Ocean Activities

Hawaii Boat Tours: How do I choose between a Snorkel Tour and a Whale Watch?

So you know you’d like to see some Hawaiian wildlife and you know you’d like to do it from a boat. There are a ton of options for both snorkel tours and whale watches: some will be in large groups, some are held on speedy ocean rafts, some have full lunches and others just serve snacks and breakfast. Here, we’ve written up the basic differences between whale watches and snorkel tours so you can book exactly what you’re looking for (or even one of each)!

Snorkel tours are wet, whale watches are dry. 

During a snorkel tour, you do in fact snorkel, getting into the warm Hawaiian ocean. During whale watches, you’ll stay on the boat during the entire trip. While there are great photo opportunities on both, in my experience, I’ve seen more expensive, big, not-water-resistant cameras on whale watches (since everyone on board is dry, and belongings aren’t really left unattended). Most snorkel tours are happy to accommodate ride-alongs, if one member of your party doesn’t want to get in the water.

Whale watches are seasonal. 

Humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii, where they birth and nurse their young. Whale season in Hawaii lasts from December to May. Snorkel tours, on the other hand, run year round (a small side note: jet ski tours don’t run during whale season, for the safety of both jet skiers and the whales). Also, whale watches tend to have an educational aspect. Both types of tours have super knowledgeable and friendly crews; I’ve never been on a tour where I wasn’t impressed with the crew.

Snorkel tours visit set destinations and are focused on showing a variety of underwater wildlife. 

While there might be changes made to the itinerary based on weather or water conditions, snorkel tours usually visit specific sites, such as Molokini Crater or Turtle Town (and many tours visit more than one spot). On tours that visit more than one spot, there’s usually a big difference between the wildlife you’ll see at one or the other (for example, one might have a lot of coral formations and tropical fish, while the other might have more turtles). Whale watch destinations are set by the captain, based on the day’s sightings so far. The same tour might visit totally different areas around the island, based on where other boats have seen whales.

Whale watches (almost always) have a “whales guaranteed” policy. 

Many whale watches will offer a free do-over if (for any reason) your tour doesn’t spot any whales. That being said, most of the snorkel tours I went on with my family as a kid also saw whales during whale season, especially in the middle of the season (February and March). In other words, if you’d like to see whales but don’t mind taking your chances, a snorkel tour might be just the thing!

We hope this helps you decide which activity might best suit you! Check out and choose between different snorkel tours and whale-watches on our website.

Whale Watching Tours on Maui

We offer many options for whale watching season! Here are a few …

Snorkel Adventures on Maui

Check out some of our snorkel adventures, available on Maui.

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