Maui (Photo:Artazum/Shutterstock)
Maui (Photo:Artazum/Shutterstock)
2019 Top-Rated Hawaii Destinations
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Maui

Known the world over as a "trip of a lifetime" destination, the remote Hawaiian Islands were settled by the Polynesians more than 1,000 years ago and were "discovered" by explorer Capt. James Cook in 1778. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state, and to this day, it retains a sort-of-outsider status. Hawaii clings to its rich history while accepting newcomers and absorbing their unique traditions. Every Hawaiian island is imbued with a friendly "aloha" spirit, and most travelers fall in love with the destination the moment orchid leis are draped over their shoulders upon arrival.

Maui, the second-largest island of the archipelago, typifies all that is magical about the Sandwich Islands (as Capt. Cook first called the island chain). It's also referred to as the Valley Isle because a verdant, low-lying isthmus connects the two halves of the island. From the air, Maui looks like a butterfly with the 10,000-foot Haleakala volcano on one wing, Pu'u Kukui and the West Maui mountains on the other and the valley in the middle. You'll revel at the stark contrast between the stunning variety of flowering tropical plants and cascading waterfalls and the lunar-like landscape of Haleakala and Maui's other mountain peaks.

With more than 120 miles of coastline, Maui has dozens of beaches for you to discover. Some will be easily accessible, while others will take a bit of elbow grease -- in other words, pull on your hiking boots, or hop in a sea kayak. The ocean is teeming with wildlife and welcomes a large humpback whale population each winter. Maui is also one of the only places on Earth where you can still encounter the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

While more rain falls on the windward sides of the island (north and east, i.e. Paia and Hana) than the leeward (south and west, Wailea and Lahaina), the temperature is just about always an ideal 85 degrees.

Maui offers a multitude of attractions, but there's one additional reason to visit -- the island's people. With a population of just fewer than 160,000, the community is small enough to retain strong, historic ties but is large enough to create the right type of infrastructure to eagerly welcome tourists from around the world. The Hawaiian people will embrace you with friendship and goodwill -- again, that "spirit of aloha" -- and will make you feel right at home.

Shore Excursions

About Maui


Pro

Maui's friendly locals and vast, picturesque coastline embody everything a Hawaiian vacation is expected to be

Con

As per its reputation, Hawaii can be quite expensive, so you'll want to save up for the trip

Bottom Line

Hawaiian vacations are considered once-in-a-lifetime for a reason: The experience is like no other


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Where You're Docked

Depending on your itinerary, you'll either dock at Kahului Harbor in north Maui or anchor off Lahaina on the island's west side.

Port Facilities

Kahului Harbor is an industrial terminal, and the city is not a touristy one. A circuitous pedestrian path takes you out of the port, where you can walk across the street to Maui Mall, which houses a Whole Foods, Long's Drugs, movie theater and other shops. With a little scrambling, you can also hoof it to the beach near the port that you can see from the ship (just be careful where you swim because sharks are near).

If you anchor off Lahaina, you'll tender to a pier right in front of Pioneer Inn, one of the oldest accommodations in Maui. From there, you can begin exploring Front Street -- a hub for shops, restaurants and activities/tour providers -- on foot. Call a taxi, rent a car or take a tour if you wish to explore other parts of the island.

Good to Know

Maui is a very safe place to vacation, and violent crime is rare. However, car break-ins occur regularly. Do not leave anything in your vehicle, especially cameras, shopping bags or other easy-to-grab items.

Getting Around

Maui offers little in the way of public transportation, and while you may call for a cab, it's not an effective way to tour the island. It's best to rent a car to see the island's most visited attractions; try Discount Hawaii Car Rental for the best rates.

If docking at Kahului, take a complimentary car rental shuttle bus to nearby Kahului Airport (about a five-minute ride) to rent a vehicle from Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National or Thrifty. If your cruise ship overnights there and you'd like to keep your car, there's free parking right across from the tour bus pickup area outside the terminal, but it's small and will be filled up if you get back late. Other options include airport parking for a fee or leaving your car in the Maui Mall parking lot overnight.

Your cruise ship may also offer a shuttle (for a fee) to and from Lahaina (look for tours called "Lahaina on Your Own"), which is convenient if you only want to stay in that area. Free shuttles to the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center (with typical mall stores, free Wi-Fi and a kids' play area) depart from the port; from there, you can catch the Maui Bus to select destinations, including Wailea, Kihei, Lahaina and Paia.

If you plan to rent a car in the Lahaina area, make reservations at one of the agencies at Kapalua's West Maui Airport (JHM) and not the Kahului International Airport (OGG) on the other side of the island. (There's also an Enterprise outlet at the Sheraton on Kaanapali Beach.) Some companies will send a shuttle to the pier for pickups; others require you to take a cab to their office. The Maui Bus also offers service from Lahaina to Kaanapali.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

A variety of bank branches and standalone ATMs are located near both cruise ports: Kahului and Lahaina. In Lahaina, there's a Bank of Hawaii ATM at the Wharf Cinema Center (also public toilets); in Kahului, try the Maui Mall or Long's Drugs. Most banks handle foreign-currency exchanges.

Language

Everyone speaks English there, but it is fun to learn a few Hawaiian words. "Aloha" can mean many things, but you'll use it most often to denote "hello" and "goodbye," while "mahalo" means "thank you."

Food and Drink

Maui is considered a food-lover's paradise, but you'll need deep pockets to enjoy it. In addition to upscale Asian- and French-inspired establishments, Maui has a strong local restaurant scene that serves up tasty Hawaiian/Polynesian cuisine. You shouldn't be surprised to find an abundance of fish and seafood on most menus, as well as various meat dishes from Kahlua pork to Korean barbecue-style kalbi short ribs. A typical Hawaiian meal is the "plate lunch," composed of two scoops of rice, one scoop of macaroni salad and various types of meat (beef, pork or chicken) or fish. The local dessert, great for a hot day, is shave ice -- Hawaii's version of the snow cone -- where ice is shaved off a large block then topped with flavored syrups. You can even order them with a scoop of ice cream in the center of the ice.

Dozens of restaurants line Front Street in Lahaina in West Maui. The Shops at Wailea is the place to head for lunch if you're on the southern end of the island, and you'll find a variety of eateries in the town of Paia on the north coast beyond Kahului. There's also a growing food truck scene -- look for them on the opposite side of Kahului Harbor from your cruise ship.

Aloha Mixed Plate: You'll discover the Hawaiian phenomena of the "plate lunch" at Aloha Mixed Plate. Go for the traditional Alii Plate, and enjoy kalua pork with lomi lomi salmon (like ceviche, it's cured fish in an onion and tomato salad), poi (mashed taro root) and haupia (coconut pudding). The restaurant is a few blocks beyond the heart of downtown Lahaina. (1285 Front Street, Lahaina; 808-661-3322; open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily)

Kimo's: Sometimes you pick a restaurant because of its location, and sometimes you go for the food. Kimo's is great for both. Situated right on Lahaina's shoreline, this two-story hot spot is the place for spectacular sunsets. The food's excellent, as well. Many visitors stop by to enjoy pupus (appetizers) and drinks, but lunch entrees like coconut-crusted fish, beer battered fish 'n chips and a mixed-plate lunch of teriyaki chicken and pork ribs get high marks. Aloha hour, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily, features pupu specials and draft beers, house wine, margaritas and mai tais from $4 to $6. (845 Front Street, Lahaina; 808-661-4811; open 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily, food service ends at 10 p.m.)

Mama's Fish House: This fine-dining establishment is a quick drive from Kahului but is definitely worth the commute, even if you're anchored in Lahaina. The Christenson family has owned Mama's since 1973, although it was just a simple Chinese restaurant back in the day. Now, it is one of the finest fish and seafood spots in all of the Hawaiian Islands (your credit card will feel the burn, however). The setting, on a coconut tree-studded white-sand beach, is inspiring in and of itself, but the building -- an open concept with Polynesian decor and flowers throughout -- completes the perfect spot for an unforgettable special-occasion lunch or dinner. (799 Poho Place, Paia; 808-579-8488; open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily and dinner 4:15 p.m. to 9 p.m.)

Shopping

You'll find a plethora of festive Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts to fill your souvenir shopping bag, but if you're looking for a more authentic gift, food items make great souvenirs. Drop by a grocery store and pick up Maui Potato Chips, still made by the original Kahului family, or coffee from a farm in Kaanapali. (Kona isn't the only place on Hawaii with signature coffee.) Or, you might prefer some sweet-smelling soaps and body lotions from Alii Kula Lavender Farm.

Best Cocktail

There's just something about a frosty, fruity tropical drink that screams "Hawaii!" You're not officially on vacation until you've sipped a Polynesian cocktail or two. From mai tais (rum, orange liqueur, simple syrup and lime juice) to pina coladas (rum, coconut cream and pineapple) to other libations, featuring fruit juices and rum, you'll find plenty of sweet and strong drinks. Order a glass of "POG" -- a blend of passion fruit, orange and guava juices -- for the kids.


Maui Awards

Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards

2019 Top-Rated Hawaii Destinations
2018 Top-Rated Hawaii Destinations
2017 Top-Rated Hawaii Destinations
2016 Top-Rated Hawaii Destinations