Snorkeling with dolphins in the ocean // © 2011 Sunlight on Water
Children enjoy the Dolphin Quest Program // © 2011 Dolphin Quest
Maybe it’s that perpetual smile or the glassy sheen of its skin, but once you have come close to a dolphin, you will never be the same. Whether you get to know the playful creatures in controlled environments or you dive into the ocean and float around with them in the wild, these exceptional one-on-ones provide life-long memories and appreciation for one of nature’s most beloved mammals.
Hawaii is one of the best places on the planet to see dolphins, primarily bottlenose and spinners. Around the islands, visitors can often catch glimpses of the shiny swimmers during snorkel and scuba cruises, but for a bona-fide dolphin encounter during a Hawaii vacation, try one of these five highly recommended opportunities.
Hilton Waikoloa Village
In the pristine lagoons of this Hawaii Island mega-resort reside 11 dolphins including little Ipo, who was born on Aug. 20 of last year. Throughout each day, the marine mammal experts of Dolphin Quest lead interactive programs that connect guests with the gray beauties. Trainers teach visitors about what makes dolphins so unique, then give participants the rare opportunity to have face-to-face, in-water contact with them.
Kahala Hotel and Resort
Along with its Hilton Waikoloa operation, Dolphin Quest runs programs at this Honolulu resort as well. Six Atlantic bottlenose dolphins swim and splash in the hotel’s 26,000-square-foot natural lagoon, and guests can wade right in and get to know them personally during daily programs. Better yet, clients can feel good knowing that a part of their payment supports important marine education, conservation and research.
Sea Life Park
This marine life attraction on Oahu’s windward coast offers three options for learning about and interacting with dolphins. Trainers share an ocean-full of fun information about the friendly creatures, then they let participants get to know them up-close, from getting salty kisses to patting their bellies. During the Royal Swim program, two of the dolphins glide underwater as they push each guest across the water from the bottom of their feet.
Sunlight on Water
This eco-tour charter company based on Hawaii Island is owned by Michael and Melainah Yee, who run extraordinary dolphin swim excursions emphasizing respect for marine life. They have a knack for finding just the right spot to bring their guests, courtesy of their 25-passenger boat. After clients learn the proper procedure for entering the dolphins’ domain, they are rewarded with unparalleled underwater time with the pod.
Wild Side Hawaii
This high-quality, eco-friendly organization presents swim-with-the-dolphins cruises out of Waianae Harbor on Oahu’s west coast as well as Honolulu. It keeps the groups small to allow for intimate experiences in and out of the water. Its state-of-the-art catamarans feature drop-down staircases and fresh-swater showers. During the cruise, the expert crew shares fascinating insights into dolphin behavior and the best way to encounter them in their aquatic element.