At the beginning of 2020, my family and I went to Maui Hawaii. It was our last warm vacation before the pandemic hit, and let me tell you, I am so happy that we made it there before being stuck indoors for the next 2 years!
Personally, Maui is one of my favorite vacation destinations as it’s incredibly warm, insanely beautiful, and also very wheelchair accessible. I have been to a lot of islands in the Caribbean, but I keep finding myself going back to Hawaii because it’s just so easy. There are plenty of ways to get around as a wheelchair user, most establishments have step-free access, and there are an abundance of things to do, whether you’re looking to have a simple, relaxing vacation or an adventurous, jam-packed one.
With that being said, if you’re planning your next getaway, I cannot recommend Maui enough. Here is everything you’ll need to know from where to stay, how to get around, what to do, and where to eat.
Where to Stay
Photo Credit: Hawaii.com
Maui is separated into five distinct regions: West Maui, South Maui, Central Maui, upcountry Maui and South Maui. You will have to decide to stay based on what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for, as they are all quite different.
Personally, I chose to stay on the West Side, right on Kāʻanapali Beach. Kāʻanapali Beach is a beautiful area that has a 10-mile long oceanfront boardwalk, as well as ample shopping, restaurants, hotels, etc. I loved this because I was able to explore so much, even on the days that we chose not to venture out in our rental van. The other nice thing about staying on the West Side of the island is that you are close to Lahaina, which is a town that is a hub to lots of the island’s tourist activities, restaurants, and nightlife.
The south side, which includes Wailea, is considered more of a luxury area and definitely quieter than Kāʻanapali. It is home to some of the island’s best luxury resorts, including the Four Seasons Maui. What’s that being said, even though the area is incredibly upscale and beautiful, there is not a whole lot of activity in this region; it’s definitely more of a read a book and relax type spot. Staying in South Maui also means a long drive to reach the island’s popular destinations like the Road to Hana or Haleakalā.
The good thing is that no matter where you want to stay, you should be able to find lots of accessible accommodations. Hawaii is part of the United States, which means they must abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I found that most hotels and resorts were able to offer wheelchair accessible rooms with roll-in showers, including where I chose to stay, which was the Westin Kāʻanapali Resort.
If you’re just starting your search, AccessibleGO has put together a list of some of the most accessible resorts on Maui. Alternatively, if you like a little bit more privacy, Bruce and Amy Bernhardt invite you to experience the beauty and tranquility of Ma’alaea, Maui from their wheelchair accessible condo. Bruce is a C5/6 quadriplegic and he and his partner have renovated their rental property to be completely accessible, including a bathroom with a roll-shower, step free access to balcony, and an ADA height bed with clearance underneath for a hoyer lift.
How to Get Around
Photo Credit: Flash Packing America
Although that island of Maui is not incredibly large, a lot of the activities that I wanted to do were fairly spread out. As such, on my last trip there, my family and I decided to rent a wheelchair accessible van from Wheelers so that we could have the flexibility to explore on our own schedule. They provided us with a side-entry Dodge Grand Caravan and even arranged pickup and drop off at the airport so we didn’t have to worry about arranging airport shuttles/transfers. The only downside to this is that it was fairly expensive (about $125 US per day), so you may want to consider renting one for a portion of your trip rather than for the entirety of it.
With that being said, if you’re planning to stay in one area of the island, or you just don’t want the responsibility/expense of renting a vehicle, there are definitely other ways to get around. For example, all of the public buses in Maui are wheelchair accessible. There are also several taxi companies and tour companies that have vehicles equipped with ramps for wheelchair users. Robert’s Hawaii is one company that I highly recommend — they have fully accessible shuttle buses available if you book in advance.
Things to Do
Photo Credit: Sunshine Helicopters
For Adventure Seekers
Helicopter Tour – if you are able to transfer out of your wheelchair, a helicopter ride is certainly the best way to see the beauty of Maui and get a good overview of the island! While there are an abundance of helicopter tours available, Sunshine Helicopters has a special chair lift that allows wheelchair users to easily get on board. They have several tour options that you can pick from, including one of East Maui where you can see things like the Haleakala Crater, the O’heo Gulch (better known as Seven Sacred Pools), the lush Hana rainforest, and cascading waterfalls.
Scuba Diving — Lahaina Divers is trained to teach adaptive scuba diving for paraplegic and blind / partially sighted divers. Introductory dives to full certification are available under the guidance of specially trained divers who have been sanctioned by the Handicapped Scuba Association.
Whale Watching – From my experience, a lot of the boat tours on the island were not wheelchair accessible (at least if you needed to be able to remain in your chair for the entirety of the experience). However, we did come across one called the Calypso, which had a large ramp that allowed me to board the vessel right in my power wheelchair. I definitely recommend this tour if you’re looking to spend a day on the ocean and want a good chance at catching a glimpse of the beautiful humpback whales.
Additionally, although I’ve never tried this myself, I have heard that another great way to see the whales and enjoy a beautiful boat ride is to take the ferry from Lahaina to the neighboring island of Lana’i, which is also wheelchair accessible.
Haleakalā Volcano – One of the biggest attractions on Maui is Haleakalā, the world’s largest dormant volcano rising 10,023 feet above sea level. Many people like to make the winding trip up to the top to watch the spectacular sunrise, although anytime of the day that you choose to go will offer jaw-dropping views. If you’re driving there with your own vehicle, note that there is accessible parking at the top (just make sure you bring your place card). The terrain is slightly bumpy but I had no issues navigating most areas in my power wheelchair. Please note, however, that warm clothes are a MUST — you are above cloud level and I promise it will get chilly!
The Road to Hana – This is a 52-mile drive through the rain forest with lookouts, waterfalls, and hiking trails that are insanely spectacular. This was hands-down my favourite day than I did in Maui, but I will say that the roads are so much more windy and dangerous than I was anticipating. If I do it again I’m the future, I would probably leave the driving up to the pros and take a chartered tour rather than our own rental van. Polynesian Adventure Tours offers buses with lifts and has very good reviews overall.
If you choose to take your own vehicle, check out my blog post on my adventure to Hana to see all the wheelchair accessible stops that you can take.
Photo Credit: Tourmaui.com
For Leisurely Travelers
Explore the Beaches – Kamaʻole I Beach Park is a very popular beach that features a community built beach ramp along with a free beach wheelchair available at the lifeguard stand. Additionally, Kaanapali Beach offers a 10-mile long boardwalk with many hotels, shops, and restaurants along the way. Although beach wheelchairs are not available here, the boardwalk extends out into the sand in some areas, so I was able to get quite close to the water even from my own wheelchair.
If you want the flexibility to visit more of Maui’s gorgeous beaches, consider renting a beach wheelchair for a few days. Companies like Maui Vacation Equipment and Gammie Homecare will rent out beach wheelchairs that you can bring along with you to any beach. The best part is that they fold down and fit into virtually any van, SUV, or car.
Maui Tropical Plantation This is a 60-acre working plantation that houses more than 40 crops and hundreds of native plants. Here you will experience breathtaking views of Waikapu Valley and have the opportunity to traverse the beautiful gardens, rivers, and valleys on your own or by guided tour. The best part is that all the paths are fully paved, making it the perfect afternoon stroll for all. There are also several restaurants scattered around the plantation if you’re feeling a little hungry. I suggest grabbing a cup of freshly roasted coffee from Mill House Roasting Company, or enjoy an unforgettable meal at The Mill House.
Maui Ocean Center – The Maui aquarium is a fantastic wheelchair accessible activity and is especially great if you’re looking for an indoor activity during a rainy day. There are plenty of opportunities to learn and admire Hawaii’s sea life, including at the Turtle Lagoon, the Hammerhead Harbor, and the Sea Jelly Gallery. The aquarium does not keep mammals captive, but if you’re interested in learning more about whales and dolphins, definitely check out their interactive Humpbacks of Hawai‘i Exhibit and Sphere Experience for an in-depth look into their deep-sea realm.
Shopping – No trip is complete without a little bit of shopping! Explore Front Street and Whalers Village in Lahaina or hit up The Shops at Wailea, which is Maui’s premier shopping and dining destination. It is home to more than 70 distinct boutiques, shops, restaurants and galleries.
Luau – A luau is a traditional Hawaiian party or feast that is usually accompanied by entertainment. They also feature traditional Polynesian and Hawaiian food that you likely won’t find on a resort menu. It is definitely a must do activity on any Hawaiian vacation! There are several to choose from, but some of the most popular options are the Old Lahaina Luau, The Feast at Lele, Kaanapali Westin Luau, The Grand Luau at Honua’ula and Hyatt Luau Drums of the Pacific.
Best Restaurants to Eat at
Photo Credit: Maui Goodness
From my experience, almost every restaurant in Maui was wheelchair accessible. There were a couple restaurants in Lahaina that had a small step to enter, or an upper level that didn’t have elevator access, but these places were definitely few and far between. As such, you should have full access to whatever type of cuisine you’re craving! Lots of restaurants on the island are well-known for their fresh seafood, poke bowls, or their farm-to-table approach to traditional Hawaiian dishes.
If you’re looking for suggestions to get you started, definitely check out these outstanding restaurants that certainly made it to the top of my ‘visit again’ list.
Cafe O’Lei At The Mill House — this is located in the Maui Tropical Plantation, but it is definitely worth the trip even if you aren’t interested in exploring the rest of the grounds. The views of the West Maui mountains are truly unmatched and the food was one of the best I tried on the island. Each of their dishes are inspired by the plantation’s crops and the island’s highest-quality organic produce and proteins.
Mamas fish house — Mama’s Fish House is a romantic oceanfront oasis that aims to highlight fresh, local seafood and traditional Polynesian dishes. The amazing thing is that menus are daily updated depending on what fish the local fishermen bring in. Mama’s Fish House is a little bit out of the way from where most tourists stay, but it’s certainly worth the drive if you can get there. Just make sure you book reservations very early as it books up FAST.
Kula Lodge — This is another one that is out of the way for most tourists, but you will pass it on your way to the Haleakala Crater if you choose to go there. The ambience is definitely different from your average Maui restaurant, but in my opinion, it was nice to switch things up a little and experience a more rustic vibe! They are best known for their stone-fired pizzas but also offer other ‘homey’ dishes like soup, fish sandwiches, and traditional breakfast foods. Unfortunately the patio isn’t accessible, but you can still view the incredible scenery of upcountry Maui through their floor-to-ceiling windows.
Lahaina Fish Co — The main level of this extraordinary restaurant is wheelchair accessible and offers open-air dining, providing 180° views of the ocean. The menu is primarily made up of fresh fish and seafood as the name suggests. They also use locally-produced and sustainable ingredients whenever possible.
Feature Image: The Trend Spotter
About the Author
Tori Hunter is a writer and travel enthusiast, passionate about redefining the way we view accessibility and the disabled experience. She has worked alongside numerous organizations to help dismantle access barriers, and in her free time, she likes to share her adventures as a wheelchair user on her Instagram @torihunter.blog
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