Growing up with a healthy diet of sitcoms, we were taught to believe that there was no bigger family vacation experience than Hawaii. From Bobby Brady unleashing an ancient curse and the Tanners getting lost thanks to Danny’s “Clipboard of Fun,” to the Seavers being marooned on a houseboat and Mitchell and Cameron losing Lily in an elevator, the Aloha State has always been television’s tropical destination of choice, and so why wouldn’t it be our pick for all ages fun, sun, and playful hijinks?
Of course, many families had to pause those dreams over the last two years, so the eagerness to return or especially make the first ever visit has undoubtedly grown. The latter was certainly the case for my family and, judging by the packed Alaskan flight from Seattle to Maui’s Kahului Airport, we were hardly alone. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it’s safe to say that many hearts out there are downright obsessed with Maui right now.
And who can blame them? The beaches, resort pools, views, golf courses, shopping, and dining options—it’s all here. The most difficult decision is choosing where to stay, but when it comes to pleasing the entire family, Ka’anapali hits all the sweet spots. And thanks to recent extensive renovations and some creative new additions, the crown jewel of this region is Westin Maui Resort and Spa Ka’anapali.
Start with the Obvious
No monocles will ever be shattered if we state this simple fact: people don’t look for luxury in Ka’anapali. This area is lively and energetic, a place where people go to blow off steam and seek excitement. The exceptional stretch of beach lures guests from thousands of miles away and awaiting them on (or near) the soft golden sand is an armada of catamarans, speed boats, and outrigger canoes, with local guides ready to host everything from sunset cruises to parasailing lessons.
But thrills and luxury aren’t oil and water—at least that’s what I imagine the team at Westin Maui convincing themselves when they launched a $120 million resort redesign. And if this was the wager, everyone is a huge winner because at the heart of this makeover is the Hōkūpaʻa Tower, which instantly became the most stylish, sophisticated, and in some ways luxurious building in the region. (It even gives those fancier resorts in other areas a run for their money.)
From the new look and refreshing, tropical tones of the 217 rooms to the extremely cool and exclusive Lānai lounge, this resort’s newest offerings alone make it the best choice for travelers enjoying their first or 50th Maui adventure. But let’s step outside Hōkūpaʻa and really embrace the spectrum of amenities and experiences that make this the best and only choice for families.
Covering the Bases
“Family-friendly” is one of the broadest terms in travel. When planning a vacation, we consider the size of the clan, ages of every member, and, perhaps more than anything, preferences and even moods, too. What’s good for the nine-year-old isn’t necessarily good for the five-year-old, and the older the kids get, the more alone time they demand. And obviously the parents would love five minutes to themselves as well, but we’re realistic and will settle for 60 seconds.
Ka’anapali is ideal because it’s where visitors will find the most variety, but few resorts, if any, have put it all together as well as the Westin Maui. This reputation was already thriving prior to the property’s $120 renovation, but now it is indisputable.
Let’s start with the one aspect that kids of all ages will agree on: the pools. In this case, as the name suggests, the sprawling Kawaiola Aquatic Playground is an island unto itself, with multiple areas separated by the resort’s spectacular displays of local flora. Little ones will be overjoyed with the Keiki Splash Zone, where they can splash around safely before experiencing their first taste of adventure with a beginner waterslide. Slightly older children will scurry to the larger, twisting slide that deposits them into a shallower pool that is still spacious enough for waiting parents who have their GoPro cameras ready to capture every moment.
Around the corner, just past Hale Mo’olelo, where fantastic bar food and a truly delicious pineapple-mezcal cocktail (the Golden Aloha) are served, teens and sun-starved parents can unwind in a pair of larger pool areas. But wiser guests will plan far ahead and book the Na Hale cabanas—boasting a design that’s as in touch with local culture as it is private—or, if those are booked, the smaller casabella daybeds are just as nice when the goal is having enough shade for a nap and book.
Finally, for guests 18 and over who like their pools splash-free and the volume low, the adults-only infinity pool is one of the coolest spots in a resort loaded with fun perks. Need to wind down after a long day of exploring or maybe just ease the muscles following a round at the nearby Royal Ka’anapali? There’s a whirlpool for that, too, and it’s tucked away nicely from the rest of the water action.
Even the Pickiest Appetites
When booking a stay at Westin Maui, the most important family meal to plan is the Wailele Luau, because having witnessed the show and my son’s reaction to the pyro, stunts, and dancing (not to mention the very important history lessons), was worth everything. However, when it comes to dining in style and enjoying arguably the best sunset views on this beach, the new star of the resort is Waicoco.
There are some really good restaurants in Ka’anapali, but none has emerged as the “place to be” as quickly as this creation of Michelin-starred Chef Mourad Lahlou of San Francisco and native culinary genius Chef Chris Kajioka. From the airport shuttle driver to the staff in the various retail shops in neighboring Whaler’s Village, so many people offered the same generous advice: “You have to eat at Waicoco.” As if that was ever a question. But this isn’t just a one-time dining experience either. Between breakfast dishes like the kiawe smoked shakshuka and short rib hash and dinner items like the beef lumpia and brown butter mahi, this is the place to both start and end the day. (The latter will call for both the pahoehoe and lilikoi lani cocktails, if you need an editor’s cocktail recommendation.)
Don’t be fooled by the names of the meals, though. Delicious? Yes. Mind-shatteringly unusual? Not at all. And if kids aren’t brave enough to try local fare, there’s plenty on the menus that they’ll recognize and love. Same goes for the outdoor Hale Mo’olelo and especially the Mahele Market and Eatery, where guests will find everything from healthy bowls to mouth-watering pizza.
And then there’s The Lānai again. The exclusive VIP lounge is a scorching hot resort trend, so in addition to pleasing and spoiling guests, creativity needs to be prioritized. That is certainly on display with the design in this exceptional amenity—the floating daybed might just be the best seat on this entire beach—but the snacks are ideal for families that are constantly on the go and in need of fuel, and the cherry on top is the nightly craft cocktail menu created by whichever bartender is on duty.
Should You Stay or Go
In some destinations, you never have to leave the resort to have a great time. Maui is not one of these places, and guests at this resort will always be tempted to walk the entire length of the beach, check out the shopping and off-site restaurants, embark on water adventures, snorkel at Black Rock, play a round at one of the many awesome golf courses—you get the point.
Still, Westin Maui deserves all the credit for developing fun, easy, and educational activities for guests of all ages. Kids can take breaks between waterslides and belly flops to take ukulele and hula lessons or make leis, while adults can kick off a day with a group run or beach yoga session. On top of the luaus there’s even a dive-in movie night for families that just aren’t ready to let the sunset force everyone back to their rooms.
It’s cliché to say that a resort’s creative team has thought of everything, but the Westin Maui’s staff knows, above all else, what goes into planning a family trip to Hawaii. The money and time are irreplaceable, and the effort is exhausting, especially when we also worry about canceled flights and long delays. So, when it comes providing enough entertainment and activities to keep us busy for a week or longer, it’s satisfying to know that these people have worked just as hard.
And, who knows? Maybe if Kelly Kapowski’s grandfather ran his resort like the Westin Maui, he wouldn’t have needed Zack and Slater to come save him.