6 Maui Adventure Cruises That You Will Never Forget

by | Jan 11, 2020 | Activities, Maui, Planning, Things to Do

Some come to Maui for the beach. Some come to Maui for adventure. If you are in the adventure camp, check out these 6 Maui adventure cruises to get your heart thumping.

  • 1. Lanai Spinner Dolphin Adventure Cruise
  • 2. Chartered Sailing Adventure 
  • 3. Whale Watching Tour by Raft
  • 4. Advanced Snorkeling at the Molokini Crater
  • 5. Circumnavigate Lanai by Raft Adventure
  • 6. Maui Atlantis Submarine Adventure 

Cruising depicts relaxing on the lido deck sipping a pina colada. These cruises are nothing of the sort. 

As a Maui resident, I have lost all interest in sunset cruises offshore Lahaina. Lacking the patience and fortitude to sit on a 150 person sunset ship sipping watered-down cocktails put me on the hunt for the action-packed boating adventures to be found on Maui.

As a land lover, I pushed myself to find unique opportunities offshore Maui that would quench my need for adventure. These are my favorite adventure cruises through the best tour operators on the island. 

I have no commercial affiliation with these operators, I just enjoyed the use of their boat and knowledge.

What is a Maui Adventure Cruise?

Setting off by sail or powerboat was my first criteria when choosing an adventure cruise. While I wanted to put Lopaka’s Aloha Adventure Spearfishing on my list, a boat is not part of their tour. 

Offshore Maui, past the reefs, is where I wanted the adventure to start. Therefore a boat, hence cruising, needed to be included for the tour. 

The level of adventure was my next criterion. I like an adventure to be a bit scary, a bit challenging, but a very high rate of survival with all limbs attached. My list ended up meeting my thirst for adventure. These tours were or sound like a blast to go on. 

The amount of adventure is ranked by the Awe Factor for each Maui adventure tour in the Bottom Line. My biases lean toward seeing wild animals in their natural habitats and high-speed activities like Maui raft adventures.

Now, I haven’t been on all these adventure tours so I’ll update my post as I tick them off my list. If I haven’t been on the tour yet than I reference TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews to get a sense of the experience. 

Experience is what I’m after. I want these adventure cruises to be memorable. A trip to Maui needs some adventure to set it apart from other beach vacations. In case you ever forget your trip to the most isolated islands in the world that also have the largest migration of humpback whales in the world. 

Third, but close to my heart, is the tour operator and activity needs to have a low impact on the environment. I do not want to participate in an adventure that hurts animals or damages their habitat. While a powerboat is not ideal for my carbon footprint, many operators give back to environmental causes. 

The fourth criterion was the cruise had to leave from Maui. There are some amazing adventure cruises from Maui’s neighboring islands of Lania and Molokai. While Lania and Molokai are part of the County of Maui, I didn’t think it was fair to include them as a Maui adventure cruise. 

The fifth criterion required the ship to not hold over 40 people. 40 passengers are still a large number to manage but I found snorkel tours that were very entertaining while being on large catamarans. 

That last criterion helped me keep the price down on these adventure excursions. 

Maui Adventure Tours Don’t Have to Be For the Rich

Therefore, this list isn’t for rich and famous. The price justifies the thrill and is reasonable, in my opinion. 

These adventure cruises won’t break your Hawaii vacation budget. 

Prices range from $49 to $150 per passenger for the Maui adventure tours I found to be the best.

I’m not always recommending the lowest cost option. As I am looking for environmentally friendly operators and smaller boats, these come at a higher cost. 

If you would like to shop around for Maui adventure cruises outside of my list but using these ideas, check out Hawaii Activities. It is a comparison website specific to Hawaii fun in the sun activities. 

If you are flying thousands of miles to Maui, I highly recommend you invest in at least one guided activity. The local knowledge and unique opportunity thanks to the tour operators’ equipment (zipline, boat, bike, raft, etc.) will enable you to learn and see new parts of the island. 

Maui is full of free or low-cost activities like hiking, snorkeling, parks, swimming, and sitting on top of a volcano at sunrise.  You need to do these Maui activities for sure. 

Save some extra spending cash for something unique, like a Maui adventure cruise or whale watching in Maui.

An Adventure Cruise is Not a Sunset Cruise

Sunset cruises are amazing. Be it with your significant other or family, Maui sunset cruises are well done, offer amazing sunsets, and are usually worth the money. I don’t want to rag on sunset cruises.

They are just not my cup of tea. 

Therefore, this list does not include sunset cruises or Maui dinner cruises offshore Lahaina, where the best sunsets are. Some sunset cruises are on intimate catamarans with live music. You won’t get ocean spray on your face on those boats. 

Try a small chartered sailboat if you want an intimate sunset cruise with a dash of thrilling sailing. 

Maui Adventure Cruise Lahaina Sunset

The best place for Maui sunsets is Lahaina so a cruise, adventure or not, is recommended. #nofilter

The Best Maui Adventure Cruises 

Set sail or hop in a powerboat to try one (or more) of these adventure cruises during your stay on Maui. My goal is to try them all. One of the perks of living on Maui.

These are not in order of preference. Find the one that meets your fancy and go have an adventure on your Hawaii vacation.

1. Lanai Spinner Dolphin Adventure Cruise

Board a raft from Maui to head across the Au’au channel. 6 miles away is the privately-owned island of Lanai. Lanai is sparsely populated and lacks the resorts of Maui. Its seclusion and calm mean Lanai has an untouched coral reef. In fact, it is the longest coral reef in Hawaii. 

I’m not going for the snorkeling, but it is a bonus. I want to see the large pod of Spinner Dolphins who hangout along Lanai’s southern coast. 

Spinner Dolphins get their name for their love of jumping out of the water and performing acrobatic spins. I’ve seen them from the beach but never a few feet away aboard a raft or snorkeling with dolphins in the wild. 

The raft enables the tour guide to be agile when looking for them. Plus they know their usual hangout spots. Raft trips holding 17 to 36 people and leave from Lahaina. Book in advance as they sell out rather quickly. 

A raft is an ideal way to go as the tours stop at two or more snorkel locations and also to find Spinner Dolphins on the way or at the snorkeling spot. One tour by Hawaii Ocean Rafting also includes a stop at a shipwreck. 

Erica and I are planning on going in March. The best reviews and most adventure-filled tours are from Hawaii Ocean Rafting’s Dolphin + Snorkel + Shipwreck tour and Maui Adventure Cruise’s Lanai Dolphin Adventure tour.

Bottom Line:

  • Cost: $120 to $150 per person.
  • Length: 4 to 5 hours
  • Awe Factor: High 

2. Chartered Sailing Adventure

I grew up in Northern Michigan. We had Lake Michigan and hundreds of lakes for sailing in my backyard. Sailing can be whatever you want it to be, a leisurely cruise or a rollercoaster ride. The choice is yours.

Taking a private chartered sailing adventure gives you the same choice. On Maui, you can almost always find the wind to make an adventure out of it. Go around the point, and let the ocean spray crash onto you. 

My family went out on GungHo Sailing out of the Lahaina Wharf. The 34-foot sailboat captained by the professional sailor (he sailed the same boat to Tahiti with his wife and 3 kids) Captain Keahi Ho.  

Captain Keahi asked us when onboarding, “do you want to get wet?” “Yes” was our unanimous response. 

We headed north towards Kaanapali to be greeted with high winds and big waves. My dad took the helm with Captain Keahi telling him what to do. We pulled the sails, tacked, and leaned hard as waves ponded us. We all had smiles on our faces.

Maui Adventure Cruise Lahaina

The GungHo cut through the waves on our adventure cruise.

Maui Adventure Sailboat Charters

I, of course, moved to the bow to experience the full effect of our leisurely sailing cruise.

After some adventure-filled sailing, we went on the lookout for whales in calmer waters. We didn’t find any whales as it was early in the season but we enjoyed the smooth sailing and the sun for the rest of our journey.

Chartered sailing companies with good reviews, smaller vessels, and offer the flexibility to be adventurous are GungHo Sailing, Scotch Mist, and Kainani Sails. All set sail from West Maui.

Bottom Line:

  • Cost: $650 (6 people max)
  • Length: 2.5 hours
  • Awe Factor: High 

Maui Adventure Tour GungHo Sailing

3. Whale Watching Tour by Raft

Everyone gets a front-row seat when whale watching in a fast and maneuverable rigid-hulled inflatable raft. I’ve done whale watching on the larger vessels like the Pacific Whale Foundation. 

It is an amazing experience to see and hear humpback whales. But doing it from a large ship was a slow process and the whales were some distance away. 

That doesn’t happen on a whale watching tour by raft. The rafts don’t encroach on the whales but do to their maneuverability, they can get to the general area faster and cause less stress on the whales. A raft is perfect for close encounters.

With 12 to 24 passengers on board, including the crew, you will get an intimate experience. The rafts also provide similar services as the larger vessels like they have a marine naturalist on board, headphones to listen to the whales, and they guarantee sightings. 

The recommended rafting companies have a naturalist on board so they know to respect and not bother the whales. NOAA says humpbacks are still threatened due to vessel-harassment, underwater noise, and vessel strikes. All the bad things that could happen during a tour.

This season, I’m planning on heading out on a raft for Maui whale watching.

The following raft operators have the best reviews and are environmentally responsible. 

Bottom Line:

  • Cost: $49 to $65 to per person
  • Length: 2 to 4 hours
  • Seasonal: 15-December to 15-April
  • Awe Factor: High 

Related articles:

Maui adventure cruises lahaina wharf

Cruises, adventure or not, mainly leave from Lahaina Wharf (pictured here) or Maalaea Harbor west of Kihei.

4. Advanced Molokini Snorkeling Adventure

The word on the street is the best snorkeling around Maui is around Lanai. Molokini crater was once the eminent spot for snorkeling but some say it isn’t as vibrant anymore. 

I’d like to see it for myself. At a minimum, I’d like to get up close and personal with the jaw-dropping Molokini crater. It looks very cool. 

If inside the crater isn’t as good anymore, perhaps the rugged backside is better. The Pacific Whale Foundation has a Molokini Wild Side Snorkel Eco-Adventure. 

The Pac Whale Foundation takes out 38 guests max on their 54-foot single deck catamaran called the Ocean Explorer. 

Ocean-Explorer-Maui-Adventure-Cruises

Photo credit Pacific Whale Foundation – ActivityAuthority.com

The tour is for advanced snorkeling which I assume means strong swimmers and those who like to dive down deep. The smaller group, with advanced skills, have more flexibility to go to more spots and discover hidden gems during their tour compared to the larger tour operators. Seeing turtles will happen. 

Maui Adventure Cruise Molokini Crater

Bottom Line:

  • Cost: $140 per person
  • Length: 6 hours
  • Breakfast and lunch provided
  • Awe Factor: Medium

5. Circumnavigate Lanai Raft Tour

Ocean Riders is the only HBI raft circumnavigating Lanai. HBI rafts, as I learned, are rigid-hulled rafts used by the US Coast Guard for search and rescue. They are 1,000 pounds heavier than other ocean-going rafts making for a smoother ride.

The adventure is their HBI raft can zoom around Lanai in a day while stopping at remote locations. Their Lanai adventure raft tour includes seeing the following:

  • Shipwrecks
  • snorkeling coves
  • Blowholes
  • remote beaches, one is called Shipwreck Beach (pretty cool)
  • touring sea caves
  • dolphins, turtles, and some of the best snorkeling Maui has to offer

The captain will customize the itinerary based on weather and conditions making for a unique experience. Nothing is timed. Like, they don’t make you get out of the water to get home.

The boat is certified for 22 people but Ocean Riders take a maximum of 18 passengers. The captain brings his dog on some trips. 

From the reviews, the crew makes everyone feel comfortable while onboard and in the water. They have years of experience of knowing all the spots, the history, and how to find where the dolphins and sea turtles will be swimming. This sounds like a perfect adventure to bring the whole family along.

As Lanai has the best snorkeling around Maui, this tour sounds like the best way to snorkel while exploring Lanai. The high-energy, fast raft makes it all the more entertaining.

Bottom Line:

  • Cost: $149 per person
  • Length: 7.5 hours
  • Awe Factor: Medium

6. Maui Atlantis Submarine Adventure 

The Atlantis Submarine Adventure sounds like a kitschy tourist trap. Maybe it is but I want to check it out. I’ve never been on a submarine and this is a real submarine.

Atlantis isn’t a WWII U-Boat but maybe that is a good thing for safety reasons. The Atlantis comes with air-conditioned comfort. 

The submarine carries 48 passengers to a depth of 125 feet. A boat takes you out from Lahaina Wharf to the submarine. You board and then go underwater to an artificial reef, made from a 19th-century whaling ship replica, that is thriving with marine life. 

Atlantis Maui Undersea Adventure is a unique way to see below the surface.  

This may be a tourist trap but it has caught my imagination. I’m down to give it a try. My son will love to go on this one once he grows to 36 inches (the height restriction). 

Bottom Line:

  • Cost: $124  per person
  • Length: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Awe Factor: Light

Best Times to Go on a Maui Adventure Tour

There is no real off-season for Maui. The weather is amazing all year long. For planning a Maui adventure cruise though, I do have some advice.

I always recommend visiting Maui during the shoulder seasons of September – October, and April – May. As the island isn’t as busy, the adventure tours will be less crowded and easier to book.

The wind picks up over the winter months so that may impact some of these cruises and snorkeling visibility. 

The whale watching tour would be the best if visiting over the winter months as the whales are here from mid-December to mid-April but also because visibility for the snorkeling tours may not be ideal. 

As all quality Maui whale watching tours guarantee sightings, I recommend booking your tour at the beginning of your trip. If you don’t see whales, you can go back again during your vacation.

The weather is always sunny and above 75 degrees Fahrenheit in Maui so there isn’t any real bad time to do these adventure cruises. The Maui ocean temperature also averages 75 to 80 degrees around Maui so swimming without the need for a wetsuit is always possible. 

Deals on Maui Adventure Cruises

When purchasing tickets, I recommend shopping around for sales. First, check out the links provided directly to the tour operators above. They typically provide 10% off for booking online and have fewer fees than 3rd party sites.

3rd party sites do get bulk ticket deals so take a look. My favorite comparison sites for buying tickets in Hawaii are the following. 

Check out our other Hawaii Recommendations for other tours, activities, and how to vacation like a pro in Hawaii.

I’ll be updating this post as I complete my bucket list of Maui adventure cruises. If you do one of these adventure tours or have other Maui adventure cruises in mind then please email me to tell me about it. 

I’m always down to try something new in the Hawaiian Islands. 

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Jordan Fromholz

Jordan Fromholz

Author

I'm the co-founder, with my wife Erica, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I have a thing for photographing pineapples and learning to surf.

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