Aloha fellow whale-watchers!
Imagine this: you’re out on the open ocean, the sun is shining, and suddenly there’s a splash, followed by a breathtaking sight – a humpback whale leaping out of the water! I’m telling you, folks, it doesn’t get any better than that. My boyfriend and I adore Hawaii in winter and have done our fair share of whale-watching tours. Since we’ve learned from experience which ones are worth every penny, you won’t have to navigate through tourist traps!
I’m here to spill the beans on the best whale-watching tours in Hawaii so that your precious vacation time is spent with these graceful giants. We know how important it is to find trustworthy companies with knowledgeable staff who not only care about your safety but also ensuring that you see these marvelous creatures up close.
I’ve handpicked tours across all Hawaiian islands based on factors like chances of spotting whales (and other marine life), expert guides who love sharing their knowledge, top-notch service, and – for those who enjoy a little extra – tasty treats like breakfast buffets or sunset cocktails.
Warning: Once you experience one of these awe-inspiring excursions, daydreaming about majestic whales might become your new favorite pastime!
With all that said, let’s dive into this ocean adventure together and discover what awaits us beneath Hawaii’s enchanting waves.
#1 (MAUI) Whale Watching Cruise with Open Bar from Kaanapali Beach
Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
Address: Sea Maui, 2435 Kaanapali Pkwy, Lahaina, HI 96761
If you are lucky to vacation in Maui, this is the best whale-watching tour available. Many things set them apart including the crew and safety, an amazing spot for whale watching, comfortable seating and atmosphere, and an incredible open bar.
We were picked up at Maui’s Kaanapali Beach (with validated parking) and had a very informative guide who showed us many pods of humpback whales along with incredible information concerning their lifecycle, habits, and more. I particularly loved seeing the young with their moms. Many breached the water and were playful. We also saw some green turtles on the way.
On the boat, we had a lot of comfort and there was subtle music playing. The crew always made sure we were comfortable, safe and drink in hand. The two of us had some great local beers (but they have cocktails, wine, juice, and more available!) Overall they had a lot more to offer than I expected. The overall atmosphere is what won me over. And the guide was so knowledgeable and open to questioning. Bring medication for seasickness just in case (especially if it’s your first time). The ride is smooth, but people still get sick sometimes.
This is the best whale-watching tour because:
- It’s easily accessible with pickup right on Kaanapali Beach, and there is validated parking available for up to 3 hours.
- The guide is top-notch, knowledgeable, friendly, and open to questions.
- The entire staff is friendly, and focused on safety and they create a great family-friendly atmosphere.
- The boat is big and reduces the chances of getting seasick, it’s spacious with enough privacy for the visitors, and lets you see the whales (and shoreline) from different angles.
- They have a high-quality open bar with cocktails, beer, wine, and more available.
- On our trip, we saw whales (whole families) and green turtles.
#2 (OAHU) Whale Watching and Breakfast Cruise in Honolulu
Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
Address: 1009 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96813 (meet at Slip F30 for pre-boarding)
If you love morning activities and adventures (like I do!) you will love this 9:00 am whale watching and breakfast tour. Sitting on the side of the boat with a delicious cup of coffee in my hand and having the wind blowing my hair was priceless. Not to mention we saw many whales and even some dolphins.
The guide was incredibly knowledgeable and shared a lot of information about whale behavior and migration. He was enthusiastic and answered all the questions we had. The rest of the staff was just as great. They added to the atmosphere and helped us spot whales and feel comfortable.
They served breakfast with an incredible view of the Diamond Head crater. Having this experience in itself in the morning is beautiful. We had upper deck outside seating and it was stunning. The food quality was also high. Everything was prepared fresh and the locally grown coffee was amazing. There is also juice and water for those not into coffee (like the kids). And it was filling.
The boat is nice and large (stable). It’s wheelchair and stroller accessible. They are also super nice and supportive of travelers who get seasick. Thankfully we do not have that problem, but I bring medication just in case.
Whale Watching and Breakfast Cruise in Honolulu is my second pick because:
- The boat has an incredible open upper deck seating available to enjoy the views of the animals and shoreside (including the Diamond Head crater).
- The guide is highly knowledgeable and eager to teach about the whales and their behavior.
- The staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating with wheelchairs and strollers.
- The breakfast and morning coffee are a one-of-a-kind experience with a stunning view, only available in Hawaii.
- It’s not so early that sleep lovers can’t make it.
#3 (KAUAI) ‘IMILOA – Express Whale Watch Cocktail Tour
Activity provider: Kauai Sea Tours
Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
Address: Kauai Sea Tours, 4353 Waialo Rd #2B, Eleele, HI 96705 (Port Allen Marina Center)
If you want to experience the true natural beauty of Kauai and have up-close encounters with the majestic whales this is the tour for you. This was the highlight of our Kauai trip. Really, this is a cocktail cruise from Eleele, which includes an amazing guide, creative and authentic starter platters, and drinks (including juice, Mai Tais, beer, and wine). So bring your ID.
They have two departure times, and we did the 4:15 pm tour (but there is an earlier one also at 1:45 pm). Our guide was great at teaching us about whale biology and behavior in an interesting way. He really had our attention most of the time and was great at answering questions. We saw several whales and tail slaps relatively close to us (but bring binoculars anyway). We even saw some dolphins swimming.
The entire atmosphere is wonderful. There is music, light snacks, and tasty drinks. Service is top notch and the captain is funny. The boat is big enough to feel safe even in the rough parts of the ocean. Views from each side have something to offer. So I suggest looking around and enjoying everything. Overall, an amazing evening activity and a must for all wildlife lovers.
‘IMILOA – Express Whale Watch Cocktail Tour is a must – because:
- There is an opportunity to see up-close whales, turtles, and dolphins during the tour.
- The guide is knowledgeable and gives out a lot of great information. The entire staff is really friendly.
- There are two different time slots available for tours each day.
- They serve light snacks and excellent wine (or other drinks, by choice).
- The boat is stable and you will feel safe the entire time.
- There are amazing views of the shoreline as well. All picture worthy.
#4 (BIG ISLAND) Zodiac Raft Whale Watching Adventure
Duration: 3 hours (approx.)
Address: 74-425 Kealakehe Pkwy, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
This tour is perfect for the adventure lover (like my boyfriend!) It’s one of the longest tours offered and is a safe but exciting rafting expedition. Here expect to be boarded upon a high-speed raft and have some windy and choppy adventures out on the open ocean. Though perhaps not suitable for small children, life jackets are available for everyone and it’s an amazing opportunity to see whales very close up (sometimes even swimming under your raft.)
When we did the tour we had a super friendly and knowledgeable guide. She gave us lots of information about marine life, whales, and the area in general. She also gave us some recommendations for other activities. The best part of the trip was the whales and we were about 5 or 6 of them. Tails flapping, jumping, and being very playful. We also saw bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, and some green turtles. Our guide helped us identify each type and let us know some interesting facts about them.
I loved that the staff is persistent in helping you see as many things as possible during your time.
Sometimes they even go longer free of charge. Make sure to sear sunscreen and head protection, because the raft doesn’t offer many shelters from the wind and sun. They do offer snacks, sodas, fruit juices, and bottled water though. Overall, if you don’t mind (or are not afraid) to sit on the side of a speeding raft, this is the best way to come close and personal with real whales.
Zodiac Raft Whale Watching Adventure is awesome because:
- It’s an adrenaline-filled ride on the side of a full-speed raft.
- The raft can get super close to the whales, so you can experience them flapping and jumping very close by. They even swim under the raft.
- The guides are professional, safety oriented, and have a lot of information about the wildlife in the area.
- There are opportunities to see other wildlife like turtles and dolphins.
- They offer non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, but you do need sunscreen and wind protection including a good hat.
- This is one of the longest tours available.
#5 (OAHU) West Oahu Whale Watching & Sunset Cruise
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes (approx.)
Address: Waianae Small Boat Harbor, 85-491 Farrington Hwy, Waianae, HI 96792
Is there anything more romantic and relaxing than the perfect Hawaiian sunset on the open ocean and majestic shale families splashing around you? For us this was it! And it was an incredible experience altogether.
They have a shuttle service available from Waikiki (they pick up from almost every major hotel on the beachside), so we took advantage and arranged pickup by email. The catamaran was very spacious and comfortable with great seating for viewing the animals.
In fact, we were able to see many whales, tuna fish, a group of dolphins, and even two turtles. Of course, we saw this thanks to our expert guide who spotted everything in time (which made for great pictures). The highlight was a mother humpback whale and her baby calve. They were surprisingly playful, and I found the scene charming. The mother even blew a spout in the air.
The other plus was the stunning fiery sunset in all directions. No matter where I looked it was stunning. Including the evening shoreline which was starting to be lighted for the evening. Take many, many pictures, as I did! As I said this was super romantic and it wasn’t overcrowded so we could enjoy the experience. They offered snacks, juice, and water during the trip.
Don’t miss out on the West Oahu Whale Watching & Sunset Cruise because:
- They offer shuttle service from most beachside hotels in Waikiki.
- The whale watching is done around sunset time so you get to enjoy a panoramic sunset view along with your tour.
- They provide snacks, juice, and water during the tour.
- The boat is safe and spacious.
- The staff is professional and well trained with a focus on safety.
- You are able to spot many whales, tuna, dolphins, and even green turtles.
#6 (OAHU) Oahu Whale-Watching Excursion
Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
Address: Kewalo Basin Harbor, Slip F28 – Hawaii Nautical – Honi Olani (Honolulu, HI 96813)
This is a rain-or-shine excursion run by professionals. It’s the perfect tour for adventure seekers looking to go out with experienced boatmen and crew. This tour almost never cancels, so make sure you dress accordingly and feel free to bring your own food or enjoy the complimentary snacks and juice they provide.
What I liked was that the boat is a monohull boat or catamaran, and carries a small intimate group out to the ocean. When we did the tour there were about 20 guests and plenty of space to move around for a better view. The staff was awesome and helped us spot whales, dolphins, and a few green turtles. I brought my binoculars for a better view, but we got pretty close to the whales. I took some great pictures.
The crew is very professional and knowledgeable. We got great authentic information about the whales and their traditions as they relate to the Hawaiian people. They do their best to help you spot as many animals, and enjoy the majestic whales of the region. If in some cases your group doesn’t see whales, you are welcome to come again for free at another time (we saw a lot of them, but I love the company policy). Some guests with us were there for their second try, and they were very happy.
The boat ride itself is also great. It’s a perfect opportunity to see the shoreside and open ocean views in a calm and fun environment.
Make sure to check out the Oahu Whale-Watching Excursion because:
- It’s an awesome opportunity to take a ride in a monohull boat or catamaran and generally admire the gorgeous shoreline and ocean views.
- On our trip, we saw humpback whales, turtles, and dolphins. But if you don’t see any, you can come back and try again free of charge.
- The staff is super fun, funny, and friendly. They also serve nice snacks and juice.
- Feel free to bring your own food and make this a lunch adventure or a boat picnic.
- The tours are done in smaller groups than some of the others available, giving you more space to move around for a better view and privacy.
#7 (MAUI) Lahaina: Maui Channel Whale-Watching Catamaran Cruise
Activity provider: Quicksilver Charters
Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
Address: Main Loading Dock, 675 Wharf Street, Lahaina, HI 96761 (across from Pioneer Inn)
I loved this cruise because it’s done on a double-deck power catamaran with great outside seating. We had amazing views not only of wildlife, but of the open ocean, beaches, and entire shoreside. It was a perfect wind in my hair experience and I took some breathtaking pictures.
We had a really strong guide that provided new and innovative information about whales that we did not hear about on the other trips. It was entertaining because some odd facts were added to the presentation.
We were lucky to see a mama whale and her baby calve. They were super playful and even did a few fun splashes relatively near us. We also saw some whale tail flaps and even dolphins on the way. But the highlight of the trip for me was the underwater hydrophones where we could hear the whales communicate with each other. It was so clear and distinct from what I had experienced on other tours.
We also appreciated the juice and soda available during our trip. You can also purchase alcohol, but do bring your ID. Make sure to wear sun and wind protection. If you are like me, you will be exposed to all the elements for the ultimate experience. This trip is wheelchair accessible, and the staff is super accommodating. So I highly recommend it for adventure seekers in a wheelchair.
Lahaina: Maui Channel Whale-Watching Catamaran Cruise is an awesome pick because:
- The underwater hydrophones allow you to hear wonderful communication between the whales.
- The staff is professional with great information and guidance during the trip.
- There are juice and beverages available on board. The views are amazing no matter where you sit and there are inside and outside options.
- The tour is wheelchair accessible and (stroller). The staff is super helpful and you can count on them to make the needed accommodations.
- On our trip, we saw whales (heard them communicating) and also saw dolphins.
#8 (BIG ISLAND) Kailua-Kona: Whale-Watching Cruise
Activity provider: Hang Loose Boat Tours
Duration: 2.5 hours (approx.)
Address: Honokohau Harbor, 75-5919 Alii Dr, # M2, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
This tour is available from mid-December to April and is run by great professionals and an amazing staff. It’s the crew that sets this tour apart because they go above and beyond to make sure you see whales. Our tour even ran longer until we had the perfect view of several whales splashing and playing in the water. Honestly, we even got pretty close to them.
In addition, we got to see some dolphins and two green turtles (or at least I saw two!) We were provided equipment so we could hear the humpback whales singing using a hydrophone. The sound was breathtaking and majestic. It was just as stimulating as actually seeing the whales.
The tour lasted a little over two and a half hours. Snacks and juice and water were provided. Overall it was a comfortable and fun ride. There are so many opportunities to enjoy the views from each side. I took some top-notch pictures of the whales, dolphins, and shoreline as we approached the bay. I feel this trip is underrated and a great value. Make sure to check them out on the Big Island.
Kailua-Kona: Whale Watching Cruise is one of my top picks because:
- They provide a high-quality tour with incredibly experienced staff and guides.
- They are known to extend the tour to help you catch a few more glimpses of the majestic giants known as humpback whales.
- There are good chances you will also see dolphins and turtles on your trip (bring binoculars).
- The tour and boat are not overcrowded and overrun by tourists. So you can enjoy a peaceful adventure away from the beaches and tourists.
- The staff and general service are top-notch and professional. They focus on safety and are well organized.
Hawaii is famous for its humpback whale populations having fun in the warm waters during the winter. The incredible creatures reach over 50 feet in length and can be over 45 tons heavy.
The best and guaranteed way to see these incredible creatures (and their young) is to book a whale-watching boat tour. This will assure that you get safe, professional treatment with a lot of amazing firsthand information about these creatures and more. As a bonus, you will probably spot some dolphins or turtles as well.
So no matter on what island you are vacationing (Maui, Oahu, Big Island, or Kauai), there are top-notch tours to give you the perfect experience (whether you prefer a morning tour with local coffee freshly brewed or a cocktail in your hand!)
Make sure to carefully check out this list and find the tour that suits you best. If you are lucky you can do more than one. They are all well worth it!
Which Hawaii Island has the best whale watching?
All the well-known tourist islands of Hawaii have great whale-watching opportunities during the winter season. Rest easy, no matter if you are on Oahu, Maui, Big Island, or Kauai, you have great opportunities for wildlife exploration out at sea. Common animals seen during the whale-watching tours include humpback whales, dolphins, green turtles, and even a shark sometimes. The biggest concentrations of humpback whales are usually found in Maui or Kauai. But they are abundant on the other islands too. Check out my list of the best whale-watching tours on each island.
What month is best for whale watching in Hawaii?
The best months to go whale watching in Hawaii are the winter season and a few months before and after. I would say October through March is the time we see most of the whales being active (including jumping out of the water, tail throwing, and making Pectoral Slap). In Maui, the official whale-watching season starts around December 15th, but whales can be seen way before that. The best way to ensure seeing these gracious giants is by booking a whale-watching tour. That way professional captains and guides will take you to the perfect sports to see not only whales but sometimes dolphins and turtles too.
Where is the best place in Hawaii to see the whales?
Hawaii is famous for its humpback whale migrations and they can be seen on every island. Professional whale-watching tours have mastered the locations to help make sure you see as many giants, gentile, and majestic whales on your tour (and sometimes other animals too). Many would agree that Maui is the best place to spot whales, especially the narrow area between Maui and the small islands of Molokai and Lanai. Other great spots include Oahu’s side overlooking Leahi or Kauai’s South and North Shores. No matter what island you are on, there is a great spot.
Last Updated on April 20, 2023 by Brigitte