Boat Tours and Charters

Being on the water can be the best way to enjoy the Islands. Whether you want to see the fish in action or experience how they taste, there is a tour for you.

For a sailing experience in Oahu, you need go no farther than the beach in front of your hotel in Waikiki. Strung along the sand are several beach catamarans that will provide you with one-hour rides during the day and 90-minute sunset sails. Look for $35 for day sails and $49–$120 for sunset rides. Feel free to haggle, especially with the smaller boats. Some provide drinks for free, some charge for them, and some let you pack your own, so keep that in mind when pricing the ride. Or choose to go the ultraluxe route and charter a boat for a day or week. These run from less than $100 per person per day to over $1,000. .

Hawaii Duck Tours. These unique tours in amphibious vehicles take advantage of the ducks' dual means of travel by navigating the streets of Waikiki and then gliding into the waters of Waikiki Harbor. The tour starts in Waikiki and then travels on land to Kapiolani Park, Diamond Head, and the Ala Wai Canal. Then it's out to sea for views of Waikiki's famous beaches and landmarks from the water. Tours last approximately 75 minutes and run throughout the day and at sunset. On Friday nights there's a special evening fireworks tour. All tours start at the Ilikai Hotel. Illikai Hotel, 1777 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815. 808/988–3825; From $35.

Hawaii Nautical. With two locations in Waikiki and one on the Waianae Coast, this outfit offers a wide variety of cruise options including guaranteed-sighting dolphin and whale-watching (in season), gourmet dinners, lunches, snorkeling, scuba diving, and sunset viewing. Three-hour cruises, including lunch and two drinks, depart from the Kewalo Basin Harbor just outside Waikiki. (The company's Port Waikiki Cruises sail from the Hilton Pier off the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki.) For those interested in leaving from the Waianae Coast, snorkel tours are available from the Waianae Boat Harbor on Farrington Highway (85-471 Farrington Hwy.). Prices include all gear, food, and two alcoholic beverages. The dock in the Waianae Boat Harbor is a little more out of the way, but this is a much more luxurious option than what is offered in Waikiki. Both morning and afternoon snorkel tours include stops for observing dolphins from the boat and visit to a snorkel spot well populated with fish. All gear, snacks, sandwiches, and two alcoholic beverages make for a more complete experience. Pickup in Ko Olina is free. Kewalo Basin Harbor, 1125 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815. 808/234–7245; From $97.

Honolulu Sailing Company. With a small fleet of mono- and multihull sail and power boats, the Honolulu Sailing Company combines boat charters with sailing instruction opportunities. Itineraries include private chartered day or sunset sails or powerboating around Oahu as well as multiday interisland cruises. Nevertheless, these are all full-ship charters, so you need at least a small group to make them affordable. Kewalo Basin Harbor, 1125 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, Hawaii, 96814. 808/239–3900; From $350.

Maitai Catamaran. Taking off from the stretch of sand behind the Sheraton Waikiki, this 44-foot cat is the fastest and sleekest on the beach. There are a variety of tours to choose from, including a sunset sail and a snorkel excursion. If you have a need for speed and enjoy a little more upscale experience, this is the boat for you. Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815. 808/922–5665; 800/462–7975; From $39.

Makani Catamaran. This 65-foot Makani is the top catamaran in Hawaii for luxury, from its Bose stereo system to its LCD TVs to its freshwater bathrooms. It sails out of Kewalo Basin four times daily, offering snorkel cruises that include lunch, afternoon "fun" sails, "Honolulu City Lights/Sunset" dinner cruises, and Friday night fireworks-viewing cruises. Kewalo Basin Harbor, 1125 Ala Moana Blvd., Ala Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96814. 808/591–9000; From $75.

Star of Honolulu Cruises. Founded in 1957, this company's fleet includes two family-friendly vessels. The 232-foot Star of Honolulu, which casts off at Pier 8 in the Aloha Tower harbor (1 Aloha Tower Drive, downtown Honolulu) offers seasonal whale-watching as well as sunset gourmet dinner cruises with live entertainment. Some cruises even teach you how to string lei, play ukulele, or dance hula. Moored at the Waianai Boat Harbor (85-491 Farrington Hwy., Waianae, the 65-foot Dolphin Star catamaran, offers either dolphin-viewing or snorkeling cruises with optional barbecue lunches. Because of its size, this cat provides a comfortable way for three generations of family members to enjoy the water together. Transportation from all hotels on the island can be arranged. Honolulu, Hawaii. 808/983–7827; 800/334–6191; From $34.

Tradewind Charters. This company's half-day private excursions can include sailing, snorkeling, reef fishing, sunset dinner cruises, or whale-watching excursions and can accommodate from two to 49 people. Traveling on these luxury yachts not only gets you away from the crowds but also gives you the opportunity to take the helm if you wish. The cruises may include snorkeling at an exclusive anchorage, as well as hands-on snorkeling and sailing instruction. All charters are for the full ship. Kewalo Basin Harbor, 1125 Ala Moana Blvd., Ala Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96814. 808/227–4956; 800/829–4899; From $495.