You already know that the big resorts offer keiki (kids) activities, but there’s a lot for kids to enjoy on Maui beyond the resorts, too.
Maui Ocean Center is well worth a visit. Kids and adults alike are wowed by the acrylic tunnel that lets them walk right through the middle of a 750,000-gallon tank full of manta rays and sharks (many of which are regularly rotated back into the ocean) and 2000 fish. They will enjoy seeing and learning about the aquarium’s large green sea turtles, which are given a strong start as part of its hatch-and-release program, as well as the outdoor touch pools and other interactive displays. A tour through this excellent aquarium and its exhibits about Maui’s marine life takes a couple hours; there are also two restaurants and a shop full of ocean- and island-related souvenirs.
Maui Golf & Sports Park in Ma‘alaea, near the Maui Ocean Center, offers two 18-hole miniature golf courses with ponds and streams, as well as bumper boats with "master blaster" water guns, in a 4,000-square-foot natural lava lagoon. The park has a 25-foot rock climbing activity with four courses of varied difficulty for those 5 years old and up, and an "x-treme trampoline" for those weighing at least 30 lbs (it involves a bungee and harness!).
You might not have considered taking your children on a tour of a working goat dairy during your Hawaiian vacation, but why not? The 42-acre Surfing Goat Dairy, located on the slopes of Haleakala Volcano in Kula, produces award-winning "Maui Gourmet Goat Cheeses" (and truffles, soap, and more), and is one of the Islands’ top ag-tourism venues. Their slogan is the Hawaiian Pidgin "Da Feta Mo’ Bettah!" and their tours are child-friendly and varied. The dairy’s casual tours require no reservations; just stop in. For the 3:15 p.m., hands-on "Evening Chores & Milking Tour," or the Saturday morning "Grand Dairy Tour," call first and reserve a spot. Parents will enjoy the cream cheese tastings, which include plain, apple-banana-curry, or anchovies and caper; and if you stop in for tea, you can taste the dairy’s liliko‘i (passion fruit) cheesecake, which everybody will probably like.
Ulalena is a polished, expertly done Cirque Du Soleil-style stage production created by some of Hawaii’s top musicians and dancers, and tells about the history and mythology of the Hawaiian Islands. Kids will be dazzled by the acrobatics, dancing, and special effects, like when red lava flows from the stage into the audience (it’s fabric, but very effective). Lots of loud, traditional-style drums, and chanting complete the experience. The theater is located at the Old Lahaina Center, on Front Street in Lahaina.
You’ll likely see local families hiking at beautiful ’Iao Valley State Monument, in the center of the lush, green West Maui mountains. "‘Iao" means "cloud supreme." This gorgeous park, away from the hotels and other development, is surrounded by beautiful mountains that soar to 3,000 to 5,700 feet high, sometimes with waterfalls trickling down. Various hiking trails offer different levels of difficulty. The gentlest is a .6-mile hike to view the 1,200-foot ‘Iao Needle, the highlight of this park, called Kuka‘emoku in Hawaiian. The rock formation is the vertical edge of an eroded ridge. Take an umbrella for drizzle, and perhaps some bug spray. The park is located at the end of ‘Iao Valley Road (Hwy 32).
Maui’s "Baby Beach" in Lahaina, behind an offshore breakwater, has calm waves well suited for younger children, and is a spot where Maui families take their little ones. There are no lifeguards, though—so always watch your children. It’s also a good place for kids to learn to snorkel, and keep in mind that snorkel gear can be rented at Maui Dive Shop or Snorkel Bob’s for less than at the big hotels. To find Baby Beach from the northern end of Front Street in Lahaina, turn on Ala Moana Street toward the ocean, pass the giant Buddha on your left, and then park near the ocean.
For kids that want to learn to surf, check out companies like Maui Wave Riders, located in both Kihei and Lahaina, that teach kids (and anybody else) to surf, no matter what their experience level with the ocean.
Children that like trains might enjoy a train ride on the antique, narrow-gauge, open air Sugar Cane Train. This is a steam engine that used to carry sugar from the fields to the harbor back in the plantation days. Now it makes a leisurely, six-mile trip (at about 12 mph), complete with narrated history, a stint over a 325-foot curved wooden trestle, and a great view of the West Maui Mountains and the ocean. During whale season (December to May) riders often see humpbacks. It operates several times a day between Ka‘anapali and Lahaina.
And what’s a trip to Hawaii without peering at the underwater sealife? To see lots more than what you see snorkeling, know that Atlantis Adventures’ 1.5 hour submarine tours from Lahaina Pier include a visit to the Carthaginian, which is a replica whaling ship lying 100 feet under water, where it was sunk to form an artificial reef. Kids must be at least three feet tall to ride this submarine.