Topics Covered:

airport transportation, medical rentals
airport transportation, Hotel, medical rentals, island tours, helicopter tour
The Big Island:
Aloha airlines, airport transportation, Hotel, luau, medical rentals, island tour, helicopter tour, "accessibility" issues

click on the symbol in the review for pic

By James Glasbergen

For my third trip to Hawaii I decided to go to two islands I had not been to yet. Since I had already been to Maui and Oahu, I wanted to try Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii. I found that this trip took a bit more planning than the first 2 did since these islands were somewhat more remote and not as accessible as the other 2 islands. It was entirely worth it though. We spent 5 days in Kauai and 6 days on the Big Island. Since we arrived in Honolulu late at night, we decided to spend the following day in Waikiki before flying to Kauai the next day. We stayed at the same hotel we stayed at on my first visit, which had great accessible rooms (see Australia/Hawaii 2000).

We had an accessible taxi service do our airport transfers. They charged just over $40 each way for the transfer between Honolulu and Waikiki. At the end of our trip, we had to fly back from the Big Island and spend half a day in Honolulu before flying home, so we stayed at a hotel about a mile from the airport. Since this hotel was just down the street from the airport, I had hoped that the taxi fare would be substantially less than the $80 round trip fare to Waikiki. However, it was still $60 round trip ($30 each way) for the one mile ride. I was a little surprised and asked the driver about it, and he explained that there was a $17 charge just for them showing up, and the rest was for helping with luggage, etc.

We also rented a hoyer lift from a local medical company. This was my third time renting from them and the third time that they failed to deliver on the day they said they would. We checked in to our hotel late on a Sunday night expecting to find the lift already there. Instead, there was a message at the front desk telling us to call them at a certain number. Since it was already after midnight, we had to wait until the morning. When we contacted them on Monday morning, they told us that they did not deliver on Sundays and that the person who took my reservation was new and did not realize that. What bothered me was that I confirmed this reservation with them twice. When I first made the reservation (about 2 months in advance), I specifically asked if they delivered on Sundays, and I was told they did. When I called a couple weeks in advance to confirm the reservation, they had no record of the reservation at all so I made a new reservation for the same day, which they said would not be a problem. Evidently, it was a problem. Anyway, the lift worked great when I finally got it, but it always pays to confirm the delivery date the week of and day before delivery.

I also discovered that that medical company fixes wheelchairs. I had wheelchair problems on the very first day and was desperate to have it fixed before heading to Kauai (we were only in Waikiki for that 1 day). I called them and explained my urgent situation, and they sent someone out within an hour. He was able to get my chair going again, which was a huge relief because I'm not sure how much experience the medical companies in Kauai would have had in fixing electric wheelchairs.

The next day we were off to Kauai. Upon arrival at Lihue airport, we met up with our ride who took us to our resort in Poipu. Finding wheelchair accessible airport transportation was at first a huge challenge. There were not many options available for accessible travel in Kauai as no one rented accessible vans and there were no wheelchair taxi companies. There was a local paratransit service, but you had to be a registered user, it only operated on weekdays, and it did not do airport transfers. I did quite a bit of looking around months in advance to see who could help us with the airport transfer, but all I could find at first was a local disability organization. The man told me that they were actually the only company in Kauai that did accessible transfers. They had an accessible van with a lift. However, they were expensive. At first he quoted me $75 per person each way ($150 round-trip) between Lihue airport and Poipu, which came to $300 total for the two of us. Plus, they did not accept credit cards so I would have had to pay cash. That seemed outrageously expensive to me, but I made the reservation anyway thinking it was my only option. However, when I called to confirm the reservation a month in advance, he quoted me $75 each way for the two of us, or $150 total, so I'm not sure what the correct amount was.

There was another problem though. He told me the lift could only carry 400 lbs. and since I was 500 lbs. in my electric chair, I would have to transfer into a manual wheelchair for the ride. Furthermore, I would have to somehow get a manual wheelchair because he didn't have one I could use. I was quite annoyed and felt kind of desperate so I thought I would try another transportation company to see what they could do for me (something I should have done months earlier!). It turned out that they did airport transfers also, so we booked through them instead. They picked us up in one of their large, wheelchair accessible minibuses. That was a big relief, not to mention it was half the price. It costed only $72 round trip between the airport and Poipu. I found them to be quite accommodating as I needed a round trip transfer from our hotel to Princeville airport later in the week to catch a helicopter ride, and that was no problem at all. I'm not sure if that is a normal practise for them, but I simply explained my situation and my limited transportation options to the manager on the phone, and it was no problem at all. It was expensive though ($120 round trip), but only because Princeville is on the opposite end of the island.

We stayed a resort in Poipu. I highly recommend that anybody visiting Kauai stay in the Poipu area as it is usually always sunny, unlike the northern part of the island which is usually overcast and rainy. Our resort was great. Although I booked a garden view room, we arrived to find ourselves in an ocean view room. I'm not sure how that happened, but we sure weren't going to question it! The room was great. It was quite spacious and included a king bed and a sofa bed (). The bathroom was also excellent...lots of room () and a nice roll-in shower (). There was also an accessible lanai () where we could sit out and enjoy the ocean view. Although the sand from the beach was too soft for a wheelchair to navigate over, there was plenty of grassy area next to the sand where wheelchairs could sit.

We rented a hoyer lift from a local medical company that rented a variety of equipment. It was very convenient. We simply gave them our credit card information and they delivered it to the hotel and picked it up without us having to be there. They just left it with the concierge.

We took 2 sightseeing tours in Kauai. The first tour was a half day tour to the north end of the island. We were picked up at our hotel in a wheelchair accessible bus. We found the tour to be fairly worthwhile, although not overly impressive. While I probably would never take that tour again because I didn't find any of the stops on the tour to be tremendously exciting, we were happy to at least have seen the northern part of the island.

The second tour we took brought us to Waimea Canyon, nicknamed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific" due to its resemblance to the Grand Canyon. We were originally booked on a Waimea Canyon/Wailua River tour. I made the reservation a month in advance and was told that the Wailua River cruise was wheelchair accessible. However, we were called at our hotel the day before the tour and informed that due to the steps into the boat, they would not take an electric wheelchair, only a collapsible one. I didn't want to deal with the hassle of transferring into a manual chair, which I didn't have anyway, so we took just took a Waimea Canyon tour instead. The tour was great. It took us to a lookout point where we could get out and view the massive Waimea Canyon. This is an absolute must-do for anyone visiting Kauai.

The last thing we did in Kauai was take a helicopter ride. It was phenomenal -- easily the highlight of our trip to Kauai. To me, the only way to see the true beauty of Kauai is by air since so much of the island is inaccessible to vehicles. The ride took us over most of the island, going past green valleys and waterfalls, through Waimea Canyon, and along the Na Pali coast. The people at the helicopter company were really good. They led us out to the helicopter and then one guy helped my friend pick me up out of my chair and transfer me into the helicopter. It was a little bit awkward for them as the helicopter was a couple feet higher than the seat of my chair, not to mention I was close to 200 lbs. However, they said that they were quite used to helping disabled people get into the helicopter. There was apparently only one helicopter company in Hawaii that had a lift to help transfer into the helicopter, and that was in Maui.

From there we went on to the Big Island. We flew into Kona Airport which did not have jetways, unlike the airports in Lihue, Honolulu, and Kahului. However, there was a lift. They brought my wheelchair up on the lift and right into the plane where they helped transfer me into it.

Just a note about Aloha airlines. I have flown with them 4 times now, once on my Maui trip and three times on this trip. I would have to give them mixed reviews. On one hand, they have been great because they have bumped me up into first class on every flight I have taken with them, without me even asking. This makes it easier for them and me. They give me the seat in the very first row, and I basically just drive my electric chair right into the plane and then they transfer me right into my seat before taking my wheelchair away. This is very convenient and avoids the hassle of dealing with an aisle chair.

The only problem I have had with Aloha has been with the way they have handled my wheelchair. I don't recall having a problem with my wheelchair after my flight from Maui earlier this year, but I did notice damage to my chair on all 3 flight segments this time around. I noticed after our flight from Honolulu to Kauai that I wasn't sitting as comfortable in my chair. It seemed like my backrest had been bent back because it always felt like I was sliding out of my chair. I wasn't sure though. However, I became sure after our flight from Kauai to the Big Island. This time my backrest was clearly bent back. In addition, they took my tilt box off the side of my joystick and reattached it on top of my joystick, even though I put a clearly labeled piece of tape all over the tilt box that read "DO NOT REMOVE." I even told them when they took my chair not to touch it, but they did it anyway. I had the tilt box tied to my joystick with some black plastic wire, and they actually cut it off and reattached it in a different place with a different piece of wire.

I immediately filed a damage claim with Aloha services near the baggage claim. Even though my chair appeared to be easily fixable, I wanted to be sure I got the claim on record with them in case I discovered a more serious problem with my wheelchair after I left the airport. I told the lady about the bent backrest and the tilt and I suggested that it must have been sitting very awkwardly during the flight, and she said something to the effect of "well yes, they have to tilt the chair on it's side because it doesn't fit in the cargo area of the plane if it's upright." That was news to me! On our last flight from the Big Island to Honolulu, my joystick box was totally bent sideways. I have a feeling that on the last flight, my chair was probably tilted sideways on the 2 side wheels, while on the first 2 flights the wheelchair was probably tilted on the 2 back wheels with the 2 front wheels in the air and the top of the backrest against the ceiling carrying the weight of the whole wheelchair. It scares me to even think about it! It's frustrating, it seems like baggage handlers have no idea they are dealing with a $13,000 piece of equipment.

I decided to write a letter to Aloha Airlines to find out exactly what their policy was for storing electric wheelchairs. I was impressed by their quick response. They sent me a letter and explained their basic policy regarding electric wheelchairs as follows:

"...Because these wheelchairs do not collapse, it is not possible to load them in the upright position in our cargo holds. The maximum height inside the Boeing 737 aircraft is roughly 44", tapering to lesser heights the farther you go left and right inside the hold. Because of the height limitations, we instruct our baggage agents to carefully tilt the wheelchair against other baggage, but to never stack baggage on top of the wheelchair. Additionally, and more importantly, our agents remove spillable-type batteries from wheelchairs. Because the wheelchairs often times need to be tilted on their sides to fit in the cargo hold, the danger of having fluid leak from the batteries is present. Every station has a supply of appropriate packaging to store the wheelchair battery in..."

We were picked up at Kona airport and brought to our hotel by an accessible taxi service. They had wheelchair accessible vehicles and their rates were very reasonable. They also helped us with a transfer to and from the heliport later in the week.

We stayed at a resort near Kona, which was in a great location since it is usually always sunny there. We were told they normally only get 4 to 10 inches of rain a year there. Our room was pretty good. It had a king bed which could be separated into 2 twin beds. The bathroom (, ) was also good as there was a nice roll-in shower (). There was also an accessible lanai. While it was labeled a "partial ocean view" room, you practically had to have binoculars to see the ocean. The hotel was not located right on the water. There was a large pond and the swimming pool separating the beach from the hotel. There was a paved path that went around the pond allowing wheelchairs to get to the beach. However, once we got to the beach the sand was too soft for a wheelchair to go on and I could not even see the shoreline because the sand sloped up at the very back and then down towards the water, so when I was sitting at the back of the sand, there was not much of a view—basically I was looking at a dune. Other than the lousy beach access, the resort was actually quite nice. There was a luau held at the resort every Sunday and Wednesday. It was actually one of the better luaus I have been to.

We rented a hoyer lift from a local medical company. At first I found it quite difficult to find a company near Kona that would rent to me. I managed to find 2 or 3 companies on the Big Island that rent lifts, but they all required a doctor's prescription before they would rent to me. This was the first time I have ever heard of this. The medical company that I rented from required a doctor's prescription as well, but I just explained my situation to them about how I was traveling from Canada and how I had never heard of that, and they waived that restriction. I think these companies are normally only used to renting to local people. Anyway, they dropped the lift off at our hotel and left it with the concierge, and then picked it up from the concierge after we left. They did not accept credit cards, so we left payment for them at the front desk.

We took one circle island tour on the Big Island. Once again, it was an accessible minibus. Unfortunately, we were somewhat disappointed with the tour. It was a long tour. We were picked up at 7 a.m. and dropped off at 6:30 p.m. We just felt that many of the "scenic" stops were not all that scenic, especially when comparing it to the other islands. We were also disappointed that the tour didn't go anywhere near the area of Kilauea that was currently erupting. That was basically the only thing that I really wanted to see on the Big Island. I was sure glad that we booked a helicopter tour for later in the week so I still had another chance. I'm not sure that the tour company could have made that tour any better though. I just found the Big Island to be a huge island that was not nearly as scenic as the other islands I have been to (at least by car), but that is only my opinion.

As was the case in Kauai, our helicopter ride across the Big Island was absolutely by far the highlight of our trip to the island. We had an accessible taxi service bring us to the heliport. The people at the helicopter company were great. One of them helped my friend lift me out of my chair and into the helicopter. We opted for the 2 hour deluxe tour. This took us over a large portion of the Big Island, including the area of Kilauea that was erupting. We were able to see little streaks of orange lava on the side of the volcano and running off into the ocean. The helicopter also took us through beautiful green valleys and waterfalls on the north end of the island, something that you just can't get to by car. While this helicopter ride was quite expensive, it is in my opinion the only way to see the island. The only thing I cared about seeing on the Big Island was some orange lava, and the only way to get a good view of it is by helicopter. The same goes for the spectacular cliffs along the northern coast with all the green valleys and huge waterfalls. The only disappointment of this whole trip for me was that for some reason my pictures didn't turn out! Oh well, one more excuse to go back I guess.

That was about it for this trip to Hawaii. Overall things went smoothly, and I can't wait to go back! It is probably worthwhile to mention again how important it is to ask specific questions of people, something we discovered a few times on this trip. As I stated in the Travel Tips section, one thing to keep in mind when asking about the accessibility of certain places is to ask specific questions and to tell them exactly what accommodations you are looking for. I had it 3 times in Hawaii where I was immediately told something was accessible, only to find out it was not after asking specific questions. The first time was in Kauai, where we told that the Wailua River cruise was wheelchair accessible, only to find out that it really was not. They were willing to take someone who had a collapsible manual wheelchair and who could board the boat on their own, but they could not accommodate an electric wheelchair due to the number of steps into the boat.

The second incident was with a whale watch company in Kona. Their website claimed that their boat "is wheelchair accessible," and they even showed the little wheelchair symbol on their site, but I had my doubts so I e-mailed them to see if the boat for their whale watch cruise was indeed accessible. I was told that, unfortunately, the ramp for the boat was not wide enough for an electric wheelchair, but it was fine for a manual. That made no sense to me whatsoever, but I did not feel like pressing the issue because I knew it would not be worth it. I am assuming that people in manual chairs would have had to board the boat on their own and carry their manual chair aboard, because she also said something to the effect of "well you can't wheel directly on to the boat, but once you get on to the boat it is wheelchair accessible." Seems to me that most boats are wheelchair accessible once you are aboard it, the whole question is how to get aboard. I wasn't going to argue with her definition of "wheelchair accessible" though, even though it was clearly misleading. She did add that they were working on a ramp to accommodate electric chairs and would have it soon.

The last incident occurred with a different company that offered whale watch cruises near our hotel. We had the concierge at the hotel call to see if they were accessible, and we were assured that they were. I didn't really believe it, so I called them again myself. She immediately told me that one of their catamarans was indeed wheelchair accessible. However, when I asked if there was a ramp to board it, she stated that there was not a ramp and that there was in fact 13 steps to get on to the boat but that they would help carry the wheelchair up the steps. My friend and I had a good laugh at that—13 steps and she's telling me it's wheelchair accessible! When I told her I was in an electric wheelchair and weighed close to 500 lbs. in my chair, she didn't know quite what to say other than that they unfortunately couldn't accommodate electric wheelchairs.

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