For all you bargain hunters out there, fall is one of the best times to visit the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Summers and winters in Maui are packed with family vacationers and people just trying to escape the cold, meaning that flights and hotel packages escalate in price. But in the fall, tourism slows down enough for you to be able to find a great deal. And have no fear about the weather, either. On Maui, the temperature usually stays within 10 degrees in either direction -- typically between 80 and 90 -- making it the perfect year-round vacation spot. But it is still a tropical island, so understand that there will likely be some rain involved. But don't let it rain on your parade.

I've visited Maui twice in the fall and both times I had beautiful weather with only one day of rain -- and even then it was so warm that I hardly noticed. I have also visited Maui once in the spring, summer and winter and can honestly say that I didn't notice much of a difference. So I guess you could call me a Maui veteran. As such, I've got some tips on places to visit and things to do.

What can you say about Maui's beaches? Try this: gorgeous, crystal blue water you can stand chin-deep in and still see your toes. Golden or white sand beaches that stretch for miles and plenty of opportunity for snorkeling and surfing. In other words, perfection.

One of my favorite beaches in Maui is Makena, or Big Beach, located on the island's southern end. Go there if you're looking for the quintessential tropical island beach experience. It's far from the road so not only will you escape the sounds of traffic but you'll also be able to view a gorgeous backdrop of rolling hills and lush greenery. Over a mile long and a hundred yards wide, there's always plenty of room at Makena no matter how many tourists are there on a given day. It's a beautiful golden sand beach with moderate waves for body surfing or boarding -- though there is occasional strong surf even in the summers, so be careful. But the water is clear with hardly any seaweed. The only drawback is the lack of facilities. All they have to offer are port-a-potties, which means no freshwater showers or changing rooms.

And if tanning in the buff appeals to you, Makena is the place to be. Check out the clothing-optional Little Beach located just around the corner and over some rocks north of Big Beach. It is illegal to sunbathe nude on Maui, but odds are you'll be left alone and pleasantly naked.

There are also two great resort beach areas to see on Maui: Wailea and Kaanipali. The beaches in front of the Wailea resorts are white sand and usually feature calm waters. Some spots along this stretch of coast have reefs teeming with marine life, making it a great place for snorkeling. The Kaanipali resort beaches are also white sand and offer the conveniences of freshwater showers, plus plenty of places to shop and eat when you get tired of the waves.

The best place on Maui for you to shop and eat is in Lahaina town. Cruise down Front Street and check out top-notch restaurants -- including the famous Longhi's -- specialty shops with souvenirs galore, and some local historical sites as well. The waves and sounds of lapping water are also a nice bonus. In Lahaina, you will also find the popular Hilo Hattie's store, where you can stock up on Aloha wear, macadamia nuts and whatever other island souvenir you would like to take home to the unlucky who didn't make the trip. Another plus: Kaanipali is only a five-minute drive away.

And if you're interested in some nightlife, Lahaina -- which features a Hard Rock Café and a Moose McGillicutty's located on Front Street -- is one of the few places you'll be able to find it. But be warned: if it is nightlife you're looking for, better check out Oahu instead. Maui is more of a family/honeymoon island, which means the best party animals will probably get is a mellow place to drink and catch some live music.

For more upscale shopping, check out The Shops at Wailea, where you can find Tiffany & Co., Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Fendi and much, much more. And for more local-oriented shopping, try Kihei -- if you drive up and down S. Kihei Road, you will find plenty of shopping centers, including Kihei Kalama Village, an open-air market with kiosks filled with local and imported goods. It's a great place to collect your standard fun jewelry and knick-knacks.

I guess a better question to ask is what can't you do on Maui? Well, if you go to Lahaina, you can't walk more than ten feet without hitting an activity booth of some kind. Beware though! If many of them are offering great deals that sound too good to be true, it's because they are -- the catch is usually that you are required to attend a time-share presentation.

If you don't mind devoting part of your vacation to it and possibly dealing with high-pressure sales people, go for it! I opted against it and just booked some activities that were still reasonably priced. Just make sure to shop around a little if you're on a budget. Some places will really gouge you.

If you've never been to a luau, you should do it once just to say you did. So you might as well check out one of Maui's most popular parties, The Old Lahaina Luau, whose claim to fame is its authenticity. But be certain to book in advance -- this one fills up quickly! Kaanipali and Wailea resorts also offer beach side luaus with the standard Hawaiian fare of Kalua pig, poi, salads, open bar and Polynesian dancers.

And if you flew all that way just to get to Maui, you'd be remiss if you didn't check out the marine life in one form or another. Snorkeling is really accessible and inexpensive to do on your own, but you can also opt for a boating trip that will most likely take you to amazing Molokini, an underwater Marine Preserve. You can usually arrange to either snorkel or scuba dive. Things to consider are: how fast will the boat get you there (to maximize snorkeling time), how large is the boat and what meals are included. But if you want seclusion, Molokini is not the trip for you. There were over a dozen boats there when I went -- all three times.

And here's where experience comes in. I endured a nightmare boat ride my last time to and from Molokini -- we were stuck in choppy waters for longer than I'd like to remember, which caused half the boat's passengers to throw up. In fact, I wondered if my "three-hour tour" might end with a fight between Ginger and the Professor for a much-coveted hammock. The lesson is this: if rough waters make you nervous, grab your Dramamine. And I would highly recommend going with a larger, high-powered vessel. You'll pay for the difference, but the ride will be that much smoother and shorter.

In conclusion, start your adventure by picking up the ubiquitous Maui Guide pamphlets to get a feel for the activities available and bring plenty of sunscreen. No matter what you do -- you'll have a great time!

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© Melt Magazine 2002