The Kona Coast offers an array of romantic and family fun above and below the sea. It is the only place I have found on the entire globe where you can do a night snorkel or scuba trip with the Majestic Manta Rays and a morning snorkel trip with a wild pod of Spinner Dolphins. So I brought my 12 year old granddaughter Tehea to celebrate her 6th grade graduation, and her dad Jacob to this magical destination. I chose the beautiful Sheraton Kona for our stay which is located one street away from the dock where the boats leave for both the Manta Ray and Spinner Dolphin snorkel trips.
We had a fantastic ocean view room with stunning sunset views. We all enjoyed the two large swimming pools including a small water slides. I loved soaking in the Jacuzzi after a refreshing ocean swim.
The breakfast buffet at Rays On The Beach was terrific. From the made to order waffle and omelet station, to fresh croissants, scrambled eggs, bacon, yogurt and fresh fruit . They have everything you could want from a breakfast buffet and you dine in this open air restaurant overlooking the ocean below.
At night Rays On The Beach offers fine dining and a view of the nightly boats that take snorkelers out to view the Manta Rays just yards off the Sheraton shoreline. Some nights you can see the rays while you dine as they swim in the shoreline that is illuminated by the Sheraton beach lights.
When you want to get out of the afternoon sun enjoy a game or two on a life size chess and checkers boards, or the air conditioned game room which features, pool table, ping pong, air hockey and other games.
The staff is friendly and efficient, we had fresh towels brought up minutes after we called down. The concierge told me about a local state beach five minute car ride away that had wonderful beach snorkeling with hundreds of colorful reef fish.
Sea Quest Hawaii is the company we chose to do our Manta Ray Experience. Just a three minute walk from our lobby and we were at the check in area at the boat dock. Sea Quest provides free wet suits although the water was quite warm, along with masks and snorkels. You don’t wear flippers for this experience. The groups are kept fairly small, 12-15 to a boat; And the boat ride is literally less than 5 minutes. Sea Quest Captains are licensed with the US Coast Guard and work to protect the sea life while providing you with a once-in-a-lifetime magical ray encounter.
The number 1 rule is do NOT reach out and touch the rays, but they can swim close and might brush your wet suit. It is unhealthy for them to touch human skin where we carry germs that can harm them. You enter the water and swim a few feet over to a floating platform with handles to hold into while you watch the rays below.
The platforms are equipped with bright lights illuminating the entire 40 foot deep ocean floor below. The lights attract krill (tiny shrimp) and the Manta Rays come to the light with mouths wide open to devour the krill. It was thrilling to see these large majestic rays do barrel rolls just feet below you in the clear blue water where you can see clearly all the way down to the ocean floor.
Often the rays swim slowly just an inch below the platform and an inch away from your face, making for a true up close exhilarating encounter. They don’t have teeth and their tail does not have a stinger, they cannot hurt you at all. It was one of the most exciting sea adventures you will ever experience.
We had everyone from honeymoon couples to families with kids on our trip. We all loved it. Back on the dock we were provided free drinks and snacks as we pealed off our wet suits. Tehea is only 12 years old and she will remember this fondly for the rest of her life. Sea Quest staff was great. They educated us on the manta rays and safely guided all through this magical experience.
The also offer daily wonderful early morning boat snorkel trips on the coral reef and hidden coves and even whale watching in the winter when the Humpbacks are here in the islands. If you have adventure in your heart and you enjoy the water this trip is a bucket list must. My advice is to bring your own go pro camera to capture some amazing video and photos.
We were up early the next morning to return to the boat dock to join Dolphin Discoveries. Our boat had a group of 12 total. Masks, snorkels and fins are free. If you do not bring your own there was one go pro camera to rent or several underwater disposable still cameras you can buy from the crew.
On the 20 minute boat ride the Dolphin Discoveries crew explains that large pods of Spinner Dolphins here on the Kona Coast head out to the open ocean at night to hunt Squid. The dolphins break into several smaller pods as they return to shore in the early morning and enter a rest mode where they shut off part of their brain while still swimming in a rest mode.
Dolphins always need to keep swimming if they stay still for to long they will drown. The state law and the boats number one rule is do NOT touch the dolphins. Soon we spotted a pod of 15-20 spinner dolphins and the crew maneuvers our swift moving boat 30 yards ahead of where the dolphins were headed. We put on our masks and fins and slip quietly into the water as to not scare the dolphins away with loud splashing. Moments later the dolphins come cruising by.
Some are on the surface next to us while others swim below us. After a few minutes once the dolphins get distance from our group we head back on the boat and repeat the process again. We had four thrilling in the water Spinner Dolphin encounters. You feel completely at one with nature swimming in the clear blue warm Hawaiian waters with these graceful dolphins. On our trip the dolphins did not jump out of the water and spin but I have seen them do that on my trip 15 years ago. So you just never know what they will do any given trip.
After enjoying some drinks and snacks back on the boat we headed on another 20 minute cruise over to one of the great snorkeling spots in Hawaii, Cooks Monument at Kealakekua Bay. You can only access this Bay by boat or kayak. This shallow bay is protected from fishing so the reef fish are up close and plentiful. A hundred beautiful Yellow Tangs were abound as I swam among them, along with a large variety of blue, green and red reef fish. If you enjoy snorkeling like i do you won’t be disappointed.
We had a full hour to snorkel here before we headed back to the dock. Like the night before this is a thrilling trip and a memory you and your loved one will remember warmly for the rest of their lives. Dolphin Discoveries also runs reef snorkel only trips and whale watching trips as well as our Spinner Dolphin trip.
On our first night we headed to the town of Kailua Kona, a 15 minute drive from our hotel. Here we enjoyed a fantastic Japanese cuisine dinner at Sushi Shiono Hawaii. This restaurant in the historic Kailua Village is one of three locations they have on the Big Island of Hawaii. The chef prepared a literal boat of delicious dishes.
We started with some Miso soup. From cooked dishes we enjoyed sharing a variety from Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables, to Furikake Chicken drizzled with a creamy dressing, and Beef Teriyaki. All three were melt in your mouth wonderful. We also loved our two sushi rolls. The tasty Hawaiian Volcano Roll consisted of spicy tuna wrapped in avocado then topped with special sauce and chopped macadamia nuts.
Lobster Tempura Roll made with Maine lobster tempura, cucumber, avocado, sprouts and tobiko. It was simply divine. The chef is a master when it comes to sushi. We were thrilled with the Toro, Yellowtail, and Salmon. Everything here is top notch quality.
There are also noodle dishes and dinner combination plates to choose from as well. There are a large selections of sake, beer, and wines to choose from. Save room for dessert, they will knock your socks off.
On our second day we enjoyed some fantastic beach snorkeling at a local state park. We worked up a great appetite and headed just down the road where we heard TJ BBQ By the Beach had the best ribs on the island and a local favorite.
Tender meat filled with flavor, its fall off the bone terrific. Going on their 6th year now owner Tim and his wife Joan (hence the name TJ) are up at 6AM slow cooking their BBQ Pork Ribs to perfection. They recommend you get there by 1PM because they sell out on most days.
They also make a mean Cheeseburger and homemade Cheese Cake. After a late morning snorkel this was the perfect lunch. Tehea loves shaved Ice and right next door was Gecko Girlz, the best shaved ice in Kona.
When you are in the mood for some tasty Chinese food in Kona the place to go is Ocean Seafood Chinese Restaurant. They have a dozen appetizers to choose from and eight different soups. The Egg Rolls were outstanding.
The dinner menu specializes in seafood and offers half a dozen Shrimp dishes as well as Lobster, Crab, Fish Fillet, and Abalone. We loved their Honey Glazed Walnut Shrimp. They also offer a nightly buffet, from which we enjoyed the Orange Chicken, Salt and Pepper (peel & eat) Shrimp and Vegetables in Black Bean Sauce.
There are fifteen different Duck and Chicken dishes, and a dozen Beef and Pork dishes as well. From the dozen noodle dishes we enjoyed the Cake Noodles with Vegetables. We ended the meal with some ice cream.
On our last day after a morning snorkel off the hotel reef we packed up and on our way to the airport we headed to lunch at Mi’s Waterfront Bistro, an Italian cafe with a stunning ocean view.
Enjoy the nightly stunning sunsets and in the Winter you can often see whales breaching. Mi’s Waterfront Bistro make all their pasta from scratch so we ordered the house favorite, Shrimp Fettuccine in Alfredo Sauce.
Alfredo is an American creation it did not originate nor is it served in an restaurant in Italy. I also enjoyed the Spaghetti in Bolognese Sauce, with hearty chunks of beef. And the Chicken Parmigiana Sandwich was really good as well.
Tehea finished the meal happily with a Root Beer Float, while Jacob and I shared a very good Lemon Creme Brûlée.
Whether you are a couple looking for adventure and romance or on a family trip head to the Big Island of Hawaii and explore the Kona Coast for a very memorable experience.
Photos by Mitchell Sacharoff, Jachob Lealofi, Sea Quest, Dolphin Discoveries, Sheraton Kona, and participating restaurants.