January 18, 2019

Making Maui Family-Friendly

We met a man by the pool at the Grand Wailea. Our children were splashing around together, and he and I got to talking with all the intimacy that comes from knowing for certain we would never see each other again.

Ten years ago in Silicon Valley, the man explained, he invented something that involved computers and music. He formed a company, took it public, then cashed out. In his mid-30s, he no longer has to work. He and his wife raise their three young children, and travel with them around the world. Last summer it was Switzerland and Austria for two months, the summer before that it was Israel. But every winter, like swallows to Capistrano, they return to Maui. This is a guy who can go anywhere, do anything. So why return to the same island in the middle of the Pacific? “The kids,” he said, “The kids love Maui.”

We nodded. By then my wife Naomi and I were at the end of six days in Maui with our two children, Adi, who is 6, and Noa, almost 4. For about a year, the Maui Visitors Bureau has been promoting their island as an ideal family vacation destination (“Maui Loves Children!”), and we were happy enough to give their marketing strategy a test run, with the Bureau picking up a portion of the tab.

I, for one, was dubious. Back in the ’70s, when Las Vegas touted child-friendly accommodations like Circus Circus, it all seemed a shameless way to keep the kiddies busy while mom and dad blew their college funds at the crap tables.

But Maui, of course, has no gaming. So why the push? Family travel is still a growing trend. More people are having children later in life, meaning they have more vacation money to spend, and want to spend their time with the children they’ve waited (and in many cases, worked hard) to have. Maui has stunning beaches, blue water, superb snorkeling, rain forests, funky towns and luxurious resorts. It’s long been paradise for honeymooners, surfers and retirees. Now the island’s hotels, resorts and restaurants are making an extra effort to include children.

“They told us children are welcome,” a man from Chicago with his three kids told us by the pool at the Four Seasons Wailea, “but they didn’t tell us how much.” Like us, the man arrived to find his children’s names spelled out in sponge letters by the bathtub, and three white mini-bathrobes hanging in the closets. The Four Seasons also has a children’s room service menu with complete kiddie breakfasts for about six dollars — one of the best deals on the island.

We spent our first three nights at the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua, a grand Victorian-style hotel that slopes down toward one of the world’s great surfing beaches. We figured if the Ritz could be relaxed about our children racing down the halls and leaving fingerprints on the damask, we’d know whether Maui loved children or just liked them.