WAIKOLOA, Big Island When I was a little girl, my favorite TV show
was “Flipper.” Maybe it was Flipper’s inscrutable smile, or that
funny laughing sound dolphins make, or maybe I was just impressed
with how darn smart he was. So recently, when offered the
opportunity to experience a dolphin encounter, I jumped at the
chance. I’ve sat on the sidelines and watched other people wade
into the Hilton Waikoloa Village’s dolphin lagoon, but no amount of
studying or writing about the Dolphin Quest program could prepare
me for the thrill of finding myself nose-to-nose with these
Dolphin Quest runs a variety of encounter programs daily; some
geared to children, others to adults, and still others for families
and friends to enjoy together. I signed up for the 30-minute Adult
Donning an obligatory life jacket at the start of the session, I
overheard a participant bragging about his scuba expertise.
“Heck, I’ve seen plenty of dolphins in the wild during my
dives,” he said loudly. “I’m just doing this to please my
Splitting into groups of four or five people, we prepared for
our intimate encounter with the resort’s Atlantic bottlenose
dolphins. Three women and I gathered around an enthusiastic Dolphin
Quest trainer named Dawn, who kept the conversation lively as she
shared facts about these unique mammals and the environmental
issues affecting them in the wild.
After wading into the water, a silver figure glided toward us
and turned over on its back with a grin. It was our group’s
“Go ahead, reach out and rub his belly,” said Dawn. “He loves
Sure enough, as we stroked his stomach, which surprisingly was
smooth as soft leather, Shaka closed his eyes.
Dawn taught us hand motions that trigger dolphin responses, and
then let us try them out on Shaka ourselves. Talk about a rush. A
flick of my wrist sent Shaka off to the far end of the lagoon,
where he leapt majestically into the air. I floated on my back and
kicked with my legs together, while Shaka did the same maneuver
right next to me.
Dawn helped us explore the flukes, flippers, dorsal fin, rostrum
and other parts of Shaka’s body, while he patiently obliged. Then,
wearing snorkel masks, we floated on our bellies, thrilling to the
sight of Shaka speeding like a bullet underneath us.
Hamming it up for our group, Shaka demonstrated his musical
talents, clicking, chuckling and singing through his blowhole. We
each took a turn posing for the Dolphin Quest photographer with the
handsome beast, who then waved a fin and swam away.
Before getting out of the water we met Makana, a 10-month-old
dolphin born in the lagoon. Playful as a pup and half the size of
an adult, Makana threw water at us with his snout while his patient
trainer tried to teach him simple tricks.
The dolphin encounter was more than just splashy fun. Dawn
packed an impressive amount of information into her half-hour
banter. For instance, each dolphin makes a signature whistle, and
they can hold their breath under water for a whopping 10
Dolphin Quest emphasizes marine conservation, so there was
plenty of information about how we can do our part. Clients who
balk at the high price of a Dolphin Quest encounter should take
heart: a portion of the payment goes to the Pacific Marine Life
Clients of all ages get a kick out of Dolphin Quest, which
explains why it’s imperative to book a session well in advance. The
children’s programs pack lots of humor into the educational
For adults, the dolphins serve as an icebreaker. Participants
who come together as strangers share an amazing experience,
resulting in a natural bond.
The half-hour session went by too fast. We shed our lifejackets
and gathered around computer monitors for the instant gratification
of seeing our encounters as digital photos, available for purchase
Once again, I overheard the scuba-diving guy who earlier had
pooh-poohed the adventure. Within the span of 30 minutes, his
demeanor had changed from boastful to boyish.
“That was fantastic,” he said to his wife. “That just made the
Dolphin Quest Hawaii
Hilton Waikoloa Village
69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr.,
Big Island, HI 96738
Dolphin Quest opened at Hilton Waikoloa Village in 1988. The
Kohala Coast resort’s four-acre manmade lagoon serves as a model
habitat for dolphins that live, play and reproduce free from the
threats they face in the wild.
During 30-minute sessions in the lagoon, clients interact with
the magnificent marine mammals. Longer programs combine a dolphin
encounter with activities in the Dolphin Quest Seasational Lab,
where clients learn about conservation and the Hawaiian marine
Rates range from $130 per person for the 1.5-hour Dolphin
Discovery children’s program (ages 5-12) to $320 per person for the
four-hour Animal Training Adventure.
In Hawaii, Dolphin Quest is also offered at Kahala Mandarin
Oriental on Oahu.
Reservations for all Dolphin Quest programs can be made on-line
two months to the day in advance.