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10 Essential Things to Know BEFORE Planning a Trip to Maui

Alert for Visitors: Maui has experienced significant wildfires in August 2023, causing major disruption for both locals and tourists. For your safety and up-to-date information, please visit the Maui County website before planning any activities or travels. Your understanding and cooperation are appreciated. Stay safe!

Are you planning your first trip to Hawaii and want some helpful Hawaii travel tips? Find out things no one tells you about planning a trip to Maui!
This post about planning a trip to Maui was written by Hawaii travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

At this point, I feel like a pro at planning a trip to Maui! That’s because we’ve taken our kids to Maui several times since they were babies. We’ve learned many Maui tips and tricks that we wish we had known before our trips.

Keep reading for my best advice for when you visit Maui, from booking your trip to finding things to do.

I get asked how to plan a trip to Hawaii just about every week. That’s because I’ve flown there more than 35 times! I know where to get the best Hawaii vacation deals.

If you want to plan a vacation to Hawaii, choosing which Hawaiian island is best for your family can be the hardest.

While each island is pretty spectacular, it’s really hard to beat a Maui family vacation.

That’s because there’s so much to do on Maui with kids of all ages. I’ve got many Maui tips for families looking for easy Maui vacation ideas and logistics.

Whether you are planning a Hawaiian vacation for the first time or it’s just your first trip to Maui, you need to read this first!

And I highly recommend signing up for my FREE 7-day Maui trip planning email course. It’s such an easy way to plan your trip to Maui like a pro!

Find out the best 101 Things to do in Maui with Kids!

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Hawaii blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting Maui.

Popular Maui Tours/Activities

Favorite Maui Resorts/Hotels

  • Hyatt Regency Maui (this has a swim-up bar and tons of amazing amenities)
  • Andaz Maui (this is a luxury resort with the best luau on Maui)
  • Honua Kai Resort & Spa (this is one of our personal favorites because there are tons of pools and there are condo options)

Want to Rent a Car in Hawaii?
One of the best places to rent a car in Hawaii is Discount Hawaii Car Rental because they get the best rates from top national companies like Alamo, Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, Enterprise, Budget, and Payless.

Want to skip all the planning and just access my detailed Maui Itinerary complete with daily schedules, kid-friendly activities, and travel hacks? Click the button below.

Get this ultimate Maui travel guide for families by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids!

What to Know Before You Start Maui Vacation Planning

1. Best Maui Vacation Packages are at Costco

When you’re planning a trip to Maui, make sure to shop around for the best Maui deals. Do this before booking anything!

While the cheapest time to visit Hawaii is during shoulder season (mid-April to June in the Spring and September to mid-December in the Fall), that can be tricky for families with school-age kids.

Costco Travel has some of the best Maui deals, so it's always worth checking there first.Image of Happy young family walking on the beach at sunset. Happy Family Lifestyle

We’ve found some awesome Costco Maui vacation packages that include free car rentals and other perks.

I recommend checking out Costco Travel first to see what hotels and condos they are partnered with. We take that information and price check on our own to see which is cheaper.

There are affordable Maui honeymoon packages and great deals on Maui family resorts when you bundle them with airfare.

2. You Can Day Trip to Maui

While it’s really best to plan a trip to Maui that’s at least 7 days, you can totally do a whirlwind tour by island hopping from another Hawaiian island.

Island hopping in Hawaii is a great way to see more than one island. Image of someone holding a hibiscus flower in front of an airplane window.

If you’re going to do this, try to get one of the first flights in the morning and one of the last flights in the evening. This will help maximize your limited time.

I suggest making your ultimate list of what to do in Maui and then narrowing it down to just 1 or 2 items.

You won’t be able to do all the Maui activities in a day, especially if some are half-day or full-day adventures.

I recommend trying to find things you can only do in Maui. Some great ideas are exploring Haleakala, snorkeling at Molokini, or driving the Road to Hana.

You can also go to popular spots for seeing Hawaiian green sea turtles in West Maui, like Honolua Bay, Napili Bay, and Ka’anapali Beach, where they often come ashore to bask in the sun or are seen while snorkeling or diving.

Another idea is just to enjoy visiting a different island! Do Maui things, like trying Ululani’s Shave Ice, doing an easy hike, and eating at the famous Mama’s Fish House.

Click here for step-by-step Maui travel planning help

3. Road to Hana is a Full Day Trip

Many people underestimate just how long it takes to drive the Road to Hana. It’s super windy, with one-lane bridges, and tourists tend to drive really slowly.

But getting to Hana isn’t really the point. You won’t find a big payoff while it’s an adorable small town.

Hawaii travel tips by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids

The reason people drive the Road to Hana year after year is that it’s a beautiful drive with stunning stops the entire way.

It’s one of the best places to see gorgeous Maui waterfalls, botanical gardens, scenic lookouts, hidden beaches, etc.

And don’t get me started on the fruit stands! In fact, this is where you’ll find the best Hawaiian banana bread ever!

There are so many things to do on the Road to Hana that some people choose to spend the night in Hana so that they can take their time.

If you don’t want to drive the Road to Hana alone, there are plenty of Road to Hana tours to choose from. Check out the latest prices and more details.

4. Reserve a Maui Rental Car

No matter where you stay in Maui (or any island), you will want to rent a car in Hawaii.

One of my top Maui tips for planning a trip to Maui is to rent a car. Image of SUV parked at beach with surfboard in Maui, Hawaii.

That’s because some of the best things to do in Maui require driving, and Maui doesn’t have great public transportation.

And you won’t find as many tour companies that will pick you up at your resort (unlike Waikiki).

I recommend downloading the Maui Shaka App. This GPS-driven audio tour teaches all about the places on Maui as you drive past them. It’s affordable, you can go at your own pace, and it’s one of the best Hawaii travel apps.

One of my biggest Maui car rental tips for families is to bring your own car seat rather than renting one from the car rental company.

That way, you know it’s the right fit for your child, and your child is already comfortable.

Driving a Hawaii rental car will also save you a lot of time as you can choose how long you’d like to spend anywhere, and you won’t have to plan ahead so much.

The best place I’ve found to rent a car in Maui is through Hawaii Discount Car Rental. They get awesome deals from top national brands like Avis, Alamo, Budget, Thrifty, Dollar, Enterprise, and Payless. Check out the latest prices and more details.

If you don’t have a driver’s license, your best bet is to stay at a resort where you can walk to restaurants and attractions or one that has a shuttle. And book tours that pick you up. Check out all my tips for getting around Maui without a car.

5. Sunrise at Haleakala is Super Early (and COLD)

When planning a trip to Maui, I try to make sure we use one day to see the sunrise from the top of Haleakala. It’s one of the top things to do in Maui. People equate it to a religious experience because it’s jaw-dropping!

I always recommend visitors experience sunrise at Haleakala on their first morning in Hawaii.

Be sure to check out Haleakala as you're planning a trip to Maui. Image of a beautiful sunrise scene on Haleakala volcano, Maui island, Hawaii

That’s because of the time difference from the Mainland. Hawaii is 2-3 hours earlier than the West Coast, and you’ll probably wake up much earlier than expected for your first few days.

That helps because if you stay in Ka’anapali, you must leave your hotel by 3:30 a.m. to get to the Haleakala summit before sunrise.

So, when you are planning a Maui vacation, make sure to put the Haleakala sunrise on your first or second full day.

And a lot of people don’t realize that Haleakala is FREEZING cold, especially in the morning.

You’ll want to wear really warm clothes (like coats and long pants), and you might even bring some blankets from your hotel so you can bundle up.

You can drive up Haleakala on your own (but you’ll need a reservation) or book a Sunrise at Haleakala tour. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Book a Family Photo Shoot

Whenever we travel to Hawaii, we almost always book a family photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy, affordable, AND it guarantees that I’ll be in some photos. You can get $25 off if you book through this link or use the code HAWAIITRAVEL.

6. Ka’anapali is Really Far from the Airport

Some of the best places to stay in Maui are in Ka’anapali, on the West Shore.

While it’s only 16 miles from Kahului Airport, it will take you at least 40 minutes to get there. And if there’s traffic, it can take up to 2 hours.

Not to scare you, but it once took 12 hours to get to our hotel in Ka’anapali because a fire shut down the only road to Ka’anapali from the airport.

The West Shore is pretty removed from the rest of Maui. That’s totally fine if you are planning a Hawaiian vacation that’s just about relaxing at the resort.

But, if you want to really explore the island, some of the best condos in Maui are actually in Kihei, which is pretty centrally located.

It’s also where you want to stay in Maui on a budget, as there are many Maui vacation properties.

7. Can Only See Whales in the Winter

If you look at any Maui tourism brochure, you’ll probably see photos of whales. That’s because the whale migration path goes right past Maui, and it’s pretty incredible.

If you're planning a trip to Maui in winter, be sure to check out a whale watching tour. Image of two whales in the water.

However, this only happens in the winter (December to May.)

If you want to pretty much guarantee to see whales in Maui, plan your trip for February. That’s one of the best times for Maui whale watching.

There are a few spots where you can spot them from the beach, however, your best bet is to book a Maui whale watching boat tour. There’s even one where you can see whales from a kayak!

Be sure to book your Maui whale-watching tour early in your trip if you need to reschedule due to weather. Check out the latest prices and more details.

8. Wailea is Swanky

If you’re looking for a luxury resort in Maui, Wailea is the place to be. There’s a bunch of them that offer 5-star dining and incredible luau shows.

If you're planning a trip to Maui, go for a walk on Wailea Beach Walkway, Wailea, Maui.

This Maui resort town is about 25 minutes from the Airport, and it’s one of the most desirable places to stay in Hawaii. In fact, this is where the celebs go!

Plus, there are many things to do in Wailea that will make your Maui vacation planning a breeze! I’m talking about snorkeling tours, surfing lessons, golfing, kayaking, and watching an incredible Maui sunset.

But you don’t need to stay there to explore Wailea. You can go for a fancy lunch or drinks and browse the high-end Shops at Wailea.

Or you can experience their popular luaus, like the Grand Wailea Luau or Feast at Mokapu.

And there’s a pretty amazing walking path with some of the prettiest views in Maui.

9. Maui Gold Pineapples are the Best

It’s no secret that Hawaii is known for having super sweet pineapple.

While there used to be pineapple plantations all across Hawaii, now it’s down to Dole Plantation on Oahu and Maui Gold Plantation.

Planning a trip to Maui? One of the best pineapples in Hawaii is Maui Gold Pineapple. Image of a pineapple on the beach with waves crashing.

You can find them at any Maui grocery store, and you’ll probably want to buy them 2 at a time because they are so tasty.

We usually chop them up and sprinkle some li hing mui powder on them for a snack.

But you can also add them to tropical smoothies, garnish your Hawaiian cocktails, or add to yogurt for a healthy breakfast.

The tricky thing about Hawaiian fruit is that you can only take it home if it’s gone through an agricultural inspection and has a sticker on it.

In fact, one of my best Maui insider tips is to pick up a case of Maui Gold pineapples at the airport. They are cleared with agriculture and usually won’t count as a carry-on item.

10. Not All Maui Luaus are the Same

I often hear people say that you only need to do a luau once because it’s all the same.

Two Hawaiian Men preparing to Dance with Fire in Maui

As a professional hula dancer, I can emphatically say that most Maui luaus are special in their own way.

Most people love the Old Lahaina Luau for their first time in Maui because it gives a great cultural experience. Read my honest review.

But, if you’ve already been to a traditional Hawaiian luau, you might try the Feast at Lele. It’s a really unique 5-course plated dinner with food and entertainment highlighting several Polynesian cultures.

Or try the Feast at Mokapu, which is in Wailea. It’s a much more intimate luau experience (with smaller tables and hands-on crafts), plus it’s a 3-course farm-to-table meal. Find the best prices here.

There are also Hawaii luaus that incorporate storytelling, theatrics, and lots of fire.

My Quick Tips for Planning a Trip to Maui

You’ve got the rundown on all the major things to know. Now read my suggestions for things to make your Maui vacation that much easier!

  • You can use any annual pass to national parks and federally run recreation areas within all 50 states and US territories. This includes Haleakala National Park in Maui and Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Using your pass is a great way to save on expensive admission fees.
  • Bring layers! Days can get pretty warm, but nights cool down, even in the summer. Especially if you plan on exploring higher elevations like on Haleakala, pack a few long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a light jacket or hoodie for everyone.
  • Slap on the sunscreen, but please respect the islands and look for reef-safe sunscreens. These are recipes made with non-nano Zinc oxide or non-nano Titanium dioxide over other harmful ingredients. It should be pretty easy to find these ingredients listed on labels.
  • If you take the Road to Hana, you might want to stop at the Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park. Know that they recently made it a requirement for you to book reservations online 2 weeks in advance.
  • When planning a trip to Maui, I suggest taking one day away from the kids. There are fantastic things to do in Maui at night. Why not have a date night? You’ll find some top-notch babysitting agencies in Maui. Ask your concierge for recommendations if you’re staying at a Maui, Hawaii resort or hotel.

How to Plan a Trip to Maui FAQ

How much does a trip to Maui cost?

The price varies greatly depending on whether you are planning your dream vacation or heading to Maui on a budget. Are you staying in a condo or hotel? How many activities do you want to book? Are you visiting during the high season or the low season? All these things will affect your final cost. A conservative estimate for a family of 4 would be about $5,000 for one week.

What is the best month to go to Maui?

If you can swing it, aim for Hawaii’s shoulder season, which runs from mid-April to June in the Spring and September to mid-December in the Fall. However, if you want to see the whale migration, you’ll want to visit during the winter.

What are the best Maui resorts for families?

Many incredible kid-friendly Maui resorts in Ka’anapali, Lahaina, and Wailea have amazing pools and kids’ activities. The Grand Wailea Resort is known for its water slides, lazy river, and giant kids club area (that has a movie theater!) Another great option is the Hyatt Regency Maui. It also has an amazing water park and kids’ activities throughout the day.

Is Maui worth visiting with toddlers?

Yes! Don’t think you have to skip a trip to the Hawaiian Islands just because you have younger children. There are tons of toddler-friendly activities to find. Some adventures, like boat and helicopter tours, have height restrictions. However, most attractions are welcoming and don’t charge admission for ages 3 and under!

Use My Tips When Planning a Trip to Maui

And there you have it. Those were my top Maui travel tips for newcomers when you plan a trip to Maui!

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing. Use the advice of a seasoned island traveler for your Maui trip planning so you can sit back and enjoy your family getaway!

Looking for more Hawaii trip planning tips? Find out how to rent a car in Hawaii, 50 places to visit in Hawaii, travel insurance for Hawaii vacations, my ultimate Maui packing list, The Perfect 3 Days in Maui Itinerary with Kids, Best Maui Adventures to Book, Doable 5 Days in Maui Itinerary for Families, and 105 ways to save money in Hawaii!