For Oahu snorkeling I think the boat snorkel and dolphin tours are the best way to experience underwater wildlife. If boats aren't for you and you would prefer to go some of the best snorkeling spots on the island then Hanauma Bay is popular and I recommend Shark's Cove on the north shore. Learn more in this article that I wrote about the best Oahu snorkeling beaches.
Use the Go Oahu card to get free transportation and/or snorkel gear to use at Hanauma Bay and free snorkel gear on the north shore.
However if you would prefer to see dolphins in a controlled environment and have an absolute guarantee that you will be able to interact with them then I would suggest Sea Life Park. Read here to learn more.
Available predominantly on the south and western shores I think the west side is the best place to if you're up for the trip from Waikiki. If staying in Waikiki is preferable and more convenient then you can still experience snorkeling without having to commute very far or commit half your day.
In this case I suggest the snorkel cruises that you can board on the beach in Waikiki that go out to Turtle Canyon, about 15 minutes off-shore.
Turtle canyon is a feeding station of coral out in the ocean that the turtles use to feed and clean themselves. One turtle will pull in, do his thing and pull out and another turtle goes in and does the same. Snorkel gear and instruction are provided and you have the option to do a sail with or without lunch.
There is a breakfast sail as well. The whole trip is under a couple of hours and is very affordable. The Hilton has the company Port of Waikiki Cruises and they give you a brand new unopened/unused snorkel that is yours to keep. I know them very well and they run a very good operation and the customer service is phenomenal.
Book a Snorkel Tour Below
Aquatic Eco-Tour (boat docked in front of Outrigger Reef Hotel on the Beach)
Oahu Spirit of Aloha Hilton Reef Snorkel(boat docked in front of Hilton Hawaiian Village; brand new unopened snorkel for you to keep)
Oahu Spirit of Aloha Lunch Snorkel Sail(same as above (Hilton) but includes lunch)
Bike, Hike, Sail & Snorkel Tour (value combo)
(Roll Over Thumbnails to See Photos)
Big Turtle Underwater With Fish
If you're up for a larger snorkeling adventure then I recommend going to the west side because it is remote and relatively untouched. Dolphins are also in abundance and come right up to the boats.
I actually feel like I'm on an island when I'm snorkeling over there because all I see is the pristine backdrop of the green, lush Waianae mountain coastline.No buildings, high rises, hotels or skyscrapers.
You might only see 1 or 2 other boats around as you enjoy the silence and being able to see for miles in either direction. Generally speaking, I don't know why, but the dolphins know the different boats by their motors and are attracted to it. They'll come around the boat and just hang out swimming in pod formation but around the boat.
Also expect to see tiger-striped fish and other varieties of species as well. The water is as crystal clear and warm (78-83 degrees) as you can imagine and goes to a depth of about 30-40 ft.
These are 3.5 hours and include a buffet lunch. They leave either 6:30am ish or 10:30am ish
On these cruises you'll be served a buffet lunch on board and be provided snorkel gear, fins, lifejackets and instructions how to use it all.
They make the best effort that they can to ensure that you see dolphins. The dolphins might decide to come near the boat or not.
Ko Olina Dolphin Watch & Snorkel - Oahu Dolphin Snorkel Sail (choose the larger boat)
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Hoku Nai'a Dolphin Watch Lunch Cruise & Water Park Adventure
If you just want to view dolphins but not get wet or have older or less abled people with you or very small children then I suggest one of the larger commercial catamarans with multi-levels, tables, observation decks, etc. This is a dolphin watch
Last but not least is the small power boat. This is ideal for some of the best of Oahu's snorkeling. I recommend this for people who want to do hardcore snorkeling and "swim" with dolphins.
The boat is too small to eat on so they save that until you get back to shore but you can bring beverages on board. What's cool about this excursion is that you'll get to snorkel about 2-3 times in different spots.
In addition to being able to watch lots of dolphins they'll place you in the water very near where the dolphins are hanging out and have do a dead man's float on your belly so that you can see the dolphins swimming by you and underneath you.
This is REALLY AMAZING. You have to be quiet as a mouse and not move or you'll scare them away but it's incredible to have all of this wild beauty right at your fingertips. I rate this high on my list of the best experiences I've ever had in Hawaii!
Ko Olina Dolphin Watch & Snorkel - Oahu Dolphin Snorkel Sail(choose the smaller boat)
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