Updated: May 21, 2015

REVIEW: Reef Dancer Glass Bottom Boat in Maui:

Any trip to Hawaii wouldn't be complete without some snorkeling or viewing all the fish and sea creatures that live in the water. Yes, snorkeling is fun, but for younger kids it can be a hard activity to master. This year (December 2010), we venture to Maui and wanted to take the kids on a glass bottom boat tour so they could see the sea life in it's natural habitat and not just at an aquarium. My daughter is 9 and my son is 5 so they were looking forward to the boat tour out of Lahaina. My wife and I had done a little research on which glass bottom boat tour we wanted to try and we ended up doing the Reef Dancer America II which departs from the Lahaina harbor daily. We drove up from Wailea for the 2:15 PM departure and the weather that day was just perfect with sunshine and calm water. The calmer the water the better viewing experience you will have underneath.




What to Expect on the Glass Bottom Boat Tour - There are 2 types of tours available each day, you can do the 1 hour tours which depart at 10AM, 11:15, and 1PM or go with the longer 90 minute glass bottom boat which departs at 2:15PM. The hour long boat trip is roughly $35/adult and $19/kids ages 6 to 12. Our son road for FREE so that was nice. The 90 minute tour has rates that are $45/adult and $25 for kids. They ask you to be at the harbor area about 20 to 30 minutes early. We parked near the Old Lahaina park with the huge banyon tree in the middle. Off to Slip #6 we went - it was easy to find and they have a big sign so it's hard to miss. We paid for the tickets and waited for the previous boat to come back into the slip. One of the main reasons we decided on the Reef Dancer was because of the design of the boat. It's more like a submarine than the traditional glass bottom boats. You literally sit down below and have a full, surround viewing area as the vessel makes it's way. They take a quick picture before you depart and then you head downstairs into the underwater cabin for most of the trip. They have one employee down below with all the people and he/she narrates what you are seeing and then 2 divers are also out in the water and they bring different items up to the windows for you to see up close. We saw things like sea stars, sea urchins, and a few other creatures. Along the way you see fish, turtles and if you are lucky eels or an octopus (we saw neither of those). The underwater cabin is air conditioned and the seating was ample for us as the boat was maybe half full. If it was crowded it could be a bit claustrophoic for those that don't like cramped spaces. Our kids liked the viewing area and we saw plenty of fish. They provide a nice little brochure with all the variety of fish and sea life that you might see. After about 30 minutes down below we came back up to the top of the submarine style boat and sat up top where they provided drinks and snacks. They pretty much slowed the engines and we watched at the water surface for lots of turtles coming up for air. Great photo opportunities and during whale migration season you can even see those as well. The crew was friendly and very informative on any questions we had. The pictures I took from down below didn't turn out that well as the flash screwed up the actual photo. The viewing windows were clean, but photos don't come out too good. The Reef Dancer website is at http://mauiglassbottomboat.com/ and you can order tickets online (they want them ordered 1 week in advance). I have included a few photos below of the Reef Dancer to give you a better idea of the size and design of the boat/submarine.

reef dancer

glass bottom boat

lahaina boat tour

Glass Bottom Boat Tours from Lahaina:

Which tour is right for you and your family? We have also done a review on the Atlantis Submarine tour that leaves from Lahaina as well. These tours are heavily promoted in local magazines and in your hotel or condo lobby. Choose a day when the weather is best as that will help with the underwater viewing. Less waves and surf mean clearer water. Much of what you see is fairly consistent from tour to tour as fish are common everywhere you go. The "luck" part will be if you see things like eels, octopus, or even sea turtles swimmingin the water. We were lucky enough to see 2 sea turles from the underwater viewing area on the Reef Dancer. The water wasn't crystal clear, but we could see the little turtle swimming by the window area. Some people do get seasick and I was a bit queasy after an hour or so of bobbing in the water, so take a dramamine if you have to. Most tours are priced between $35 and $50 with some going beyond that. A nice alternative to glass bottom boats are actual snorkeling tours where you can get in the water and see all the fish and sea life up close without a glass window between you and the fish. Most tours you can book on the spot or a few days in advance. During heavy peak seasons you may want to consider an early booking to guarantee a certain day. If your schedule is flexible, just call a few days in advance when on the island. Check out our review of the Atlantis Submarine Tour here.



Where to Get Best Pricing on Maui Glass Bottom Boat Tours:

Nothing like being a tourist on an island like Maui. There are countless activies to do and with kids it can get expensive. There are, however, deals everywhere and you can bargain with some of the booking agents as well. When we set out to find a good glass bottom boat tour, we were way down in Wailea at the Grand Wailea resort. Unfortunately nothing leaves that region so we had to drive up north towards Lahaina for the best options. It's best to book in advance as many of the websites we visited (after the fact) showed discounted rates when booking online and in advance. Concierge services can help get you discounted rates. We also found that several of the magazines in the lobby area and in local stores have lots of ads for these glass bottom boat tours so don't worry if you haven't booked a thing before you actually arrive on Maui. Lahaina is your best bet in terms of competing boats and tour companies so concentrate on that area. We paid $124 for a family of 4 but could have saved at least $5 per passenger booking just by doing it online. That's $20 in your pocket which comes in handy when you need to buy lunch. We also heard some other vacationers talking about "how they negotiated" with the tour operators and received even larger discounted rates. When the boats aren't full they are often able to lower the prices at the last minute. It's worth a try since they know you are just going to go to the next boat operator and they may deal with you. Call in advance, get pricing, then work the negotiation if you feel there is room for it. Slow times of the year call for tourists being smart about where they spend their money.