Happy Hawaii Anniversary for Atlantis

Company celebrates two decades of sharing Hawaii’s underwater world

By: Dawna L. Robertson

When Dennis Hurd launched his first battery-powered, nonpolluting Atlantis Submarine in December 1985 off the coast of the Cayman Islands, he hit on a friendly way for all people to experience the underwater world previously reserved for scuba divers.

The high-tech nature of the vessel, the air-conditioned/pressure-controlled cabin and the underwater beauty of the reef made the attraction an instant hit. Essentially a prototype, improvements were made to the sub in the early stages and incorporated into Atlantis II, which was displayed at Expo86 in Vancouver. The Atlantis II journeyed directly from the Expo and reached Barbados in 1986. Its official opening took place on February 1987.

Over the next two decades, Atlantis expanded both in design and in markets stretching from the Caribbean to Guam. This September will mark the company’s 20th anniversary of sharing the magic of Hawaii’s undersea world, up close and personal.

“There’s a tremendous sense of pride knowing that in the past 20 years we’ve been able to educate and entertain more than 6.5 million guests about the importance of Hawaii’s marine life,” said Ron Williams, chief executive officer and president of Atlantis Submarines and Atlantis Navatek Cruises. “It’s such an inspiration to see the reaction of guests when they suddenly find themselves in the midst of our undersea world with all its beauty and vibrancy. No matter how many submarine tours I’ve taken, the response I see in our guests is always one of awe and wonder.”

For its Waikiki operations, Atlantis offers two configurations the standard 48-passenger sub, measuring 65 feet in length, with 20-inch diameter viewports, and the premium 64-passenger sub measuring, 100 feet in length with 65 percent greater viewport area and wider seating. The company also offers underwater journeys in the Pacific waters off Lahaina, Maui and the Big Island’s Kona Coast.

“Unless a person is donning scuba gear, our submarine tour is the only way on Oahu to descend into the depths of Hawaii’s wondrous marine world and see how it works,” Williams said. “And you don’t have to get wet! Our business philosophy is ‘Let us show you our Hawaii.’ And I’m proud to say that no other tour provider can make the same claim.”

The one-hour-and-forty-five-minute tours depart Duke Kahanamoku Beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa. Next, the Atlantis shuttle boat ferries guests out to the sub site. There, an experienced crew awaits to safely transfer guests from the shuttle boat onto the sub. Through the topside hatch, guests enter a spacious, air-conditioned cabin with plenty of leg and headroom and large viewing portals on both sides for each seat. It’s like having a personal window to the undersea world.

As the pilot guides the quiet, battery-powered sub into its journey, the depth gauge numbers increase along with the tropical fish darting in front of the portals. The co-pilot also serves as the tour guide, keeping everyone informed, entertained and riveted to their viewing portals as they watch the ever-changing marine life taking place outside.

As the sub descends, it overlooks natural coral reefs, an ancient lava flow and an undersea field of interconnected circular Japan-inspired artificial reefs. It’s home to a wide variety of plentiful marine species and corals, brightly colored tangs, moray eels, and Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa (trigger fish).

Reaching 125 feet, passengers peer out at candy-striped squirrelfish, peacock-colored parrotfish and various invertebrates dwelling on the sandy bottom. Before starting its gradual ascent to the surface, the sub cruises around the sunken remains of two airplanes and two vessels, all of which serve as artificial reefs and thriving habitats for tropical fish of every shape and hue. Among the reef residents commonly seen are green sea turtles, stingrays and white-tip sharks.

Williams noted that the environmental benefits of Atlantis Submarines’ presence have been felt more at the company’s Waikiki dive site than its other locations. “When Atlantis began operations, we made a commitment to help revitalize Waikiki’s marine life environment,” he said.

Working with the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Atlantis introduced several artificial reefs that have since blossomed into self-sustaining eco-systems for marine life to thrive. “Before these artificial reefs, this was an area relatively bare of activity. Today, it is teeming with all types of fish and marine life swirling about,” said Williams.

The Atlantis Premium Submarine Tour aboard the hi-tech 64-passenger Atlantis XIV includes a complimentary Atlantis Souvenir Dive Log and special discounts offered only to deluxe passengers. Fares are $105 for adults and $53 for children ages 12 and under. The Atlantis Standard Submarine Tour aboard a 48-passenger vessel is $89 for adults and $45 for children 12 and under.