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Swimming with the dolphins in The Florida Keys - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Other Activities

For as long as I can remember dolphins have fascinated me. Maybe it was stories of dolphins helping humans in distress or television programmes showing the intelligence and communication skills possessed by them – I really don’t know. However, while on a recent trip to Key West I decided that I would satisfy one of my ambitions, which was to get in the water with one of these amazing creatures.

My wife and I had flown into Key West after a few days in New York and had decided to drive up to our villa in Orlando without any planned itinerary. And so, rather than book a specific event at one of the three dolphin experience sites, I opted to turn up and see what was available on the day.

The Dolphin Research Centre, a not-for-profit organisation approximately sixty miles from Key West, was the first “Swim with Dolphins” site that we came to on our drive northwards. The DRC features a variety of interactive dolphin programmes, from ‘Trainer for a Day’ to ‘Meet the Dolphins’ and ‘Paint with a Dolphin’. I knew however that my preferred choice would be either the ‘Dolphin Encounter’ at $180, where during the pre-swim workshop, you learn basic hand signals so that you can ask the dolphins for a variety of interactive behaviours during the structured swim session. Or alternatively, the Dolphin Splash programme where for $140 you are waist deep in the water whilst interacting with the dolphins.

Whilst the Dolphin Encounter was sold out by the time we arrived I was pleased to discover that the Dolphin Splash still had places available. The next programme was a little over an hour away, which gave us time for a snack at the small café and time to browse around the lagoons. We also had time to visit the Dolphin Theatre and watch an informative film about the birth and rearing of dolphins.

It was then time to meet up with the trainer who would be overseeing our group of six participants. After a brief introduction we were taken to the lagoon to meet our playful partners A. J. and Tanner. We, the humans that is, stepped onto a large floating platform and, having divided into two groups of three, stepped down onto submerged ledges which ran along the side of the platform and from where we would be able to interact with the dolphins.

We started by taking turns stroking the back and fin of a dolphin, which swam past slowly in response to a command given by the trainer. This was followed by the trainer showing us hand actions that enabled us to give commands to the dolphins and at one point each of us performed a small impromptu routine – ‘dancing’, turning round or perhaps bobbing up and down - which was then copied by the dolphin. The highlight was when I bent down in the water to shoulder height and was kissed by a dolphin! I have the picture to prove it.

One small point to note if you are considering such an experience; the changing and showering facilities (remember you have just spent nearly half an hour in sea water), are quite basic. You will also need your own towel, which in fact I had to buy from the small shop at the DRC. But at least I have another souvenir to remind me of this great experience. Maybe next time I will book in advance and go for the full ‘encounter’.

DRC is located at MM 59 on Grassy Key.

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Page added on: 7 July 2008
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