Maui’s a great place to go snorkeling or SCUBA diving, but not everybody’s so keen on strapping on mask and swimfins. If you want a look at the Valley Isle’s underwater realm but don’t want to actually get wet doing so, you’ve got a couple of options. The best known is the Maui Undersea Adventure offered by Atlantis Submarines, a pretty darn cool experience run out of Lahaina.
The submarine in question is a Coast Guard-approved, a 48-passenger vessel that’ll take you down more than 100 feet into the liquid blue wilderness off West Maui. It’s anchored well offshore, so to get there you take a shuttle boat from Lahaina Harbor. While obviously, the highlight of the experience is the underwater portion, the shuttle boat ride is quite fun as well: You’ll nab some lovely views back toward the green heights of the West Maui Mountains, and it’s a thrill to pull up alongside the waiting sub out at sea.
Plus, from December to April, there’s a chance you might see humpback whales from the shuttle boat—so there’s that, too!
Each passenger gets a viewing port in the submarine, so you don’t have to worry about getting crowded out of a good vantage. And the tour is fully narrated, so you’ll have a guide to the sights you’re seeing down there.
Those sights include natural coral formations and sandy seafloor flats, plus quite a memorable artificial reef installed back in the mid-2000s to expand underwater habitat. That artificial reef takes the form of the Carthaginian, a replica of a 19th-century whaling brig that formerly served as a whale museum in Lahaina Harbor. It now enjoys an afterlife as an intentionally sunk “wreck” that’s a hotspot for sea life.
Among the marine organisms often seen from the Atlantis submarine are a wide variety of tropical reef fish, from yellow tangs and parrotfish to bluefin jacks. Eels and stingrays cruise by, and even the occasional manta ray—an unforgettable sight, to put it mildly. Whitetip reef sharks and other sharks also periodically make cameos. (Incredibly lucky passengers during humpback season have even spotted whales from the submarine, but don’t go in expecting that once-in-a-lifetime coup!)
Taken in its entirety, the Maui Undersea Adventure is about an hour and 45 minutes to two hours long, roughly 50 minutes of which takes place in the submarine.
You can also tack on a number of combo experiences to the submarine tour thanks to other Atlantis Maui offerings. Those include winter to spring whale-watching tours aboard twin-engine Explorer Super Rafts (equipped, mind you, with their own onboard restrooms). Another option is adding a five-hour snorkel cruise out to Lanai to the Undersea Adventure, which gives you better odds of seeing such sought-after critters as dolphins and sea turtles, not to mention those magnificent mantas.
-Worried about claustrophobia? Well, those suffering a big-time fear of enclosed spaces may want to skip the Atlantis Submarines experience. That said, travelers with basic, garden-variety claustrophobia often find the sub dive completely bearable because of the large viewing ports right by the seat. The thrill of gazing out into the depths—especially when schools of fish or gracefully winging rays are part of the sightlines—is usually enough to distract passengers from heebie-jeebies.
-Experienced divers may scoff at the idea of riding the Atlantis submarine on a Maui getaway, and it’s true the reef-exploration experience can’t quite compare. But a big part of the fun is actually riding in a sub, so there’s a very good chance you’ll end up having a blast.