Lahaina, Maui: Riding the Atlantis Submarine

One of my few "must-do" activities during our recent trip to Maui was a submarine ride in a submarine that actually submerged. It was outstanding!

If you've been to Maui, Oahu, or the Big Island, you may have seen a number of rides that look like submarines. Unfortunately, they're not all genuine submarines in the sense that they actually dip beneath the water's surface. Some have superstructures that merely look like submarines, but on which guests sit just below the waterline and look out into the ocean. Those "semi-submersibles," as they're called, provide views just a few inches below the ocean's surface, which limits the marine life and other features they are able to see.

Among those that actually submerge are the vessels operated by Atlantis Submarines.

Atlantis Submarines was started in 1985 and, in 1986, launched Atlantis I, the world's first public-passenger submarine, in Grand Cayman. Since then, the company has launched and operates several more, including the 64-passenger, 100-foot-long Atlantis XIV (14), which operates off Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, and is currently the world’s largest passenger submarine. Since its founding, the company has carried more than 11 million passengers.

The vessel in which we rode off Maui is one of the company's 48-passenger submarines.

The full experience takes about 1-1/2 hours, including the trip on the tender from the dock to the open water where you'll catch the sub, then back again. But with nearly an hour beneath the surface, it's well worth it.  This brief video can't begin to capture the experience but if it's enough to whet your appetite, it will have fulfilled its purpose.

As fascinating as it was to dive to 132 feet beneath the surface, drift by reefs, see a barracuda in the open, and ease by a shipwreck, our guide played a large part in making the trip fun. She was entertaining and engaging, with just enough sarcasm in her humor to keep guests listening for what she might say next.

Once we dived below the surface, however, it became clear this lady was more than a cute face with a sharp tongue; she obviously knew her stuff! She called out the names of the fish we were seeing, told us about them and their special characteristics, and immediately recognized any unexpected marine life that came into our view, like the aforementioned barracuda. That type of knowledge doesn't come from reading flash cards; it comes from knowing -- and caring about -- your subject, and it was obvious she did both.

The ride is not inexpensive but this is a real submarine ride in the open Pacific, not an amusement ride at Disneyland. The regular price for adults (13 years and older) is $109 and kids, who must be at least 36" tall, are regularly $45 though specials are sometimes offered through the website,, or at kiosks that sell tickets to various attractions at a discount.

Passengers will have to independently navigate a nearly vertical 10-step ladder into and out of the submarine, so there are some modest limitations. Ask before purchasing if you're unsure.

Bottom line: Find a price that makes you happy, but absolutely do not pass up this opportunity!

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Video and photos by Carl Dombek