Hilo, Hawaii

D Shook
Our ship stopped here twice. First time we did the helicopter tour, mainly because we'd already been to Volcano Nat'l Park and orchid farms (I'd recommend the park over our 2 trips, but only if you've never seen lava fields before). We did the helicopter tour first. The first half of the tour with Blue Hawaii takes you over the lava fields and the volcano. While we saw a lot of smoke, we were disappointed that we did not see any actual lava, not even in the Caldera. It's a timing thing, so if that's your only reason for going, best to check with the National Park's web site on conditions before you go, and give a prayer to Pele. We stopped in Hilo for refueling, and of course, it was raining there. The 2nd half of the trip was much more enjoyable for me, seeing the whales in the water, and gorgeous waterfalls inside extinct volcanoes. That made up for missing the lava. One word of caution - whoever gets stuck in the middle back seat (2 people in front w/pilot, 3 in back) doesn't get a good view. The pilot has to approve any weight shifts, so if you want to change seats at the refueling stop, get his permission first. The video is worth the extra few bucks, especially if you were in the middle. It's taken from a camera on the bottom of the helicopter. The second trip, we did the tour to the observatory on Mauna Kea. If you have ANY trouble breathing, I wouldn't recommend doing this one. The altitude gets to everyone. One elderly lady didn't even get out of the van! The view is well worth the long trip, but I'd recommend switching window/middle seats on the way back down, so the person in the middle can see the view. You don't get very far inside the observatory, but then, you couldn't walk that far anyway. We all took turns sitting down, even after the long ride. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and made it interesting for us. I wouldn't take children under 12 on this trip, and even most teenagers might be a little bored. But if you like astronomy/technology and unique vistas, this is a good trip. Where else can you make snowballs in Hawaii? One final word of caution - Don't attempt to drive it yourself! Rental car companies have clauses prohibiting you from taking their vehicles there. The tour van is specially modified for the steep incline. We passed a couple folks who were stuck when their cars stalled, an expensive mistake that could cause you to miss the ship. Interested in becoming a travel agent? Follow this link to find out more. Home Based Travel Agent            

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