First, let’s do the math. Holiday Math as I like to call it. It’s the good kind.
It already cost you upwards of $500 just to step foot onto the magical isle of Maui. After you have taken in the fragrance of your fresh pikake flower lei, applied your SPF 30 Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen, and hoped in your rental car, you might ask yourself the question, “How do I make the most of my holiday without breaking the bank?” While traveling on your well-deserved holiday, you certainly don’t want the issue of money to create stress. After all, you’re on vacation!
Well, the answer includes a little planning ahead, this guide, and yes, even a little Holiday Math. The trifecta will help you make the right choices about choosing tours, restaurants, and activities that are worth it, so when you open your wallet you’ll feel good about it.
Tip #1: Book fewer but more memorable activities.
In Maui, you get what you pay for. There are equal opportunities for unique memorable experiences; just as much as “cattle call” less-than luaus. My best advice is to do fewer but more extraordinary activities like select dinners and sunset cruises that you will treasure for a lifetime vs. packing in your days (and exhausting yourself) trying to do it all.
Tip #2: Don’t leave anything for “Next Time.”
Unless you own a Westside timeshare, the phrase “Next time” is usually a figment of your imagination. Especially, if you have kids. “Next time” is a kinder, gentler way of breaking it to yourself that it’s not in the budget. But when you do your Holiday Math before you go, you’ll feel good knowing that you got the best price for something worthwhile.
Tip #3: Sign-up for Living Social + Groupon deals before you go.
If you see a dinner or a tour that is on your Maui bucket list, grab it, and book it. Often once a special runs, popular restaurants & tours will pack out and book up. So make sure that you can take advantage of the special while you are on Maui. Again, check cancellation policies to see how flexible they are with changes in reservations.
Tip #4 Book online to save.
Once you know your budget, hit the Internet. Most tour operators’ online prices are considerably lower than same day rates, especially when traveling in groups. Always, get their cancellation policies in writing, if it’s not already posted on the website. You might save enough online to add in another boat ride or the splurge of splurges: a helicopter ride.
Next, I’ve put together my list of Aloha Splurges: Pricy, but worth every penny list.
The Aloha Splurge:
Mamma’s Fish House: Prepare to be spoiled. From a torch lit private bay, lingering purple sunsets, and a menu on a first name basis with their fishermen, you are in for a magical night. Wear your Aloha print. You’ll feel so swank like you stepped out of an original Shag painting. Don’t forget your camera, these are the pictures that are framed and put on Christmas cards. Entrées start at $30
Lahaina Grill: Located in downtown Lahaina, if you want a buzz, this place is hopping. You even need to make reservations at the bar. Voted “Best Maui Restaurant” for over a decade, you’ll soon discover why. The Maui onion and sesame seed crusted ahi is to live for. As is the pineapple upside down cake. It’s fine dining with generous portions and everything I tasted was exceptional. Entrées start at $31
Just the drive to upcountry Maui is an experience in itself. As you trade the beach for pine trees, bring a sweater as temperatures can drop. You’ll enjoy a farm tour, harvest your own greens for a fresh delicious salad, and then dive in to a custom menu prepared by your private chef. Fold your napkin down to reserve your seat at the community picnic table with an ocean view under a canopy of vines. Don’t forget to bring wine (it’s byob) and if you like, some to share. If it’s a bit nippy, the Aina coffee roasted on property will warm you up. And save room for the handmade truffles for desert. Decadent. $50/pp
Aloha Budget Dining Options:
Thai Food by Pranee: Located in the heart of Hana, this is a local’s favorite. Truly causal dining, with a view of the jungle and an outside garden, you don’t need to go to Thailand (just drive the road to Hana) for fish curry this good. Get there early as the seafood specials always sell out. Entrées start at $8
The SeaHouse: Hosting happy hour from 2-5 PM, nosh on fresh Poke Tacos, Polynesian Chopped Salad and Coconut Crème brulee each under $7. Then wash it all down with a $7 Pina Colada, a creamy desert in itself. The sweeping ocean view is free.
“Fresh Fish” Stands: Every time you see a hand painted sign saying, “Fresh Fish”, put your blinker on and pull over. You’ll find a local’s truck with a cooler packed with 1.5 pound zip lock bags of ruby red ahi for $20 and white mahi mahi for $15. Sear it in your kitchen and enjoy some of the freshest fish on the island for pennies a plate.
The Aloha Splurge: Feast of Lele
This isn’t your ordinary luau. First, you’ll hear the sound of a conch shell as a canoe rides a wave in at sunset. With your own private white linen table, you’ll feel like you are at a private dinner show, rather than a group luau. Executive chef James McDonald prepares a sumptuous 5-course meal from all across the Pacific. And don’t blame it on the open bar… but romance is definitely in the air. $120/pp
Aloha Budget Option: Dinner at SeaHouse and Slack Key Show at Napili Kai
Not technically a luau, but half the price, is another unique experience. Have a sunset dinner at the beachfront SeaHouse restaurant and then attend George Kahumoku’s Slack Key Show. It’s an intimate experience where you’ll feel like part of the Maui ‘ohana as the musical guests “talk story” and their friends are invited on stage to sing, play, and dance the hulu. $60/pp
The Aloha Splurge:
Ocean Rafting Snorkel Trips: There are so many advantages to going on an ocean rafter boat for a snorkeling excursion. They get you where you want to go (and fast!) with typically less than 20 people aboard, including staff. Personally I love to sit on the side of the boat, hold on, and feel the wind in my hair. With an ocean rafter, the boat driver can get you in and out of tiny spaces, so you can see more caves and other gorgeous bays than with a traditional boat. Tours begin at $120/pp
Kai Kanani Sailing Cruise: This is one of Maui’s most well-known and loved catamarans known for their exceptional service and fantastic food. The staff prides themselves on making every guest feel welcome, like it’s your own private boat for the day. They also have their schedules down so that you won’t be arriving at Molokini and other destinations the same time as 20 other boats. Tours begin at $76/pp
The Aloha Budget Suggestion:
Beach Entry Snorkeling: When you know where to go, there are some fantastic snorkel spots that are easily reachable with beach access. Two of my favorites are Black Rock on Kaanapali and Turtle Cove just down from Napili bay. Remember, not to touch the sea life or stand on coral.
Rent a Stand Up Paddleboard: It’s easy to learn and in gentle waters, SUP is a great way to experience a view of Maui from the sea. Even an hour rental is enough to feel like you did something adventurous in the water. Make sure to check for water safety with the lifeguard. Currents can be strong and not always visible from land.
THE SPLUGE OF SPLURGES:
A Helicopter Ride: For me, there is no substitute. Tours start at $148
I flew with Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours through the Iao Valley and to the neighboring island of Molokai. We passed over reefs spotting five manta rays from the air, hovered over mind-blowing gorgeous needle waterfalls, chased rainbows, and went shark spotting. It’s amazing how close the pilot can maneuver in and around the valley, ridges, and waterfalls. I talked about it for days and took over sixty pictures. If you want to make the pilot smile, ask if you can fly “through a rainbow”. It gets a chuckle every time.
*Photos are courtesy of The Maui Visitors Bureau, Feast at Lele, Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson, Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ron Dahlquist, Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ron Garnett, and Mamma’s Fish House, and O’o Farms
*I was a guest of The Maui Visitors Bureau.