In my opinion, a helicopter tour is much more thrilling than any amusement park ride. The views are beyond description and there is so much to see. A helicopter tour in Hawaii is an ideal way to see the islands' cliffs, forests, volcanic shape, beaches and craters. One of the reasons I love Hawaii is the diversity of terrain, which a helicopter tour helps you see. Before you do that, spend time researching online options. Here are tips to help you choose the best tour.
Make a Safe Choice – Choose a tour that is certified as a FAA Part 135 Air Carrier. That means the operator is subject to higher standards than general aviation operators. It might also be helpful to look at the list of accidents by tour company. I hope this doesn't scare you off, but it is important to know there are risks in riding a helicopter.
Know the Seating Arrangement – Most helicopters used for touring have six passengers with a seating arrangement of two passengers in front and four in the back. Two people are going to be stuck in the middle seats in the back, with limited view. A-Star and Eco-Star type helicopters carry six passengers. The Eco-Stars are nicer than the A-Stars because they offer additional room, less noise and more window space. I particularly liked the Hughes 500, which seats two passengers in the back and two in the front. I flew with Inter-Island Helicopters on Kauai in a Hughes 500. It was tremendous.
When booking, request the front seats. They are the best, but bear in mind that seating will be based on the weight of you and your friend/partner. If you are taking a helicopter tour in Kauai, request the right side because most tours circle the island clockwise. You will get the best view of the Na Pali Coast from the right side.
Shop online for pricing – Most companies offer a big discount for booking directly with them online.
Timing your Tour – If possible, book your tour on the first or second day of your trip so you gain a better orientation of the island. For me, late morning or early afternoon flights are best; they limit shadows making the island's colors more brilliant. The afternoon light is best for seeing the Na Pali Coast on Kauai because it is on the west side.
On the day of your tour – Pay close attention to the safety instructions provided and don't hesitate to ask questions. Wear dark clothing to minimize the glare on the windows. If you are prone to motion sickness, take medication in advance. Use high speed film for your camera. Do not wear earrings because they could get in the way of your headphones. Don't spend too much time looking at the scenery through the tiny view of your camera.
Know which islands are the best for helicopter tours. I'm sure helicopter tours of all the islands are quite good. If you have a choice, go with Kauai or the Big Island. Kauai is my top pick – the views of Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali Coast and the remote waterfalls at the Waialeale Crater are spectacular. The Big Island would be my second pick because of the volcano activity at Kilauea. I was fortunate to enjoy helicopter tours of Kauai, the Big Island and the Great Barrier Reef. My favorite – the Kauai tour.
Sheila Beal writes for Go Visit Hawaii, a Hawaii Travel Guide.