5 Questions to Ask BEFORE Booking Island Tour

by Mariam Beard • Last Updated: November 2021

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Are you planning a trip to Oahu and looking to explore the island? Have you heard about the bad traffic on the island?

In this article, I share five questions to ask before booking your island tour.

Question 1: How do you like to travel?

For some people, they like exploring an area completely on their own. They enjoy driving in an unfamiliar area and figuring it out as they go.

Or perhaps you’re traveling with kids and some of them may get antsy on longer road trips so you want the flexibility to shorten or lengthen the island tour or trip as you see fit.

To some, getting lost in a new city is part of the adventure.

Some people enjoy thoroughly researching what city or area they’re going to and exploring everything at their own pace.

For some, they only have 1-2 days of maximum to do any sightseeing and they want to maximize their time to see as much as they can in as little time possible.

Hybrid of Self-Guided & Tour Group

For me personally, I’m kind of a hybrid of these two things. Depending on where I’m going and how much research I’ve done, I do like to explore completely on my own. However, I also enjoy the convenience and done-for-you ready to go island tour where I can just show up and someone can show me all the major points of interest in a specific area. It makes it easy and worry free.

If I’m a solo traveler, I’ll typically lean more towards island tours versus going through the hassle of getting a rental car on my own and figuring out my own itinerary. Or if I’m traveling internationally and I don’t have an international driver’s license, sometimes an island tour is just the easier way to go.

For Island tours, this one is one of my favorites. It sees most of the island and stops at WAIMEA VALLEY:

Question 2: What do you want to do and see?

Let’s compare QUANTITY of stops versus QUALITY of stops.

QUANTITY of stops: You’ll have MORE stops with less time at each stop. You’ll learn a lot about each different spot along the way. Typically, general circle island tours are best for this.

QUALITY of stops: You’ll have LESS stops but spend MORE time at each stop. Typically, tours that focus on specific areas of the island are best for this.

For example, if you wanted to focus only on the north shore or perhaps the east coast of the island. Also, what kinds of things do you want to do? If you are leaning away from sightseeing and you’re more into activities, you might like an activity-based island tour.

This is a great one that’d I’d recommend. They focus on the NORTH SHORE and they go to the same waterfall as the island tour I just mentioned but they also take you into Haleiwa Town. While you’re in Haleiwa Town, you can explore the shops, the art galleries, everything that’s there. You can also choose to stand-up paddle or kayak down on Anahulu River which is fun. You have a lot less stops on this tour as it focuses just on one area of the island which is the north shore.

Or perhaps you’re looking to do a shorter tour and you want to focus just on one area of the island.

EAST COAST (5 hour tour)

The one above is a five hour tour that focuses on the east coast of the island. It runs approximately 8am-1pm. For some people, they would prefer shorter half day activities rather than a long full length day. If that’s the case and you want to focus on the quality of stops, less stops and focusing more time, that’s something to think about for your island tour.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, these are just questions that I want you guys to think about when you’re looking and researching on what island tours you’d like to do.

Question 3: What type of vehicle is the tour on?

This is probably one of the most important questions to ask.

While working as a concierge, I’ve done over a dozen island tours for training. This is something that I’d often overhear guests say to each other: “Oh, I could never do an island tour. Those big bus tours, there’s so many people on the tour.”

Well, yes and no.

While you can’t predict how many people are going to be booked on a tour, you can find out what is the maximum number of people that would be on the tour based on the size of the vehicle.

Granted, there’s tons of different vehicles but for simplicity purposes there’s three main vehicles for organized tour buses.

  1. Motorcoach Bus
    These are the Greyhound size or school bus size that accommodate about 50-guests. Ths is what people typically think of when they think of island tours.
  2. Minicoach Bus
    Those typically hold about 25-guests. I went on a mini coach tour recently on an island tour to check out the entire island and stop in a waterfall. Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/d_2D6LbGQ9E
  3. Sprinter Van
    These vans usually hold about 10-guests. Oftentimes, these tours can be booked completely private with only your group and the tour guide. If you’re interested in doing a private tour, here’s a link to HI 5 Hawaii tours: https://youtu.be/45Lqn8xgglY

Question 4: What is included in the island tour?

One thing that I’ve noticed is some island tours have a low sticker price but there’s always additional charges later on.

So, you might be looking at an island tour and think it’s a great inexpensive tour…at first. Once you tack on the additional admissions, lunch, etc. it all adds up.

This is important to note because you might initially purchase a cheaper tour but will end up feeling like you were nickeled and dimed the entire tour.

The “cheaper” tour actually isn’t that cheap at all.

I’ll give you a good example of an all-inclusive tour.

Earlier in the video, I mentioned that I did an island tour that included a stop at a waterfall. This specific tour was on a mini coach with 25 people so it was a mid-range size tour and it was all-inclusive.


•Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
•Byodo-In Temple (Admission $5.00, INCLUDED)
•Tropical Farms
•North Shore Lunch Stop (LUNCH INCLUDED, Value $15-20)
•Waimea Valley (Admission $25.00, INCLUDED)
•Dole Plantation

Adult: from $149.00 + taxes & fees | Child: from $114.00 + taxes & fees

When you look at it this way, the admissions and lunch alone were $50 so the “tour” itself is only $100.

Question 5: Where does the tour actually stop?

Now this is something that I would hear many, many times when I worked as a concierge in the past

A long list of POINTS OF INTEREST does NOT necessarily mean stops.

Tip: Make sure to read the itinerary to see if it’s an actual stop or just a drive-by. For example, some tours will list Haleiwa on the list – which is a town up on the north shore on their itinerary. But if you look closely, it’s only a drive-through as in a narrated point-and-see, not necessarily a stop where you will physically get off the bus to explore that specific area.

This is also really common for north shore surfing beaches during our big wave surf season. Island tours will mention North Shore big wave surf beaches but if you look closely at the itinerary, not all tours will actually stop at those beaches so that way you can watch the big wave surf. Some of them will simply point out the big wave surf and continue driving.

If certain stops are on your “MUST VISIT” list, a good question to ask is “Where does the island tour actually stop where I will get off the bus?”

Most tours have a list of “set stops” that the tours will be able to go to. Depending on time constraints, sometimes there’s an impromptu stop here or there. Some island tours are all encompassing, they show everything on the island and then they’ll also stop at a waterfall to swim.

Other island tours will include a stop to snorkel and some island tours are combo tours that show you on the island but also stop at Pearl Harbor. There’s options for everyone!

Watch | 5 Questions to Ask BEFORE Booking an Island Tour

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Aloha! I'm Mariam.

I'm an Oahu resident sharing my adventures here in Hawaii to help take the guesswork out of planning your trip to Hawaii.

I've worked full-time as a concierge for a decade and have planned thousands of itineraries for travelers like you!


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