Ocean Encounters is a multi-faceted marine tour outfit that is based in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. They offer private tours and are well-known for deep-sea fishing charters, but this specific review is for Ocean Encounters’s dolphin encounters and manta ray swimming adventures.
First things first, do not book with Ocean Encounters expecting to swim with dolphins. Do not book with any Hawaiian charter with the aim of swimming with dolphins. Any advertising materials that purport to offer swimming with dolphins are either false or old and have not been correctly updated.
If you went to Hawaii before 2021, then you may have experienced a swim with the dolphins charter, or at least heard of them. Ocean Encounters was once such a charter (you may have even booked with them previously). However, things have changed significantly over the last year. In September 2021, a new rule was added to the Marine Mammal Protection Act which prohibits the harassment of spinner dolphins. The specifics of this new rule are that no boat or person can come within 50 feet of a dolphin. This has effectively ended any type of swimming or snorkeling with dolphins activity.
That aside, Ocean Encounters does have some pretty exciting marine adventure opportunities. They also are incredibly well-equipped to send your group out into the ocean in style and comfort. The boat they use for all of their big adventures is a massive 46-foot motor vessel that features a restroom, upstairs viewing area, inside cabin, and plenty of shaded areas for those longer voyages across the ocean. Guests on snorkeling and swimming-related tours (which include both of the ones highlighted here) will also have access to a cleaned and sanitized wetsuit, snorkel, mask, and fins which will are kept on the boat.
The dolphin encounters through Ocean Encounters are now much more like whale watching tours. Your tour guide will take you on a marine adventure of some of the Big Island’s most gorgeous coastal waters. During this tour, they will work to get you close to lively spinner dolphin pods — as close as allowed by the new regulations. A half-hour to an hour of snorkeling is a to-be-determined location is likewise included.
The second big marine life tour offered by Ocean Encounters has become their most popular one — the Manta Ray Night Snorkel. The Manta Ray Night Snorkel is an evening snorkel that takes place at a dive site about 20 to 30 feet deep. You will take a short boat ride out and away from Kailua-Kona’s Honokohau Harbor until it’s the boat and the stars. Then, special lighting is used to attract plankton, which then attracts the graceful manta rays who feed on it. Once manta rays have been positively spotted, it is into the water with everyone to enjoy swimming in a one-of-a-kind underwater environment.
Before you book with Ocean Encounters for any big motorboat marine tour, there are some things to be aware of. Many charters, including Ocean Encounters, will not cancel in ugly weather. This means you may find yourself out in some pretty high-wave conditions, which can be physically painful due to boat jerkiness and nausea due to heavy rocking. Naturally, this is not the standard for Hawaii’s ocean conditions, but it does occur. Anti-nausea medication or devices (like bracelets) are strongly recommended just in case, but especially if you book in the winter when storms are more prevalent.
Big boat experiences like those offered by Ocean Encounters can be fantastic as these boats get you out quickly to where you want to go and there’s a lot of excitement while doing so. However, they often also hop from one location to the next fairly quickly. For those interested most in snorkeling and don’t mind a slower way of touring, consider booking with a kayak guide outfit instead.