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Awesome! Maui with teens!

Want to guarantee that your teens will remember your family vacation in 10 years? Or 20? Or 50? Pull out all the stops and give them experiences they can’t get at home. Challenge them — and yourself — to do things never done before, in a spectacular setting that resonates with all five senses.
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Want to guarantee that your teens will remember your family vacation in 10 years? Or 20? Or 50? Pull out all the stops and give them experiences they can’t get at home. Challenge them — and yourself — to do things never done before, in a spectacular setting that resonates with all five senses.

Last summer, Joanne and Tom DeMarchi wanted to give their two teenagers, Jacki and Patrick (then 18 and 16), a vacation in Maui that they’d never forget. We sent them on four heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping, mind-blowing adventures.

Sea kayaking and snorkeling with turtles

Excursion: Xperience, Introductory Sea Kayaking and Snorkeling

Location: Scenic cove on the Makena coastline, South Maui.

Departures: Daily at 7:45 a.m.

Duration: Three hours, including 30-minute orientation.

Cost: $69/adult, $35/child 5 to 11, plus tip. “An incredible bargain,” says Joanne.

Minimum age: 5, but use your judgment. Younger children may get nervous if the water is rough. The two DeMarchi kids were the only non-adults out of 10 people in the group. The best age is 12 and up.

About the outfitter: Small groups and an expert staff make Maui Eco Tours a stand-out for ocean kayaking excursions that get up close and personal with marine life. The outfitter provides everything you need — kayaks, life vests, flippers, and snorkels — plus a light, healthy lunch. “Ours was tasty skewered chicken with fresh pineapple chunks and cucumber slices,” recalls Joanne. The DeMarchis’ guide was a marine naturalist with eight years of experience as a guide. “The eco slant of the excursion was a bonus and made the trip unique,” says Joanne.

Prep work: To prepare for the outing, the group spends 30 minutes reviewing the basics of ocean kayaking, including how to paddle and get in and out of the kayak. The easy part is learning how to snorkel.

The real fun: Once the basics are covered, the group paddles out to the first of two snorkeling stops for 30 to 40 minutes. The sheer abundance and variety of marine life is awe-inspiring. “Over the course of the morning we spotted 15 or 20 enormous sea turtles, plus blue starfish, sea urchins, and tropical fish in every shape and size imaginable,” says Joanne. “Our guide often did a deep dive to about 20 feet to drive the fish closer to us, even though the water was so clear that we could easily see the marine life from the surface.”

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Need to know: If you wear eyeglasses, alert the outfitter before your trip that you’d like vision-correcting goggles.

Don’t forget: Your underwater camera. And if you’re prone to seasickness, take anti-nausea medicine before the excursion begins.

Verdict: A great-value, easy, and fun outing.

Touring Maui’s high country by ATV

Excursion: The 3-Hour Tour

Location: Haleakala Ranch, a 30,000-acre cattle ranch.

Departures: Daily at 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Duration: Three hours, including orientation.

Cost: $145/person (save $10/person if you book directly).

Minimum age: 16

About the outfitter: Haleakala ATV Tours provides each rider with a top-of-the-line 350cc 4WD quad, plus three items to keep heads safe and clean: A head sock (covering everything but the eyes), a helmet, and a pair of goggles. On the three-hour tour, riders stop to enjoy a pre-ordered box lunch that includes a sandwich, chips, and a drink. (Note: The shorter, two-hour tour doesn’t include lunch.) The DeMarchis’ group was made up of 12 riders and two friendly and knowledgeable guides.

Prep work: Figure on 30 minutes getting the group outfitted and educated in the basics of ATV operation.

The real fun: The guides lead the group across the varied terrain of the dormant Haleakala ("House of the Sun"), including lava beds, rolling hills, and mountain forests. The tour takes two-and-a-half hours to complete and covers 10 to 14 miles, with two stops along the way to learn about island history, local wildlife and vegetation. “Going 5 to 12 mph on an ATV feels faster than you’d think,” says Joanne. “We were never bored, which always makes for a great day. Even though it rained part of the time, it still was a blast.”

Wow factor: Ah, those glorious views! When the convoy arrives at 4,200 feet, the group is rewarded with a soul-lifting, panoramic view that spans the island’s north and south shores. “Being able to see the shape of the island from that vantage point was awesome,” remembers Joanne.

Need to know: You’ll get dirty. OK, make that filthy. On dry days the ATVs kick up red clay dust, and on wet days it’s red clay mud. (Trust us. Neither will ever completely wash out of your clothes.) The DeMarchis recommend renting sweatshirts from the outfitter ($5 each).

Don’t forget: Wear old clothes. Bring your camera, a pair of binoculars, bottled water, and sunscreen. Each ATV is equipped with a zippered pouch that will keep your belongings clean and dry.

Verdict: Highly recommended soft-adventure excursion on moderately challenging and rough terrain. “I loved participating in an activity with my teenagers that we all enjoyed,” says Joanne. “The three-hour ride was the right choice for us because we were much more proficient ATV operators on the second half of the trip, which amplified our fun.”

Diving Into Maui’s underworld

Excursion: Scuba Lesson for Beginners

Location: Renaissance Wailea Beach Hotel

Departures: Daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Duration: Three to four hours.

Cost: $89/person, plus tax and tip.

Minimum age: 10 (Children under 12 may require additional time and attention from instructor).

About the outfitter: Maui Ultra Dive is a full-service PADI, SDI, and IANTD dive center with scuba courses for all skill levels. “The equipment functioned and fit well for all shapes and sizes of students,” says Tom. “Everything was clean and looked reasonably new.”

Prep work: This intro-to-scuba course begins in the pool. The group gets fitted and familiarized with the equipment, then moves on to learning basic safety instructions and underwater hand signals. During the DeMarchis’ training session, there was just one instructor for eight students. “Since the instructor needed to go through the training and safety exercises with each student, it made for a chopped-up session,” says Tom. “It would have been better if more instructors had been available for a group of this size.”

The real fun: For the ocean dive, the group splits into two and gets another instructor, bringing the ratio down to one instructor for every four divers. The dive lasts about 45 minutes, is well-paced, and keeps everyone engaged as the group swims to depths of about 35 feet and explores a spectacular reef that lies just offshore.

Wow factor: Octopus and needlefish and sea turtles, oh my! The reef is blanketed with marine life, so there’s forever a colorful and ever-changing show going on underwater. “Everywhere we looked, there was coral and fish and octopus. It was fantastic!” says Patrick. “Surprisingly, the ocean dive was all entertainment and surprisingly little work.”

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Don’t forget: Your sense of wonder and a bit of patience. “Break times interrupted the flow of the morning and could be boring for younger students,” says Tom.

Verdict: Recommendable, despite some niggling kinks. Patrick enthuses, “Anyone who enjoys the water and is ready to move beyond simple snorkeling will love this. It was my favorite activity during our trip to Maui. I want to become a certified scuba diver now.”

Ziplining through the rainforest

Excursion: Haleakala Skyline Tour

Location: Rainforest on lower Haleakala Crater.

Departures: Six tours daily from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Duration: Two hours.

Cost: $79/person, plus tax (discounted to $71.10 if booked online).

Minimum age: 10 (Must weigh between 80 and 260 pounds).

About the outfitter: In 2004, Skyline was voted Hawaii Ecotour Operator of the Year by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association. The company donates 10% of its profits into local conservation. The DeMarchis’ group consisted of 12 “zippers” and two friendly, laid-back, 20-something guides. “Everything was very well-organized,” says Joanne.

Prep work: It’s a short hike into the forest to get to the first zipline. For the first 15 minutes, participants are fitted with helmets and harnesses. “We were told that the cables could support over 14,000 pounds, so not to worry!” remembers Joanne. After a quick demo by one of the guides, it’s time to line up and take that first leap of faith.

The real fun: Nothing gets the heart racing like flying through the rainforest that blankets a centuries-dormant volcano. In a few short hours, you make five picturesque zipline crossings, traverse an Indiana Jones-style swinging supension bridge, and soak up the beautiful surroundings of lush vegetation and seasonal waterfalls. With each trip, the zipline gets longer and faster, over gorges and that get increasingly larger and deeper.

Wow factor: The last zipline stretches 750 feet — or two-and-a-half football fields! — across an enormous gorge with a 150-foot drop. “Moving 40 mph in a simple harness was an experience unlike any other we’d ever had,” says Joanne. “It was exhilarating and fun for the kids but terrifying for me.”

Would be even better if: The DeMarchi teens wanted more! They would have liked to have been able to repeat the two longer rides. “The first three ziplines are relatively short,” explains Joanne. “The last rides provide the thrill everyone hopes to experience when they try ziplining.”

Need to know: Don’t even think about ziplining if you have a fear of heights. These tours sell out weeks in advance, so book before you leave home.

Don’t forget: Your superhero cape. “Running off a platform into a wide open valley that’s 150 feet deep takes courage, but my teens thought it was pure fun,” says Joanne. “It took all of my inner strength to complete the last zip.”

Verdict: A thrilling, one-of-a-kind experience. “If you like roller coasters, you’ll love ziplining,” recommends Patrick. “I really liked this because it’s something we could never do at home.”

A note about tipping: All the outfitters on Maui encourage tips. If you enjoyed your outing, consider leaving a gratuity of 10 percent.

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