Parents can be pampered, while kids head off for an educational adventure at this secluded luxury resort.
Located away from the hotels and condos that dot much of west Maui’s coastline, the The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua’s 54 acres are ideal if your family plans to spend most of your time on the property at the beach and pool rather than visiting other island attractions, such as Haleakala National Park or the Road to Hana, which both take several hours to reach from this location. The resort is set on a hill overlooking D.T. Fleming Beach, which is a short walk away from the hotel and its three-tiered pool for adults and separate pool for little ones. Families of all ages are welcome; but, unlike some other Maui resorts, The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua should not be confused with a Disneyland-esque environment for young children. The programming and amenities here are more ideally suited to families with children at least five years old. The Ritz Kids and the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment programs allow kids to learn and have fun, while parents take a second vacation – from parenting – for a few hours. Employees are trained to deliver outstanding service that anticipates your family’s every need. The only regret that you’ll have at check-out is that you didn’t stay longer!
Where to stay?
Arriving at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is an experience in itself. The friendly welcome from employees who take pleasure in greeting you with shell necklaces sets the stage for an indulging experience. Just walking into the lobby awakens your senses as the fresh air and fragrances offer an instant energy boost.
KidTripster Tip: Before you leave home, stockpile one-dollar bills so that you’re ready to tip the staff when you arrive and not constantly asking for change. There’s an unwritten expectation that you'll tip at least a few dollars to staff members who park your car and deliver your bags.
Your hotel room may be the finest that you’ve ever stay in – certainly the cleanest – with every luxury that a traveler could want laid out in advance. From the Nespresso machine to the mini refrigerator to the robes and slippers, the hotel took care of our wants and needs in so many ways. The spacious bathroom has dual sinks, a tub, and a marble walk-in shower.
My wife and I requested a crib or pack ’n play for our room in advance, and we were delighted by the quality of the crib that awaited our arrival, as well as the welcome bag for our 20-month-old daughter that featured a rubber ducky toy and a selection of bath soap and shampoo for children. The crib was the best and biggest that we have ever found at a hotel with a high-quality mattress and bed sheet. Our daughter slept beautifully.
KidTripster Tip: Because the resort is set back from the ocean several hundred feet, ocean view rooms are not close enough to view or hear the waves; you see the ocean in the distance not the shoreline. The views of the pool and greenery on the property are just as relaxing - and less expensive - if you decide to book a non-ocean view room.
What to do?
If you’re headed to Maui with a focus on enjoying family beach time, there are few better options than D.T. Fleming Beach, just a three-minute walk away from the pools of the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. Because of a culturally-protected area, the Ritz-Carlton didn’t develop the Kapalua resort on the shoreline. Instead the resort is set back from the ocean, but it does own the property leading to the beach. The sand along D.T. Fleming Beach is smooth to the touch and feels great between your toes. The waves are sizable without posing a hazard for children entering the water.
Along the way to the ocean, you’ll see several tennis courts, a basketball court, and a hammock which begs you to stop and take a short siesta. Do yourself a favor and give it a try. After 30 minutes of taking turns on the swinging sleeper, you half-heartedly will decide that it’s time to move on.
The beach is not as crowded as you might expect because most hotel guests are busy enjoying the resort’s three tiers of swimming pools, complete with towel service and cabanas. For the littlest of swimmers and floaters, the kids’ pool is perfect for gaining confidence in the water. With walk-in entry, warm water, and a mini waterfall, this is where children learning to swim can feel like they own the pool.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t worry too much if your weather app says it’s going to be windy on your trip. In the heat and humidity of Maui, the breezes that pass through Kapalua are a welcome relief compared to the stifling heat of Lahaina and Kihei.
Outside of the kids’ pool, the resort has its own playground for older children to enjoy climbing and sliding, but with only one slide suitable for younger children, the equipment offers limited use.
The resort staff will help arrange a variety of outdoor activities or sports for your family to enjoy together, or you may prefer to do something more low-key with younger kids, such as chasing birds on the immaculately-maintained green grass or feeding fish in the koi pond. From golf to badminton to the fitness center and its complimentary classes, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to exercise.
There’s also a cultural advisor on staff, who leads tours to the border of the Honokahua Preservation Site for a deeper understanding of the island’s cultural traditions.
One of the resort’s points of pride for visiting families is the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program. It not only offers children (5 and older) a great way to explore the surrounding environment, it also gives parents time to themselves to rest and relax. With trained naturalists, such as a marine biologist or a botanist, leading the way, children get more than a hike along the beach; they get a full explanation of the local culture and environment. In one class focused on survival, kids learn how they would be able to last on a deserted island without a cell phone! The Ambassadors of the Environment program is best suited for children 5 to 17 years of age, but families can arrange for individual experiences through the resort. Our family enjoyed a hike along the beach path with our guide, who went out of her way to make it fun for us. The coastal walk and tide pool exploration illuminated for us how kids and adults can learn about local plants and animals without realizing they are getting an education. We loved it! Cousteau program cost: $83 to $95/child.
The resort also has a Kids’ Night Out program that gives parents a chance to have a evening to themselves. Cost: $95/child.
Where to eat?
Dining options at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua are outstanding for quality but very expensive. You likely will spend several hundred dollars on food each day for your family. The resort offers a Ritz kids’ menu that is available throughout the day at each restaurant, and at most restaurants, the resort doesn't charge children under the age of 2 for meals.
The breakfast buffet at The Terrace is $40 per adult, but children (under 5) eat free with each paying adult. It’s hard to imagine calling a $40 buffet a great value, but the quality of the food at the Ritz-Carlton makes this breakfast buffet well worth it. In fact, it was the highest quality buffet that we’ve ever experienced. The made-to-order omelets, the smoked salmon, fresh fruit, homemade granola, and chocolate croissants made breakfast the most satisfying meal that we had on the island. It also helped that the restaurant staff went out of their way to make our meal as enjoyable as possible, including bringing fresh fruit to our table that was cut up into small pieces for our young daughter.
KidTripster Tip: The delicious passionfruit orange guava (POG) juice comes with the buffet, but costs $10 if ordered by itself. At the buffet, help yourself to refills.
Other dining options at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua include Kai Sushi, The Banyan Tree, which features locally-sourced dishes, and at lunch at The Burger Shack, which offers its signature dishes for $15 to $25, while shakes cost $10 each.
Guests that upgrade their room to the Club Level will gain access to the Club Lounge, which offers five daily food and beverage presentations, as well as alcoholic beverages.
There are several other upscale restaurants in the vicinity with similar pricing to the resort, and a complimentary shuttle service (covered by your resort fee) allows you to move between them without your own vehicle. Less expensive options can be found in Lahaina.
If you want to drive to a spot favored by locals in nearby Napili, The Gazebo (5315 Lower Honoapiilani Rd.) is a popular place for breakfast, but you’ll likely wait in line to try the macadamia nut pancakes. We opted to take our food to go and eat it on our lanai rather than wait an hour for seating.
If you’re looking to reduce meal costs, the Honolua Store is a 3-minute walk from the hotel lobby and sells ready-made food, as well as drinks, snacks, and other essentials.
Rates vary greatly depending upon the time of year and demand. We found a guest room with a limited view for $391/night in early October. A deluxe room with a resort view on that same date exceeded $600/night and increased to $959 in late December. Other rooms and suites were available for as much as $3,182/night for an oceanfront, two-bedroom residential suite.
KidTripster Tip: When booking online, click on “My dates are flexible” to find the lowest rates available, which are typically in March, early April, late September, October, and early December. You also can ask the hotel for a room package that offers a hotel credit, a fourth night free, or free breakfast.
Hotel taxes can add hundreds of dollars to your bill over a week’s stay. Hawaii’s Transient Accommodation Tax is 8.25%, while Maui’s General Excise Tax is an additional 4.166%. Ouch!
The $35 Daily Resort Fee covers the shuttle service, beach chair service, a complimentary photo session, certain resort activities, and high-speed internet service.
Valet parking overnight is $30, while self-parking is $22.
KidTripster Tip: Self-parking is a short stroll and requires only a swipe of your room key to access or leave the parking lot.
Kapalua is on the northwest edge of Maui. The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is less than an hour’s drive from Maui’s main airport in Kahului, and 10 to 15 minutes north of Ka’anapali and Lahaina. The area is not served by public transportation.
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Pat Michael and his wife continue to learn the art of traveling around the world with a young child. The family lives in Oregon.
This writer received a discounted stay for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely his own.