Swim with Dolphins on the Big Island: Dolphin Quest Review

Are you looking for things to do in Kona with kids? Keep scrolling to find out where to swim with dolphins on the Big Island and why it’s a top thing to do on the Big Island with kids, teens, and even adults.
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Are you looking for a unique adventure to do on the Big Island with your family?

Our family recently did a dolphin experience through Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Kona. It was incredible!

In this post, I’ll share our experience with a 5-year-old and give you tips to plan the ultimate Kona dolphin swim.

You can read about our amazing day below! And if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii soon, be sure to check out my other posts on things to do in Kona or where we stayed while visiting the Big Island. We hope it helps inspire your next Hawaiian getaway!

Keep scrolling to learn more about swimming with the dolphins in Kona!

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Hawaii blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting the Big Island.

Popular Big Island Tours/Activities

Favorite Big Island Resorts/Hotels

Want to skip all the planning and just access my detailed Big Island Itinerary complete with daily schedules, kid-friendly activities, and travel hacks? Click the button below.

Swimming with Dolphins in Kona FAQs

Where is the best place to swim with dolphins on the Big Island?

If you’re looking for a dolphin experience on the Big Island, Dolphin Quest is your best option. The laws in Hawaii recently changed (in September 2021) and boats need to keep at least 50 yards away from spinner dolphins.

Do you need to stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to do Dolphin Quest?

Nope! We stayed at a different Kona hotel and had no problem doing Dolphin Quest on the Big Island. Their programs are open to tourists and residents no matter where they are staying.

How far in advance do you need to book Dolphin Quest?

You’ll definitely want to have a reservation. If you know you 100% want to do it (maybe it’s on your Hawaii bucket list) then book it as soon as you’ve booked your trip. Otherwise, you can usually wait until a month before your trip. However, you’ll want to book sooner if you are traveling during Hawaii’s high season.

What is Dolphin Quest?

Dolphin Quest is an organization that offers hands-on experiences with dolphins in Hawaii (Oahu and the Big Island) as well as Bermuda. The company is owned by marine animal veterinarians who put dolphin health as a priority.

All of their programs are pretty intimate (usually only 5-6 people) and instead of keeping a rigid format, they keep it pretty organic.

On their website, they say, “At Dolphin Quest we believe that a dolphin encounter should be the beginning of a love affair with one of the earth’s most amazing creatures.”

Plus, a portion of all proceeds goes towards marine conservation, education, and research.

Where is the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort?

The Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort is located about 40 minutes north of Kona in Waikoloa Village. It took us 45 minutes to drive there from the Royal Kona Resort on Ali’i Drive.

It’s a total resort community with other hotels and condos nearby, plus a few shopping centers, restaurants, and even a movie theater. You can read my honest Hilton Waikoloa Village review HERE.

The Hilton Waikoloa Village Dolphin Quest is a little tricky to find. Once you park at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, you’ll have to walk through the resort and around the pool area to find Dolphin Quest. They recommend allowing 30 minutes to do this.

Why Did We Choose Dolphin Quest?

Over the summer, my oldest son swam with dolphins on Oahu through Dolphin Quest with his cousins. He had a blast and my husband (who also did it) kept remarking on how well run the program was.

Image of kids wearing life jackets sitting on a bench facing the water.
Patiently waiting to swim with dolphins in Kona. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

So, when I realized there was a Dolphin Quest on the Big Island, I figured it would be perfect for my 5-year-old. I knew swimming with dolphins in Kona would be an incredible experience for him.

I love that he was able to do the Kids Quest option, which is for kids ages 5-9 who are comfortable going into the water on their own. I’m not a water person, so it was great to sit on the side and just watch.

Honest Kona Dolphin Quest Review

I want to start off by saying that it really depends on the kid whether or not they have a good experience.

My 5-year-old changed his mind the morning of our tour and decided he didn’t want to swim with dolphins. After a long discussion, he agreed to try it for 10 seconds. It was a major struggle and it caused us to run late and we were both frazzled by the time we got there.

You can go swimming with dolphins on the Big Island at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Image of a boy using hand motions to communicate with a dolphin at Kona Dolphin Quest.
My son uses hand motions to get the dolphin to nod. Photo credit: Dolphin Quest

However, he totally rallied and ended up being in the water the entire time. He sometimes went closer to the shore or played in the sand instead of doing the dolphin activity, but he still got a lot of interaction with the dolphins.

I only tell you this anecdote in case you find yourself in a similar situation. Sometimes kids initially think it will be fun and then totally get nervous on the day.

My son was in a group of about 7-8 kids, which was a nice number. They had 1 trainer and 1 dedicated photographer. And they got to interact with several dolphins.

The trainer showed them how to move their hands to get the dolphins to respond. And they learned that dolphins have belly buttons and they used to have hair.

These are the things my son talked to me about the entire drive back to the hotel.

Image of a boy touching a dolphin's nose near a trainer.
Touching a dolphin’s nose in Hawaii. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

They also had lots of photo opportunities for individual kids and groups. So, if you want a photo of your kid with a dolphin, this is a great option.

Throughout the session, he kept walked over to me and giving me thumbs up signs and told the trainer that it was “amazing.” So, even though he didn’t participate in everything, he got what he wanted out of the experience.

During our session, there was also a session for toddlers and parents as well a family session going on. Every group was spaced out.

Tips for Swimming with Dolphins in Kona at Dolphin Quest

What to Wear

It’s easiest to arrive wearing a swimsuit. They do have restrooms there, but it’s just one stall and it’s probably more gracious to leave it for kids who need to pee. See our favorite UV swimsuits HERE.

You’ll also want to wear flip flops or sandals. Shoes come off near the beach or you can leave them with other family members.

What to Bring

You’ll need to bring your own towel. I brought a little Turkish towel and that was perfect for what we needed. I ended up wrapping my son’s wet swimsuit in it. But, you could also use a wet/dry bag or a separate bag.

Is the Photo Package Worth It?

Yes. It’s easy to go into sticker shock when you see the prices of the photos (2 digital photos is $55). However, this is already a pricey activity, so you might as well throw a little more money for these once-in-a-lifetime photos.

You can swim with dolphins in Kona at Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Image of a boy feeding a fish to a dolphin in the water surrounded by other kids.
My son feeds the dolphin. Photo credit: Dolphin Quest

Even if you are a photographer yourself, you simply can’t get these shots standing on the sidelines.

When you are done with the Big Island dolphin experience, you’ll head to the gift shop to check out the photos. It ended up taking about 30 minutes for our photos to show up, so you might pop over to the coffee bar or something if it seems like there’s a long wait.

Once you see your photos, you can choose how many you’d like to purchase. You can buy all of them for $155. This is what we did for the Waikiki Dolphin Quest because it covered our entire group of 7 people.

How to Book Dolphin Quest on the Big Island

We booked through Hawaii Activities because it was the cheapest rate I could find. You can check rates and availability HERE.

They actually offer a few options. We did the Dolphin Adventure, which gave us a 35 minutes with the dolphins. Kids ages 5 and up can participate in this one. Get more info about the Dolphin Adventure HERE.

There’s also the Dolphin Encounter, which gives you 25 minutes with the dolphins and it’s slightly cheaper. This is also for kids ages 5 and up. Get more info about the Dolphin Encounter HERE.

You can also do a Private Dolphin Swim for up to 3 people. Get more info about the Private Dolphin Swim HERE.

And you can always check the Dolphin Quest website to see any new programs they are offering.

Swimming with Dolphins on the Big Island Wrap Up

If you want to go swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, Dolphin Quest is the most popular option. They have locations at the Kahala Hotel in Waikiki, Oahu as well as the Hilton Waikoloa Village near Kona, Big Island.

The Big Island dolphin swim is sure to be a highlight of your Big Island vacation with kids.

Looking for more things to do on the Big Island with kids? Check out the Aloha Adventure Farm ATV tour, how to visit a macadamia nut factory, Royal Kona Resort luau review, the Kona Atlantis Submarine, how to find an affordable Big Island photographer, and the best Big Island luaus.