Maui, HI: Wheelchair Accessible Guide to Paradise!
Maui is THE place where it is 100% acceptable to wear those loud Hawaiian-printed shirts, flip-flops, gulp down Lava Flows, and live in your swimming trunks 24/7. It also boasts some of the best seafood, snorkeling, and weather in the world. It’s super laid-back, yet the perfect balance between complete relaxation and having the essence of Hawaii at your fingertips.
To date, I have visited this tropical oasis over 7 times and each time the island offers up its own unique experience. As a wheelchair user (both manual and power), I can wholeheartedly say that the Hawaiian Islands can and will embrace you. All you need is the right information, encouragement and a pair of flip-flops and you too can enjoy Maui!
To me, the island of Maui looks kind of like a upside down kidney bean. It is separated into 5 distinct regions: West Maui, South Maui, Central Maui, upcountry Maui and East Maui. The Hawaiian Islands are generally drier on the Western, or leeward side, and wetter in the Eastern, or windward side. Most of the Maui resorts, shopping and visitors can be found in the sunnier West Maui and South Maui.
The island itself is not really that big, it’s approximately 21 miles around. If you are driving, you can easily navigate by following road signs and town names. Try to grab yourself a free map from either the airport or from your rental car/van company, or just simply ask a local for directions. I’ve personally found most islanders are willing to help if you ask kindly.
Getting to Maui depends on what type of flight you booked, but all of the times that I have been there has either been directly or via Honolulu (Oahu). If you have to transfer through the Honolulu airport, just be forewarned that can be pretty busy. It is a hub for all of the Hawaiian islands plus, there are travelers coming to/from Japan and Asia.
The main airport is located in the northern central part of the island in a town called Kahului (Ka-hu-loo-ee). It’s open, relatively small and super easy to navigate through. Look for baggage claim signs and follow them to the lower level via an elevator.
Located outside to the right of the baggage claim area is a hub for all major car rental companies. There are also free continuous car rental shuttles that will take you to their respective drop-off points that are approximately 2-3 min. away. Please note that most of these car rental shuttles are not handicap/wheelchair accessible!
If you are renting a wheelchair accessible van, they will meet you at the airport right outside the baggage claim area. Just coordinate ahead of time with them on your arrival time and they should be waiting for you.
The island of Maui is spread out and if you want to truly experience what it has to offer, you will need the transportation to do so.
So, getting yourself around the island is basically broken up into two categories:
1. You either rent a vehicle or
2. You take shuttles, taxis and/or use public transportation.
Based on my personal experience, I highly recommend you spend the extra money and rent yourself a wheelchair accessible van. This will not only provide you with the freedom to travel at your own leisure but if you do the math, generally, it’s cheaper.
The only exception to this rule is if you are planning on staying put in one area for the length of your trip. Otherwise, it just doesn’t make sense to pay for shuttles every time you want to go somewhere.
Where to Stay
Obviously, there are a number of hotels and resorts for you to choose from. From what I have gathered, personally seen and read, you will find that a majority of the major hotel chains accommodate for accessibility.
You will need to call ahead and ask the specifics on what each hotel or resort offers in terms of accessibility. Just determine what your budget is and start searching around on the Internet for deals. (Hot Tip – Sign up on various travel-based websites such as Kayak, Expedia or Hawaiian Airlines to get deals from their mailing lists. Sometimes you can save up to 50%!)
Try to stay somewhere that you give you the most access to your “must do” items such as shopping, dining, and activities without having to travel too far. For instance, I would not stay in Hana (which is on the far east side of the island) if you are planning to spend the majority of your time in Lahaina (which is on the west side of the island).
Another recommendation is to rent a condo. Maui Accessible Condo by Bruce and Amy Bernhardt offer up a really great option for those who prefer their own space and accessible amenities. It’s centrally located in Ma’alaea and sits just yards from the beach at Ma’alaea Bay.
I personally stay in Kihei at the Worldmark by Wyndham because I have a timeshare there. It’s directly across the street from the “Kam I” beach and they have several wheelchair accessible rooms throughout the complex.
(On a Personal Note: if you are in the market for a timeshare, I highly recommend Worldmark. They have wonderful accessible rooms and most of their resort pools have lifts.)
What to Do
Maui offers up literally a smorgasbord of things to do while you were on the island. Things like luaus, sea kayaking, helicopter tours, and whale watching during certain times of the year. I won’t cover every single thing to do but I can at least cover some of the highlights that are wheelchair friendly.
The Hawaiian islands are world famous for their luaus, which are Hawaiian feasts that are usually accompanied by entertainment such traditional Polynesian dancing, dramatic fire displays, and traditional island music. There are a lot to choose from but some of the more well-known Maui island luau’s are Old Lahaina Luau, Grand Wailea Luau, Kaanapali Westin Luau, and Hyatt Luau Drums of the Pacific.
The most kid-friendly one that I’ve been to is a newer luau called “Polynesian Village Luau.” It’s located in Kihei and is put on by one of the islands local villages (they are all related). Samoan Chief “FiaFia,” who I’ve randomly met on several of my island visits, puts on this low-key luau with coconut bowling, spear throwing, lei making and and more.
Maui Ocean Center
Located in Wailuku, this is one of Hawaii’s top rated aquariums. It is very kid friendly and wheelchair accessible throughout.
Watch the sunrise on Mount Haleakala
Yes, this is a active volcano and it is famous for its majestic sunrises. You will have to get up at 2AM to make the drive to the top of the volcano but it is totally worth it! You will need your own transportation and there is a handicap parking in the parking lot at the top. Don’t forget to bring your handicap placard and dress warmly because it’s really cold! (Yes, it does snow.)
Maui offers some fantastic helicopter tours that will give you a birds eye view of the island. They are pricey but completely worth it. The Sunshine Helicopters outfit has a wheelchair lift that will get you inside the helicopter. If you plan on doing this, I recommend you make reservations in advance and do it at the beginning of your vacation. That way, you can get a great orientation of what the island looks like from above.
From approximately mid November to mid April, the humpback whales are passing through Maui’s water. There has been plenty of times where you can see them breaching from the shore without the need of a boat.
If you choose to go out on a whale watching tour, please be aware that ocean vessels are not required to meet ADA requirements and are most likely not wheelchair accessible. However, if you would like to get closer to the whales, contact one of the many tour outfits and ask ahead of time what they could do for you.
According to the owners of Maui Accessible Condo, Ron Bass does Sea kayaking with the disabled with a three-man kayak so you and a friend or spouse can go at the same time. Ron’s phone number is (808) 572-6299 to schedule a time. I’ve yet to do this but it is definitely on my list!
Like any super touristy destination, shopping can be found pretty much anywhere in Maui. Since it would be impossible to cover every single shopping center, I can at least let you know about some of the more major ones.
Old Town Lahaina
Often called the “jewel in the crown of Maui,” the historic downtown of Lahaina offers many shops, restaurants and art galleries. Most of the shopping is along Front Street that you just pop in and out of. You should know that some shops are not exactly “wheelchair accessible.” Since this is in old part of town, you may bump into shops and restaurants that have steps at the entrance. This has never deterred me so, if you find yourself in a spot where you’d like to gain access, simply ask for help and they may have a back entrance for you.
Whalers Village (Lahaina)
The Whalers Village is an outdoor mall with again, lots of shopping, restaurants, and art galleries. Almost 100% of this is wheelchair accessible and easy to navigate around.
The Shops at Wailea (Wailea)
Wailea is one of the more upscale parts of the island and The Shops at Wailea have the upper echelons of retail. It is located right behind the beautiful Grand Wailea resort and spa and parking is free. There is plenty of handicap parking slots and the mall is flat and easily accessible.
No trip to the Hawaiian Islands is complete until you get your butt onto the beach. Maui offers over 30 miles of beaches. There are a majority of them that can be very difficult to get to due to the terrain or location, however it should not deter you. I personally recommend you go to at least one of the following because of access and ease.
Located on the West side of the island in Kaanapali, this is a 3 mile stretch of beach that has a boardwalk/paved pathway that goes along its entire length. You can stroll along at your own pace and if you are game, you can rent a beach wheelchair for the day (or week) and have it delivered to you there. Gammie Homecare can provide you with this. You should also know that parking is at a premium. Resorts are required to hold a certain number of spots for beachgoers but they go fast. Be prepared to pay for the day.
Kamaole I (“Kam I”) Beach
This beach is located in South Maui in the town of Kihei and is the ONLY beach (that I know of) that has a FREE beach wheelchair on the island. The lifeguards told me it was purchased by the community for a paralyzed man but is available on a first-come first-served basis. The chair is located at the lifeguard tower and just ask the lifeguard to get it for you. There is a parking lot right there and is approximately 30 yards to the water which is relatively calm.
Note: You might need to be lifted into the chair because it is pretty low to the ground and the lifeguards are not required to help you. Also, I cannot guarantee the beach chair will be there.
Once named “America’s Best Beach,” Wailea offers excellent swimming with restrooms and equipment rentals. It also has a paved beach walk that lets you meander past some very expensive hotels, restaurants and shops.
Restaurants & Eating
The Hawaiian islands offer some of the best seafood, fruit, and coffee around and Maui is no exception. Almost anywhere you go will find something to eat (isn’t that the best part of vacation?) but I would like to share with you some of my favorites…
Hawaiians are famous for their “plate lunches.” These are basic and affordable meals that consist of items like chicken, short ribs, white rice, and macaroni salad. Most locals eat these and I most certainly don’t blame them. They are very tasty!
My family might harm me in telling you this but the Kihei Caffe in, you guessed it, Kihei is hands-down, my favorite place to eat for breakfast. Do me a favor, just go there and experience either the banana macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup or pork fried rice with spam and eggs… OMG!
Mama’s Fish House
If you feel like spending a pretty good chunk of change on a meal that will absolutely change your life, please go to Mama’s Fish House. It is approximately 2-3 miles past Paia on the north side of the island and was originally a fisherman’s house. Located right smack dab on the beach with a view that seriously looks like it’s from a postcard. It is wheelchair accessible however, there is a pretty steep slope leading down into the restaurant.
A few words of encouragement…
Every year I look forward to returning to what I now call “my second home” and seeing what Maui decides to offer. I hope you found this useful and maybe someday you too can see and experience this place called “The Magic Isle.” Who knows, maybe you and I might cross paths some day?