Snorkel cruises are popular with families. // © 2018 Dolphin Star
Feature image (above): On some snorkel cruises, clients can snuba, which requires no certification. // © 2018 Trilogy Excursions, Maui-Lanai
With summer approaching, chances are good that clients will want to book a snorkel cruise as part of their upcoming Hawaii vacation. From May through September, the combination of smaller ocean swells, warmer temperatures and gentle trade winds creates the ideal scenario for boat adventures to spectacular reefs that are otherwise out of reach. Most cruise operators sweeten the trip with amenities such as onboard meals and prescription masks for those with glasses, plus add-ons like scuba and “snuba” (a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving).
Hawaii wholesalers agree that snorkel cruises remain the destination’s most-requested summer pastime, despite the many other diversions available across the islands.
“Snorkeling excursions continue to be very popular, as they can be enjoyed by the entire family,” said Mark Klaschka, vice president and Hawaii managing director for Pleasant Holidays. “Better yet, these activities are commissionable for travel agents.”
David Bistrin, Hawaii product development manager for Classic Vacations, agrees.
“The abundance of tropical fish, beautiful coral formations and green sea turtles makes snorkel cruises a favorite with visitors,” he said. “It’s a safe, easy and fun way for ocean novices to experience the beauty of the Hawaiian waters.”
Around the Aloha State, snorkel cruise companies are tweaking their offerings to meet the anticipated increase in summer demand. Here are a few standouts.
Alii Nui, Maui
Alii Nui’s 65-foot sailing catamaran calls on two of Maui’s richest snorkel sites. Molokini, a sunken crater, hosts hundreds of fish varieties. Turtle Point, at the base of the West Maui Mountains, provides stunning underwater views of lava fingers and corals that attract fish, octopuses, eels and shrimp. A full breakfast and lunch; beer and wine; and round-trip transportation are included. In the summer, the company also offers a family sunset sail.
Dolphin Star, Oahu
Oahu’s largest dolphin-watching vessel doubles as a great snorkel cruise boat, with wraparound decks, a shaded dining and bar area and easy ocean access. Departing from Waianae Boat Harbor, it powers north or south based on conditions. Dolphin Star’s top summertime tour is the Wild Dolphin BBQ and Snorkel Watch, with splashy action at a little-known reef. From July 1 to Sept. 30, kids ride for free with paying adults on the Wild Dolphin Watch cruise.
Fair Wind, Hawaii Island
Fair Wind’s vessel Fair Wind II enjoys mooring rights at a prime spot in the Kealakekua Bay marine life conservation district. Once the boat is there, passengers enjoy extra perks such as two waterslides and a high-dive platform. Fair Wind II’s smaller sister boat, Hula Kai, heads south of the bay to more private coves, where guests snorkel, stand-up paddleboard and try motorized sea rockets. The company also promotes sustainability, from providing locally sourced food to using biodegradable cups, plates and utensils onboard.
Holo Holo Charters, Kauai
Holo Holo Charters is Kauai’s only snorkel cruise firm that takes clients across the Kaulakahi Channel to waters off the private island of Niihau, which is home to some of Hawaii’s best snorkeling. Tours also run along Kauai’s Napali Coast, famed for its 4,000-foot-high sea cliffs. Throughout the year, Holo Holo departs from Port Allen on the island’s south side, but in the summer, it leaves from the north shore’s Hanalei as well. Overall, summer seas make this a relatively smooth ride.
Kauai Sea Tours, Kauai
Kauai Sea Tours’ summer raft adventures zip up the Napali Coast to Nualolo Kai, an isolated strip of land accessible only by boat. There, clients snorkel around a large reef and stroll the beach as guides share local history and legends. Summer conditions often allow the rafts to enter sea caves and come close to waterfalls. Kauai Sea Tours also features snorkel tours on a catamaran with a waterslide, a swim platform, sun and shaded seating, continental breakfast and a deli lunch.
Ocean Sports, Hawaii Island
Ocean Sports touts its near-coastal sailing, which means more opportunities for snorkeling in superb conditions. It’s based at Anaehoomalu Bay year-round, but come summer, it also cruises out of Kawaihae Harbor, further north. The popular, all-inclusive Summer Snorkel Adventure Cruise presents marine life briefings, personalized in-water tours, breakfast snacks, a buffet lunch and an open bar with local beer on tap. Special summer fares are available on occasion.
Trilogy Excursions, Maui
Boasting an impressive list of year-round outings, Trilogy expands its summer options to include an extra departure for its Discover Kaanapali tour. It also adds a four-hour Discover Olowalu excursion that caters to families with younger kids. During its all-day Discover Lanai adventure, guests cruise to the tiny neighboring island for snorkeling in Hulopoe marine preserve. While there, they can explore tide pools, go on a van tour with culturally savvy guides and savor a barbecue feast.