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Wheelchair Cruising - Exploring The Hawaiian Islands

Dec 14, 2007
Cruising is a popular vacation choice for wheelchair-users and slow walkers, however some cruise destinations are just more accessible than others. Take Hawaii for example. For starters it's located in the US, so shore tour operators are bound by US access laws. Granted, not every shore excursion is wheelchair-accessible; however you'll find more accessible transportation options in Hawaii than you will in the Caribbean or Mexico.

Of course, it goes without saying that as an island state, Hawaii is perfectly suited for cruises. Perhaps that's why Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has two NCL America ships stationed there; the Pride of Aloha and the Pride of America.

The Pride of Aloha first entered service as the Norwegian Sky in 1999, but was retrofitted and reflagged in 2004. It features six accessible inside staterooms located near the elevators on Decks 8 and 9. The larger Pride of America was launched in 2005, and includes 22 wheelchair-accessible staterooms in a variety of configurations. The accessible staterooms on both ships feature wide doorways, level thresholds and bathrooms with a roll-in shower, a fold-down shower seat, a hand-held shower head, grab bars in the shower and around the toilet and a roll-under sink.

Because these vessels are registered in the US, they aren't required to call on foreign ports (such as Ensenada of Fanning Island) while they cruise the Hawaiian islands. This result in a true all-Hawaii itinerary, with more time ashore, including overnight stops on two islands. This is especially good news for wheelchair-users and slow walkers; because with more time in port, there's no need to rush. Passengers can relax and take things at their own pace, yet still have plenty of time to see the sights.

Both vessels sail seven-day Hawaiian Island cruises from Honolulu; and as far as shore excursions go, there is at least one accessible NCL shore excursion in every port. And thanks to NCL's 2004 acquisition of Polynesian Adventure Tours, all accessible shore excursions feature lift-equipped transportation.

If you'd like to set out on your own, Hilo Hattie has free accessible shopping shuttles at all the ports and Wheelchair Getaways has adapted rental vans available on Maui, the Big Island and Oahu. Additionally, the major rental car agencies can provide vehicles with hand controls with 48-hours notice.

Here's a port-by-port rundown of some accessible sightseeing suggestions.

Nawiliwili, Kauai
Waimea Canyon is a must while on Kauai. The most accessible place to view the canyon is at the Waimea Canyon Lookout. Although there are stairs to the top of the lookout, there is also a cement path with numerous switchbacks, just to the right of the stairs. The path is 38-inches wide so you do have to mindful of oncoming traffic, but at the top you'll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the canyon.

Kona, Hawaii
Kona is the only tender port on the itinerary. According to NCL's official policy, wheelchair-users must use a manual wheelchair in order to tender, so this a good port for power wheelchair-users to stay aboard and enjoy the ship. Those that do venture ashore will find lots of shops and restaurants around the port, most of which feature a level entry.

Hilo, Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park is a must-see while in Hilo, and you can do this on your own or on a NCL shore excursion. Your first stop in the park should be the Kilauea Visitors Center, which includes a number of interpretive exhibits. The Volcano Art Center, located behind the visitors center, is also worth a visit.

For a great view, take the Earthquake Trail to the left of the hotel. This wide paved trail was a vehicle road until a November 1983 eruption closed it to traffic. At the end of the trail, you'll find a few picnic tables along with a spectacular view of the crater.

Kahului, Maui
A great way to really see the island is from the air, and Sunshine Helicopters offers a number of accessible flightseeing tours. Wheelchair-users are transferred to a portable lift to board the helicopter, and then transferred to the helicopter seat for the tour. Other Maui attractions that offer good wheelchair access include Maui Ocean Center, Maui Tropical Plantation and the Sugar Cane Train.

And if you'd prefer to have some fun in the water, then check out Lahaina Divers or Ron Bass's Kayaking Adventures. Lahaina Divers operates a variety of dive trips on their wheelchair-accessible Dominion while Ron provides kayaking instruction to wheelchair-users. Either option makes for a fun day on a beautiful island.
About the Author
Candy Harrington covers accessible travel and is the author of 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. Visit Accessible Vacations, or her blog, Barrier Free Travels.
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