Though it’s only a quarter of the size of the Big Island, Maui (Hawaii’s second largest island) packs more geographic diversity into its 700 square miles than nearly anywhere else on earth. There are more than 120 miles of shoreline and 81 beaches to choose from on the island, so picking your perfect vacation spot can be tough. The Napili Bay area, a 15 minute drive past the town of Lahaina in west Maui, offers a near perfect combination of white sand beaches, affordable restaurants, and tranquil waters ideal for snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, and stand-up paddelboarding. It’s also home to the Napili Kai Beach Resort, one of the most family-friendly hotels in west Maui.
Napili Kai Beach Resort overview
Opened in 1962, the Napili Kai offers 163 rooms (7 hotel rooms, 102 studios, 49 one bedroom suites and 5 two bedroom suites, all with twin or king beds) in 11 two-story buildings spread on 10 beachfront acres in west Maui.
Back in the early 1960’s, Napili Kai was one of the first resorts in the area. Today, this upscale area in west Maui is home to award-winning golf, horseback riding, lovely restaurants, and, of course, fabulous beaches. In fact, Napili Kai’s crescent-shaped beach and protected reefs are home to multi-colored tropical fish and friendly honu or green sea turtles.
The resort keeps that relaxed feel going by allowing guests to not worry about money. Charges for food and drinks can be charged to the room, but beyond that, the resort has a policy of not “nickle and diming” its guests. There are no outlandish resort fees, no charges for parking or wifi, and a whole host of complimentary services are offered, including free snorkel and mask, free beach coolers, a free kids camp (during high season), free social events like a weekly mai tai party, horticultural tour and weekly putting party for adults (with bargain-priced drinks.) Additionally, the resort offers free cultural events and lessons in hula, ukulele, lei-making, and more.
Nearly all rooms have kitchen facilities and ocean views from their lanais or patios. Our one bedroom ocean front suite in the Puna Point building had granite counters and wood cabinets. The family-friendly suite had a full size stainless steel fridge, plenty of cookware and dishes, a full size oven, built-in microwave oven, stovetop, dishwasher, and even a blender for making our own tropical drinks.
A small table for two, two sofas (that made into two beds or one king size bed), and 37″ flat screen tv provided plenty of space for my husband and I to relax, though we preferred to sit on the lanai overlooking the Puna Point building’s pool, a small barbecue area, and of course, the ocean. Those traveling with another couple or children will appreciate the second bathroom in this suite.
I also noticed that some of the hotel rooms had the ability to open lanai partitions; ideal for families or friends traveling together. If you are staying for a long vacation, the property offers washing machines and dryers on site.
Did I mention that we watched migrating Humpback whales breach and spout water from the comfort of our private balcony? Our Maui vacation took place in January, however, whales typically migrate in Hawaii from November to May, with peak season taking place from January to March. This is a great time to visit Maui.
Napili Kai activities
On the Napili Kai property are four pools, a hot tub with ocean views, a fitness center, Makai Hale snack shop and beach pavilion, shuffleboard courts, giant checkerboard, and 2 18-hole putting greens for adults and children, all spread out among the lush foliage, flowers, and palm trees. Additionally there is the independently-owned and operated Makai Massage and Bodywork, as well as the Breezeway Boutique.
A stone path leads along the rocky shoreline from some of the rooms, past two pools and the hot tub, to the lobby, Sea House restaurant, and Napili Kai beach. Though the resort doesn’t host large-scale meetings or events, the Aloha Pavilion can accommodate meetings, family reunions and smaller weddings (weddings can also be held around the property or on the beach).
New since our 2013 review, Sea House restaurant is able to provide a romantic dinner on the beach for an additional fee.
With a seasonally offered kids club, free meals for kids under 12 and plenty of family friendly activities, the Napili Kai definitely caters to families. During my winter visit, there were several children staying at the resort, but the majority of the guests seemed to be snowbirds looking to escape the cold and multi-generational families.
Those looking for a romantic vacation could easily find a few quiet spots away from other guests (our pool, for example, was always empty), and the resort will arrange a private dinner on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We even had the honor of watching a bride and groom celebrate their nuptials with a walk on the sands of Napili Kai Beach.
Napili Kai Sea House restaurant
Though most of the units have kitchen facilities, guests who don’t want to cook may enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a fabulous happy hour of pupus at the Sea House restaurant overlooking the beach.
During our stay, we took advantage of the happy hour (locally known as the best happy hour on Maui) to snack on some fried shrimp, Lani ribs, blue crab cakes, edamame, Maui French onion soup and killer pork tacos, among other items.
The next morning, my husband indulged in a hearty breakfast of fried rice, kimchi, shrimp, bacon, sausage and eggs, also known as “The Kitchen Sink.” I had the eggs Benedict and macadamia nut cinnamon roll because it was my birthday and I was celebrating…all day!
That evening, we enjoyed a sunset dinner and I ordered the steak and lobster, while my husband tried Monchong. We were not familiar with this fish and our waiter described it perfectly. It was a moist and flavorful white fish with a texture somewhere between halibut and cod.
Napili Kai’s extensive cultural programs (including a Tuesday night Keiki Hula Show sponsored by the Napili Kai Foundation and Wednesday night Grammy Award winning slack key show), plush waterfront rooms, and all-inclusive feel made it easy to fall in love with the Hawaiian resort. What sealed the deal for me was its prime location in Napili Bay. Unlike Maui’s other popular resort area, Wailea, the Napili area offers a large range of reasonably priced restaurants, as well as Lahaina and Kaanapali just to the south.
Both areas offer beautiful beaches, but I preferred the tranquility of Napili. There are several reefs within the protected Napili Bay, yet the crescent-shaped beach offers an easy, shallow entrance into the water for reluctant swimmers.
While there is no lifeguard on duty, long time staffers such as Recreation Manager Lorene Akiona alert guests when the water is not safe to enter. Lorene shared her stories of encounters with George the sea turtle and talked to me about Hawaii’s marine tides and moon phases. I felt like ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, after talking story with Lorene. Indeed, it felt like I was welcomed home.
If you go:
Hotel room prices start at $340 per night for a garden view room category. Ocean view studio rates start at $465 per night. Check-in is at 3pm and check-out is at 11:00 a.m.. Rates include parking, wifi, kids club, snorkel mask and beach towels, cultural shows and activities, morning coffee and more, with no resort fees. Visit the hotel website for more details.
Nancy D. Brown is a freelance, San Francisco-based travel writer. She received a media rate at Napili Kai Beach Resort but all opinions are her own.