Maui Adventures: Snorkel & Whale Watch Tour

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For me, an island vacation isn’t complete unless I’ve gotten out on a boat tour, preferably with some wildlife watching and/or snorkeling. When planning a trip to Maui, I reached out to Ultimate Whale Watch to see what kinds of tours they were offering in early December. Technically, whale season doesn’t start until 12/15, so on my visit they were still running snorkel tours instead of whale watching tours. With that, I reserved a spot on the “Full Day Lanai Dolphin Excursion.” I booked the tour for my first day in Maui, knowing I’d be awake early in the morning due to the time change. Unfortunately, upon landing (in the rain) I had a voicemail that my scheduled snorkel tour had been cancelled due to the weather forecast. I was quickly rebooked on another trip for later in the week.

Hawaii weather can always be unpredictable, so it’s good to leave some slack in your schedule for weather cancellations.

Ultimate Whale Watch tour

Ultimate Whale Watch

Once you’ve reserved your spot, you’ll receive a confirmation email with all of the additional information you’ll need. Departure is at 7:30 am from the Lahaina Harbor. There is no free parking at the harbor (that I am aware of) so you’ll need to pay for parking or get a lift to the harbor. I paid $23 at the lot behind the fish market, just a few minutes walk from the pier. Upon check-in, you’ll be fitted for flippers and snorkel mask, and given the option of a $10 wetsuit rental. (I brought my own neoprene pants and rash-guard – highly recommended as these are not the warm waters of the Caribbean!)

Ultimate Whale Watch tour

Full-Day Lanai Dolphin Excursion

Your $139 fee includes breakfast and lunch on this tour, however breakfast isn’t served until the first stop on the water. For us, we had several wildlife sightings en route to our first stop, so breakfast wasn’t served until 9:00, at which point I was starving! I’d suggest having a light breakfast before-hand or maybe bringing something along to tide you over until the banana bread is served. I recommend also bringing a water bottle – there is drinking water and paper cups on the boat, but having my own bottle was much more convenient. Lunch was a delicious wrap (3 options – chicken, turkey and veggie) and Hawaiian chips, plus an assortment of sodas and cookies. Also, there is no bathroom on the raft (there is something for emergencies, but I can’t imagine how you’d have any privacy!) so keep that in mind as well!

Lanai Dolphins

We left Lahaina Harbor in the direction of beautiful, rugged Lanai and right away, our captain Ryan spotted some whale spouts in the distance, so we spent a while trying to see the whales. With no luck, we moved on and quickly ran into some bottlenose dolphins. The real excitement came, though, when we found a huge group of spinner dolphins. Ryan explained that these are the playful dolphins that like to swim up to the boats and play in the wake. He said there were likely 100’s of dolphins in this group, and we saw many of them as they swam along with our boat.

Ultimate Whale Watch tour

Ultimate Whale Watch tour

Ultimate Whale Watch tour

Lanai Snorkeling

After watching the dolphins for a while, we moved on to our first snorkel stop along the shores of Lanai. We had two guides, so one stayed on the boat while the other was in the water with us to help out if needed. Rather than the usual vests worn on these trips, we were given pool noodles, which I found very helpful as I could just hang my arms on the noodle and float along. (I’m a lazy snorkeler!) The snorkeling wasn’t the best I’ve seen, but it’s always fun to watch the various fish swim around. There were large schools of black fish and a bunch of smaller yellow ones. My LifeProof case works well for snorkeling, although the iPhone just doesn’t take the best underwater pictures. (Molokini Crater is supposed to be one of the top Maui snorkeling spots and you can also book tours there)

Ultimate Whale Watch tour

The first snorkel spot was a bit rough, and we did have a few seasick passengers so after about 30 minutes in the water, we loaded up and moved on to the next snorkel spot, which was a bit calmer. At both spots, there was only 1 other tour boat sharing the water with us, so that was nice as it wasn’t crowded like some snorkel spots can be!

Ultimate Whale Watch tour

Maui Humpback Whales

After lunch and two snorkel spots, it was time to head back to Lahaina. For the ride back, I rode up front on the tubes for a more wild ride – it was very bouncy, but more fun than sitting in the rows in the back with everyone. (My arm and core muscles definitely felt this the next day after my death-grip on the bow lines!) We were making good time back when we finally saw a good whale sighting and we had plenty of time to slow down and watch for a bit. My pictures certainly don’t do it justice, but these humpback whales are huge, and watching them swim around was such a treat!

When the whales moved on, we did as well. We arrived back in Lahaina around 1:30, which left plenty of time for walking around Old Town Lahaina and for me, I had to get ready for a luau! (Post coming next week on that one!)

What’s your favorite place to snorkel?

Planning a #maui vacation? Book your whale watching trip with @UltimateWhale Click To Tweet


I was a guest of Ultimate Whale Watch. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.

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17 thoughts on “Maui Adventures: Snorkel & Whale Watch Tour

  1. Cool that you experience the marine life in Maui! Glad that you didn’t get sick!

    Maui is quite nice and I think that it can be hit or miss for these adventures. I had good look going diving at Molokini twice with Lahaina Divers and Whale Watching with Pacific Whale Foundation. It was nice to have a Naturalist on board to explain much about whales in general.

    If you get a chance to visit more of Hawaii, I’d recommend Kona (Big Island) and Kauai as they have more great activities. Kona has volcanoes and history while Kauai has more green and even freshwater kayaking.

    Mahalo and Mele kalikimaka!

  2. Whales are amazing creatures and it must have been phenomenal to see them up close like this! The spinner dolphins you saw are also amazing – how cool that they swam alongside your boat!
    I can sympathize with the other seasick passengers – I get terrible seasickness so I would have been among them. Still – it would have been worth the discomfort for an experience like this!

  3. Absolutely Stunning! I recently went to Dingle to watch Fungie the dolphin and was thrilled by watching him play around. There are so many dolphins must have been a treat to watch them all. Thank you for the detailed info, when I plan to go I sure will refer back 🙂

    • Dingle was my favorite part of Ireland, but we didn’t see the dolphin! Seems like a good reason for me to go back!

    • I hope you get to visit Hawaii someday – it is truly a unique experience in many ways, and you will find a culture unlike anywhere else in the United States!

  4. So I did a similar snorkelling adventure in Maui via a Catamaran but we never got to see any whales. That is awesome. I was so excited to go snorkeling while we were there cause the water by our hotel was relatively warm. But when you get further out there near the reefs, that water gets a wee bit chilly!

  5. You were so lucky to see the humpback whales and dolphins. I didn’t imagine that the weather in Maui is essential for a trip on a day tour, but of course, it’s tropical. To arrive in the morning after a long flight and do the boat tour immediately would probably have been exhausting, too. Good that it worked out anyway later in the week.

  6. I’m not much of a water baby, but I do like going on boat trips to see the aquatic marvels. Like our recent whale-watching tour off the coast of Puerto Lopez in Ecuador – we were also lucky to see some humpbacks. I love to snorkel, but usually only off a beach – jumping off the side of a boat into the deep tends to raise my anxiety levels, although I did manage it when we visited the Galapagos Islands. That was just too amazing to miss out on.

    • I am such a baby when it comes to jumping in water – I slide in and then hang off the boat forever trying to catch my breath if the water is cold, like in the Galapagos! Total anxiety – then the crazy breathing in your mask, semi-hyperventilating. It always takes me a bit to acclimate and then it’s so calm and peaceful just floating around!

  7. It looks like it was an absolutely beautiful day on the water! I’ve only been in a boat with dolphins chasing once and it was positively life-changing! Something about marine mammals is just truly magnificent.

  8. The snorkeling in Maui is some of the best in the world, in my opinion. I do think it’s wise to book a tour, like you did, because they take you to spots where you can see so much more than from the shore. Whale watching is fun too of course, but I’d take snorkeling anyday!

  9. I dont’t know why but I’ve always been unlucky with whale watching! I’ve tried doing the whale watching tour in several places but don’t end up seeing a lot. However, on my trip to Hawaii (we went to the Big Island), we actually saw whales from the shore! They were clearly not too far from the shore and we could see their fins splashing in the water, it was so cool!

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