Kids Pick the Best Maui Activities

Four youngsters of different ages and interests review a few kid-friendly activities on Maui.


Sara Smith

kids rates mauiSo much to do on Maui, and so little time! How do you find activities your kids will really enjoy, the ones that will give the most bang for the buck? We enlisted a panel of experts—four youngsters of different ages and interests—to review a few kid-friendly activities. Here’s what they had to say.

Sleep with the Sharks

Maui Ocean Center’s Sleep with the Sharks opens the aquarium to kids for after-hours exploration. A room in the shark exhibit became home base for nine-year-old Ha‘ena, eight-year-old Kama, and fifteen new friends. With 2,000 different sharks and fish constantly circling by, it’s hard to say who’s watching whom, as the sleeping bags get rolled out. Three staff naturalists-turned-chaperones keep the group busy feeding green sea turtles and hammerhead sharks, holding sea stars, petting sea cucumbers, and playing games. Kids tour aquarium exhibits in the dark, discovering bioluminescence and nocturnal behaviors with specially outfitted flashlights. Microscopes and computers reveal teeny marine life. Plus, pizza for dinner and pancakes for breakfast! Recommended for children in third through eighth grade. Reservations required; check the website for upcoming dates.

Maui Ocean Center
192 Ma‘alaea Road, Ma‘alaea, HI 96793 • (808) 270-7075
$60/person • Overnight (5:30 p.m. to 8 a.m.)

“It was kind of scary, at first, being with all those other kids, but as the night went on I felt safe. Everything was fun—feeding the hammerheads and playing Mad Scientist. I liked playing on the microscope and stuff like the shark tooth and plankton. The only part that was spooky was learning about the glowing fish like the cookie-cutter shark way down in the ocean. The only thing I’d change is to let us go into [the shallow reef tank]. Sleeping over at the Maui Ocean Center is fun!”

“It was way funner than I expected. You get to do a lot of things you wouldn’t get to do in the daytime. I like when we got to play Mad Scientist. I actually felt very comfortable with sleeping in the room with the sharks. I learned about the sharks that have two pointy fingers and about the starfish. I never knew that they ate sea urchins. The staff people were really nice. They made it not too educational, but still fun.”

Sugar Cane Train

Being transported by an authentic steam locomotive is almost like time-traveling back to Hawai‘i’s plantation days, when railroads hauled cane to the mill and brought workers to and from the fields. The Sugar Cane Train has been choo-chooing along the same route for thirty-eight years, and though modern life has encroached on the view, it’s hard to resist the old train’s charm. Ha‘ena, nine, and Gabby, eleven, named as highlights the steam whistle, crossing a 325-foot curved wooden trestle, and getting hit with a “train fart”—a belch of water and steam.

Sugar Cane Train
975 Limahana Place, Suite 203 • Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761
(808) 667-6851 • Toll Free: (800) 499-2307
$15.95/child, $21.95/adult • One hour fifteen minutes

“My favorite was the bridge and the train fart. I was disappointed that it wasn’t air conditioned, and they didn’t hand out any food. Kids from the mainland might get bored. But it was still interesting. The guy narrating would say funny stuff; I learned more about Lahaina than I have in my whole life, even more than watching Visitor Channel 7.”

“My favorite was going over the bridge. I learned a lot about Lahaina—like the Sugar Cane Train has nothing to do with sugar cane. I thought it was cool to go by people’s houses and see in their yards, like what kind of fruit they were growing. It’d be cool if it went a little faster, but I think it’s good for families. They can talk and express their feelings.”

Surfing Lesson

Nothing captures the quintessential Hawai‘i vacation like the thrill of riding a wave. We took Kama, eight, and Ha‘ena, nine, for a lesson with Maui Surfer Girls. Owner Dustin Tester and her all-female team of instructors specialize in working with kids. After a shoreline briefing, Dustin and the boys paddled out to the lineup, where she provided instruction and took care of watching for rising surf, big-set waves, and drifting in the current.

Maui Surfer Girls
(808) 280-8165
$65/person • About two hours

“It’s helpful, having Dustin there, ‘cuz your parents don’t really tell you anything. She told me to put my feet farther apart, keep my knees bent and stay in the middle of the board. That really helped. I was scared of wana [spiny sea urchins], but wearing the booties made me feel way more comfortable. I think girls nine—no, seven and up—would like it.”

“This is awesome! Wiping out was the funnest thing, too. When that big wave came, I told myself, Don’t panic! Dustin told me to bend my knees and lean forward for the gas pedal, because when you lean forward, you go faster. I would tell anyone coming to Maui to try this thing called surfing.”

Rainforest Walk

If petting guppies, eating wild guavas and getting muddy spell fun for your tyke, head to ‘Iao Valley, as we did with seven-year-old Max, nine-year-old Ha‘ena and eleven-year-old Gabby. Three times each weekday, the Hawai‘i Nature Center offers a guided Rainforest Walk into the surrounding wilderness. The one-and-a-half-mile loop trail leads through an abandoned coffee plantation and a small Hawaiian lo‘i (taro patch). Guides share Hawaiian history and folklore, and information on plants and critters along the way. The museum’s exhibits encourage hands-on exploration of native ecosystems, including a touch pool, ‘o‘opu scope, and, if you’re lucky, a happy-faced spider. Stay for lunch; the valley offers a gorgeous backdrop for the on-site café. Reservations recommended. Come prepared for mud, possible rain, and guaranteed mosquitoes.

Hawai‘i Nature Center
875 ‘Iao Valley Road, Wailuku, HI  96793
(808) 244-6500 • Toll free: (888) 244-6503
$22.95/child, $29.95/adult
About two hours

“I like when we got to use the scope, like an army submarine, to look for the little fishes. I’m going to remember that the ‘o‘opu fish are very endangered. I think [the trail] was very easy, but it might be difficult for little toddlers. Kids from the mainland would like it.”

“My favorite part was when we found the mini tiny guavas that I like so much.” What he remembers of the trail: “Tripping, tall rocks and high steps.” And: “We got to squeeze the shampoo ginger.”

“It was really educational. It would help you learn a lot about Hawai‘i. I liked walking through the banana patch, and crossing the bridge was cool. Wear long pants and put a lot of mosquito repellant on.”

The Judges

Ha’ena Balinbin
School: Haleakala Waldorf
Interests: Spearfishing, dodgeball, sharks, Indiana Jones
Favorite school subject: reading

Gabrielle Ratte
School: St. Anthony Elementary
Interests: Volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, getting a dog
Favorite school subject: reading

Peter “Kama” Konohia IV
School: Emmanuel Lutheran Elementary
Interests: basketball, water sports, playing with his little brother
Favorite school subject: math

Max Ghantous
School: Makawao Elementary
Interests: going to the beach, Transformers, and building stuff
Favorite school subject: math


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