kaylensandersweb.jpgThrough the clouds we soared, and even in the pitch black of the night sky, I could see the countless lights of Maui, illuminating the mountains and shorelines.

“Welcome to Maui, Hawaii!” our proud pilot exclaimed as the plane’s wheels connected with the runway.

I unbuckled my seatbelt, bouncing with unconcealed excitement. At last, we’d reached our stunning destination! Hawaii is an immensely beautiful place, and Maui is a very unique island.

During the summer of 2007, I visited the island in the Pacific with my mother, father and grandmother. With all of its amazing adventures, my family vacation in Lahaina, Maui was an undoubted favorite.

Our first major venture in Hawaii was when we went horseback riding in the mountains of Maui. On horseback, my family and I galloped through the lush, emerald green peaks and valleys. As we made quick stops on our equestrian journey, we took breathtaking photos on the horses with the verdant mountains and rolling, cerulean waves of the ocean as a striking backdrop.

Traipsing out into the untouched island nature was an unforgettable experience. Although at the end of our expedition we were all covered in dirt from the trails, after a luxuriously hot shower in the comfort of the resort, we couldn’t help but wish that we were still trailing through the fertile countryside.

An additional delight during our Hawaiian stay was the enlightening visit to the Maui Seaquarium. There, we viewed tons of sea life, all native to the Pacific waters near Maui. In the Maui Seaquarium, I thoroughly enjoyed myself as I learned facts about the island and its indigenous sea animals.

One particularly fascinating fact I discovered was that there are no snakes on the island, primarily due to its solo volcanic formation in the abyss of the Pacific Ocean. At the seaquarium, I saw multiple living examples of the varied sea life like sea turtles, sharks, fish, and an array of coral.

My experience there was filled with learning and, unquestionably, fun!

Last but far from least, my family and I attended a traditional Hawaiian luau in Maui. Filled with scrumptious island cuisine and thrilling entertainment, our special luau experience was marvelous. For one, the food was wonderful, and among some of the delicious delicacies was the customary underground-roasted pork, freshly cooked veggies, and an endless menagerie of irresistible desserts.

Authentic Hawaiian jewelry was featured at the festivities, too, along with various other trinkets. The accordingly superb entertainment featured a fire eater, Hawaiian singers, and several hula dancers. Out of all our Hawaiian activities, the magnificent luau had to be my absolute favorite, hands down.

Each day from my bedroom in the Hawaiian resort, I could watch the sun rise and set, creating a picturesque array of colors that danced across the sky. Following the horizon with my eyes, across the ocean and back to shore, I could see the immense sandy beach, nature in one of its purest forms. How splendid it was to be lulled asleep by the rise and fall of the tides.

Out of the adjacent window, there was a perfect view of the mountains, which on the occasional rainy day would be clouded over with the glimmer of a rainbow. These were simple, yet astounding tributes to the island’s natural beauty.

All in all, my family vacation in Hawaii was an outstanding one, complete with unforgettable experiences that I’ll treasure forever. With its rich culture and awe-inspiring landscape, Maui is a remarkable island that will make your vacation extremely special.

From the adventurous horseback riding to the incredible luau, my time spent in Maui, Hawaii was fantastic. And, if you were to go, I’m sure yours would be, too.

Kaylen Jameela Sanders, 12, of Pembroke Pines, is an eighth-grade student at Walter C. Young Middle School in Pembroke Pines.  She won the My Favorite Vacation Essay Contest at her school’s literary fair for this column, which details her family vacation to Hawaii. The Travel Leaders of South Florida, a local travel agency, awarded her $500 for the victory.