Hawaii's Aquarium: Why Maui Ocean Center is Worth a Family Visit

If we lived on Maui, or visited frequently, an annual family pass to the Maui Ocean Center would definitely be on our wish list. Two years ago we visited the Newport Aquarium here in Oregon, and while it was fantastic to view creatures of the northern (colder) Pacific, it's a pleasantly different experience in Maui to admire the incredible creatures of the tropical Pacific.

  Nothing says 'tropical' quite like brightly colored fish!

Nothing says 'tropical' quite like brightly colored fish!

  The Ocean Center looks out onto beautiful Ma'alaea Harbor

The Ocean Center looks out onto beautiful Ma'alaea Harbor

We took our toddler to Maui's Ocean Center years ago, but here's what we especially enjoyed about bringing our 2, 5, and 8-year-old this visit: 

  Maui Ocean Center's octopus (not the septopus known as Hank)

Maui Ocean Center's octopus (not the septopus known as Hank)

  Frogfish

Frogfish

* Expect to see a moray eel, an octopus (my fave!), sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, sea jellies (When did they stop being called "jellyfish?!"), a large variety of tropical fish, and more creatures. You will NOT see whales or dolphins due to island regulations, but you can learn about them from some displays. 25% of Hawaii's fish are endemic to Hawaii, meaning they can't be found anywhere else in the world. They're worth seeing.

  A young Green Sea Turtle - my son's favorite animal

A young Green Sea Turtle - my son's favorite animal

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Hawaiian petroglyph Maui Ocean Center Child language activity Polynesian

* The Ocean Center has a free Keiki Passport (treasure map) for kids to complete by finding 12 Hawaiian petroglyphs and rubbing them onto their map. I have a love-hate relationship with museum treasure maps because my children's obsession with completing them can sometimes keep us from simply enjoying our visit. (Does that happen in your family?) Nonetheless, the petroglyph activity was achievable with parental help, and it was interesting to learn some Hawaiian words in the process. Hint: All the petroglyphs are outside, and any employee can tell you where to find the one(s) you've missed.

* The behind-the-scenes tour sold out a few days before we visited, but it has rave reviews on TripAdvisor. Nonetheless, we learned a lot from the free marine naturalists' presentations happening daily, mid-morning to early afternoon. (Presentation times are listed in the brochure.) The Open Ocean Dive Presentation was awe-inspiring--do not miss it! Here are some photos from that event:

  The diver, thanks to great technology, gave a great live audio presentation on deep ocean creatures like this enormous ray

The diver, thanks to great technology, gave a great live audio presentation on deep ocean creatures like this enormous ray

  These Ulua (Island Jacks or Giant Trevally) are actually much more aggressive than sharks. They typically change to a dark grey color before attacking.

These Ulua (Island Jacks or Giant Trevally) are actually much more aggressive than sharks. They typically change to a dark grey color before attacking.

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I hope you can visit the Maui Ocean Center sometime--we certainly hope to return there every time we are on Maui as a family. (I bet they'd love the Ocean Center's shark dive experience as teens!) My daughter insisted that she made friends with the sea cucumber, so we need to revisit her new friend someday soon.

Did you have a memorable aquarium or ocean center experience in your childhood?