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Frequently Asked Questions - Our Trips in General

What is unique about your tours, compared to 'everyone else'?

Our team of marine biologists share their life's passions with you; cruising and snorkeling in rural Hawaiian areas and educating the public while protecting the wildlife found.

We (and the animals) prefer the comfort, intimacy and safety of small groups, as compared to the "pile 'em on" busload atmosphere. Likewise, each charter is different than the day before, especially on our premier charters - we do it '"your way' maximizing what you want to do, and what that particular day has to offer - vs. a 'canned adventure'. Also, proceeds are donated to the Wild Dolphin Foundation to help conserve the animals that we encounter (as gently as possible) and their habitats.

What differentiates Wild Side Specialty's whale and dolphin tours from other companies - according to one guest's review, (out of the mouths of babes):

  1. Staff's passion, love for, and expert knowledge (marine-biologists!) about the marine life <seasoned, interactive interpretation vs. memorized factoids over a PA system>
  2. Attention to safety, including limiting the number of participants based on safety, quality, and respect for the wildlife encountered - rather than filling the boat to capacity.
  3. Willingness to understand and meet guests' expectations and requests
  4. Again, the small number of passengers ensuring comfort on the boat, as well as flexibility to make "on-the-spot" decisions in changing situations and personalized attention and itineraries.
  5. Quality over quantity, cruise to remote areas for better encounters and generally stay clear of crowded tourist areas.

Thanks for the useful review!

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What is the difference between the Best of the West and the Deluxe Wildlife Charter?

There are mostly subtle differences between the two. While both have the nearshore dolphin/turtle/snorkeling (and the seasonal humpbacks) focus, the Best of the West adds in the exclusive offshore journeys to experience the variety of year-round dolphin and whale species. The biggest draw is that being only six passengers (all age 12 or over) onboard the Best of the West is truly 'your trip, your way'.

The Deluxe Wildlife Charter, on the Island Spirit, is the all-age version of the Best of the West, sharing the ethics of personal service, and intimate encounters - maximizing the experience for both guests and the wildlife. The main difference between the two, is that the Deluxe Wildlife Charter does not normally go offshore, but sticks with the nearshore whales, dolphins and snorkeling. There are up to four more passengers allowed, but the boat is also larger, and more suited to all age groups and abiliities with appropriate educational props, trampolines to lie on,.wide stable pathways, and a drop down staircase (vs. ladder on BOW).

This Best of the West, our most popular cruise is how the owners and crew would (and do) take their family and friends out to experience Hawaii. On this tour, you not only have less passengers to compete with (4- 6 total), you often have no other tour boats. While safe and comfortable and plenty of frills - It is a more focused/tailored/personalized adventure and therefore the ages are limited to those over 12 .

After a morning swim on the Best of the West, Tori's infamous chicken sandwiches (possible vegetarian options) are served with local "grinds" such as pineapple, mango salsa, and macadamia shortbread cookies. The Deluxe Wildlife Charter has a BBQ lunch All charters include snacks (granola bars, fruit, etc.), and a variety non-alcoholic drinks.

All of our cruises share a portion of proceeds and/or boat space with the Wild Dolphin Foundation.

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frequency sighted chart PWF

What kinds of things will we be able to do and see on your cruises?

Our adventures give you the opportunity to observe, photograph, snorkel with and learn about the marine life here in our own backyard, the Pacific Ocean. We encounter green sea turtles, 18 different species of dolphins and whales, flying fish, rays, tropical fish, coral reefs, whale sharks and more. You will be part of an ongoing mission to conserve these marine creatures as data is gathered both onboard and underwater.

Swimming with dolphins Only in Hawaii and a few other places world wide, do opportunities exist to experience dolphins that are truly wild, not trained or hand-fed, but allow us to observe them of their own accord. Please note that as our coastal waters have recently been confronted with the global phenomena of "loving nature to death (e.g. Orcas in the Pacific Northwest)" we are very finicky about when, how or even if we will put people in the water with the dolphins. Please trust our judgment if wildlife encounters are better experienced onboard than in the water. We are usually also able to swim with turtles and other sealife.

Whale watching takes place year round (except for charters on the Island Spirit - only seasonal humpbacks on that boat) with interpretation by marine biologists, who are also gathering data on whale populations abundance and distribution on the islands that we visit..

Snorkeling Coral Reefs with Tropical Fish and Turtles


REEF surveys are also taken while snorkeling with the turtles and other tropical reef inhabitants to monitor the health of this diverse ecosystems.

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Are your activities ran as separate tours? If not, can someone request to do one specific activity?

Most often we experience all activities offered onboard each cruise. There are some seasons that are better for certain activities than for others. For example, big winter waves would lead to to potential snorkeling limitations and humpback whales are usually only seen in winter and spring months (there are other year-round whales).

Any of our vessels may be available to be chartered privately. The easiest way is just to purchase all 'seats''. If your party is six people, the Best of the West is already private! If more, the Deluxe Wildlife Charter will take up to 20 (holds 40, but that's more than we like).

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Do we need to be strong swimmers, wear life jackets, or wear wetsuits?

We are land based mammals attempting to be marine mammals, so there is a certain liability inherent in this activity. It is imperative that we be made aware of any medical or physical limitations of members in your party, preferably upon booking.

Due to increased visitation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have that magical one-on-one experience swimming with the dolphins. Behaviors are showing that with increasing frequency dolphins prefer and are more attentive to boats, then to swimmers in the water.

Your best experience may then be to stay on the boat, where you will be able to see the dolphins and their behaviors better, closer, and for longer amounts of time. Given that the dolphins are also very aware of any predators in the water, this may also be the safest route!

Dolphins are often better viewed from the higher elevation onboard. A few feet above the water can make a big difference, and aerial behaviors (spins, leaps, etc.) are always seen better from that elevation! The clarity of the water will still allow you to look down and effortlessly observe the dolphin's underwater antics from the deck or lying on the trampolines.

We do require that everyone who gets into the water wear a provided safety belt (the person in the picture at the bottom of the page is wearing one). We require them for safety and visibility (so we can see you). They are only an inch thick and about 3 or 4 inches wide. They do not hinder swimming since they fit around the waist rather than the torso, and water can pass between you and the belt without restricting forward movement.

That said, and if conditions warrant, calm and strong swimmers do seem to have the highest "success" rate with the dolphins. Those people who seem to have "animal sense"; are alert, observant, good at reading body language, and position themselves correctly (requiring less physical effort), also do well.

Dolphins generally avoid people displaying aggressive ("charging") behavior. There is an art to the method which is often hard to accomplish in the short 1/2 day time span available. If this is your "life dream" you may want to schedule a few trips to ensure (or increase your odds) that this is realized. Private charters will also give you more personalized attention, and less "competition".

Snorkeling at the reef is much less "rule" or physically intensive and equally enjoyable with the myriads of tropical fish and turtles. Floaters are welcome! We do all we can to make our passengers familiar and comfortable with snorkeling. However, the best bet is to practice snorkeling at home, the hotel pool, or even the bathtub (!) before you come. Your comfort level in the water will increase dramatically.

Because of the high heat output from the body during active swimming (such as with dolphins), a water temperature of 72 to 75°F is acceptable. With a lower level of activity (snorkeling), a water temperature of 75 to 80°F may be desirable. “Our” water is normally around 76-77 degrees in the winter and up to 82 degrees in the summer/fall.

Most people do not need or want wetsuits. However, a rash guard is always a good idea to both protect you from the sun and from any little "stingers" in the water. Wetsuits are also for rent at the boat harbor.

Are there age limits?

We do offer fabulous family adventures, and respectfully experiencing wild dolphins in their own environment may positively influence your child's future attitude and choices toward wildlife and natural resources.

However, the Best of the West has an age limit of 12 and older, while the recommended age of 7+ on the Deluxe Wildlife Charters are much preferred.

There are always risks involved in being on a boat, and those risks can be higher with an infant or younger child. As parents, we trust that you know and are competent to decide what is appropriate for your child, and are willing to take appropriate risks with their safety.

We strongly suggest that your read over our terms and agreements page, paying particular attention to the sections on inherent risks, and minor children. Please also look at pictures and videos of the boats to see how they are laid out and that your are comfortable with that. Also consider the temperament of your child and that if little one is happy and content, then so will you be. However, if unhappy, so will you and everyone else onboard be. Remember that there is no place to take baby “outside” for a while. While we have had many toddlers who have made our day out on the water, it is not always in the best interest of some. Only you will know if this will be a good experience for yours.

Should you decide to bring baby, we would prefer that you bring a tummy carrier along. It will allow the baby to be secure (and content) with one of you, and will allow your hands to be free to hold on to the boat. We do NOT suggest that you bring a car seat type of carrier or stroller as we have no way to tie it down and it may slide around. It is not a safe method of cradling baby while on the boat.

Toddlers will need to be on a parents lap or within arm's reach of parent/guardian at all times, including in the water.

Minors under 18 years of age must have a parent or legal guardian present onboard for all activities. Any youth attending a WSST activity as part of a larger function with parents/guardians not in attendance (a soccer team for example), the parents/guardian of the minor child must sign and send a WSST Risk Waiver Form with minor/s

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I don't want to be shark bait!

Did you know that "Jaws" is still rated the #1 scariest movie of all times? This movie has really given sharks a bad rap. Less than one shark attack occurs per year on average in Hawaii. This attack rate is surprisingly low considering that tens of thousands of people swim, surf and dive in Hawaiian waters every day. Despite these statistics, shark attacks remain an emotionally charged topic. Although the odds are mighty slim that you would even see one of the shy, elusive and fast becoming endangered creatures, here's some tips that may help you feel better.

"Sharks have always been feared since time immemorial and shark attacks can be terrible, but they are few and far between. The media greatly hype shark attacks and few people realize how rare they are... almost anything is more likely to kill human beings than sharks. " PETER BENCHLEY, author of "Jaws"

However, our ocean is home to sharks, albeit the fearsome predators are usually offshore and not near the areas we frequent. Local residents stress, "Anytime you enter the ocean, you just got lower in the food chain." This again highlights the reason that we don't guarantee swimming with dolphins. Imagine we see the dolphins acting somewhat sketchy (shark present?), but we have to consider giving money back, return trips, etc., over your safety?

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Is it hard to get in and out of the water?

Getting on and off the boat is fairly easy. On the Island Spirit we have a “staircase” type of ladder that we lower down between the pontoons. The angle is adjustable to ease the on/off process for the passengers. Below is a person at the bottom of the ladder looking up into the boat. You can see the angle is quite reasonable for most people. Our other boats have ladders similar to getting out of the deep end of a pool, they are not quite as easy as the ladder below.

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