I’ve cage dived with crocodiles, hung off the side of holy mountains in China, and vacationed in Chernobyl, but here’s the truth: the thought of travelling for the first time with my 4 year old daughter Raquel and 9-month old son Galileo terrified me. Curly-haired Raquel seems to have fallen Obelix-like into a cauldron of Red Bull, she’s a T4 bull in a china shop of tranquillity. Gali is newly teething, crawling, and hasn’t seen a hazard he hasn’t wanted to wrap his gums or baby carrot fingers around. Still, it’s time to break them in, because with a Dad like me, travel is in their future. So I thought I’d start somewhere easy and beautiful, spreading a couple weeks over a range of accommodation options. Expectations are the death of travel, and yet toddlers are particularly gifted when it comes to ensuring that no high hope is trampled under the weight of their hyper-emotional little piggies.
No matter how great your toddler vacation is, the reality is it will be bookended by a plane ride three stories up from hell. I fly a lot. It’s my chance to work, read, watch a movie, daydream at altitude. A six-hour direct flight from Vancouver to Maui should be nothing. If the kids sleep. To stack the odds in my favour, I reached out to Fly-Tot, who sell an inflatable legroom pillow. We’d be flying in late at night, and out on a red eye. How bad could it be? Bad. Real bad. Gali is chewing on the tray tables and seatbelts (and you know how often they get cleaned). Raquel is in full thermonuclear meltdown, vibrating with kicks and punches. Rather than sleeping, they’re using the Fly-Tot as a trampoline. Playing Frozen on the iPad worked, but it only worked once, and then Raquel let it go. Like condemned prisoners at a public hanging, my wife and I gaze into the eyes of fellow toddler parents, dealing with the trauma of their own journey. Each minute of each hour has the weight of a cannonball. So frazzled by the experience, I commit a cardinal travel sin and forget our two bottles of duty free liquor – blessed late night Scotch/Baileys escape – on the plane. Air Canada’s cleaning staff relieve us of the bottles no more than five minutes after we deplane and I remember the forgotten bag. “Sorry sir, our cleaners didn’t find anything.” Aloha to them.
Welcome to Maui! Grab our bags and shuttle to the car rental, and spend 45 minutes in a late night line-up. Now the kids want to sleep. I push two chairs together and Raquel passes out. I feel like Parent of the Year. Get the van, install the car seats, strap in the kids, load in the luggage. It’s a 45-minute late night drive in the rain to Wailea. Could anything be worth this?
The Fairmont Kea Lani
Yes, waking up on the 7th floor in a Deluxe Ocean View suite at the Fairmont Kea Lani is definitely worth it. The sun sparkles off the Pacific. Koi swim in ponds amidst manicured gardens and clear azure pools. Coconut trees rustling in warm tropical air as sweet as nectar. Stripped of the jeans and hoodies we won’t see for the next two weeks, the family hums with travel buzz. We chomping at the bit of a beach vacation. Out feet touch the reddish sand of Polo Beach, and then it starts:
“I don’t want to go to the sea Daddy!” Oh look, Gali has a fistful of sand in his mouth. “It’s too hot Daddy!” “It’s too cold Daddy!” “I’m hungry!” “I’m not hungry!” “Where’s my blue spade?” “I want a red spade!” “I want what that other girl has!” “Pick me up!” “Put me down!” “This rock is scary!” “I want to go to the pool!” Toddlers are complex algorithms that dance to a convoluted rhythm only they can hear. The first chance we have to relax is much later that night when both kids are asleep. No late night walks on the beach for us, but we do sip cocktails on our patio, beneath a planetarium of stars, a scene scored by the soporific sound of crashing waves. The flight is a distant memory. Aloha Maui. Finally, aloha.
Buffet breakfasts have ruined us. Raquel quickly gets used to her one mouthful of a dozen different dishes, and miso soup is now a breakfast staple. We tag team feeding both kids as Gali singlehandedly supports the birdlife of Hawaii who gather beneath the snow of egg that falls from his high chair. Staff give us crayons for the kids each morning, and Gali’s favourite breakfast dish becomes the colour Red. Hours turn to days as we rotate between the pool, suite and beach. Raquel is too young for Kea Lani’s Keiki Kids Club, but she can drop into the stocked daycare-like facilities in the afternoon, when Gali is napping and the sun is too strong. There were so many toys I almost cried when we walked into the room for the first time. We explore the grounds, make a run to the nearest supermarket, buy the only two things we didn’t pack while realizing we won’t need most of the things we did.
The family dines at the sensational Ko restaurant downstairs, a romantic meal of dreams invaded by our overtired, overhungry kids who care little for the chef’s inspired creations. Before the appies arrive, out come the apps. My wife is afraid to let me go to the bathroom because she thinks I might run away.
Every time I meet a Dad or Mom in the knee high, pee-warm toddler pool, where Raquel spends most of her time (beaches be damned) we sport our 1000-yard stares, shrug our shoulders, and let the giggles and laughs of our kids melt our hearts. There is an Adults Only section at the Kea Lani, and I wonder how many hearts are melting with the ice in the umbrella-topped pina coladas. The Fairmont was our high-end option, a refuge of stunning views that fluff your eyes like pillows at turn down service. It’s the other end of cheap. One morning, as Gali stands up in his hotel crib beaming a two-tooth smile, he says “Dadda” for the first time. I pick him up, step out onto the balcony, and together we smile at the dreamy world before us. Cost of that moment: Priceless.
The bucket list drive in Maui is the road to Hana, a hairpin-winding track alongside soaring ocean cliffs. We made three turns and turned around, avoiding the projectile backseat vomit we knew would follow. This pretty much ruled out a drive to the Haleakala volcano crater too, which I’ll have to get to once the kids are a little older. We did drive to Makena Beach where Raquel flew a kite for the first time. I brought it from home and she didn’t want to do anything except fly that kite. She flew it for exactly 34 seconds, and never wanted to see it again. We drove up to Twin Falls and got some great photos amidst the giant bamboo and dual cascades. The Banyen Tree in Lahaina is unlike any tree I’ve ever seen, sporting 16 trunks and a block-wide canopy. We ate lunch in the Flatbread Company in Paia, after which I lost my wife and daughter in the shops. Raquel was having an allergic to reaction to her all-natural sunblock or the heat or the seawater, or something the Internet told us could probably be treated with a little Benedryl. New parents would spend a day in a local hospital, only to be told to use a little Benedryl. Fortunately we’re over the paranoia and worry that accompanies the firstborn. Instead we visit Baby Beach where the full-face snorkel mask I bought for Raquel is thoroughly enjoyed by all other kids on the beach. They tell me it works like a charm.
The Boat Snorkel
The full-face mask is the snorkel’s first improvement in decades, and allows the user to breathe and speak without anything in their mouths. There’s a bunch of them on Amazon. I bought this one, ready to introduce my daughter to the wonders of marine life. Raquel and I board Maui Dive Shop’s Ali’i Nui catamaran in Ma’alaea Harbour for a 3-hour snorkel expedition. Some strong winds derail the planned sailing to Turtle Point, so we sail to up the coast to a protected reef. Raquel went bananas on the trampoline-like canopy at the fore of the ship, jumping around like a lunatic. She ate a piece of celery from the rib n’wings buffet. We suited up and hopped into the water with a kickboard and life vest. I help her with the mask, she takes one look down, and that was the end of my plans for the mask. Not interested.. I don’t care if Humu the tropical fish is dancing the cha-cha down there, I am not putting on that mask again. Raquel has a way of saying all this with her eyes.
To her credit, I get her into the water a couple times, but she refuses to look down, and only lasts a few minutes. So we spent a couple hours on a catamaran, playing with a feisty Brazilian granny and her grandkids. I’ve snorkelled the world over, Maui can wait. Advice for parents: If you plan on actually seeing or doing anything while with your toddler, you’re in for a disappointment. If you plan on just hanging out with your happy bouncing kid, it’s smooth sailing all the way.
Ka’anapali Beach Hotel
Further up the coast, about a half hour’s drive from Wailea is the second oldest hotel, and certainly the oldest-looking hotel, on the popular Ka’anapali beach strip, the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. It bills itself as Maui’s most Hawaiian hotel, which means it is independently owned, has pioneered various cultural programs, and is far removed from the spit-polished gloss of the Fairmont. While the rooms look and feel like a throwback to the 1970’s, the location is steps away from the beach, its whale-shaped pool a hit with the kids, and the well-kept gardens are full of native plumerias bursting with flowers. Sure the shower drain was blocked and the screen door unhinged, the bathroom tiny and the pillows a little lumpy, but the KBH is far more realistic for our budget, and as Raquel bounced between the two beds, she yelled “Daddy, this is even better than the last hotel!” The needs of a toddler are tremendously simple: if you can jump between two beds, life is grand. Staff at the KBH were lovely and their KBH Aloha Passport kids program kept Raquel busy with Hula and ukulele lessons.
The on-site Legends of Ka’anapali Luau was fabulous, and it didn’t take long for Raquel to get up on stage and participate. Our meal in the Tiki Terrace was memorable, we self catered in the handy covered pavilion, and our Ocean Front room was literally steps from the shallow break of Kaanapali’s sandy beach. Raquel quickly found a few friends, including a 5 –year old boy named Floran from The Hague, who she simply called “My boy!” They played for hours in the pool while his Dad and I got sunburned. Gali awoke at 5:30am one morning so I took him for a walk along the path, past the glitzy Whalers mall and the Marriott and Hyatt mega resorts. There was a surprising amount of people on the trail. Many of them were pushing strollers. We aloha’d each other, sharing the camaraderie of exhaustion and elation to be beachside at sunrise.
I wanted to treat my wife with something different. Spas are the typical go-to, but massages tend to blend into each other, a short-term fix. Catching your first wave on a surfboard however is something you never forget. I looked after both kids while Ana took a surf lesson with Goofy Foot Surf School in Lahaina. She used to be a dancer so I figured her first lesson would be way more successful than my first lesson, which consisted of non-stop wipeouts in the cold waters of Tofino, BC. With Gali teething and especially clingy, I think Ana would have enjoyed two hours alone in a closet. I dealt with the kids while she paddled out to a small break where all the surf schools gather. And there we watched her not only get up the first time, but stay up over and over again, graduating to a few bigger waves. She was as thrilled as I’d hoped she would be, immediately regretting that she’d waited so long to surf, considering she grew up on a beach in Rio. Nobody should ever say no to a massage, but if you want to treat your wife in Maui, give her a challenge to overcome in the healing waters of the ocean. And a break from the kids, of course.
Napili Kai Beach Resort
By our third hop, we’d realized, as most travellers do, just how much we packed that we simply didn’t need. We could blame the kids, but the reality is we can only blame ourselves. Having gone through the worst Vancouver winter in 33 years, we’d quickly forgotten what warm weather feels like, that all we’d need is bathing suits and flip-flops (and diapers, wipes, toys and teddies) . We packed up and headed north up the coast to the Napili Kai Beach Resort, framing a perfect crescent-shaped beach with toddler friendly waves. Steps away from the ocean is the resort’s large pool, a hot tub, and a 27-hole putting green course Raquel couldn’t get enough of. If you enjoy infinity pools like I do, you’ll appreciate that Room 232 in Napili Kai’s Puna Two building has an infinity patio. The view from the bedroom and kitchen is all ocean, so much so that it feels you’re on a cruise ship.
Meanwhile, the fully equipped modern kitchen quickly taught us this: if you’re travelling with toddlers, a kitchen is gold. Oatmeal porridge at 3pm? A cheese sandwich at midnight? No problem! Raquel helped me with the groceries for several nights of simple meals – spaghetti, oven fish, rotisserie chicken, and we saved a bundle. We even had a blender and ice-maker to craft our own pina coladas. After 12 days of sunshine, a tropical storm hit with sheets of raining falling for 36 hours. Confined to a room, we were relieved it was this one, where we could watch Netflix movies on TV (thanks to a handy HDMI cable connected to my laptop), stare at the ocean, and let Gali nap in his own space. Of course there was still time to play on the beach, explore the grounds, bury Raquel in sand, make sand castles, and splash in the pool. All three resorts were great, but the self catering flexibility of Napili Kai, and the proximity of its facilities, worked best for our kids.
Relaxed, finally in the flow and on a schedule that works for the kids, it’s time to dynamite it all to hell. Air Canada’s return flight from Maui is a red-eye (they don’t call it their Air Canada Rouge service for nothing). We arrived at the airport two hours early and barely made check-in. Line-ups, heat, frustration, delays, wrong seat assignments – every hour that dripped by eroded the pleasant memories of Maui. Finally on the plane, the kids are caged monkeys, eventually collapsing in exhaustion on the unspoken condition that we don’t. Ana bends herself into a pretzel on the floor with one kid using her as a pillow and the other as a footrest. Raquel has a full thermonuclear meltdown on arrival, and by the time we get home, she climbs on the couch, puts a blanket over her head, and we don’t hear from her for six hours. She’s never done this before, and it’s quite impressive.
A few days later, the colours of Maui are fading (along with Raquel’s mysterious rash) , but our experiences on the island remain bright, the photographs sealing in the memories with a varnish that will only improve and become more valuable with time. I pick up Raquel from daycare, and ask her: “Did you tell everyone about Maui?”
“No,” she replies. “I forgot to.”
She might be over it, but I believe our two weeks on the Valley Isle hardcoded our children with a love for the ocean, island life, the aloha spirit of Hawaii, and an appreciation for warm, sincere hospitality. It definitely hard-coded a love for travel, for the next sentence out of Raquel’s mouth is: “Where are we going next?”
A special mahalo to Tourism Hawaii, Tourism Maui, Theresa Betty, the Fairmont Kea Lani, Kaanapali Beach Hotel and Napali Kai Resort. Click here for more info about visiting Maui.