Don't gyp yourself and your family if you can afford this tour! We did the private tour on 3/16/13 including the 6 mi (in total) hike to the lava with our family of 3, ages 60, 44 & 16. Reading other recent reviews, I simply agree w/all 5-star reviewers (lacybass, rubyredseattle, Robert T, etc). This is a VERY professionally-run company. I'm so VERY glad things didn't work out with the company I originally booked with that "dumped" us!
You've gotta know there is NO guarantee that lava will be flowing anywhere when you come here if you plan a few months ahead, it's up to Pele/the volcano, not the tour companies. Might seem obvious, but some people complain if they don't get the amazing experience all of us lately have had!
If you are thinking of a quick trip, GET HERE NOW, both the creeping lava and ocean entries are AMAZING! It was for me the most incredible natural thing I have ever seen in my 40+ yrs, and to have shared that with out teen son, well it makes me feel like an amazing parent :-)
We had Arthur as a guide, who was easy-going, interesting, and knowledgeable. He was very flexible for us, and as others said, provided wonderful local fruit and snacks whenever we wanted. He pointed out rare birds and spiders to us, which was fun, in addition to all the volcanic info. He deserves BIG, FAT TIPS!
PROVIDED ITEMS: I was totally impressed with all the things they provide, which is awesome, since we keep luggage small & don't need to lug more stuff to HI - tripod, rain ponchos, umbrellas, gloves for hiking, healthy snacks, walking stick, water, sweatshirts, backpack space if we need them to carry items for us...
NOT PROVIDED: Lunch is your own to buy, but VolcanoDiscovery provides chips, nuts, drinks, cookies, and fruit, so really all you need are some sandwiches. The volcano inn where we stayed sold sandwiches to go, so does VolcanoDiscovery, or you can do what we did - stop by Safeway or WalMart in Hilo, buy a loaf of bread, jars of peanut butter & jelly, and you're set :-)
SNACK NOTE: The only beverage provided without added sugar is water. The local Hawaiian non-carbonated beverages come in amazing tropical flavors, but they are only a small percentage of real juice. If you need to avoid sugar but want something more interesting, BYOB or perhaps specify by email before your tour.
CANON CAMERA BONUS TO ARTHUR: If you have a Canon camera, so does Arthur, & he knows how to use it! (He has won photo awards). He will help you take incredible shots as well as take amazing ones of you and your family.
SAFETY: When reviewing TA to help me choose a company, I assumed all companies were safe enough, whatever that means. Now that the tour out to the live lava is completed, I am really glad we chose a co. with such a focus on safety! Arthur explained some factors of risk that we would never know about since we aren't familiar with how lava flow acts. WOW, it can be dangerous without even having a clue. Kind of creepy to then see where some people were standing at the edge of the ocean above the unstable shelf...
INFO GIVEN: LOVE the details they sent us by email before the tour, we felt very prepared. When on the tour, VolcanoDiscovery provides the guides with a series of laminated booklets that ROCKS. Arthur would flip through it at appropriate times to relate what we were seeing today, such as many historical photos of the volcano's changes/growth, places that had homes that are now covered by lava, big eruptions, etc. It truly made what we were seeing FAR more interesting than just reading a guide book or some signs. It's great visuals, and there is a lot of detailed info for those who want it. Arthur would flip quickly past the scientific graphs with a one-sentence overview, which was perfect for us. At any point, we could slow him down and ask for more detail about what he was showing us.
IN SUMMARY: This wasn't cheap, and as my title says, WORTH EVERY DOLLAR. We have learned as we travel that it's really worth hiring a guide for places that are once-in-a-lifetime that are not self-explanatory. If we had just gone to the visitor's center, read a few things, looked over the edge at the steam, & walked the lava tube, it would have been interesting, but we never would have known what we didn't know, which made it INCREDIBLE.
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