Maui Meanderings

Shore-time selections on the Magic Isle

By: Maryann Hammers

Anyone who has traveled to Maui recently will tell you that cruise passengers have become a fixture there. In addition to NCL America’s Hawaii-based ships, lines such as Princess, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity and Holland America Line have all scheduled calls in Maui this year. So, whether your clients have just a few hours on Maui (ships dock at either Kahului or Lahaina), or are lucky enough to be on an itinerary that features an overnight stay, here are some suggestions to make every moment count.

The Kingdom of Hawaii’s first capital and later a whaling village, Lahaina is the initial stop for many cruise passengers. T-shirt shops, ice-cream stands, jewelry stores and outdoor eateries line Front Street. It may feel a bit commercial, but with Hawaiian music pouring out of every storefront and leis ringing every neck, most travelers quickly feel the aloha spirit and end up buying a puka-shell necklace or straw beach mat to bring back to the ship.

Although most cruise lines offer a luau as part of their shore excursion selections, your clients should definitely consider the Old Lahaina Luau. The music, singing and dancing are top notch; the buffet-style feast of traditional Hawaiian foods is delicious; and cocktails are included all with the backdrop of the ocean, and canoes and sailboats gliding by. $92.71 includes tax and a 15 percent discount to travel agents. 800-248-5828;

Most cruise passengers in Hawaii become inspired by the sweeping history of the islands, and vow to learn more about it upon their return. If your clients want to do some on-site learning, suggest they visit the Lahaina Heritage Museum at 648 Wharf Street on the second floor of the Old Courthouse. Open daily. 808-661-1959

Around dusk, it’s also worth a short detour to walk by the gigantic tree in Banyan Tree Park. Passers-by hear the famous tree before they see it. In the branches overhead, thousands of screaming mynah birds greet visitors. Most restaurants in town are fancier than Cheeseburger in Paradise, but none are more fun than this open-air burger joint where waiters wear straw-grass skirts. 811 Front Street. 808-661-4855

If clients are seeking a quieter, more upscale dinner, direct them to Front Street Grill. 808-662-3003

The road to Hana is famous for waterfalls and lush tropical rainforests. But it’s an all-day journey on a harrowing one-way road. Plenty of cruise passengers nonetheless elect to take the challenge (usually after picking up their rented convertibles). Of course, many worthwhile upcountry destinations are closer and easier to get to. The old plantation town of Paia is both upscale and laidback sort of like La Jolla or Santa Barbara, but with a definite Hawaiian flair. There are galleries, ethnic crafts, jewelry shops, Hookipa Beach Park (the windsurfing capital of the world) and Fresh Mint, famous for the best Vietnamese-vegan food on the island.

At the Alii Kula lavender farm in Kula, your clients can chat with the genial owners and growers and walk along the garden trails bursting with tropical flowers, herbs and 45 different kinds of lavender. Guided tours, which include hot tea and scones, are $35, but visitors are welcome to wander on their own for no charge. 808-878-3004; www.aliikula

Also direct your clients to the historic Iao Valley State Park, a lush area with creeks, waterfalls and the dramatic “Iao Needle” a towering finger-shaped rock covered in dense green foliage. (It’s worth a visit just to watch the local kids fearlessly jump from the bridge into the rushing water below.) Known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa, Hawaiian god of the ocean, the misty 2,250-foot pinnacle was once used as a lookout by warriors. Take Highway 32 (Kaahumanu Road) west out of Wailuku, which turns into Highway 320 and leads to the park.

For a meal to remember, recommend that your clients stop at Mama’s Fish House in Paia. The food is pricey, but with talking parrots, Polynesian artifacts, hanging glass balls, original Hawaiian oil paintings and a canoe out front, this colorful open-air restaurant immediately puts diners in a tropical mood. Spectacularly situated on a secluded beach, with views of windsurfers tumbling in the waves, a cocktail or meal here is a great way to start or end a Maui shore excursion. And, clients definitely won’t feel guilty about missing a shipboard meal. 808-579-8488;