Put aside adult aspects of luxury travel (golf, spas) for a moment, and consider the plight of the luxury family travel planner. There’s a balance that needs to be considered: these travel planners don’t want to go all in and take a Disney cruise, but also do not want to take children to a swanky 5-star resort where they’ll be bored after a couple of days. Luxury family vacation travel planners can’t go wrong at the Grand Wailea in Maui. After all, the island itself is consistently voted one of the best tropical vacation islands in the world, and the best luxury resort hotels there rank among some of my favorites in the world. With the Grand Wailea right next to the Four Seasons and Fairmont Kea Lani on Wailea Beach, and with the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Traavasa Hana in Hana and Westin in Ka’anapali, there’s no shortage of luxury resorts for stellar vacations in Maui. Some luxury resorts are just better suited for families traveling with young children, though. And — this’ll sound like hyperbole, but stay with me here — the best luxury resort for families on the best island in the world is the Grand Wailea.
Just the Facts, Ma’am (family travel edition):
Most luxury resorts have some sort of playroom or activity center set aside for children. But at the Grand Wailea, almost the entire property (minus the adults only pool) is dedicated to the fun and excitement of water slides and water game areas. The Grand Wailea is the best luxury resort for families in the best island in the world simply because of the creatively designed, sprawling layout of the pools, “rapids,” lazy river, multiple watersides and rope swing area that make up the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool.
The Wailea Canyon Activity Pool is actually nine different pools on six different levels, with a swimmable cave area, three jacuzzis, six waterfalls, an actual WATER ELEVATOR (you read that right) and more. The lazy river connects most parts. It takes hours to explore and familiarize oneself with it, and that’s part of the fun. At 25,700 total square feet, the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool is so well-designed that children may not want to hop over the grass and play in the ocean.
Now, there is also “The Rock,” or Camp Grande, for children up to age 12. Most resorts have “kiddie camps” that parents like to avail themselves of, for adult time spent golfing or at the spa. Camp Grande is huge, with separate rooms for the under-5 set, another separate room for kids that want to watch a movie, two different outdoor play areas, and lots of activities. The Wailea Canyon Activity Pool is so entertaining that a child over the age of seven would probably be more than happy to play on the water slides than inside Camp Grande; why stay inside when the sun is so warm and the water so enticing? However, it’s a good option for young children, since they would not want to trail after their parents on a golf course and are too young to go to the spa.
The last time my family and I stayed at the Grand Wailea resort, my spouse and I hung out near the rope swing area for several hours at a time (reading actual books, what a treat!) while our children played and splashed and swung and swam and met other vacationing kids and tried water volleyball and…and basically disappeared until they got hungry. It’s a wonderful way to give children and teenagers terrific unstructured tropical vacations while being able to relax and soak up that tropical sun. And soak up those tropical drinks, too, but that’s at “The Grotto,” i.e. then swim up bar; our kids were told to steer clear of that one part of the huge pool system. We didn’t want them to see us setting a bad example.
It’s easy to have a great time at any great resort hotel in Maui, because the island itself has so much to offer. What sets the Grand Wailea apart from the other luxury resorts here is its full-throttle emphasis on what makes kids happy (without going overboard so parents feel adrift). We knew we’d found the resort that is best for kids when we had to argue with our kids to get them to go off resort property to see other parts of the island — that these semi-adventurous, semi-intrepid well-traveled kids wanted to spend all their waking hours on the grounds of the Grand Wailea, and mostly in the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool, speaks volumes. (There’s probably a pun about volumes and gallons of water in the pools, but I can’t think of a good one right now.)
Also of note: the quality of the snorkeling at the western end of the Grand Wailea’s beach area. My husband and I loved snorkeling right off the property; there were always a couple of Hawaiian sea turtles floating in the shallows, along with the usual assortment of butterfly fish, wrasses, trigger fish and the like. I got kind of psyched when I saw a moray eel leering at me from the depths, too. There are pricey 1/2 day sail-n-snorkel companies on all the Hawaiian islands, but a lot of the marine life you’ll see there can be seen right off the beach at Grand Wailea, for the price of fin, mask and snorkel rentals. The pool area may make the Grand Wailea the best luxury resort for families on the best tropical vacation island in the world, but it’s not as if the flip side is that it’s terrible for the parents that go there, too.
Okay, let’s talk about the beach. There are plenty of activities in the ocean that contribute to making the Grand Wailea the best luxury resort for families on the best island in the world, but honestly? The snorkeling, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, surfing lessons, scuba lessons, and general aquatic tomfoolery here are all available for children at the other coastal resorts in Maui and the rest of Hawaii. The Wailea Beach area has much calmer surf than other parts of the island — due to not being on the windy side of Maui, and other geographical reasons too boring to get into here — but that’s why this coveted stretch of beach is home to half of Maui’s highest-rated luxury resorts. You can get the snorkeling and whatnot right off the property at Grand Wailea’s neighboring resort hotels too.
Those other luxury resorts can offer the same ocean and beach activities for Hawaii family travel planners…but they sure can’t offer anything as fun as the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool. In fact, guests of other resorts frequently try to “crash” the Grand Wailea’s pool system. Local kids do, too; apparently it’s a rite of passage for Maui high school students to try to get in. I was told that many families from all over the island give their high school seniors the graduation gift of a night or two at the Grand Wailea, and that this is quite the requested graduation gift. See, what I’m saying is, the Grand Wailea resort is famous even among Maui residents.
The Grand Wailea resort in Maui has other recommendable aspects, of course; art aficionados appreciate the collection of genuine Boteros and the fine art collection, and spa lovers go crazy for the famous Roman Bath bacchanalia of the Spa Grande. But for high-end and relatively worry-free vacations with children, you can’t beat the Grand Wailea. It’s the best luxury resort for families on the best tropical vacation island in the world.*
I spent three nights at the Grand Wailea as part of a travel blogger trip in May, hosted by the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. However, this review is based primarily on the experiences my kids had there over our Christmas vacation.
*What’s with this claim that Maui is consistently noted to be the best tropical vacation island in the world? Don’t take my word for it; Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards have named Maui one of the top islands in the world for the past 20 years. Yes, 20 years. That, my friends, is what you call consistent.