a good plan for any activity when you’ll to be and about for the entire day.) Combining a visit to Iao Valley Park with Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens (in the same area), adds up to a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. The scenery is awesome. This is a perfect change of pace when you have gotten just a little too much sun and are looking for a reprieve from the beach. Pack a picnic lunch and bring your camera and a sweater.
Driving up through the Kapalua countryside and the northwest coastline of Maui is a fun way to spend the morning. There’s not much traffic up there, so it’s easy to meander in and out of the side roads that line the golf courses in the Kapalua area. The road along the northwest coastline is unique and offers some rugged beauty (and a blow hole!). The same can be said for the gorgeous countryside and slower pace of the Upcountry (along Route #37 passing through Pukalani and Kula).
As much as there is to see and do — be sure to set some time aside (at the beginning or end of each day, if not one full day specifically) to hang out at your condo to enjoy all that it has to offer without getting in the car.
If you plan to go to Kaanapali Beach, you can spend the whole day and accomplish several fun, touristy things in the one trip. SHOP: at Whaler’s Village. SIGHTSEE: on the grounds of three luxurious resorts — Hyatt Regency, The Westin Maui and The Sheraton. DINE (or lunch): at Leilani’s or Hula Grill. You could also add SNORKEL to the list of things to do there. At Black Rock (in front of the Sheraton) on a calm day, the water is clear and are full of tropical fish. The torch-lit sidewalk along the beach provides a romantic, after-dinner stroll. As the sun begins its slow dive into the ocean, the nightly torch lighting precedes another diving of sorts…cliff diving at the Sheraton Maui Resort. The echo of a conch shell announces the young cliff diver’s arrival. He leaves a trail of glowing torches and then makes his way to Black Rock. He casts his flower lei into the sea before capping off the impressive tradition by diving into the surf below.
Visiting the Grand Wailea and other ‘grand’ resorts in Wailea is worth a trip of it’s own to the southwest part of Maui. It also gives you a chance to see other terrain of the island. Kihei and Wailea are often drier and sunnier – so sometimes if it’s raining up at
Napili and Kapalua the weather will be better down there. Often, it’s more windy in Kihei….hence it’s a wind surfers’ haven. Along with a variety of upscale, well- manicured resorts to visit in Wailea, there are also plenty of beaches. Kihei has a few affordable places to shop, as well. Beyond that (and a couple of golf courses), the list of “to do’s” and “to see’s” in this area thins out.
UNDERWATER TREASURES: Snorkeling is a must! If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on a big part of what Hawaii is all about. If you’ve already seen Hawaii’s underwater treasures, you know what I mean. A mask, snorkel and fins are all you need …which you can take with you or rent there. (If you’re limited for space in your suitcase, I recommend renting from Boss Frog’s. They have many locations and still offer a free afternoon snorkeling trip with a one-week equipment rental) If your condo doesn’t have something to float on, you might want to buy an inexpensive mattress at one of the ABC Discount Stores or Long’s Drug…anything that will make you more comfortable to get in the water and enjoy. This will give you added security even though it is easy to stay afloat in the ocean. If it’s difficult to get the hang of breathing out of your mouth through the snorkel, just use the mask and an air mattress, and put your face in the water for short periods of time. You’ll still see beautiful fish!
As I have already mentioned, be sure to set aside some time to spend at your condo. If you spread out the days of sightseeing by car in between the ones where you stay put or make only short trips…at the end of your vacation you’ll feel like you not only had a chance to relax, but enjoy Maui to it’s fullest!
To enjoy a leisurely, late afternoon or happy hour we suggest you take some snacks and beverages down to the beach at your hotel/condo or a nearby beach of choice. Enjoy the trade winds and sparkling blue ocean from under a palm tree with your toes tucked in the sand. Depending on the time of year, happy hour may also mean time for a sunset.