A few weeks before we got to Hawaii on my 40th birthday trip, I started looking into possible island activities. After all, while most of our itinerary consisted of pool time and beach time, it was my first visit to the island and I wanted to see as much as I could while still getting plenty of R&R, which is how I came to Google: Is a doors-off helicopter tour in Maui worth it?
For context, I had been in a helicopter before. I took a helicopter through Glacier National Park, I rode one over an active volcano in Iceland, I’ve been in a few helicopters in Panama City Beach, but this was different. A doors-off helicopter tour sounded mildly terrifying, yet also right up my alley? So I booked it without hesitation.
What to expect on a doors-off helicopter tour
The day before our tour, we got a call from the operator Air Maui and were briefed on what to expect, as well as told to wear closed-toed shoes and that we would not be able to take anything on the helicopter except for a phone (more on that in a minute). They also recommend if you have long hair to tie it back in a braid or risk having to cut it out of a ponytail later. I took that advice to heart.
The following day, we arrived at the Maui airport in Kahului 30 minutes before our departure time. One of the employees checked us in, then outfitted us with a flight jacket and gave us a flotation device to strap around our waist and a set of goggles to put on once we boarded the vehicle. Air Maui also supplied us with a lanyard for our phones, as that’s the only loose item you’re allowed to take on board the helicopter since, you know, there are no doors.
After the safety briefing, they lined us each up and took us to the helicopter to board one by one. The aircraft seated a pilot and six passengers, and there were three couples, which meant each couple was given a “window” seat. SVV kindly let me have it since I was the one with the phone taking photos. We got in and took off.
The helicopter flight over Maui and Molokai
The first 15 minutes I was overly concerned with the fact that a seatbelt around my waist was the only thing separating me from plunging into the ocean below. There wasn’t so much as a grab bar to hold onto. I hadn’t been concerned pre-flight until the pilot told us, “if your seatbelt comes off and any point during the flight, just let me know and calmly put it back on.”
Given that the winds were strong and we were listing a bit, I wasn’t confident I’d be able to buckle back up before I fell out of the helicopter.
Spoiler alert: I did not fall out of the helicopter.
After I finally got used to the circumstances, the next 30 minutes were pure bliss. I’ve never seen scenery so stunning from so close. We passed over the West Maui Mountains and glided across the Pailolo Channel to Molokai with full views of Lahaina Bay and Lanai to our left.
Molokai is Hawaii’s fifth largest island and has numerous waterfalls that can’t be accessed any way but by helicopter. Molokai also is home to the tallest sea cliffs in the world.
As we came out of the canyon and floated toward the sea cliffs, we were greeted with a double rainbow resting atop the horizon. It felt very much like a movie moment, similar to the scene where they arrive on Jurassic Park for the first time.
On the way back to Maui, we were also able to see some of the island’s top sites like Nakalele Blowhole that we didn’t want to take the time—mainly, brave the traffic—to see by car, which was also very cool.
The touchdown at the airport 45 minutes later was smooth and seamless. I get pretty motion sick by most modes of transportation, and I felt fine on this helicopter flight.
If you are someone prone to motion sickness, you may want to put on a Scopolamine patch or take a non-drowsy Dramamine at least an hour before your flight as an insurance policy. Maui is extremely windy, and we lucked out that the one clear day on our vacation fell on the afternoon of our flight.
Related Article: How to Experience Whale Season in Maui
Should you take the doors-off helicopter tour of Maui?
You absolutely should take the doors-off helicopter tour if you’re able. If you want to experience the wind in your hair as you’re enjoying Maui from above but are mildly afraid of being on the edge with no bar for comfort, simply request an interior seat.
If the thought of a doors-off helicopter tour is too terrifying for you, but you still want a similar experience, there are plenty of other helicopter tours of Maui that I’m sure offer a similar vibe. This helicopter tour even lands at a waterfall!
I recommend booking a helicopter tour on the front end of your trip; that way, if weather prevents you from taking off, you’ll have a buffer for a make-up day. We did our doors-off helicopter tour on the fifth day of our 11-day trip to Maui.
The only real downside with the doors-off helicopter tour was not being able to take a camera. An iPhone is fine, but the photos never hold a candle to a DSLR or mirrorless. That said, enclosed helicopters pose the challenge of reflections, so honestly, both have their pros and cons.
Related Article: How to Take Better Vacation Photos with Your iPhone
What it costs to take a doors-off helicopter flight
Look, I’m not going to sugar-coat things: A helicopter ride of any kind is expensive. Was a doors-off helicopter flight in Maui worth it? For us, absolutely.
Maui is not a budget destination. If you’re planning a trip there, it’s likely you’re prepared to spend some scratch on experiences. Most helicopter tours on Maui start at $349. For the doors-off tour, we paid $387 each via Viator.
That said, while we were on 11 days, we only did two activities: whale watching and the helicopter flight. The rest of the time, we made use of the resort amenities or took scenic drives that cost nothing more than a quarter-tank of gas.
Would you do a doors-off helicopter in Maui or would you be too scared?