Jon takes a third-class airline trip to "Paradise World", a cheapskate's version of Hawaii, with Garfield disguised as his son. After a rough trip during which Garfield fantasizes himself as a Hawaiian heartthrob, the two of them arrive at their ramshackle motel and are loudly insulted by the manager when Jon asks where the beach is. Disappointed, Jon unpacks and finds that Odie had smuggled himself in his suitcase.
With both of his pets with him on the trip, Jon tries to make the best of the vacation, but it quickly becomes apparent that none of them are having any fun. Eventually, they decide to explore the island and head out to rent a car. The sales clerk (who is apparently the motel manager's twin brother) only has one car on the lot, but Jon takes it when he sees that the car is a well-maintained 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
Jon and the pets head out and enjoy some time on the beach before continuing their drive, but they get derailed when the car mysteriously swerves into a jungle on its own and stops in the middle of a native village. As the natives curiously examine the newcomers, they begin to bow down to the car. Garfield, Jon, and Odie are taken to see their chief, the High Rama Lama, who explains that they are in the village of the Ding-Dong tribe. Their culture has remained unchanged by the modern world since 1957 when a man known as "The Cruiser", (a James Dean/Fonzie-styled legend) drove into the village and introduced the people to the 1950s pop culture. The Cruiser saved the village by sacrificing himself and driving into the village's volcano.
The Ding-Dongs believe that Jon's rental car is the same one that once belonged to The Cruiser, so they make him and his pets the guests of honor. As the tribe celebrates with a 1950s-styled beach party, the village idiot-and-mechanic Monkey is assigned to fix the car (or he'll lose his head at sundown) and Odie volunteers to help. Meanwhile, Jon and Garfield find romance with the tribal princess Owooda and her cat Mai-Tai.
Suddenly, the volcano begins to rumble and Owooda tells Jon that she and Mai-Tai must sacrifice themselves to the volcano to save the village. When they attempt to do so, however, the volcano rejects them, and it is determined that it wants Jon's car as the sacrifice. As the volcano threatens to erupt, Monkey and Odie rush to get the car fixed and manage to drive it into the volcano, though they are unable to jump out in time. The spirit of The Cruiser emerges from the volcano and drives away into the night sky, and Garfield's fear that he has lost his best friend is erased when Odie and Monkey manage to climb out unharmed. The Ding-Dongs celebrate this incredible event, and Garfield admits that he loves a happy ending.
- Hotel Clerk (voiced by Frank Nelson)
- Salesman (voiced by Frank Nelson)
- The Ding-Dongs
- The Cruiser
- Woman Cat (voiced by Carolyn Davis)
- Off Camera Voice (voiced by Hal Smith)
- "Inversion Layer Airlines Jingle" performed by Desirée Goyette
- "Hello, Hawaii (Can I Come Over?)" performed by Lou Rawls and Desirée Goyette
- "Beauty and the Beach" performed by Lou Rawls, Thom Huge, and Lorenzo Music
- "Ding Dong Chant" performed by Lou Rawls
- "When I Saw You" performed by Thom Huge and Desirée Goyette
- This was Nelson's last recording of his famous "Yeeesss..." catchphrase before his death.
- This is the only TV special where Garfield moves his lips while talking; it occurs during his Garfield Ho fantasy.
- In the book Garfield at 25: In Dogs Years I'd Be Dead, Jim Davis states that Garfield in Paradise is his favorite Garfield TV special.
- The room that Jon reserves at the motel is the "Jack Benny Suite", referencing the real-life comedian Jack Benny, whom Nelson frequently appeared alongside.
- When The Cruiser's spirit waves to the village then he drives off into the sky, the tires leave behind flames, quite similar to those shown in Back to the Future.
- Garfield Ho is a spoof of Don Ho.
- A similar Don Ho reference occurred in Garfield's imagination trip to Hawaii in Garfield in the Rough.
- Lenny says that Garfield Ho just did a residency in "Lost Wages, Nevada", a parody of Las Vegas, Nevada.