Hawaii is one of those destinations that you want to make sure you give yourself lots of time to plan so that you can maximize on your time there. For us it was almost a trip that was 2 years in the making. We always knew we wanted to go someday and that time ended up being December 2015. Since we love cruising and know it is the most accessible way to see the world, we decided to book on Norwegian’s Pride of America. It is the only ship that cruises in Hawaii year round and also has the best itinerary to see each island. We also decided that since Hawaii is such a long way from Toronto we wanted to extend our usually 7 days vacation to 10 days, so we wanted to stay and relax a couple days before we headed home. We ended up booking at a resort in Waikiki. The nice thing about booking a resort in Hawaii, unlike the Caribbean, is that they have ADA laws that guarantee you an accessible room, unlike the Caribbean.
Prior to booking our flights I did some research about how to make the flight most comfortable for Shawn. We usually fly business class to allow for the most legroom and easy transfer to the seat. Normally we always fly Air Canada but they had switched their Hawaii flights to the Rouge planes and we had heard nothing good about them. The flight from Toronto to Vancouver was a regular AC plane and was great but the Rouge plane was not good at all. Even the bulkhead in Rouge Plus had very little legroom and the seats were definitely more narrow than a regular Air Canada plane.
Flights for the most part were long but uneventful. One thing I found very frustrating was that when we visited the Air Canada Lounge in Toronto they asked that our attendant pay for admission into the lounge. Shawn and I were both Business Class passengers and we required a male attendant to assist Shawn with the washroom and they still demanded that he pay. When I explained that Shawn required male assistance with toileting she told us he could go back in the terminal if he needed to go and get help there otherwise the attendant had to pay. This is very upsetting and I have since contacted Air Canada so we will see what they respond with. Vancouver Lounge had no issues and they did not charge for the attendant.
This was our first time travelling with the power chair and on a long haul flight. I loved that the new power chair has a joystick that disconnects and we can bring the joystick on with us. I’ve always worried in the past that the joystick would be damaged once we got to our destination. So we wrap the joystick in bubble wrap and store it in an overhead bin. We also always make sure to bring the cushion on with us as well. Since the cushion that Shawn uses for everyday use is very thick, it does not work for plane seats. It sits him too high in the seat and the headrest is almost digging into his shoulders. So we store it also in the overhead bin and for this long haul flight we invested in a thinner cushion that would keep him comfortable on the plane but not have him sitting so high in the seat.
We arrived in Honolulu and had to wait a really long time for the power chair to be brought off the plane. I always worry that our suitcases will be left on the carousel and all the other passengers are gone so I sent the kids ahead to collect the luggage. By the time we got to the baggage claim it was deserted. The kids had all the luggage and the shuttle company was there waiting. We had prearranged accessible shuttle transportation to the pre-cruise hotel that we were staying at. It was a pretty long day and close to midnight by the time we got to the room so everyone was exhausted. We had booked an accessible 2-bedroom suite, which was nice because we could all stay together in one room. I had also arranged to rent a shower commode chair for this overnight stay and it was waiting at the bell desk for us when we checked-in.
Next morning we had a quick breakfast and then got organized to meet the pre-arranged accessible transportation we had booked. We decided it would be easier to have the medical equipment rental pickup the shower commode chair and deliver to the cruise ship for us, so we just left it at the bell desk. Shuttle picked us up and we went on our way to the port. We have sailed many times and each time there have always been porters at the port to unload the luggage and take it to the luggage drop-off for you, with a tip of course. This port did not offer that service so it was a bit tedious organizing the luggage and waiting in the lines to drop off the luggage but we managed. Check-in was easy and smooth and within a short time we were on the ship, Norwegian’s Pride of America.
This was our first time on a Norwegian ship so we weren’t sure what to expect. The ship was better than I expected considering it is an older ship. If you are looking for a ship that has lots to do onboard this would not be the best but this ship in my opinion sells itself on the itinerary. It has the best cruise itinerary to see the Hawaiian Islands. You spend 2 days in Maui, 2 days on the Big Island of Hawaii and then 2 days in Kauai. You start and finish in Honolulu so you can extend your stay or go early to see the island of Oahu.
So we boarded Saturday afternoon and headed straight to the Aloha café, like everyone else does first day. I am not a huge fan of the cruise ship buffets but it is pretty much the only place open to eat that first day when you get on the ship. The place was a zoo so we grabbed some food and headed out to the pool deck and just relaxed there until the announcement that the staterooms were ready. It was probably around 2pm that the staterooms were ready so after a long wait for an elevator we headed to our accessible balcony stateroom. The room was decent and comparable to other balcony rooms on other ships we have sailed. The bathroom had very little storage so a tip I picked up a while ago was to pack a hanging shoe organizer. This came in very handy because I was able to hang it on the back of the bathroom door and store most of our toiletries and Shawn’s medical supplies in it. Fairly soon after the staterooms were ready the shower commode rental arrived and the luggage was delivered. We unpacked and then headed to deck 5 for the muster drill. Muster drill was pretty standard and over quickly. Since we had a 5:30 dinner reservation in the Liberty dining room we headed to the wine bar for a few cocktails before dinner. We had purchased a package that included specialty dining so I had pre-reserved a different dining room for each evening we were on the ship.
All of the restaurants that we ate in were very accessible (Liberty, Moderno, La Cucina, Cagney Steakhouse and Jefferson Bistro). The only issue we had was at Moderno because they did not know that there was a diner coming that was in a wheelchair. Not sure how that was missed but I would suggest confirming dining reservation with the restaurant reservation staff to be certain it does not happen to you. Luckily they were able to move tables around but that may not be an available option all the time.
Our first stop was Maui at the Kahului port near the airport. Unlike most port areas, in Hawaii most of the ports are very industrial so don’t expect to walk off the ship and easily find shopping and restaurants. Originally we had rented an accessible mini van for our 2-day stay in Maui. Well when we were in Vancouver I got a call from the company that the van I had rented had been in an accident. The manager of the company assured me that she was able to rebook me a rental at her competitor and they had my contract and all was good. Then one hour before the shuttle was to pick us up and take us to the port, I got a call from the other company that had agreed to take our rental that they changed their mind and had decided to stop renting to cruise ship passengers. This woman was very unsympathetic and even though I explained that she was basically stranding us at the port, she did not care. So when I got that call I went into panic mode because we needed accessible transportation. Our whole planned itinerary was based around it, not to mention we just flew over 13 hours to get there. So right away I called the same company that provided our accessible shuttles in Honolulu to see if they could do anything for us in Maui. They had an accessible shuttle that we could book privately for both days so we took it. I am not even going to mention how expensive this was and I would never suggest anyone take this route because it is very expensive. I did it because I was stuck and it was not acceptable to leave Shawn on the ship while we saw Maui. The cruise lines do offer accessible excursions. However, this happened an hour before getting on the cruise and I had no idea what would be left to book and I had also pre-bought online tickets for any attractions. I learned a huge lesson on this trip and it was to always have a plan B in case of a situation like this. Anyways, we had our private transportation meet us at the port and off we went to spend day 1 in Maui. First we stopped at the Maui Tropical Plantation, which was a great introduction to the beauty of the island with all the tropical gardens. There is a tram that takes you further back into the gardens but we did not do it because it was pricey and not accessible. After we left there we had a scenic drive to the town of Lahaina. The nice thing about the shuttle was our driver telling us all about the island, which was interesting and we would not have had that if we rented our own car. Lahaina is a very nice town right on the water. It is very accessible and easy to get around but not all the shops or restaurants were accessible. We ended up leisurely strolling through the town and had lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp. We then wandered over to Ululani’s Shaved Ice, which I had read was the best in all of Hawaii. Shawn and I didn’t try it but the kids loved it and it became their favourite treat while we were in Hawaii. After spending some time in Lahaina, the driver then took us to Kaanapali Beach area. We had 5:15 dinner reservations at the Old Lahaina Luau so we did not have a lot of time to spend in Kaanapali. When I booked the shuttle I was told that we could not swim because we needed to provide our own lifeguard. The kids were very upset because our itinerary in Maui was based around visiting some of the world famous beaches they have in Maui. So the fact that we could not spend too much time in Kaanapali was a good thing because nobody could swim anyways. We still wanted to see it so we went and it was amazing. The shuttle driver dropped us at Whalers Village, an upscale shopping area, and we strolled along the beach path all the way to the Kaanapali Sheraton. We looked around there for a bit, had a cocktail at Kaanapali Beach Hotel and waited for the shuttle driver to pick us up and take us to the Old Lahaina Luau. Kaanapali had a nice accessible pathway along the water and I am told that a few of the resorts even have beach wheelchairs. We plan to head back to Maui again so I will have to check that out. After a short time we headed to the Old Lahaina Luau. It is considered the most authentic luau on Maui. It was probably one of the highlights of our whole trip, truly amazing. Once we were seated, guests were allowed to freely roam the beautiful and scenic waterfront grounds. They had various cultural activities going on for a while before they announced the pig roast was done and that dinner would be served. It was a buffet with many authentic Hawaiian dishes and included drinks. After the dinner show started and it was so good. The whole experience was one of a kind and we had no accessibility concerns. They have 2 types of seating, traditional and tables and chairs. Wheelchair users are seated at the table and chairs. After the evening was done we headed back to the ship. The nice thing about being docked overnight is that there is no rush to get back to the ship. The next day we had arranged the private shuttle so we met the driver at the port and off we went on our day. It was another day that I had planned some beach activities and had even researched that we could use a beach wheelchair in Kihei, but those plans were out the door since we could not swim. First off we headed to the Maui Ocean Center, an aquarium located near the Maalaea Harbour. We spent a couple hours wandering around the aquarium and seeing the exhibits of sharks, tropical fish etc. The ocean centre is very accessible and other than a few doors that didn’t have automatic openers, there were no accessibility concerns. We had also planned to spend most of our second day in the Kihei area. I had found information about a beach wheelchair being available to the general public but since we were not allowed to swim it was not a great use of time on our last day. As much as Maui is absolutely beautiful I was incredibly disappointed in how things played out while we were there.
Big Island of Hawaii
The ship does not stay docked for 2 days like on the other islands. It docks for the day on Hilo and then sails to the other side of the island and docks at Kailua Kona. Hilo was the only ship excursion that we booked for our trip. I believe the only accessible excursion you can book is to the Volcano National Park, which is where we wanted to go anyways. A large tour bus picked us and we headed out on the 45-minute drive to Volcano National Park. Hilo is the rainy side of the island and one of the wettest cities in all the U.S. I would definitely plan to bring rain jackets and a large waterproof poncho for a wheelchair to keep dry. It pretty much rained the entire excursion but because of all the rain this side of the island is very green and lush. The viewing area at Volcano National Park was very accessible and offered some spectacular views of the Halemaumau Crater as well Jaggar Museum. We also stopped at Thurston Lava Tube, which is not wheelchair accessible due to steep staircase to view the Lava Tube. The tour stops at a Big Island Candy and we tried some delicious shortbread. This store was accessible.
The ship leaves this port around dinner and sails to the other side of the island to Kailua Kona, the beach side of the island. The weather is much better on this side of the island. We knew this was a tender port so a good chance that Shawn would not be able to get off. We did get a notice in our stateroom the night before that power wheelchairs would not be permitted on the tender boats. I would definitely say anyone with a mobility issue would not be able to board the tender. There are a few steps into the boat and at the time we were there the boat was rocking quite a bit from the waves. I don’t think Shawn minded so much staying on the ship this day as we had a pretty intensive itinerary so far and it would be a nice day to relax. My biggest disappointment in Norwegian was that they had very few activities going on for those that were not able to get off the ship.
The last islands we stopped at were the smallest of the four islands, Kauai. Kauai is absolutely beautiful and the majority of the island is not accessible by car. This was the island that we wanted to do a helicopter tour based on reviews from others that had been. Since we were in Kauai for 2 days, we had set up a wheelchair accessible van rental. The plan was to meet up with the staff of the rental van company at the pier at 10am. At 10:15 there was still no van so I tried calling the company and there was no answer. As more time went by I was starting to get a very bad feeling especially after the whole incident on Maui. It was probably close to 10:45 before I was able to get a hold of the manager of the company. The manager informed me that there was a mix up and the reservation was accidently cancelled so she was trying her best to find us a van but it would probably be a couple hours before she could get one to us. So once again here we are on an island and no matter how much you plan it out something so wrong can happen like this. We had plans to drive over to the Poipu beach area to look around then stop by Spouting Horn. Well none of that happened because we did not get the van till 1pm. At that point it was too late to take the chance of running out to Poipu (about 30 minutes from the pier) and worrying about traffic when we had to check-in for our helicopter ride at 3:15. Good thing we even had the van because the shuttle to the airport where the helicopter pad is not accessible and there are no accessible taxis I was told. So basically due to another mess up by the wheelchair van rental company we missed out on seeing areas of Kauai we had planned to see. However, all my anger and stress went away when I got on the helicopter and saw the beautiful scenery. We had found a helicopter company in Kauai that was wheelchair accessible and what an amazing experience for Shawn to be able to take part in. How it works is that he drives his chair over to the helicopter and then is transferred to a mechanical seat that took him to the level of the helicopter and then transferred into the helicopter seat. It was a tricky transfer as Shawn has very little upper body strength to assist with the lateral transfer. However, thanks to his skilled support worker that travelled with us we were able to get him on the helicopter, a trip of a lifetime. The ride lasted about 1.5 hours and we saw some amazing mountain ranges, canyons and waterfalls. After the ride we headed back to the ship as it was starting to get dark and a storm was on its way. The accessible parking is about a 10-minute walk from the pier so we wanted to get back before it rained.
The next day we headed out early since the ship leaves port around 2pm. It was still pretty rainy so we decided to check out O’ppeaka Falls, which is a short drive from the pier. The falls was very nice and the rain stopped long enough to be able to get a good view. They have an accessible platform that it made it easier for Shawn to see the falls as well. After that we ended up having lunch at Dukes, which is close to the pier and where we had to leave the rental anyways. It was a shame about not being able to see as much as we wanted but the helicopter was definitely a highlight of the trip. So the ship leaves shortly after 2pm and sails towards the Na Pali Coastline. One of the reasons we really wanted a balcony stateroom was to be able to see the coastline from the comfort of our own room. It was just a little after 5pm and unfortunately most of the coast was in a cloud of fog but did have a few moments that we could see through the fog. It takes about 1-1.5 hr before the ship turns and sails away from the coastline. Having a port side balcony really was wonderful in this case!
All in all this cruise was by far the best way to see all 4 islands and is also the only ship that sails Hawaii year round.
Once off the ship we decided to spend a couple days relaxing at a resort in Waikiki. When I was looking for a resort almost a year in advance I had called many places. I want the whole Hawaiian experience so to us that meant ocean view. In my experience they usually put the accessible rooms in the city views or the partial ocean view, the less desirable locations. So I was thrilled when I found a hotel that offered an ocean view suite! I called the hotel and booked and confirmed that we needed a roll-in shower and I was told no problem. Once the reservation email came it said in “special remarks” that the guest was in a wheelchair so I called the hotel again to confirm my roll-in shower room because the special remark seemed odd. They assured me that is how their reservation system works but we were booked in the ocean view suite. So after all the problems we had encountered on our trip I thought it best to confirm once again our reservation before the ship left Kauai. Well guess what. When I called there was no record of us requiring a roll-in shower room; needless to say I lost my mind. I told the reservationist that they better put us in the accessible room because that was what I booked over a year ago and was assured I had the room. So the person I spoke to said they would change the reservation and make a note that we must have a roll-in shower. At this point I was getting very upset with how so many issues could happen in a place that is suppose to have ADA laws in place. So we left the ship and arrived at the hotel. As I am being checked in I asked the front desk lady if we did have the roll-in shower room and she said “yes”. Finally something was going our way!!! Well we went to our beautiful ocean view suite and it was massive and gorgeous and everything I had wanted for our last few days in Hawaii. Then I went into the bathroom and it was a tub!!!!!!! I immediately called down to the front desk and explained that it was a tub not a roll-in shower and the front desk lady tells me that they don’t have ocean view suites with roll-in showers. So I told her that they had better bring me some extra towels because I plan on showering my husband in the middle of the floor lol. This gets the manager on the phone right away and he is extremely apologetic and not really sure why I was told that the suites have roll-in showers because they do not. The only rooms with roll-in showers are small standard rooms with a partial ocean view. Well I tell him I am not leaving the room so I need them to come up with a solution. The solution is that my husband’s attendant’s room can have a roll-in shower and Shawn can go to their shower in the morning. Shawn and I agree to this solution because we both agree that staying in the ocean view room was worth the inconvenience of him taking a shower elsewhere. The kicker was not once did anyone offer or provide any sort of compensation for this complete and total screw-up. Not even a free breakfast or anything. Once we returned back home and sent in my online survey of our stay I was contacted and they did rebate us back 50% of our stay, which was nice. Did not make up for the complete lack of training of their staff or the convenience to Shawn but it was something I guess. The hotel was beautiful with a concrete path along the waterfront and the hotel had a lift for the pool. The location was very convenient to shopping and restaurants as well.
Overall I loved Hawaii and would do it again regardless of all the problems we had. I would just make some changes and I would never rely on the rental companies in Maui and Kauai again.