Vacationing With a Child in Maui

By Travel Writers

February 2, 2013 9 min read

By Erica Dror Zeitlin

I had always dreamed of going to Maui for a romantic holiday. But marriage came and went before I could get there. So when my sister, Carla, offered to accompany me to Maui — along with her son — I knew it would be a different kind of vacation.

With a child in tow, we agreed that renting a condominium made more sense than a luxury hotel. Carla went online and found an affordable and spacious one-bedroom with two bathrooms. It was just a brief walk from a popular swimming area of Wailea Beach on Maui's South Shore.

Carla is an athlete with energy to burn, and Khaelan, at age 5, is by definition unable to sit still for long. We chose our itinerary to be less about lounging lazily at the beach and more about activities.

Khaelan is fascinated by sharks, so we decided to take him to the Maui Ocean Center. We'd also go inside the Atlantis, a submarine that would take us deep down to underwater relics and sea life. Then from being submerged we'd go "flying" on a zipline. We would take surfing and paddling lessons and give him the ride of his life inside a transparent rotating barrel called the Fishpipe.

We were up at 6 each morning so as not to miss any daylight hours. Exotic birds served as a reliable alarm clock and woke me to whistles, trumpets and coo-coo-coos as they perched on tree branches nearby.

Then soon off we went in our rented car. First stop: to see the sharks.

"Look, hammerheads!" Khaelan said, filled with excitement: "There's a gray reef shark, there's a tiger shark, there's a stingray." But when a 7-foot sandbar shark swam a few inches away from his head through the massive 750,000-gallon tank, that was too close for comfort, and he moved closer to his mom.

We spent another two hours riveted by more than 50 other exhibits, reading the names and habits of the endless varieties of fish and plant life. We saw rarely encountered moray eels, lobsters and seahorses, as well as an octopus with pink spots who seemed to be trying to hide from the tourists.

To help preserve Hawaii's ecological balance, the aquarium also houses a "hatch-and-release" program in which green sea turtles are hatched and then released into the wild. At the Tide Pool, visitors are welcome to touch some of the invertebrate inhabitants. We learned that the ancient Hawaiians were expert navigators and fishermen who were dependent on the ocean. They designed and built aquaculture systems, allowing them to provide their people ample food while taking care not to overfish and hence cut off the supply.

The next day we were back underwater, this time in a submarine. The Atlantis IV, which we boarded in neighboring Lahaina, gave us the chance to see many of the creatures we saw the day before but now in their natural habitat. Each passenger had a window seat, and for Carla and me it was wondrous to see parrotfish, trumpetfish, rays and a school of bright little "Nemos" swimming by. My nephew was disappointed: "No sharks!"

We got a chance to glimpse a 19th-century whaling ship on the ocean floor. The Brig Carthaginian was purposely sunk there by tour operators and now grows coral reefs in and around it. For those of us who don't normally travel by sub, the effect is fascinating and a bit eerie.

Another of our goals was to seek out the culture and history of our 50th state. In Maui the story of Hawaii is told by performers through chanting, live music, dance and acrobatics in a stage show called "Ulalena." We learned about the first Polynesians; the sometimes brutal European explorers; immigrant laborers from Portugal, China and Japan; the earliest rulers and chieftains; the sugarcane fields; the waterfalls and volcanoes; demigods; spiritual quests; and human triumphs. We were all captivated.

One sunny day I suggested spending the morning at the beach in the new bikinis we had brought along. We walked down the path from our condo to the beach and spread on the sunscreen, but by the time we reached the water's edge, the sun had shifted entirely behind rain clouds and the wind was blowing sand at us. To salve our disappointment, we drove to the nearby town, Kihei, and got a Hawaiian sweet treat called "shave ice."

Right behind the vendor we noticed a strange round contraption that looked like a hamster ball built to human scale and called the "Fishpipe." The ride operator described it as the world's longest water slide. A few gallons of filtered water - enough to splash around in - were added before Khaelan climbed inside. The ride usually lasts for 90 seconds, but he begged to go again and again and by the time he got out, he was dizzy.

Then it was our turn for some grown-up fun. We found a licensed and bonded child-care service that was happy to take our boy. The nanny arrived promptly at our condo with a suitcase full of games and toys to keep him busy, and we were off.

At Haleakala Ranch, after a half-mile hike, Carla and I strapped on our gear and helmets for our zipline adventure. The five-line course zipped us, hanging from a wire, through a breathtaking forest, high above the tallest trees. Before we took off the instructor told us how to lift off the launch pad, how to hold on with just one hand, how to keep from twisting about and how to land without a thud. I forgot everything once I heard him say "Go," but the speed was exhilarating.

We crammed in as much action and adventure as we could in a week, and we decided we couldn't leave Maui without hitting the waves on a surfboard at least once. Carla and Khalean took a surfing lesson on short boards, and I chose paddling on a long board because I'd been told it makes for a less bumpy ride. My first challenge was to stand up without falling into the water. While I was still struggling to straighten my legs from a squat, I heard several others on boards next to me yelling excitedly about seeing sea turtles. I missed that show, but eventually I did get up and enjoyed the gentle up and down motion of the waves below me as I paddled.

Looking about 100 yards away to the area where the surfers gathered, I saw Carla gliding and weaving effortlessly, while her son was getting a special treat: a shoulder ride from the instructor — a ride on top of a ride. When we all got back to shore, Khaelan saluted me with a hand gesture, the "shaka" sign that he had just learned.

"Hang loose!" he and his mom both said.


Atlantis Submarines in Lahaina: 800-548-6262,

Maui Ocean Center: 808-270-7000,

Maui Wave Riders: 808-875-4761,

Skyline Haleakala (zipline tours for ages 10 and up): 888-TO-GO-ZIP,

"Ulalena" at the Maui Theatre: 877-688-4800,

Happy Kids (nannies for hire): 888-669-1991 or 808-667-KIDS,

 A master of undersea disguise, this frogfish at the Maui Ocean Center in Hawaii blends in with his coral-reef backdrop. Photo courtesy of Erica Dror Zeitlin.
A master of undersea disguise, this frogfish at the Maui Ocean Center in Hawaii blends in with his coral-reef backdrop. Photo courtesy of Erica Dror Zeitlin.
 The Atlantis Submarine in Lahaina takes visitors to Hawaii to the bottom of the sea. Photo courtesy of Erica Dror Zeitlin.
The Atlantis Submarine in Lahaina takes visitors to Hawaii to the bottom of the sea. Photo courtesy of Erica Dror Zeitlin.

Erica Dror Zeitlin is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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