Special occasions call for special trips. My daughter graduated from high school, and she wanted to go to Hawaii. It was our first visit to the Big Island, and our stay at Hilton Waikoloa Village helped make this graduation trip special for the family.

Hilton Waikoloa Village is truly a destination hotel and resort. You can stay on site and have plenty to do for an entire week. There are pools and waterslides for children; pools for adults only; and a saltwater lagoon where you can lounge, sunbathe, or swim. For adults, there is Kohala Spa. Children 10 years and older can learn about and encounter dolphins at Dolphin Quest. In the evening, there is a fire and dance show at the Legends of Hawaii Luau including an island style buffet for dinner.

This property is so large that both a tram and a boat are available to transport you from one end of the property to the other. It’s located about 30 minutes from Kona International Airport.

One of the highlights of our vacation was going snorkeling. We visited five different locations and spent one to two hours at each place seeing fish, turtles, and even dolphins. Before I continue, I highly recommend purchasing inflatable life vests. It will not only extend your time and enjoyment in the water but can also save your life.

On a separate visit to Maui, we were caught by a strong undercurrent and our flotation devices were barely adequate. On this visit, we spent up to two hours at one time in the water, and it felt like a short amount of time. Life vests allow you to float without effort and swim with greater ease. They cost about $25 and take up only a small space in your luggage.

The brand we purchased was Promate, and I took comfort that my two children had them on. (I have no relation to this company and receive no compensation.) We brought our own snorkels, masks, and fins but you can also join a tour company or find a local outfitter to rent them.

Here are three places I would highly recommend for snorkeling on the big island of Hawaii. Consider these based on the ages of your children, comfort level for adventure and time.



84-5571 Honaunau Beach Rd, Captain Cook, HI 96704

We chose all three spots for the opportunity to encounter dolphins. Go to Two Step in the morning when the water is usually calmer, and if you are lucky, you will find yourself swimming with dolphins. One of them swam right up to my son and let him touch it. What an amazing experience for him!

Two Step is easy to get to and into the water. You can drive right up to the narrow road along the beach and park right next to it. Parking is free on the street or pay $5 next door at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park for gated, secure parking.

For families with young children, there is an excellent beach with a shallow swimming area. Within a few steps are a few tide pools where we saw fish, sea cucumber, sea urchin, and even a green turtle. For more adventurous swimmers, venture out and and swim with the dolphins like we did.


Another place where dolphins are often spotted that offers easy access to the water is Ho’okena Beach Park. A local told me this location is not as well known by tourists and is a great place to encounter dolphins. Tip: You can try to spot dolphins at the top of the mountain at an overlook before driving down to the parking area and beach.


This snorkeling spot is a popular place because the bay provides shelter and calm waters to swim and a coral ecosystem to sustain a diverse sea life. While popular with plenty of marine life to see, the location is remote and also the most difficult to get to by yourself. There are three ways to get to Captain Cook Monument:

  1. Take a boat ride. This is the easiest option. The boating company provides snorkeling gear and will take you out to Captain Cook Monument to snorkel. The cost is about $88 for adults and $76 for children. Plan for about three hours including the boat ride.
  2. Join a guided kayak from one of three government authorized kayak companies.
  3. Hike 3.8 miles round trip on the Ka’awaloa Trail with a 1,300 foot elevation gain on the way back.

If you enjoy both hiking and snorkeling, this option is the one for you! It was a bit strenuous to hike back up the mountain after swimming two hours, but it was one of the more memorable activities we did. I suggest wearing hiking shoes and bringing snacks and water for this trip. If you choose this option, there is free street parking at the trailhead starting here. Enjoy!

After a long day of snorkeling, it was great to return to our home for the week at Hilton Waikoloa Village and enjoy one of the three pools outside our room.

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