Splashing Out in Maui

Here’s a secret of the rich and famous: Sometimes parting with cash actually pays off.

four seasons pool

Our spring break trip to Wailea, Maui, got tacked on to the end of a business trip. We travel often—but not normally in this kind of style. Maui is an idyllic family escape and going high-end will cost you: Our week in Maui cost the same as three very comfortable weeks in Belize.

That said, if you want to feel spoiled and special, the Four Seasons Resort Maui will deliver. It’s not unlike staying at Hearst’s Castle – and the perks are outstanding: The pool staff is always ready to serve – be it a cool towel, an Evian spritz, a sunglasses cleaning, fresh fruit, popsicles, or the possibility of a massage in your poolside lounger. Bliss.

poolside cocktails

The Four Seasons is a smaller resort by Hawaiian standards (380 rooms, including 75 suites) so our 5- and 7-year-old kids could easily go to the pool, game room, restroom, hotel room and shops by themselves. At times, my husband and I were at the beach while the kids were at the pool. They’re good swimmers, so we never worried the kids would get lost or hurt.

After a few days, we moved to the Grand Wailea, where the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool (actually nine pools on six levels) was really the grand attraction for us. It’s a kid and adult paradise, with a meandering river and tons of slides, including three “big kid” (measured by height rather than age) slides, as well as waterfalls, caves, Jacuzzis, a sand beach and a Tarzan swing into the pool. Its so big that you’ll never have trouble getting a deck chair. For the grownups, the pool grotto contains a swim-up bar and TVs permanently tuned to ESPN.

jack tarzan

What did we get for this investment? Big stuff. Kate mastering her backflip. Jack twisting into the pool off the Tarzan swing. Lots of digging giant holes in the sand together. Watching whales as we ate lunch. Chasing football-size cane toads on a night walk. Oh, and priceless memories of a barefoot, relaxing week together in Maui.

kids sand

The Roam Report : Wailea, Maui

Travelers : Stephen, Dina, Kate (7) and Jack (5)

Date : April 2015

Itinerary : The Four Seasons Hotel (3 nights) and Grand Wailea (6 nights)

Budget : About $8,700. The Four Seasons set us back $700 per night (including tax) and the Grand Wailea was approximately $500 per night. High-end meals, drinks and snacks averaged $400 per day.

The Good Stuff 

The Beach The Four Seasons Resort Maui and the Grand Wailea share access via a paved walkway to Wailea Beach, which is one of the best in Maui. The clear waters here are relatively calm for the young ones: You could stand 20 to 30 feet into the ocean and still jump the waves. Whenever we weren’t in the water, we spent hours building sandcastles or tossing a football or Frisbee. The beach was our main entertainment every day, and it was all we needed.

beach kids sand

The Food Fresh seafood, vegetables and fruits—many of which you may never have seen or tasted before—are abundant! In fact, you can still go on tours of working pineapple plantations in Maui, best known for “Maui Gold” pineapples, with Maui Pineapple Tours.

We consider ourselves foodies and were lucky enough to spend some of the money that we saved by being on a business trip to go to some of the best restaurants on Maui, including Mama’s Fish HouseMorimotoKa’ana KitchenNick’s Fish MarketFerraro’sMonkeypod Kitchen, and Sansei Sushi.

The Spa  The Spa at the Grand Wailea is known as one of the best around, garnering top awards from Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure. The spa’s claim to fame is its five saltwater baths with healing salts from each of the five Hawaiian Islands. Normally you can book a massage or other service and plan to get your money’s worth by spending an extra hour enjoying the salt baths, steam room, sauna and view (below). (Be aware, the spa is under renovation until mid-December 2015.)

grand wailea reflection pool

The Not So Good 

The High Cost of High End Everything is very expensive at all resorts on Maui, and prices in Wailea are probably as expensive as they get. Food and drink costs add up very quickly: Most specialty cocktails poolside ran $15 or more, a bag of popcorn was $6 and a shave ice another $6; lunch cost the four of us $75 to $100 per day at the resorts and that really only included one alcoholic beverage or two at most. We generally went off-resort for dinner, but chose expensive, high-quality places. We dropped about $300 for the four of us for dinner every night. Yikes! If you want to save money, I would recommend looking into a condominium rather than a hotel room so you can fix your own breakfasts and lunches, and even do some grilling at night. (Hawaii condos always provide grills and lanais.) There are plenty of condos on the island and in Wailea in general. You can do a Costco run to Kahului—only about a half hour away, near the airport—at the beginning of your trip and stock up for the week. (Nothing like raw ahi in bulk from the poke bar!)

Size May Matter This is our second stay at the Grand Wailea and we found it much more relaxing than our first visit two years ago when the kids were younger. The Grand Wailea is enormous, situated on 40 acres and featuring 780 guest rooms and 52 suites. Most rooms require two separate elevator banks to access the right corridor. For us, this meant less freedom for the kids, and ultimately for us. It also means it’s a major trek if you forget something in the room.

Grand Wailea pool

The pool is also very big and very spread out. You can get lost at the pool and not find anyone for a while. It also means it’s harder to keep an eye on the kids, which wasn’t as big of an issue for us this time as it was last time when the kids were 4- and 6-years old. If you are worried about losing track of your kids or not having good swimmers, this could be a problem. And even though it’s billed as a “lazy” river, that current can get pretty strong at certain points.

Good to Know

Free Kids Club Would you like your little one to create leis, search for geckos and go ulu maika (Hawaiian bowling) while you bask by the pool with a mai tai and a Tom Clancy novel? If this sounds like a good plan to you, then you’re in luck at the Four Seasons! The kids’ club is included gratis, but is meant for 5- to 12-year-old kids. If your kid is right on the edge of 5, like my youngest, you may be asked to furnish proof of age.

Don’t Pack Too Much Surf culture prevails here and casual is king. Most days we found ourselves in bathing suits, with an added swimsuit coverup for the girls or a T-shirt for the boys. Even if we walked to the shops nearby, we stayed in bathing suits and coverups. At nights we fancied up (a bit) with sundresses and resort wear. If you find there’s anything you’re lacking—like if you sit on your sunglasses and need a replacement—you can always head to The Shops at Wailea mall.

Don’t Automatically Book a Car Unless you’re planning to use a car often to explore the island, you might not really need one, especially for the duration of your trip. Taxis are plentiful and Uber even operates on Maui. Some hotels, including the Four Seasons, have a free car service that will drop you off and pick you up golf, restaurants, shops or other Wailea-area attractions. And if you do decide to book a car after beginning your vacation, it may be worth it to take an airport shuttle back to the airport in Kahului: When we investigated prices, it was $25 a day cheaper to rent the car at the airport than at either the Grand Wailea or Four Seasons rental desks.

Bring Bug Spray It can get buggy in some low-lying areas, especially if you’re among the trees and sheltered from the wind. (Our daughter had 60 bug bites in one night after visiting Mama’s Beach House a couple of years back.) Have protection on hand!

Onboard Entertainment, Anyone? Although Hawaiian Airlines has been a classic way to get to Hawaii for years, it may be worth checking out Virgin America, which will start direct flights from its hub in San Francisco to Maui on December 2, 2015. The brand-new Airbus A320 jets will feature all the kid-friendly features that Virgin has become known for: WiFi, personal seat-back entertainment systems (featuring a host of games, TV and movies) and standard and USB plugs located near every seat.

Good for Next Time 

Road to Hana We opted not to do this car ride on this trip because we did it two years ago. It’s widely known to be a gorgeous drive with amazing waterfalls and sites, but spending a whole day in the car driving just doesn’t appeal when the alternative is a great beach and sunshine. And when it really came down to it, I wasn’t going to be the one to force our two kids into the car and try to keep them there.

Rappel a Waterfall Kids need to be at least 10 years old and 70 pounds to do this trip, located in a privately owned, secluded waterfall valley midway down the Hana Highway, so this is out for us for the next few years. But some friends did it and highly recommend the adrenalin-junkie adventure. “Taking that first step over the edge can lead to intense feelings of accomplishment, courage and bliss,” the Rappel Maui site warns.

Bike the Haleakala Crater I did this when I was 20 years old and it was super fun and interesting. Basically you get up extremely early in the morning and take a van up to the top of the volcano. At sunrise, you start biking down through the clouds. The terrain starts as being highly volcanic—mostly rocks with just a bit of green. As you descend, the terrain becomes lush and green, and then drier toward the beach. It took about three hours because there were stopping points. There are also non-sunrise trips. You can also rent a bike and do this solo. For more information, visit Haleakala Bike Company, which recommends that children be at least 6 or 7 years old to do the trip.

Good for Next Time 

Yes. We’ve been to a number of other resorts on Maui and we truly find the best weather to be in Wailea. Ka’anapali also has good weather but a much narrower beachfront, so we spent more time poolside. Kapalua, where the Ritz is, tends to be very windy all day. Bottom line: We love Wailea Beach and we loved our stay here. And even if it did nearly break the bank, the quality of a high-end Maui experience is among the best you’ll find in Hawaii.

kids sunset


by Dina Harrison, October 2015

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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, family holiday, travel with kids, family vacation in Maui, family vacation in Hawaii, family vacation in Wailea


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