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Maui Family Style



Maui Family Style
By Lisa McElroy

We're surfing the Pacific-quite literally. The sport of paddleboarding is all the rage here in Maui, and we're giving it a try at the Makena Beach and Golf Resort on Maui's South Coast. The waves are just right-not too strong for the little kids we see trying to balance around us, but powerful enough to give us a good ride. And when a turtle swims right up to us (they call this area of Maui "Turtle Town"), we're about as relaxed and happy as one can be standing on a surfboard and holding a paddle.

Our trip starts in Philadelphia, where we leave one of the worst heat waves in the city's history to head for Hawaiian breezes. We fly Philly to Chicago on United, then nonstop to Maui, arriving mid-afternoon, still with plenty of time to explore. After renting a car, we head to Lahaina Town (municipalities on Maui always seem to be named "Something Something Town") and check into a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at the small and lovely Kahana Village resort.


The resort's a great spot for families-you feel like you're on vacation, but you have all the niceties of home. Our oceanfront condo has a pretty lanai (Hawaiian for balcony), and the resort is on a private stretch of beach. Especially convenient are the washer-dryer and fully stocked kitchen, perfect for families who want to spend time and relax together . We borrow several paperbacks from the main office's well-stocked library and settle in.

For our first evening on Maui, we don't want to head too far from "home" (there is that six-hour time change to contend with), so we decide to try Star Noodle, a brand-new Asian-Hawaiian restaurant just off Lahaina's beaten path. Steve's especially impressed-he's not usually a fan of Asian food, but his rib-eye is perfectly cooked, and he steals enough of my pad Thai to get the feel for how fresh and tasty it is. Top of his list? The ahi poke, served with a soy-based sauce that brings out the incredible flavor of the local fish.

After dinner, we head down to Lahaina's main drag, a cute beachy strip with tons of souvenir shops, jewelry kiosks, high-end art galleries, and restaurants. We're bowled over by Ono Gelato, a gelato shop that serves goat cheese ice cream, but then we crash-maybe from the sugar, but most likely from the "late" hour-while it's only 8 p.m. here, it's two in the morning at home. Time to head back to the condo and get some sleep.

We sleep in the next morning-the bed's so comfortable that we don't want to get up-then head out for an early lunch at the Aloha Mixed Plate, a Lahaina staple that's as good as the guidebooks say. Its spot on the beach has a great view, and we're lucky to get a beachfront table when we arrive at 11:00; by 11:30, the place is jammed and there's a waiting list. No wonder-the food is inexpensive but high quality, with a mix of traditional Hawaiian dishes like barbecued short ribs (so good that I co-opt them immediately) and teriyaki chicken and regular mainland fare like burgers and fries. Kids and families around us seem to love the fried chicken drumsticks in a special sauce-YUM!-while Steve and I share some beef chow fun and Maui onion rings. Our itinerary is packed for the week and it's too bad we won't have time to head back for another meal; we reluctantly give up our table to the long line of waiting locals.

Then it's off for a real thrill-a helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian , the gold standard of Hawaiian 'copter rides. While a tour with Blue Hawaiian is pricey-ours ran about $305/person-it's so amazing that we agree it's worth it. Seeing Maui from above allows us to see waterfalls and lava formations that it's literally impossible to see on the ground-no trails go there-and our guide is very well versed in Hawaiian culture, pointing out rooster houses and sugar cane farms, pineapple fields and cinder cones where lava once poured from the earth. We see the Road to Hana (switchback after switchback) and the rainforest, all from several thousand feet. The ride's so smooth that no one is scared, not even the young kids on the flight.

After the tour we enjoy one of the best meals we'll eat on the island, at Merriman's Kapalua, where the sunset is gorgeous and the food is even better. Oh, and the music-a woman playing a Japanese zither and a man playing a guitar-it sounds familiar (think Pink Panther and Metallica) but gives rise to a game of "name that tune" because the songs sound so different played on a huge harp-like instrument.

The service here is impeccable, and the food is varied and delicious. The lobster I order is from Maine but raised from babyhood on Maui, so it's saltier than cold-water lobster and even more delicious. Steve's on a rib-eye kick, and once again the steak's cooked perfectly. For dessert, we swoon over phyllo purses filled with melted chocolate and practically fall asleep at the table. We just make it back to the condo, throw our dirty clothes in the washer, and go off to bed.

For breakfast the next morning, it's Duke's Beach House at the Honua Kai Resort. I've learned to order anything with fresh Maui strawberries, and the waffle covered with them is sweet and filling. Steve's eggs Benedict are also terrific, but it's the atmosphere-beachfront, casual, and fun-that really makes the place. We drink our coffee slowly, then head out for the day.


As sorry as we are to check out of Kahana Village, we're excited to see another part of the island. Paia Town is a tiny artistic community on the due north side of the island, and we've heard great things about the shops and restaurants there, as well as Mama's Fish House, a destination restaurant with a reputation like none other.

We're staying at the Inn at Mama's, and as soon as we check in, we're in love. Our two-bedroom beachfront cottage is rustic but perfect, charming and absolutely adorable. It's got flowered wicker furniture, a cute little kitchen, and a huge lanai with a view out past an outrigger canoe to the beach and ocean. We're situated perfectly for the sunset, and the smells drifting over from the restaurant make us drool.

Next stop: Kaanapali, where Steve's going to play in his very first Pro-Am at the Ka'anapali Golf Resort. We're really jazzed to see this place, as we're big fans of the Golf Channel's reality show Big Break, set here in 2008. While Steve plays with two pros and another amateur, I head to the Westin across the street for a massage.

The Westin's one of the prettiest hotels on this side of the island-as soon as you walk in, the live flamingos under the waterfall are the first thing you see. At the award-winning spa, I try a lomi lomi massage; it's different, gentler, kinder than any I've ever had before. All about long, gentle strokes, it puts me to sleep rather than pummels me. It's just what I need after a long trip and a lot of activity, and I decide to sit in the oceanfront relaxation room and drink some lavender lemonade for an hour or two afterwards. Luckily, the hotel also boasts a great kids' club and spa treatments for tweens, so keeping kids entertained while parents relax seems like it would be a piece of cake.

Then I visit Whaler's Village next door and get a bite at the Hula Grill. The beachside restaurant is sponsoring a benefit for the Lahainaluna High School Foundation this week, so I try the chef's menu, which offers an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert for $24.95. It's a great value, and one they repeat from time to time to benefit different causes. The can't-miss item on the menu? A chocolate macadamia ice cream sandwich with hot fudge. If I wasn't relaxed before, I sure am now.

After picking up Steve at the golf course and attending the awards dinner at the Sheraton (Steve wins the booby prize for last place, but he can't stop raving about how gorgeous and well kept the course was and how much fun he had), we head back to Mama's and fall asleep practically before our heads hit the pillow. It's a good thing, too-we've got an early morning the next day, and it's going to be a busy one.


By 6:45, we're out the door, stopping at Anthony's coffee house in Paia Town for flaky chocolate croissants and coffee. We're headed to Kihei, about a half hour away, to rent a catamaran for the day from Sea Escape, the only company on Maui that rents boats. At $750 for five hours, it might sound expensive, but the company provides fishing and snorkeling gear, plus teaches you to drive the luxury cat so that you can head out on your own. For four of us (the two of us, plus two friends) it's actually a great deal, and an even better opportunity to bond.

The boat is top of the line, with seating for at least six, GPS, and a ride that's smooth and comfortable. We follow the owners' directions out to Molokini, a crescent-shaped crater where the snorkeling's particularly good, and we spend an hour or so kicking around above a coral reef and checking out the fish. I'm seriously bummed that United crushed my bag and broke my underwater camera on the way out, because I'd love some photos of the huge schools of fish and the brain coral they're swimming around in. When we're all tired and wet, we head out toward the beaches on the south shore to see some of the mansions and luxury resorts, then head in around 12:30 for lunch.


Back at Mama's, I convince Steve to take a long nap, then relax and read with me on the lanai. By the time dinner rolls around at 7:30, everyone's starving-I made sure of that, because Mama's is known for its incredible food and unmatched service but its anything-but-stuffy atmosphere. It's pretty and relaxed, not formal and stuffy. We feel right at home, and we're ready to dig in.

It's the little things that make the difference-the names of the fisherman who caught our dinner right there on the menu, the homemade bread, the chef's treat of a tiny sipping cup of asparagus-and-ginger soup. Even more important is the attention to detail. When I mention I'm allergic to coconut, the chef cooks my prawns in a different preparation, and every server who brings anything to our table (even bread or Diet Coke) assures me, "No worries, Mrs. McElroy, no coconut here." The Maui tomatoes with blue cheese are sweet and pungent at the same time, and the prawns melt in my mouth. At the end of the meal, more Maui strawberries with vanilla cream are a light and perfect ending to an evening of relaxation, great conversation, and service like you'd find in the finest of fine-dining restaurants.


We check out of Mama's nice and early the next day to head south 45 minutes to the Makena Beach and Golf Resort. The resort only recently took on new ownership; until last year, it was the Maui Prince. It's here that we paddleboard and watch the turtles, then take in lunch at the Clubhouse on the golf side of the resort. After lunch, Steve plays 18 holes while I get a massage in the oceanfront spa cabanas. This massage is quite different from the last-short, firm strokes and lots of pressure (I'm going to feel every muscle later)-but the sound of the surf in the background helps me relax anyway. Today is the first day it rains, but it's warm rain with lots of Hawaiian breeze thrown in so we don't really mind.

Steve reports back from his round of golf that he played pretty badly but had a great time. He's wiped out-but I tell him a luau will be a great pick-me-up. We take a short ride down the street to the Te Au Moana luau at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and Spa it's reputed to be one of the best on the island. The view is incredible-all cliffs, tiki torches, and ocean waves-and the pig they dig out of a pit isn't half bad, either. After watching the hula, full of mai tais and Kalua pork, we're ready for bed.


It's a bit of a drive back to Paia, where we'll check into the Paia Inn, and because Steve drowned his golfing sorrows at the luau, I'm driving. And while I do love Maui, I do NOT like driving on Maui after dark. The roads twist and turn, there are cliffs everywhere, and I'm sure I'm going right over a guardrail into turtle territory. In short, I'm scared, and the native Hawaiians stuck behind me are flashing their lights, cranky as anything. Meanwhile, Steve is giving me attitude, saying he'd love to do the drive in a really fast sports car. Thanks.

By the time we find the Paia Inn, in a little alcove behind a gas station, I'm needing some liquid courage, but it's way past bedtime. The inn is not one of those places you'd notice from the road (if you could even see it from the road), but it's super cute when we enter through the gate and walk into the art galleryĖlike lobby.

We're immediately struck by the paintings on the walls, most by an artist named Avi Kiriarty, who paints Hawaiian scenes in richly colored oils. They're all through the five-room inn, even in our two-bedroom suite just off the back of the inn.

If you're traveling with kids, you'll definitely want to ask for one of the suites. The standard rooms are adorable but small, with just enough room for a couple. Our suite is really roomy, though, with a full kitchen, a pretty living-dining area, and two nice bedrooms. And, of course, there are more of Avi's paintings-we fall asleep wondering which one we should buy for our family room.


We're up really early the next morning because we're heading on a boat tour to Lana'i, Maui's sister island. Sail Trilogy leaves out of Lahaina, about 40 minutes away, so we grab breakfast on the inn's patio and eat on the run.

Trilogy runs the best tours between the islands; the catamaran ride starts off with Trilogy's homemade sticky buns (served by the crew) plus fresh fruit and all we can drink coffee, juice, and soda. In the 90 minutes or so that it takes us to get across the channel, we eat them out of house and home (or boat). Lots of the families aboard sign their kids up for the kids' program run by Elena, a cute college student who charges $35 to take the kids rafting and exploring for several hours while parents relax on the beach. Once on the beach, we kick back under a shade tree to read and sleep for a while, then body surf in the waves for an hour. Before we know it, it's time for dinner.

Weíre in for a treat. Trilogy shuttles us in vans over to a pavilion on the harbor. Iím expecting sandwiches or wraps, but what I get is some of the most delicious food Iíll eat this trip. The crew has changed into Aloha shirts and is grilling up teriyaki chicken, stir-frying veggies with soba noodles, scooping out peas, and tossing fresh green salad with blue-cheese vinaigrette. As soon as they circulate with seconds, Iím fighting the kids at our table for the last chicken breast.

On the boat ride back, the crew raises the sails, and Captain Gabe lets the kids on the boat sit up on the captainís bench and steer. They fight for turns, only temporarily distracted by the dolphins swimming by and the pretty sunset. Weíre too wiped out for gelato after a day at sea, so Steve drives us (thank goodness) back to our pretty room at the inn and everyone crashes for the night.


We wake up much too early and check out of the little inn, head across the street to Anthony's for "our" chocolate croissants (we're addicted), and head south to Maui's Gold Coast and our last two days on the island. Steve and I play a morning round of golf at the Wailea Golf Club; the Gold Course is tough but spectacular, with ocean views from almost every hole and natural lava formations (treated as hazards) throughout. Steve raves about the condition of the course-it's pristine-and the interesting layout.

After a quick lunch at Gannon's, the restaurant in the clubhouse, we drive our cart up to the top of the hill above the course to take a peek at the Leadbetter Academy and the catering area, where functions often take place. Pretty! Then it's down the hill to the Grand Wailea, known as one of the loveliest and most family-friendly hotels on Maui.

We spend two days at the Grand, checking out the waterslides and the water elevator, eating at the poolside bar, and looking out at the ocean and the waterfalls from our lanai. Steve loves the lazy river as much as the zillions of kids around do; I just love being lazy. While I've had a great time touring Maui at a pretty fast clip, every Hawaiian vacation should include a couple of days of good old beach and pool time.

We end our trip with two more amazing meals, the first at Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, the Grand's fine-dining restaurant that's named for the state fish. We all love the aquarium behind the bar, plus the tiki-hut styling (little girls getting a giggle out of the fact that the waiters wear skirts).

For our last night on the island, we head to Capische?, the restaurant at Hotel Wailea, part of the same cluster of hotels on this beach. I knew that the hotel was a luxury boutique property, but I had no idea that the restaurant was so terrific-casual and relaxed but with food to die for. It's in a little garden with a sunset view, and the setting is matched only by the service.

The menu is beyond belief. The risotto appetizer is the best thing I've eaten in months. I usually love to share (my older daughter's motto, encouraged by Steve and me so that she'll develop an adventurous palate, is "Can I have a bite of that?"), but I'm keeping this dish for myself (good thing she's not around). Ditto on the cioppino, complete with huge scallops and a giant lobster tail, plus a tomato broth and angel hair pasta-YUM. Steve's steak is tender and perfectly cooked; the pasta dishes hit the spot. We share a martini crème brûlée for dessert, but the coffee surpasses it. A great meal in a great spot-the perfect way to end our vacation.

Eight days was the perfect amount of time on Maui-we saw it all, then were excited to get home to tell everyone about this family-friendly, beautiful island. And we even did it on a budget-an unforgettable vacation for a reasonable price. Aloha!

This trip courtesy of the Maui Visitor's Bureau, Paia Inn, Mama's Fish House, the Grand Wailea, Kahana Village

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Pictures From

The Trip Photography by Steve McElroy (except where otherwise indicated)


Makena Resort beach just before paddling


Condo at Kahana Village resort


Tasty chicken wing at the Aloha Mixed Plate


View from the Aloha Mixed Plate


Steve at Blue Hawaiian Helicopter


View while eating at Duke's


The view from the Inn at Mama's


Rainbow over the Royal Ka'anapali golf course


Flamingos at the Westin


The very best chocolate croissants from Anthony's


Capt. Steve driving the boat


Pulling into Molokini


The Makena Golf Course


Sunset after the Marriott luau


The Paia Inn


On Sail Trilogy going to Lanai


Trilogy crew preparing dinner after a long day on the beach at Lanai


The clubhouse at Wailea


Steve striping it


View of the wedding chapel at the Grand


Steve & Lisa in the lobby of the Grand


The view from Humu


Lisa at Capiche?


The Cioppino at Capische?


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