Star of the Show

Dolphins take center stage on this catamaran cruise

By: Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

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It’s not unusual to spot dolphins
as soon as the cruise departs.
My friend and I had just finished slathering sunscreen on our faces when we heard the excited shout from a fellow passenger on the Wild Dolphin Watch and Lunch Cruise: “Look! Spinner dolphins!”

We were surprised the first sighting came so soon; we were less than a minute out of Waianae Boat Harbor.

Two dolphins were racing fin to fin beneath the bow of Hoku Naia (Dolphin Star), a 65-foot, 149-passenger twin-hull catamaran that was built specifically for this cruise. Less than 10 feet from the boat, a few others were leaping and twirling with the agility of acrobats. The rest of the school including a mother and her baby were hanging out nearby.

True to Hoku Naia’s name, dolphins are the stars of this memorable two-hour cruise. In fact, if the captain hadn’t steered the boat away to show us more of the west Oahu coast while we ate lunch, they would’ve likely stayed with us the entire time.

After years of extensive research, Star of Honolulu Cruises and Events honed in on west Oahu for the Wild Dolphin Watch and Lunch Cruise, which launched last October.

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The Hoku Naia was specifically
built for the dolphin cruise.
“The Waianae range is largely shielded from the rains brought to the islands by northeasterly trade winds,” explained company president Ronald Howard. “This makes it much drier and keeps runoff to a minimum. Thus, some of the clearest water in Hawaii is found off the beaches of the Waianae Coast.”

It’s no wonder, then, that dolphins and a plethora of other marine life such as flying fish, manta rays, false killer whales and endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles thrive there. From now through April, humpback whales can also be seen in these waters.

Intent on protecting the wildlife that it would feature, Star of Honolulu constructed a vessel that’s the epitome of eco-friendly.

Hoku Naia’s low-emission main engines meet Environmental Protection Agency standards. She has no electric generators, relying instead on waste energy from the engines to keep her battery banks charged. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has determined her cruising speed of 15 miles per hour is safe for marine animals.

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The vessel provides a close-to-the-water
feel from every vantage point.
In addition, landlubbers will be happy to know Hoku Naia’s custom stabilizers make for a comfortable ride in the open ocean. She’s also equipped with a dining area, bar, restroom, barbecue facility, a wrap-around main deck and an upper-level observation deck that provides spectacular 360-degree views. Her freeboard was purposely kept low, enabling passengers to enjoy a close-to-the-water feel anywhere onboard.

According to Howard, the tour’s route depends on sea conditions and what the captain deems best for dolphin watching.

“Usually, we see dolphins within three miles of Waianae Harbor,” he said. “Since dolphins in Hawaii haven’t been hunted like others in the Pacific, they’re not afraid of humans. They’ll swim right up to the boat, which gives guests a rare opportunity to see them up close.”

Certified naturalists are on board every cruise, answering questions and sharing fascinating tidbits about the Hawaiian spinner, spotted and bottlenose dolphins that tour-goers might see. For example, unbeknownst to most people, dolphins have acute vision and hearing, but no sense of smell.

“The Wild Dolphin Watch and Lunch Cruise is a wonderful option for all ages,” said Howard. “It’s exciting, it’s educational, and it takes participants to a beautiful area of Oahu that they might have otherwise overlooked.”


Star of Honolulu Cruises and Events
Wild Dolphin Watch and Lunch Cruise
1540 South King Street Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
Commission: 10 percent

Cruise offered daily except Mondays, New Year’s day, Thanksgiving day and Christmas day from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Cost is $65 for adults and $39 for children 3-11 (kids 2 and under are free). Lunch is included: freshly grilled hamburgers with all the fixings, chips, brownies and fruit punch. Sodas and alcoholic drinks are $3 and $6 each, respectively. Vegetarian burgers are available with 24 hours advance notice. Advise your clients to wear a hat or visor, casual, comfortable clothes and a liberal dose of sunscreen. Hoku Naia is not wheelchair accessible.

Roundtrip transportation is provided between most Waikiki hotels and Waianae Boat Harbor for an additional $20 per person; between Ko Olina Resort and the harbor for an additional $10 per person. On the bus, narration by the guide and a video produced especially for the tour provide information about Hawaiian history and culture, marine life and significant sights. Your clients also can drive on their own and meet the group at the boat harbor 45 minutes prior to departure. If no dolphins are seen, a Dolphin Check good for a free return cruise will be issued (meal and transportation are available for an additional fee).

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