If you want to see the real Hawaii, the Big Island offers the perfect blend of rustic experiences and top notch resorts. Discover your own Hawaiian vacation at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, on the Kona Coast on the island’s western side, the perfect blend of a family-friendly fun and tropical relaxation. There’s no real need to leave the property; though if you want to, there’s plenty else to do.
Family Fun on the Big Island: Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hawaii has long been my dream destination. Ocean breezes, swaying palm trees, a soundtrack of plucky Ukuleles and warm Polynesian hospitality. A Hawaiian vacation is designed to rub away the hardened edges of stressful life on the mainland.
And it works. We recently visited the Hilton Waikoloa Village when we were guests of Honda to drive the new Honda Odyssey. The mix of pampering, tropical gardens and beautiful vistas melted the stress away, even without a spa visit, though we could have done that too!
Hilton Waikoloa Village: The perfect setting for a family vacation.
The stark, lava-covered landscape of the Big Island surprised us as we drove from the Kona airport to the Hilton. The landscape was vast, rocky and black, tumbling from the hills to the ocean. I worried that the resort would look like this, too.
However, the lava fields end at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, a post-card-perfect Polynesian resort with lush tropical gardens and an open-air lobby. We were greeted with a fresh orchid lei draped around our necks and guided to check in.
How to Get Around at Waikoloa Village
Just beyond the lobby are a tram and canal that span the property, These are two great ways to get around and see the entire grounds. The tram takes guests from the Makai Tower and pool at the Hilton’s south end to the Ocean Tower and pool at the north end.
Or, for a more charming commute, take the canal boat from one end to the other. We took the tram only once, preferring to walk or take the canal boat. This is also a great way to see the whole property while enjoying the breeze and getting the inside scoop on what to do directly from the boat captain.
Book the best rooms on the property and have dolphins for neighbors.
The best rooms on the property are in the Makai Tower and face the dolphin pool on the lagoon side. (Enjoy a view of the ocean, too; $350+ per night.) And this might be the top reason to stay at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Here’s our periscope of the dolphins at play.
Here’s the scoop: The resort is home to Dolphin Quest, a dolphin experience and marine life research center. The 12 dolphins in the lagoon are at play day and night, putting on an impromptu show when resort guests line up on the dock or at feeding time. If your room faces the lagoon you can watch the dolphins play from your balcony. After watching the dolphins, we had to book a swim with the dolphins’ experience ($210 per person).
Seriously, the best rooms!
There’s hardly a bad room on the property ($250+ per night). The views everywhere are stunning—mountains, gardens and the lagoon. The property is expertly cared for and manicured, with hardly a palm frond out of place. No matter your view you’ll find it hard to look away — and that will make your Hawaiian vacation even more memorable.
And, the rooms were recently renovated at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Our room was spacious for four, had plenty of space for us to unpack and even with three women getting ready in the bathroom at the same time, we were fine.
The proximity to the Kona pool that the Makai tower offers is great, especially if there are slow walkers in your group. It’s a short walk to the pool, restaurants and the tram or canal boat.
Swimming with the dolphins—we did and here’s why we felt good about it.
If you’re wondering if swimming with dolphins is humane, we asked and felt much better when we learned more. The dolphins were all born in captivity—many of them at this property—and they swim with humans on a voluntary basis. That is, the trainers don’t command them to play or perform.
The dolphins also help contribute to research. Their diet and health are monitored and recorded and the information is shared with other facilities. This research is part of the baseline information that facilities use to know if wild dolphins and other marine life are healthy, and how to help when marine life is in distress.
At Hilton Waikoloa, it’s all about the pool.
While you can see the ocean from pretty much every point on the Hilton property, the heart of a Hawaiian vacation here is the pool. The Kona pool is huge, with a waterslide and waterfalls, a grotto, a hot tub, and sand-bottom kids wading pool, all in one long connected space. Find a towel desk under the rocks near the waterfall, a grab and go snack shop and a tiki bar, though we opted for chair-side drink service (the piña coladas were excellent, by the way).
The Ocean Tower has a pool too. While it’s smaller and a bit more sublime, it too has a Tiki bar, a water slide and a lazy river that connects the water slide to a chain of bigger pools. For those looking for a kid free pool, the Ocean tower has an adult-only pool, too.
When we checked in, we got a received a little woven bracelet to show to get our pool towels (though I wasn’t wearing mine all the time and the desk staff was super nice about it). But I think it’s more of a clever souvenir of the resort. My daughters haven’t taken theirs off yet.
Lots of food options make relaxing on property easy.
We spent much of our days by the pool and wandered over to the Lagoon grille for lunch to watch the dolphins.
At night we had a lot of choices: Pizza or Mexican, fancy or casual, all with local ingredients and Hawaiian flare. The first night we had Hawaiian pizza with barbecue chicken, mango and pineapples (and it was delicious).
Many families start each day with the Big Island Breakfast ($35 per person, kids under 5 free). Enough food to keep you full until dinner, this thrifty option for my budget includes the omelets and waffle stations and loads of other options on the buffet.
I only like to do a big breakfast occasionally, so mostly I got a coconut latte (with coconut milk and coconut syrup) at the Waikoloa Coffee Company shop in the Makai Tower and had a light salad for lunch.
Kamuela Provision Company—fine dining at its finest—truly.
This was a huge surprise; we love to eat and have raised our daughters to consider food as part of the adventure and joy of travel. We appreciate locally sourced foods, local recipes and try (almost) everything. So one evening we dined in the Kamuela Provision Company, the Hilton’s fine dining restaurant and were stunned: this was some of the best food we’ve eaten. Ever.
Perched on the property’s southern point and offering a perfect sunset photo spot, we expected the food to take a back seat to the view and sunset. But no, it was the star.
What’s on the menu at the Kamuela Provision Company?
We started with appetizers of dumplings, poké and salads, a perfect sauvignon blanc for me, a cocktail for my husband, and fruit drinks (from a huge menu of fruit drinks) for the girls. When it was time, we paused to enjoy the sunset, even leaving the table to go out on the lanai for a better view.
When it was time, we paused to enjoy the sunset, even leaving the table to go out on the lanai for a better view.
After the sun went down, we settled back in and shared bites of grilled local fish, lobster and crab cake, chicken and ribeye steak. The grilled mahi-mahi was delicate and delicious topped with pineapple, bok choi, and a Thai sauce. The roasted organic chicken was heartier with truffled potatoes, mushrooms, and green beans. And the lobster and crab cake was lightly fried and yummy.
But the best was the ribeye, locally sourced from Paniolo Ranch. The “cowboy” ribeye was lightly spiced, tender and perfectly cooked; every bite was a memorable one. I thought it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had; my husband, who is a steakhouse devotee, agreed. That is quite the endorsement.
Yes there’s a luau and it’s quite a show.
We went to the luau one evening, a lavish island tradition filled with food, fruity drinks, leis, history, music, and dancing. The show started with hula lessons for the audience, then the musicians and cast put on an elaborate show. Singing, dancing and fire throwing were all set to a tropical island beat.
Set in a conventional outdoor theater, this show is all about the history and showmanship of the entertainers. We arrived early for the buffet dinner of roasted pork and island favorites ($128 for adults, $70 for kids, 4 & under free), but you can attend just the show for a reduced price.
TravelingMom TIP: Dinner before hand at the Kamuela Provision Company and then taking in the show would be my choice.
Is there anything else to do here on your Hawaiian vacation?
For my family, the challenge of a resort can be that after a couple of days, we’re bored. We’ve exhausted resort activities and start to scour local listings for other things to do. While there’s a lot to do on the Big Island—helicopter over the volcanoes, visit local beaches, zip line through the tropical canopy, the Hilton didn’t run out of fun activities.
Here’s what we loved about our Hawaiian vacation at the Hilton Waikola Village:
- Standup paddle boarding, kayaking or paddle boats: a great way to explore the lagoon; rentals by the half hour
- Snorkeling: head out for a swim with the turtles and other local marine life (not the dolphins, however; they are in their own lagoon area)
- Golf: the golf course spans the resort’s northern border
- Walking and running: Trails span the entire property
- Star gazing: This side of the world offers unparalleled night skies; be sure to take a peek, or head to the Hilton’s tennis courts for a guided tour (sign up ahead of time)
- Fishpipe at the Kona pool: Kids can climb into this inflated ride and spin around for a few of minutes of shrieks and giggles (per ride charge or a multi-ride ticket book)
- Free lessons: Hulu, ukulele and lei making lessons are available several times a week; sign up at the activities center