I actually recently had time to kill in Kahului; half of my traveling group flew out early, and the rest of us had to wait 8 hrs before taking off. The big hitch we discovered is that we weren’t allowed to drop off or store luggage at the airport (they said the airport was too small to allow luggage storage) so keep that in mind.
The cool thing is that if you get a rental car, there’s plenty to see in Maui that’s a fairly easy drive. You can drive the Road to Hana to see rainforests and waterfalls, visit towns like Paia (sort of a hippie village) and Kihei (tourist village with lots of restaurants and shopping), or even go to Mount Haleakalā.
When I was in Maui, I spent a ton of time snorkeling. You can rent snorkel gear all over the island and there’s lots of terrific snorkel spots to see tropical fish, turtles, and other neat things.
And after typing all of that I just saw that you’re there from 9pm til the next morning. So uh, nevermind. There’s a mall near to the airport with a movie theater and arcade; you’ll also be a 45 min drive from many of the tourist areas where you could hang out.
I don’t have advice, I just wanted to say that I hope you both have a fabulous time. Also, those horror stories are loud and viral, but super rare. Y’all are going to be fine An adventure with your kid? What could be nicer?!
Wait, I do have something minor. I’ve found those phone charger / external batteries super helpful when traveling, to keep the book/podcast/movie/game going for the whole flight.
Have a wonderful time. I second the suggestion of an external battery charger. In fact after my last trip I started carrying one in my everyday carry. No longer do I worry about discovering I am am at 10% on my bus ride home.
Spam cooked teriyaki style on sushi rice might change your mind! It’s pretty tasty stuff. But yes, BBQ kalua pig, chicken, and fantastic seafood are everywhere. And mai tais and Lava Flows. I would get extremely fat if I lived in Hawaii. You will have a wonderful time and I envy your trip!
To me, the biggest thing is to honor your need to be back to catch your connecting flight.
Lyft/airbnb is a good financial option but perhaps the little extra $ to be a hotel that is right by the airport is worth it to know they can get you where you need to be on time? Do you have some points to blow? I’m a member of this site and have found some really great bargains on it https://ticketmonsterperks.hotelplanner.com . There are a couple that seem affordable - especially if they include breakfast.
My daughter is a good traveler so I never found a need for a lot of distractions for her. I think being in a new place is exciting for kids.
Sounds like the layover is on the way back, right? So, less need to enjoy local flavor/culture. And no matter how much fun you’ve had up to that point, you’ll both be feeling a little eager to get home rather than sightsee some more. My recommendation, as someone who has traveled A LOT with children, is to recognize that getting a decent night’s sleep is actually your first priority. Finding a cheap but safe nearby option to do that would get my vote.