(writing 2/28/2021) This was our first big trip in the wheelchair in November of 2017. We decided to go to Disney’s Aulani resort because sitting by a pool watching my kid play was about all I could handle in terms of activity. Before I was sick I loved to explore, camp, climb things, stay in hostels, visit cultural sites and get lost in my travels. I had never taken a “resort” vacation where you just “rest” in my life! That said, with the state of my health at that time, that was all I could handle.
The Airport/flight: This was my second time flying, and my first time on a long flight. I learned on the short flight from SF to LA that I need to shell out for business class seats and only go on planes with the lay-down seats if it is over 2 hours. I can’t support my torso even propped up with pillows against the wall of a plane or leaning on my husband for longer than that. My muscles seize and convulse and it crashes me hard. In the lay-down seats I have time to recover from the stress of the airport and I can come out of long travel not too far below my daily baseline. It is the sort of disability tax so many of us have to pay (if we are lucky enough to be able to afford to) to accommodate our conditions.
After the airline broke my chair on the return from LA to SF I was very anxious about getting my chair back at the Honolulu Airport. There was a slight delay that made me anxious enough to crash me (with CFS/ME stress can cause physical crashes), but everything went fine. I have since learned not to stress because stress makes me worse, and to be patient as possible with anything and everything that may happen during travel for my own health.
We rented a van via Wheelers of Hawaii. They were great- very friendly and helpful. Everything worked out, they met us at the airport and the van was perfect. I would check with them about their pick up and drop off hours before booking a flight though.
We mostly stayed in the hotel area where I could mainly rest. There is a fantastic series of pools with water slides and a lazy river, a beach with a wheelchair accessible path fairly far out towards the water, a fire pit with nightly storytelling, a stargazing spot with a telescope, and even a little snorkeling pool inhabited by fish! That was cool because ocean snorkeling was an impossibility at my level of weakness, but I was able to use a float-vest and look around the tank. There is sailing, but I did not feel up to attempting that. They have a great restaurant overlooking the ocean. A fun thing for the kids is finding and counting the Menehune (figures of Polynesian nature spirits) hidden all over the hotel and grounds- even in the snorkel pool! There is also a kind of activity day care for young children (free). It is first come first serve and is always full, so if you want it check in early.
They hired native Hawaiian artists to build everything, and native storytellers and dancers and musicians perform there day and night. If you like Disney characters, the main crew is all there (Minny, Mickey, Donald, Daphne, Chip, Dale, Goofy) plus Stitch, all in Hawaiian clothes as well as Moana. Disney is wonderful at ADA accessibility so everything in the hotel was great. There was so much to enjoy that even though I was limited and extra tired during that trip I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I highly recommend doing the Lū‘au (dinner and show performed by Hawaiian natives) as a send off. I advise looking through all the activities and restaurants and booking ahead.
Sea Life Park is a conservation bird sanctuary and aquarium. There is a dolphin experience they will tailor to fit your abilities that I was able to do and was really wonderful. There was a similar shark experience I did not do. You need to book ahead for those and explain your ability levels to find out what accommodations they can give you and what you might need. The birds there are very friendly/aggressive in their attentions at mealtimes! It was a lovely day out, and wheelchair friendly.
Polynesian Cultural Center is a series of mini model villages which show the styles of housing, tools, dance, games, food, etc. of a number of Polynesian island cultures. People from those cultures demonstrate and educate at each place. It takes a full day to really see and is full of performances and interactive activities (fire dancing, storytelling, music, dance, grass weaving, cooking… ). It was really fun to do with a kid, but good for adults too. The shops there had work from local artists.
Pearl Harbor I have been to, but not in the wheelchair (and 27 years ago!). It is fully accessible according to their website.
We did not go to Waikiki. I went there as a teenager on a Ju-Jitsu trip and found it very touristy and noisy and obnoxious. I was not up for sensory overload during that time. To be honest I think I was still recovering from my trip to Disneyland in mid October.
For your non-wheelchair bound friends and family there are tons of lovely trails and hikes, scuba diving, snorkeling, and a zip line adventure on the island.
All in all it was a lovely trip that was just the right speed for me at that moment of my illness (I have since improved enough to tolerate more activity). We plan to go back when we are all vaccinated at the end of this year.