Accessible Travel Destinations
Having recently spent ten days in Maui, it was very difficult to come back to reality. The sounds of the ocean crashing on the beach, the coconut trees bending in the trade winds, the squawking of exotic birds and the smell of beautiful island flowers intoxicated the senses. Not only is Maui an absolutely beautiful place, but we found accessibility to be very good.
We arrived in Kahului Airport, which is fairly small and easy to navigate. Because we brought our service animal, Emelia, with us, we had several things we had to do prior to her arrival on the island. You can read about them in our Bringing a Service Animal to Hawaii tips. We were met at the jet way exit by a wonderful local veterinarian from the Maui Humane Society who provided the necessary clearance to bring Emelia onto the island.
There are several wheelchair accessible restrooms and very good assistance within the airport. Rental car desks are at the airport, but shuttle busses are required to get to the cars. Hertz had accessible busses, but many of the others did not. However, if you choose a rental car company that doesn't have an accessible bus, you can go to the counter, and they can bring the car to you.
The roads in Maui are well marked and very good, even at night. However, there are warnings on the island related to head on collisions at night, so be careful.
We spent the first part of our stay at the Maui Accessible Condo in Maalea. Maalea is a small harbor town that sits in the middle of the west coast. It is extremely windy, as the winds pass between Haleakala volcano and the western mountain range. The condo, itself, was perfect for a person with a disability. Parking was only a short distance from the level entrance to the condo, as was the laundry. The condo had one bedroom with a king-sized bed and a remodeled bathroom with a roll in shower, bars, and plenty of counter space. A murphy bed was located off the living room, and there were Japanese doors to separate the space and provided privacy. The owners have thought of everything, and there were clear instructions how to operate everything from the automatic blinds to the entertainment system.
The living/dining areas were easy to maneuver. The galley kitchen was a little tight for turns, but could be maneuvered in a manual wheelchair. Our lanai, which is Hawaiian for patio/balcony, was perfect! My daughter, Kelsey, could roll out without a threshold and join us for dinner at the table and chairs. We overlooked the pool and Pacific Ocean, where on many days we could see surfers. In the winter, whales are easily seen from shore.
Maalea was a great location. We had four miles of unspoiled beaches to enjoy, and there were very few tourists. We were also less than 30 minutes to most of the popular parts of the island, including Wailea and Kaanapali. There were grocery stores in nearby Kihei, so we were able to cut down on restaurant expenses. Be forewarned: food is expensive, even at the grocery store! We did use the excellent gas grills at the condo a couple days, which was fantastic. I've never grilled within earshot of the crashing waves of the ocean, and it was wonderful!
We did find some good restaurants in the area, which are featured in the "Restaurants" section for Maui.
The second part of our trip was spent on the very popular Kaanapali Beach at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. If you like big resorts, lots of activities, restaurants and shops within walking distance, this is the place for you! Kaanapali Beach Hotel is known as the most "Hawaiian" hotel. They have craftsman from the area in the lobby, and provide lessons on Hawaiian traditions such as the hula and lei-making. The grounds are lovely, with a whale-shaped pool in the center and a Tiki Bar nearby. Our oceanfront room was extremely accessible with a roll-in shower, built in shower bench, bars and sink. The fifth floor lanai overlooked the ocean, and was the absolutely perfect spot for sunsets.
There were three things I noted about the hotel.
- It was very level. Many resorts have multi-level, lush grounds with several pools. While they are beautiful, they can be difficult to navigate and find the ramps to circumvent all the stairs.
- The prices were generally lower, and the restaurants less extravagant compared to many of the larger resorts on the beach.
- The staff was outstanding! We saw the same people every day, and it felt very homey. Everyone remembered us and asked how our stay was, from the check-in desk, bellman, maids, to guest services.
We also took in many local attractions. Here is a summary of our favorites:
Maui Ocean Center -- We enjoyed the exhibits that ranged from starfish and seahorses to turtles, eels, and sharks. There were several hands-on activities that were very educational and entertaining. You can easily spend a few good hours at the center enjoying all the exhibits. My daughter, Kelsey, is still talking about all the things she learned!
Snorkeling at Black Rock - You don't need to spend a ton of money to get up close and personal with marine life. Bring your snorkel gear, or rent them from dozens of places on the island, and head over to Black Rock on Kaanapali Beach. In our short trip, we saw dozens of beautiful fish, and we had two huge turtles come right up to us! Caution: do not touch the turtles! They are endangered, and there is a hefty fine if you get caught! Black Rock is right at the Sheraton Maui resort. There are several accessible restrooms in the vicinity to change into your swimming gear.
Old Lahaina Luau - This is the most well-known luau on the island, and it is easy to understand why. The staff was attentive, and ensured that our visit was extremely pleasant. The experience of meeting local artisans, participating in crafts, and watching the unearthing of the Kalua pig from the "imu" or traditional Hawaiian underground oven, provided insight to the Hawaiian culture. We then enjoyed our delicious meal at our assigned table. The meal is buffet, but they are willing to assist in getting your food or drinks. Speaking of drinks, it is an open bar, and you can have as many Mai Tai's or exotic drinks (alcoholic and virgin) as you wish! After dinner, we settled in to watch the hula show, which traced Hawaiian history through the ages. The combination of the music and different styles of dance were mesmerizing! Accessibility was not an issue; parking was just outside the door, bathrooms were completely accessible, and staff was fantastic.
Deep Sea Fishing with Finest Kind Charters - We spent the day with Captain Craig and his assistant, Chris, on the Reel Hooker. They didn't think twice about getting Kelsey and her manual wheelchair, along with her service dog on board. The pier was wide enough to bring the chair to the boat, and the boat was level with the pier. It was a simple hoist of the chair to bring it to the deck. Once on the boat, there was plenty of room to maneuver. The crew discussed with us the best way to include Kelsey in the experience in catching a "big one" which meant Ono, Marlin, or Spearfish. These fish can weigh upwards of several hundred pounds! I'd like to say we caught a monster of a fish, but truth be told, we had only one nibble that got away in the entire eight hours on the boat! The ride was beautiful, though. We got to see sunrise over Maui, the black cliffs of Lana 'i, and some amazing scenery along the way. The boat did not have an accessible head, which is sailor talk for a restroom. We managed by sending the crew upstairs while Kelsey did her business discretely in the covered deck area.
Helicopter Tours by Sunshine Helicopters -- Although the famous drive to Hana is absolutely beautiful, the idea of spending seven hours in a car on winding roads is not our idea of a good time. Instead, we booked a tour on Sunshine Helicopters and flew over waterfalls, rain forests, and Haleakala Volcano in just under an hour. Sunshine Helicopters has a chair lift that Kelsey was able to transfer into. It hoisted her right up to seat level, and she was able to scoot into the seat of the helicopter.
Lahaina -- We also spent a day hanging out in Lahaina. Lahaina was the original capital of Hawaii before it was moved to Honolulu. This quaint town is full of shops, restaurants, and galleries. It also boasts a harbor full of tour and charter boats. The majority of the shops were without thresholds, and the curb cuts were excellent. Nearby parking lots are plentiful. We spent some time under the famous Banyan Tree, which started as a single trunk, but has grown to over fifty trunks with overhanging branches that provide shade from the Hawaiian sun. The Banyan Tree is central to the community, and they often have art fairs and artistic presentations. It sits right in front of the Old Courthouse, which houses a museum and accessible restrooms. The day we were there, local youth were performing hula dances and there was a lovely craft fair to enjoy.
The Beach Walk on Kaanapali Beach - Kaanapali's beach walk is a paved pathway that links over three miles of beach resorts along the famous Kaanapali Beach. Runners try to get their workouts in during the morning hours, and families stroll all day long. It is the best place to see the beautiful Maui sunsets and spy the thousands of people who come to the beach to enjoy its yellow grainy sand. You can stop at Whaler's Village, the lovely shopping center in the center of it all to take a break, grab a drink or meal, and just relax. If you are not staying on Kaanapali Beach, parking is a bit tricky. Each hotel must provide a certain number of free spaces for beach access. Those spaces go early. You can also park at the Whalers Village Shopping Center, which has plenty of accessible spaces. There is a charge to park, but if you spend $15 at the center, you can have your ticket validated for three hours of free parking. Otherwise, it is approximately $20 per day to park.
Ron Bass' adaptive kayaking - Ron Bass has been kayaking the waters of Hawaii for over twenty years, many of them spent making adaptations for the variety of paddlers with disabilities that he takes out on tour. He has many stories to tell, and is a true advocate for accessibility on the island.
The trip was a dream come true for our family. We did have a couple of disappointments. Kelsey had hoped to parasail. Unfortunately, all of the companies have waivers that preclude anyone who cannot transfer themselves from raft to boat independently. This was a real shame, as we were willing to assist in the transfer.
The other disappointment was with the Pride of Maui tour boat. They claimed all over their website that the boat was wheelchair accessible. However, when I spoke with them, they informed me that there were stairs to reach the boat. They have not put in a ramp. It drives me crazy when hospitality providers claim to be accessible, but then you get to the fine print. Ugh...
Those experiences aside, Maui has so many other things to do, places to eat, and phenomenal resorts for all budgets. Would I go back again? Most definitely, yes! I hope that you will consider visiting it too. We have more information on Maui on our destination pages, so be sure to check them out! Aloha!