Advice for Hawaii - Big Island

I’m going to Hilton Waikoloa Village in the middle of April…just the wife & I are going. We’ll be there about a week. The deal includes a rental car & $100/day voucher for the few restaurants that they have at that location.

We’ve scheduled/ordered tickets for a Luau…that’ll take up an evening.

One of the other days will be spent hiking up to the volcano national park on the opposite side of the island (~2 hr drive).

Otherwise, wife is interested in Shopping, Kayaking, & Snorkeling.

Wife has mentioned “swimming with dolphins” & “helicopter ride into the volcano” but I’m not interested & she agrees that it wouldn’t be worth the expense.

Certainly, there will be “beach time”.

FWIW, we’re both introverts & infrequent alcohol drinkers (though, I expect a drink or two per day may occur).

Any advice/suggestions? Things that should be ordered/reserved ahead of time?

I have no advice, but am subscribing because my next trip to Hawaii will be to the big island. I’ve been to Kauai and Maui.

We spent two nights at volcano national park, and both hiked and drove around the area for about 2 full days. Well worth it, even though the volcano was quiet at the time. It has a good gift shop, too.

Hilo has a great farmer’s market, but it’s not every day, and it’s the wrong side of the island for you.

I’ll look up other stuff we did.

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We enjoyed a Whales and Cocktails whale watch. Was not overly alcohol centric

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We stayed at that hotel briefly a few years ago. It’s a large property with various buildings connected by a tram. Depending on where you are, waiting for the tram, riding it to the main building, walking to get to your car… it takes a long time.

The breakfast at the hotel is a buffet plus made-to-order omelettes. It’s pretty solid and I recommend that.

The hotel has its own lagoon with turtles. There are also captive dolphins on the property, we saw them but didn’t pay to do the experience because they are captive, but you do you.

If you just want a nearby beach, Hapuna and Waikoloa are both quite nice. Hapuna is softer, whiter sand. Waikoloa is coarser with some volcanic rock, it’s a great sunset.

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My wife loves Hawaii as a result I have been multiple times. Kona side of the big island is hands down my favorite.

I highly recommend driving out and getting food at Broke Da Mouth Grindz

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We loved Ponds Hilo Restaurant in Hawaii - not too pricey, native singer serenaded the place, koi pond.

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I have never been to Hawaii. I’d like to go someday.

I will add 2 cents about my experience with “swim with the dolphins” which occurred for me in Ocho Rios Jamaica, mon.

It was me, wife, 2 teenage kids. It was expensive. At least $500 total and it was several years ago. You put your swimsuits on, and they usher you over in a single file line in a group of 35 or so, and you got into the lake/lagoon, where they had an underwater sidewalk about 4 feet under the surface. You all lined up on the sidewalk, and they send a dolphin by you about 3 or 4 times, so you could touch the dolphin, but for less than 1 second on each pass. They are soft and smooth. Then they have the dolphin side up to each person individually where the dolphin does his trick of pushing it’s front half vertically out of the water for 2 or 3 seconds while you stand next to it, thus making a photo opportunity for each person in the group. I ended up buying the photo package and a few souvenirs, so the whole experience dug me for about $700, for essentially about 30 seconds of collective time with the dolphin.

I felt it was interesting and a one of a kind thing, but way overpriced and kind of a tourist trap. It seems like a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but it turned out to be a little cheesy. We spent most of the time waiting around, then having directions yelled our way, then flash & it’s over. I also felt a little bad for the animals that were confined to this lagoon 24/7. Lagoon couldn’t have been more than 1 acre.

I won’t ever try this again. Anyone else ever try this outside of Ocho Rios and have a better experience?

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Many years ago we did a dolphin thing, I think at Sea World. It was billed as swimming with dolphins, but was also kinda standing in a pool with dolphins swimming up to us. My recollection is that it was a little less structured than what you describe, and we didn’t buy photos. The dolphins feel neat. I think we had as much time to touch them as we really wanted.

But sharks also feel neat. My daughter had a field trip to a little local aquarium where they had a pair of small sharks in a tub, basically, and you could reach in and pet them. The sharks liked to be petted – they could easily stay lower than you could reach, but when hands went into the water, they noticed and came up to play and be touched. They feel all rough, like sandpaper. Dolphins are smooth and rubbery. All in all, petting the shark was a cooler and more memorable experience, as well as being a lot cheaper.

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Never been to the big island, but we did a shark cage in Oahu and that was awesome.

Did a Catamaran ride and that was boring.

Renting a stand up paddle board was a nice way to add some adventure to beach day.

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anyway, stuff I enjoyed on the big Island, some of which might not be everyone’s cup of tea:

  • Volcano national park.
  • snorkeling. DO go snorkeling. The reef was in better shape on Kauai, but there are SOooo many fish. And it’s just so much fun to swim around following the fish. We took a day trip on a boat. If you are only there for a week, I think that’s worth it, as they will take you to a lot of nice places, give a little background, and you just step off the boat into the water, there isn’t this awkward trying to get without bashing yourself on the racks part. :slight_smile:
  • Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (place of refuge) which is a historical site that I thought was really worth seeing. And it’s close to excellent snorkeling in the Kona side of the Island.
  • spending a day on a brand new, black-sand beach that was created when a recent lava flow destroyed a lot of property. And driving there, seeing the lava runs criss-crossing the environment.
  • Driving over the top of the island, on the saddle road. You go through a lot of climate zones, and it’s cold up there. There was also a protest of the big telescope, which I found sad.
  • Hanging around in Hilo, and going to a little museum of Hawiian history there. Buying weird fruits and other produce in the farmer’s market, and trying to figure out what to do with it.
  • Walking around the giant old banyans near our hotel.
  • Going to the botanical garden in the rainforest (near Hilo)
  • Visiting a coffee farm. (this doesn’t take long)
  • Walking inside a cave formed by a lava flow.
  • stopping at a roadside fruit stand, and paying tourist prices for fresh coconut, and a jar of passion fruit juice. The juice gave me the runs, but was worth it. I’d never had passion fruit before I visited, and couldn’t get enough of it when I was there.
    *eating breakfast on our lanai. We got a room with a lanai every place we stayed, and it was totally worth the upprice. We woke up early, and watched the sunrise as we ate breakfast every morning. It was magical.

For @ArthurItas , we were surprised by how much more value we got from renting condos than from staying in hotels. For a comparable price we had more space and a useable kitchen and were closer to stuff.


I also recommend Hawaii Revealed, or if you prefer, Big Island Revealed. It’s a travel guide series, and you can get the books or the phone app. Like other travel guides, it has its quirks, but I found it helpful.

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If you want to see a sunrise somewhere far from your hotel, do that the first night. You will be up at 2am anyway.

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I haven’t been to the big island, but that worked well for haleakala on Maui. I think it was about a 2 hour drive from the hotel on the west side.

I’ve been to HI several times. One of the biggest wastes of time for me has been eating. If you try to eat 3 meals a day at a restaurant, you’ll not only spend a lot of money, you’ll just feel like you don’t have time to do stuff. I recommend 2 large(ish) meals, one in the morning and then one more for early dinner, like 4 pm. This means you also don’t have to rush any daily activity, and you have plenty of time for an evening one too. Plus you’re staggering your time in the restaurant away from the rush.

You’ve already got your luau scheduled, that’s good. Also, plan to have one (or two) flex day(s) where you don’t schedule anything at all before you get there. Then you can either change plans or pick up something you didn’t know about before you got there, or you can just have a relaxing day.

Plan to spend a half a day or a full day away from the wife. Don’t feel obligated to do everything together. Sure, it’s a vacation, but maybe she wants to go shopping and you just want a nap for a few hours. Or you want to hike this dope-ass trail, and she wants to meet a new friend for mai tais at the hotel bar. Feel free to take time apart.

Like others have said, swimming (floating) with (near) dolphins is overrated. (Ours sounds more interactive than DP’s, we at least had opportunities for the dolphin to swim and pull us along or push us out of the water with snout [Superman Pose].) Helicopter rides are actually cool, though. I may still have the VHS tape from when we took one while on honeymoon. Probably much more worth your time and money than the other.

You can’t have enough sunscreen. Far better to come back without a tan than to be a lobstrosity ruining your experience for half the trip or more.

If you’re only going to be there for 6-7 days, don’t try to get to 2 islands. I think 8 days is the minimum for 2 islands, because it really is a full day to go from island to island with checking out (packing, trip to airport, etc.), travel, and settling in again. If you’re going to be there 8 or more days, also seriously consider breaking it up into 2 relatively equal stays on 2 islands. We once did a 9 day trip with 2 on Oahu to start and 7 on Kauai, which was not enough and too much, respectively. (Kauai bored us after 5 days. And someone was sunburned.)

Do a sunset dinner cruise. It’s pricier than restaurant dinner, and it’s worth it. If you can get one of the smaller boats (<20 people) it’ll be more intimate and less “touristy”.

When you take pictures with your phones, you always say that you’re going to print them out but you never do, do you? Buy some disposable cameras and use those to take your pictures. That way you’ll be forced to develop them when you get back. Don’t take pictures of your food.

Wear your sunglasses when you’re at the beach. Learn how to ogle the ladies out of the side of your eye, so your wife doesn’t catch you looking. (Well, let her catch you looking once or twice, but not at the neck breakers, so you can be noted for the rest of the time for how good you’re being.)

Don’t buy the timeshare.


I went to the big island about 25yrs ago.

We did a hike out on the volcano at sunset and watched the lava flowing into the ocean. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Not sure if that hike is available these days.

Also went down to South point. It was wild looking out over the ocean and realizing that the next land you’d find would be Antarctica. Also a green sand beach down there. A bit of a hike to get to but it was really cool.

Also if you can, find a breakfast spot right next to the ocean on a sheltered bay. Every time a wave breaks on the shore it will look like a giant fish tank. Definitely go snorkeling.

Someone mentioned banyan trees. Those are amazing as well.

Have fun!

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I second this, although i haven’t done it in the big island. I’ve taken a helicopter ride over the grand canyon, and over Kauai, and both were highlights of their respective trips. Kauai has the most incredible topography I’ve ever seen, though.

Wow. We were there for a week, and i really want to go back and spend 3 weeks there.


Yeah, I would “third” the helicopter ride comment. Hubby & I did a helicopter ride over the waterfalls of Molokai and it was pretty amazing. As a bonus, we were there in February and also got to do some whale-watching via helicopter. It’s pretty different from whale watching via boat and equally cool, maybe even cooler.

I’m not sure how many whales will still be there in mid-April. I think they’ll mostly (maybe entirely?) be gone by then, having had their babies and being quite hungry as there’s no food for them in Hawaii. So they’ll be heading back up to Alaska where they eat all summer long before heading back to Hawaii in the fall to have more babies. But I’m not entirely certain of the season so you might still catch a few. And whale watching in the Spring is the best because you get to see the babies. Watching a mama whale teach her calf how to smack its tail against the water and scare off (non-human) predators is quite a sight, especially from the air. Then the calf practices and then mama demonstrates again so calf can perfect its technique.

But the waterfalls were pretty cool too. :sunglasses: The helicopter ride would have been worth it just for that.

If you were on a tight budget it’s not must-do by any means, but if you’ve got the money I’d spend it. I’d rather pay for experiences than stuff and it’s quite an experience.

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We bought “reef safe” sunscreen in Hawaii. It’s widely available there, and it’s the sort of thing that is a disaster if it breaks open in your luggage.

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