My husband and I just returned from a glorious 12 nights on the Big Island. Thank you so much to the DEs and other regulars who answered my numerous questions before and during our trip.
This was our first trip to the BI, having visited Oahu and Maui twice each in previous years. We truly fell in love with the unique vibe of the BI (though we love both Oahu and Maui for their own special qualities).
We spent the first 10 nights at the Mauna Kea Resort...ocean view room - a great hotel experience. The hotel has an amazing collection of Asian and Pacific art work and we took the free art tour offered on Saturdays. We did a lot of relaxing and exploring area beaches for snorkeling and we really liked Kauna'oa, the beach right at the hotel as well as Makaiwa and Kukio. We had a couple trips to Waimea...for the Farmer's Market and Waimea Coffee for lunch on a Saturday and Merriman's for dinner on another trip.
Other favorite restaurants...'ULU Ocean Grill at Four Seasons - a real splurge for dinner and totally wonderful atmosphere, food and service. Truly in a class of its own.
Also liked Copper Lounge and Hau Tree at Mauna Kea, Tommy Bahama, Napua, (dinner) and Beach Tree and Daylight Mind (lunch) and Under the Bodhi Tree (breakfast). Staying in a hotel presents some challenges with meals...not wanting to eat every meal out. But we managed to fill in with some small things for breakfast and lunch from the nearby Foodland Farms and saving some leftovers in our room refrigerator.
As far as tours, we took the Waipio Valley Horseback trip with Na'alapa Stables which was nicely done and very informative. I surprised myself and went along with my husband on the Blue Hawaiian 2-hr. "Island Spectacular" Helicopter Tour which was amazing and not scary (but one and done on helicopters for me lol!) My husband did the manta ray night snorkel with Fare Harbor right off the beach at Mauna Kea. He thoroughly enjoyed it and I enjoyed taking pictures from the lighted area at the hotel.
After our 10 nights on the Kohala Coast we moved to the east side, taking our time driving and stopping at Akaka Falls and the Botanical Gardens and for a quick dinner in Hilo. We arrived in time to go to Jaggar Museum for sunset and seeing the glow and then checked into the Volcano Village Lodge, a lovely B&B.
Then next day we spent a full day in the park from 9-5 doing both hikes and drives. We had bought a sandwich to share for lunch at a cafe in Volcano before heading to the park which was a great suggestion so we could be on our own schedule and not need to leave the park or go to Volcano House for lunch (fine I'm sure but we didn't want to be tied to a schedule). We left the park and picked up a pizza at Ohelo Cafe and took back to our B&B to enjoy on the deck for dinner. Then back to the park for one last look at the crater after dark. What a gorgeous and diverse national park! We had originally booked a tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail but we ended up cancelling after reading multiple times on this forum how easy it is to explore on your own. So glad we did!
We are planning a multi-generation trip to the Big Island in 2020 with our adult kids and 4 grandkids. Wish we didn't have to wait 3 years but that's the way it is. We were able to visit a couple potential homes we had seen on VRBO after the owners offered to give us tours. It really helped to get a feel for where we want to stay when we return.
So thank you again everyone! Truly could not have planned such a great trip without your advice. I'll be hanging around this forum making notes for our next trip and getting ideas for what might appeal to young kids. They will be from 3-8 at the time of our next trip which will be so fun:)