Accessible Maui

The Beauty and Cultural Riches of Maui

are Easily Accessible to Wheelchair-Bound Visitors

by Terri Mandell

As a professional travel writer for the past 20 years, I’ve been wined and dined by some of the most elegant and entertaining travel destinations in the world. After my son Danny was born in 1990, it wasn’t the least bit unusual for us to take 2-3 family vacations each year, with plenty of weekend getaways, road trips and other adventures thrown into the mix. Danny could swim, run and play back then, and enjoyed all the usual vacation activities… hiking, snorkeling, horseback riding, boat rides, train rides… even art museums.

On the beachBut that all changed when he became disabled with a degenerative illness at age 9, and for a while it seemed that travel would no longer be an option for us. Yet something miraculous happens when one becomes the parent of a handicapped child…. you learn how to work the system, and you become an expert at fighting for your child’s rights and privileges. Because Danny had been my number one travel buddy for so many years, and because our travel experiences had been so positive, I was determined to keep this part of our lives intact for as long as possible.

And so we began yet another new phase of our life -- disabled travel -- with a trip to Maui last June. I would be dishonest if I said it was easy. Getting through airports is hard enough in today’s political climate, and doing it with a child in a wheelchair is ten times harder. If there are other physical considerations, such as feeding or breathing apparatus (in our case it’s incontinence… Danny wears diapers), it requires the patience of a saint and the disposition of Mary Poppins. Most of our friends thought I was crazy to take Danny so far away from his home, his caregivers and his daily routine. But I’m the adventurous type, and Danny’s always been a great traveling companion, so I knew we’d do just fine. As a single mom, I also knew that I couldn’t manage it on my own. So I brought along one of Danny’s aides.


The airlines can be very supportive if you know what to ask for and how to ask for it. They are required by FAA laws (a separate set of regulations not related to ADA) to accommodate people with special needs, but the fine details are not always immediately apparent. When you call to make a reservation, the odds are that the operator won’t be very well informed about the options available. Ask to speak to a supervisor or somebody who’s familiar with accessibility issues (ask for a ‘guest services’ or ‘special services’ office). Once you’re connected with the right person, the rest will be relatively easy.

We flew to Maui on American Airlines, and everything went remarkably well. Danny was able to stay in his own wheelchair all the way up to the gate. At that point, his chair was stowed in an on-board closet, and he was moved to a narrow, specially-designed "aisle wheelchair" (all airlines have them), which rolled easily to his seat. This chair was also used to get him to the bathroom when needed. Other airlines may have different procedures, for example, we’re planning a trip to Florida on United Airlines next month, and they require us to request an airport wheelchair in advance when making our reservation. In this case, we’ll have to check Danny’s chair as baggage.

Bathrooms on airplanes, despite the accessibility icon pasted on their doors, are not very accessible at all. They have hand rails of course, but they’re so tiny that a disabled adult with an adult caregiver couldn’t possibly fit in there together. Fortunately, Danny is still able to stand if he’s holding on to something, so I was able to change his diaper by sitting on the toilet myself, with him standing up, facing me, holding handrails on either side of him. But for a large child, or an adult who can’t stand up at all, or someone who needs diaper changes while lying down, air travel is pretty much out of the question.The same is true for public restrooms anywhere… there are changing stations for babies, but what if your baby is five feet tall?I have friends who’ve changed their severely disabled daughter’s diapers (she’s 12) on the floor of an airport terminal, in front of everybody, because there were no other options.

The airlines do the best they can with what they have to work with, but there is plenty of room for improvement, and I’d like to see all of us in the disability community get a little more vocal about campaigning for a few simple changes that would make a huge difference.


The Maui Tourist Bureau has assembled an excellent list of the ADA-compliant rooms in the island’s major hotels (sidebar). For the sake of researching this story, we stayed in 3 different hotels, each with its own unique personality and price range.

DannyIn the mid-range, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel had a wonderful roll-in shower with a pull down bench and adjustable-height hand sprayer. The room was very large and easy to maneuver in (the hotel recently renovated several of its rooms to make them more accessible). Extras such as TTD/TTY machines, toilet seat risers, closed captioning, and Alert Plus units are available by request.

One of our greatest discoveries was a little enclave of guest cottages in the mountain town of Makawao. The natural and native Banyan Tree House has rooms and cottages for as low as $100 per night (unheard of on Maui!) and offers a restful alternative to the chaos of the commercial tourist areas. It’s on flat land with no stairs, and selected rooms are wheelchair accessible. Highly recommended and very affordable.

On the high end, The Four Seasons at Wailea has 16 ADA room and 1 ADA suite, and it’s the only place we found that offered beach wheelchairs which could actually be taken into the surf.. The property is located along a beachfront path that’s flat and easy to manage for a sunset stroll, and the staff was extremely attentive to our needs. There’s even a day care program for children, and kids with special needs are welcome if they’re accompanied by an attendant.

Most hotels are happy to accommodate special requests, and if they don’t have it, they’ll go out of their way to get it. They want your business. It’s just a matter of doing a little research to find out what’s available.


There were so many accessible tours, attractions and activities to choose from that we kept ourselves busy nearly every hour of the day and night. On our first night in Maui, we attended The Old Lahaina Luau, known worldwide as the best Luau on Maui. And it was indeed spectacular, with traditional Hawaiian foods, a native craft market and a high-energy hula show. Danny loved the hula girls and the sarong-clad waitresses, and they loved him too. Seating is by reservation at the luau, so securing a wheelchair space at one of the many long feasting tables is quite easy.

Maui Ocean CenterSince scuba diving or snorkeling wasn’t possible for Danny, the next best thing in terms of getting up close and personal with the undersea world was The Maui Ocean Center, one of the best public aquariums/ocean parks we’ve ever seen (and we’ve seen them all over the country). The tanks and exhibits were at easy eye-level for Danny in his wheelchair, and even the "touch pools" were within reach. I give this place an A+ for accessibility.

Another highly-rated attraction in terms of handicapped access is the Sugar Cane Train. It’s an old 1890s-style train that once carried workers to the cane fields, but is now used to carry tourists to an outdoor barbecue and live music performance. The train’s been fitted with a wheelchair lift, and while the 30-minute ride isn’t exactly scenic (the tracks run alongside the main highway in Lahaina and not through the back roads and sugar plantations as I imagined it would), the barbecue and entertainment is well worth the ticket price.

Depending on one’s ability, opportunities for water sports are everywhere. Danny can’t swim, and because of the spasticity in his limbs he’s difficult to manage in the water. But we found a place called Snorkel Bob’s (franchised all over Hawaii) that rents boogie boards with masks built into them. This way Danny could lie down on his stomach with his face pressed into the mask and see the fishes and sea life underneath him. We were able to do this in waist-deep water, with one adult on either side of Danny to secure him in place (and of course, a life jacket is a must). If floating on a boogie board isn’t possible, there are several accessible glass bottom boat tours available.

While exploring Maui by land and sea is lovely, the best way by far to see the islands is from the front seat of a helicopter. The view from the air is staggeringly beautiful, and the tours are entertaining and informative. We did the complete island tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. The tour was 65 minutes long and a bit lengthy for Danny’s limited attention span, but he loved it nonetheless. And he was able to cruise right up to the helicopter in his wheelchair and be lifted easily into his seat.

Overall, our trip to Maui was a phenomenal success. It boosted our confidence to the point where we’re now making plans for future trips with a lot less apprehension. We’ve learned how to plan ahead for things like hygiene and the possibility of running out of supplies and/or medicines (locate medical supply stores, pharmacies, hospitals etc. before you go, and be sure to confirm your insurance coverage for emergencies).

Traveling with a disabled child is not impossible. It just takes a lot of hard work, meticulous planning, a sense of adventure and an unlimited supply of love.


Banyan Tree House 808-572-9021

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters 800-745-BLUE

Four Seasons, Wailea 808-874-8000

Kaanapali Beach Hotel 800-262-8450

Maui Ocean Center 808-270-7000

Maui Tourist Bureau 808-244-3530

Old Lahaina Luau 800-248-5828

Sugar Cane Train 800-499-2307


Hotel Name
Guest Room Features
Property Features
Four Seasons Resorts Maui ADA rooms in 92-series of rooms on the 4th-7th floors Beach wheelchairs allow entry into the ocean
  Offers mountain, partial and ocean views Check-in at desk in hotel lobby
  Guardian required for "Kids For All Seasons" Program
  All areas on resort is ADA certified
  Concierge's can assist with wheelchair accessible activity reservations

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa Offers terrace, golf/mountain, partial ocean, and ocean views Resort pool is handicapped accessible
  Offered in Regency Club Ocean and Ocean Suite  
  Offers smoking and non-smoking rooms  
  Roll-in showers, in selected rooms  
  Wider doorways, in all rooms  
  Lowered sink/vanity, in all rooms  
  Grab bars, in all rooms  
  Closed caption television, in all rooms  
  Lowered view holes and climate controls, in all rooms  
  Flashing door knockers, upon request  
  Vibrating alarm clock, upon request  
  TDD machine, upon request  
  Flashing phone light, upon request  
  Flashing light on each rooms smoke detector  

Kaanapali Beach Hotel ADA complaint doors, sink and toilet All areas on resort is wheelchair accessible
  Roll-in shower with fold down shower bench, in selected rooms Four parking stalls in parking structure, fully accessible
  Tub rails or grab bars, in all rooms  
  Hand held shower, in all rooms  
  Full-sized tub, in selected rooms  
  Easy access to lanai and front doors, in all rooms  
  Lowered security peephole, in all rooms  
  Furniture engineered to be compliant with ADA standards  
  Toilet seat risers, available upon request  
  Additional tub/shower stool, available upon request  
  Closed-captioning, available in selected rooms  
  Telecaption VR-100 caption decoder, available in selected rooms  
  Portaview TTD/TTY machine, available upon request  
  Alert Plus units, available upon request  

Maui Coast Hotel


Roll-in showers, in all rooms Special area for check-in

Outrigger Wailea Resort Roll-in showers, in selected rooms All public areas are ADA approved
  Tub transfer benches, in selected rooms  
  Specially designed hearing impaired rooms, in selected areas Special area for check-in, in the lobby
  Special fire alert strobe light system for bed, bath and adjacent hallways  
  TDD and in-room alert system available, upon request  

Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort All areas on resort accessible by a wheelchair

Sheraton Maui Hotel Braile room numbers for all rooms Pool lift
  TDD phone/alarm clock in all rooms ADA beach wheelchair
  ADA guest rooms in most room categories  
  Roll-in showers, in selected rooms  
  Closet in bathroom, in selected rooms  
  Shower bench, in selected rooms  

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