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