Maui Ocean Center’s new Marine Life Hale, based at Sheraton Maui, gives clients a sneak preview of the aquarium’s treasures. // © 2016 Maui Ocean Center
Feature image (above): Maui Ocean Center now offers $5 shuttle transportation from west and south Maui. // © 2016 Maui Ocean Center
It’s easy to understand why Maui Ocean Center (MOC) tops most every Maui travel itinerary. The marine park’s interactive presentations, behind-the-scenes tours and educational displays bring guests face-to-face with an attention-grabbing array of sea creatures, including some found only in Hawaii’s waters.
For most MOC visitors, the highlight is its 54-foot-long acrylic tunnel, which lets them walk through a 750,000-gallon exhibit of sharks, stingrays and reef fish without getting wet. But lately, the 3-acre central Maui attraction has introduced several new draws that are keeping the experience fresh.
Here’s a look at MOC’s most recent updates, providing plenty of incentives for first-time and repeat guests alike.
While MOC focuses primarily on Hawaii’s marine life, it also strives to create a sense of place for its visitors. That in mind, it now offers ongoing activities, games and presentations focused on the local culture. Hawaii experts share their knowledge through hands-on demonstrations, music, dance, crafts and storytelling.
Overlooking Maalaea Bay, the new covered Maalaea Lookout deck features two telescopes, free for guests. During the winter months, clients can use them to spot humpback whales with the help of a marine naturalist. Throughout the year, the lookout provides sweeping views of the ocean, boats and Haleakala volcano.
Marine Life Hale at Sheraton Maui
For a free taste of MOC’s offerings, clients can visit the new Marine Life Hale (house) at Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Each day from 9 a.m. to noon, a marine naturalist holds forth in the hale and presents exhibits of small, live marine animals such as sea stars, hermit crabs and brine shrimp.
Guests ages 3 to 12 receive a free Keiki (children’s) Passport to enhance their MOC experience. Armed with a graphite-tracing tool, kids collect rubbings at various rock petroglyphs around the aquarium while learning Hawaiian words and history. Children who complete all 12 rubbings get an official stamp and a temporary petroglyph tattoo.
The menu at MOC’s Seascape Maalaea restaurant has been revamped in tasty fashion. Additions include fresh ahi “poke” (raw, seasoned tuna), an “alii” (royal) burger with Kobe beef, coconut-crusted Tahitian chicken and the lawaia (fisherman’s) platter with mahimahi, calamari and coconut shrimp. The eatery is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Clients who book MOC admission in advance can sign up for pre-arranged shuttle transportation. Available each day, 14-passenger vans provide pickups and drop-offs at designated west and south Maui properties. The cost for a round-trip ride is $5 per person for all ages.
Undersea Cave Theater
Set in a grotto-like environment, the Undersea Cave Theater shows a variety of short films that provide a behind-the-scenes look at animals that live at the aquarium. The mini-theater also streams live footage from Hawaiian waters during subaqueous explorations. Viewings are free for MOC guests
What’s Ahead: Dome Theater
MOC plans to build a new two-story structure called the Dome Theater. The first floor will set the stage for new exhibits, while the second floor will feature a large-format wide-screen cinema. The building is slated for completion in 2017, along with other MOC renovations and additions.