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If you are an event planner that has destination management as one of their available skills and expertise, it’s more than likely that you’ll find yourself planning a trip to Maui or one of the other Hawaiian islands at one time or another.

Hawaii is an ideal event destination for multiple reasons:

  • The weather is nice much of the year
  • It is a tropical location, yet still resides within U.S. territory (think no foreign transaction fees, adjusting cell phone coverage, exchanging currency, etc.)
  • No customs necessary to enter the US
  • The fresh fish meals are amazing!
  • Who doesn’t like constant sun and the beach

It’s been 10 years since we’ve traveled to Hawaii for a large corporate show for 3,500 (which included a seaside dinner and performance by Bon Jovi, among multiple meetings and conferences held throughout the week).

This time we returned for pleasure, celebrating family members’ birthdays (2 who turned 80, one that turned 70 years!) and anniversaries (a 57-year anniversary and a 1-year anniversary). With all this to celebrate, we found ourselves on the shore of Ka’anapali Beach area.

We saw some great sites, ate some fantastic food, and found some fun things to do in our free time.

If you have a client wanting to hold a wedding or event in Hawaii, here are some things you can suggest they do while there:

Lodging in Maui 

Aston at the Whaler’s

This location falls under more of the long-term stay hotel or condo rental than resort. Each room has a small kitchen, full sized closets, and bathrooms. However, there is no restaurant on location and the pool is the size of a standard hotel pool.

The view outside of our hotel

Other than that, the location is fantastic. It is located right next to Whaler’s Village shopping center. This is great for popping over for some shopping to kill the time, or to grab some fast food. There are many restaurants nearby. Only a short jaunt from your room you can find beach-side dining, casual or more elegant, your choice. There are also great restaurants for smaller meetings or for VIP events that you have planned along with your larger meetings.

If your client is looking for more of an all-inclusive experience. We did walk to southern end of the strip to revisit our old stomping grounds when we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. It is a BEAUTIFUL Location with fun water slides, swim up bar, aviary with penguins, flamingos, swans and more and on-site restaurants and shopping. The Hyatt and Westin along this strip could accommodate large groups.

Excursions on the island of Maui

Snorkeling

You can’t beat the hospitality or the expertise of the Trilogy Excursion by Island Dream Productions. They treated us to Mama’s world famous cinnamon rolls to start with, took us out to see the beautiful fish, and then off to see the sea turtles. They provide a ‘to die for’ chicken lunch grilled to perfection and will get you home by noon. There are other options but for our group, this shorter trip was just the right amount. We even got grandma out to snorkel. She will be 80 in just a few weeks. Shh…. don’t tell her I told you her age.

Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is a well-known “must-do” while in Maui. It is well known because the highway is a long and winding 64-mile stretch of roadway that weaves through the rain forest and up the mountain with constant left and right curves. The ride is a long one from Lahaina, about 2.5-3 hours, but offers gorgeous scenery of greenery, waterfalls, ocean views, and cliffs.

We took a private guided tour with Temptations Tour, Inc. to get us there, and are glad we did! The comfortable seats and tour that was based on our schedule was perfect for all age ranges (1-80). It didn’t hurt to have nice seating for such a long ride!

Morning Stops

We made several stops along this tour. Our first stop was for breakfast at Café Mambo in Paia, Hawaii. It is a quaint location serving local items. Our crew made a variety of choices from breakfast burritos to French toast.

Our next stop was to a beach filled with large rock formations made from lava. We just had to watch our step and not get scratched by them for fear of staph infection!

Back in the vehicle and we were headed to Hana. On our way, we saw these beautiful Painted Bark Eucalyptus trees along the way – they looked so unreal. A must-have photo!

Although we got stopped by a landslide along the way, we were assured that road crews always know when they’re coming and are there to prevent any major accidents. After a 15-20 min wait, we were moving along the twists and turns once again.

Afternoon Activities

Once we made it to Hana, we grabbed a bite to eat at Travaasa Hana, one of the local hotels. They served a four-course meal with chips and guac, salad, fish sandwiches or burgers, and ended with coconut ice cream. All meals along the way were included in our tour pricing.

On the way home we stopped by a black sand beach (gorgeous!) and small waterfall. By the end of the day, we were ready to be on our way back home.

Final Tour Thoughts

Overall, the food was “okay” – much better at Cafe Mambo. Our tour guide (Ted) was awesome and had answers to all our questions as well as fun stories about where the hang loose gesture came from and other local trivia. The stops felt short, but we were also running behind taking our time for young and older individuals in our party. If you enjoy scenery and learning about the history and culture of the island, we recommend you book a tour to Hana.

In theory, you could drive this yourself, but we’re glad we didn’t because all the twists and turns along the Hana Highway are best left for the driver that knows the roadway well.

Feast at Lele Luau

You honestly can’t go to Hawaii and not experience a Luau! So, of course this was on our list. I’ll talk about the food in our food and drink section and focus primarily on the atmosphere and entertainment in this section.

The Feast at Lele Luau has a great show and shares about each culture that makes up the Hawaiian Islands: how each came to the islands, which islands they landed on, and what they brought as far as culture and staples. It was edutainment at its best. Learning while being entertained, eating and drinking your way through the show is the best way to go.  I found myself wanting more fire twirling. However, this was a wonderful evening with great company and a super view of the sunset. We felt it was money well spent!

If you get to this area early, there is plenty of shopping to do just down the street in Lahaina and we were only about 10 minutes from our hotel.

Piai 

We had a late flight out and Piai is just minutes from the airport on the North coast of the island. This little laid-back, throwback hippy town, watering hole provides hours of shopping and food experiences. We weren’t dressed for the beaches so we can’t give you a recommendation on those, but they do have a baby beach (low tide) and surfing available. The town boasts a good celebrity population due to their ‘no paparazzi’ rule. However, we wouldn’t have known if we did run into anyone famous. The shops stay open later than most and the town was filled with people on the main strip.

This is a good place to find a biking company that drive you up the mountain on the road to Hana and let you ride back down. NOPE, we didn’t do it, but you could!

Kapalua

This is on the “must-see areas” of Maui and can be found around the mountain from Merriman’s on the main highway. Just keep going around the mountain and you will be rewarded for your efforts with beautiful views from the top of the cliffs where you can see the coral below to the deep recesses of a Jurassic-like jungle. Take time to hike into the jungle and come out on a black rock area known to be some of the best snorkeling on the island. There is Honolua Bay and the Coral gardens in that area. There are also two major golf courses and beautiful homes as well.

Maui Food & Drink

Lahaina Beach Restaurants

If you’re looking for a convenient bite to eat while staying along the Lahaina shores, there are several places to drop in and grab a drink or meal. However, I would caution that you are definitely paying for convenience here. The meals are fairly pricey and the quality of the food didn’t always match the price tag. Save eating at these restaurants for when you are too tired to wander far from your hotel or if you are in a pinch.

Feast at Lele Luau

To call it dinner would be an understatement, this was definitely a feast! Like the Romans in the movies, the food just keeps coming. Each course is delivered with an explanation from the waitress. This includes the origin of the dish, what the food was and what culture it came from (Hawaiin, New Zealand, Tahiti, Samoa).

This is followed by a stage presentation that shows what specific cultures dress like, what their presents meant to the islands and their primary trade or skills (ie. warriors, farmers etc).  The food is amazing, from the Imu roasted Kalua Pua’a (Pork seasoned with Hawaiian salt, cooked in the traditional style in an underground oven and shredded) to the Vanilla Coconut Mousseline with caramelized pineapple and salted caramel. I’m hungry just thinking of it!

I believe there were 5 meals in one sitting and the drinks are included; our waiter was there for a refill before we sat the empty glass on the table. We didn’t walk away from this event……we waddled away! Warning: the first dish is so good you will want to fill up on it…hold off and don’t fill up or you will run out of room before you get a taste of everything they bring.

This meal is served family style and there is more than enough to go around.

Merriman’s

There were some big milestones to celebrate on this vacation as I mentioned earlier and so that called for a nice meal out. And by nice, I mean five-star restaurant. Our meal was originally booked at Mama’s Fish House, but after talking with ladies at the spa, we were told that the drive was long and we could get just as great of a dining experience nearby at Merriman’s.

Boy is this a beautiful location! The restaurant looks as if it is tucked away in a hidden alcove as you don’t see any of the city from the balcony; just wide-open ocean with rolling waves as well as condos and a private beach to one side. The open-air restaurant with glass railings and wooden ceilings were to die for as we dined on fresh seafood and local cuisine.

I could recommend our favorite dish here, but to be honest, everything is amazing. So amazing that we each were sure to share a bite with everyone at the table. In addition, this is probably the best location to have a Mai Tai on the island. This is a farm to table restaurant and again, we all had the ‘BEST I’VE EVER TASTED’ experience. If your client has higher end taste, recommend this restaurant, and make sure they have reservations in advance. Plan to spend $40+ per plate here.

Peter Merriman is a chef, restaurateur and one of the original 12 founding chefs of Hawaii regional cuisine. In 2011, he and the other Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs were inducted to the Hawaii Restaurant Association Hall of Fame.

Miso Phat Sushi

The younger two of our family members weren’t willing to leave Maui without finding some great sushi. After walking around downtown Lahaina and no luck in finding a lunch spot, they searched online and happened to find Miso Phat Sushi located near Merriman’s, north of the hotel. It is rated one of the top ten sushi restaurants in Hawaii, definitely worth the try.

The restaurant is a small hole-in-the-wall locale with limited seating and tucked into a strip mall we wouldn’t have thought of stopping at. After eating there, both claimed it was some of the best sushi they had eaten. While $20 for a specialty roll is on the more expensive side, the portion sizes are enough to fill one up with only one roll (this is surprising because it usually takes 2+ for these girls). Both recommended this place for any sushi lover visiting Maui.

Paia FishMarket Restaurant

If you plan to do some shopping on Front Street in downtown Lahaina, you might find yourself wanting to grab a bite to eat. Based on a recommendation from our tour guide, some of our crew stopped here for lunch. The meals are a nice portion size, featuring some great fried seafood options and best served with a side of local brew for those 21+. A must try.

You can also check them out in Paia. This unique little hippy town is quite the experience and frankly, we had to wait for the picnic table seating but the fish was again amazing. Wear your swimwear or beach attire and you will fit right in.

Free Time Activities in Maui

Beaches

A fact that surprised us is that all beaches in Maui are public; this means even those in front of celebrity houses are also public. There are not privately-owned beaches along the shores. So, you won’t find a resort with a private beach where you can sip cocktails in peace, but you will have access to a beach about anywhere you want to.

Several of the beaches have whiter sand and the beaches on the way to Hana have what they call black sand. Although this is lovely to look at, it’s a bit difficult to walk on so take your tennis shoes to walk around the black sand beaches.

We happened upon a nice beach on the west end of the island that surprisingly had a life guard. If you want the safety of someone watching out for you, this might be your beach; many of the beaches you are simply “enter at your own risk”. We found that beach in Kapalua just across from the Plantation entryway and down into the valley. The area is very clean and it’s a pretty drive down to the beach. There were some food places available and it sits on the edge of a golf course.

Want an unknown beach to find your inner peace, try Oneloa Beach in the Kapalua area. It’s less congested than the beaches in most areas and is on the secret beaches list for Maui.

DIY Snorkeling

Snorkelers in the oceanYou can snorkel about anywhere around the island, but some places hold more treasures than others. You can’t afford to miss Turtle Island. The sea turtles are a highly protected species and they have their privileges. They are quite large and a bit scary close up and personal, but it was fun to see them in their natural habitat.

We didn’t get out to the crater, but we did make it to Turtle Island and that was a real treat.

Parasailing

Parasailing is a great option for those looking for small group activities. Five people were taken out on our boat and there were two who doubled up and one solo parasailing. Each passenger or group gets about 15 minutes in air.

This is a great way to get to see the beauty of the islands from another angle and enjoy the tranquility of being 500 feet above the water. We would suggest this for those who are adventurous and looking for a new activity.

Shopping

There are plenty of shopping options in Lahaina. Shops can be found on Front Street downtown Lahaina, Whalers Village, among other shopping centers. You can find some unique shops with beautiful clothing in Paia, but don’t expect bargain pricing. These pretty little places boast some nice price tags.

There are a few beautiful little galleries in the area as well and if you just need to have that wonderful under the sea photo, look into Cesere Brothers Gallery. They have some beautiful photos for you to take home.

Haleakala Sunrise

Foggy sunset in Maui, Maui views

The foggy sunrise and beautiful scenery on our drive back

Well, what can we say, we were up before the crack of dawn. No, make that the middle of the night <YAWN> and on our way to the Heleakala Sunrise or better known as the House of the Sun. While on top of the mountain in the heavy mist hoping the fog would blow over as we shivered waiting on the sun to rise, I heard someone say, “Well, sometimes you win the lottery and sometimes you lose, and today, we lose”.

So here is the deal on Haleakala. You wake up at 2 AM and drive for 1.5-2.5 hours to watch a sunrise over the mountain. They say it’s life changing, but we will have to watch the video.

I’ll give you this advice: do start about 3 hours early from Ka’anapali because the line of cars and the curves in the dark can be a challenge. You must reserve your spot in advance due to limited parking. The reservation is $1.50 but the price of admission is $25.00 at the gate about ½ up the mountain. We reserved for two days and picked the wrong day to go.

You will also need a nap when you get back down the mountain, but the drive was beautiful on the way down and we were in good company. I don’t think I’ll get my family to join me again on the trek up the mountain, but I might be game. Pack warm clothing if you plan to go. Yes, it is hard to think about taking your parka to Hawaii, but I’m not joking about this one. You will need it at 5:00 AM 10,000 feet above sea level.

Spa day

Spa days are one of those nice relaxing vacation options, and it’s always easy to find a spa nearby in resort towns. Having a massage at the hotel was EXPENSIVE and we probably could have found a cheaper, likely just as good option right on the beach in a different location. I will say the masseuse was great and her dinner suggestions for Merriman’s was worth the expensive massage. Next time I think I’ll look outside the hotel for my relaxing spa day.

Overall Thoughts

Our vacation was very well planned with some down time between activities. It sounds like we did a ton of things and stayed active the whole time, but there were naps, time at the pool, walks along the beach and some good old-fashion relaxation going on as well.

We also found the local grocery store and stocked up on some snacks, so not every meal needed to be in a restaurant. At the end of the trip, we all gathered to eat leftovers, finish our bottles of wine, and enjoy some quality time together before we headed back.

Trips can be exhausting and stressful, make sure to take some time for Mahalo (respect, gratitude, admire, praise).

Aloha my friends and happy planning!