What child doesn't love the idea of swimming with dolphins or at least getting into the water and having a splash around with them? Although you may associate dolphin encounters with the tropical waters of the Caribbean or the distant shores of the Pacific and Indian Ocean, there are also opportunities for you and your family to take a dip with a dolphin much closer to home, mainly in Florida. Most programs offered at these facilities are a set price regardless of age, so don't expect children's discounts unless they are pre-schoolers.
Dolphins Cove Marine Mammal Education Center (tel. 877/365-2683; www.dolphinscove.com) in Key Largo is a marine education and dolphin swim facility offering in-water dolphin interactions, trainer for a day programs, and special needs child therapy with dolphins. Dolphin Cove is solely dedicated to special needs therapy five days a week from March to mid-December but on weekends and from mid-December to February, it offers structured touch programs and snorkel with the dolphin sessions in a natural lagoon. The Premier Dolphin Swim begins with a 30-minute educational briefing aboard an Everglades tour boat, followed by dolphin swims where participants take turns entering the water and participating in hands-on behaviors with the dolphins. The cost is $185 per swimmer in peak season and $165 off-season. Non-swimmer observers are $20 for adults, $15 for children aged seven to 12 and free for children under seven.
Natural Dolphin Swims are freestyle snorkel programs where any contact you may have with the animals must be initiated by the dolphins. Swimmers will be able to observe the dolphins around them, but not to reach out and touch them and in-water time is 30 minutes with snorkelling gear provided. The price is $125 per swimmer. The Dolphin Wade Encounter is open to participants three years and up, but due to the water depth, children must be at least four feet six inches tall in order to wade on their own, otherwise an adult must hold them in the water. The cost is $125 per swimmer and $10 per adult observer. The Premier and Natural Combo package is $245 per swimmer in peak season and $240 off-peak season. Trainer-for-a-Day programs are $300 per participant. Peak season is February 15 to April 30, June 1 to August 31 and December 15 to January 4.
Dolphins Plus Research and Education Facility (tel. 866/860-7946; www.dolphinsplus.com), also in Key Largo, is a dolphin research and education facility featuring interactive dolphin swim programs in a natural sea water environment. Programs include an in-water dolphin experience, snorkel with dolphins, sea lion interaction programs, marine mammal classes, internships, marine mammal courses, kids dolphin camps, and shadow a trainer for a day. The facility is home to 14 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and two California Sea Lions. 30-minute Natural dolphin swims are $125 per person and 60-minute experiences are $210. Structured dolphin swims are $185 in peak season (February 14-29; March 1-April 30; June 1-August 41; and December 15-January 4) and $165 at other times. Combo Program prices are $250 and $240 respectively. Professional photographers are available to capture your dolphin swims on a photo CDs ($60) or video/DVD ($90).
You can shadow a trainer for a day and combine dolphin and sea lion interactions with a behind-the-scenes look into marine mammal care and training. The day features in-depth discussions and experiential learning, encompassing topics such as training, marine mammal care, animal identification, dolphin and sea lion anatomy and reproduction, marine mammal intelligence and communication, enrichment, and tactics utilized to build a trusting relationship between trainer and animal. The program also includes an 8x10" photo, a Trainer for a Day t-shirt, and a comprehensive book and is priced at $630. Participants must be a minimum of ten years of age. Observers and non-swimming guests pay $10 for adults and $5 for children over seven (under sevens are free).
Discovery Cove (tel. 877/557-7404; www.discoverycove.com) in Orlando is a marine mammal facility owned and operated by Sea World offering dolphin shows and programs in a more commercial, resort-style setting. Their all-inclusive Day Experience features a 30-minute Dolphin-swim session, snorkeling among thousands of tropical fish in the Coral Reef, wading with the rays in the Ray Lagoon, hand-feeding birds in the free flight aviary, relaxing in the resort pool, swimming along the tropical river, snorkel gear, swim vest or wet suit, towels, lockers, sunscreen, beach chairs, and all-day self-parking. The price also includes continental breakfast, lunch, plus all snacks and beverages throughout the day, and admission to SeaWorld Orlando or Busch Gardens Tampa Bay within the following 14 days. The Day Experience is priced at $289 plus tax per person from March 16 to November 1 and from December 21 to 31 ($20 less from November 2 to December 20). The 2008 Twilight Discovery Summer package is available Tuesday to Sunday evenings until August 22. The all-inclusive evening package brings the intimacy of Discovery Cove to a new level for 150 people. Twilight Discovery (from 3pm to 9pm) includes shallow-water dolphin interaction, snorkelling, access to Resort Pool, Ray Lagoon and tropical river, hand-feeding exotic birds in the free-flight aviary, all snorkeling gear, wet suits/vests, towels, lockers, sunscreen, all snacks and beverages at Island and Beach Markets, an upscale dinner at Laguna Grill with live entertainment, and admission to either SeaWorld or Busch Gardens
Dolphin Research Center (tel. 305/289-1121; www.dolphins.org) in Grassy Key is a not-for-profit dolphin research facility and home to dolphin interaction programs, internships, and trainer-for-a-day schemes. Admission and dolphin programs help pay for research and ongoing operation of the center. The Dolphin Encounter is an educational program that includes about 20 minutes of structured time in the water, either in deep water or for those not that comfortable with swimming, in shallow water while remaining on the submerged platform. You can spend as much time as you like watching sessions before and after your program. To participate in the Deep Water program guests must be at least five years old, and children ages five through seven must be accompanied in the water by a paid adult participant. A participating adult must accompany children younger than eight. The cost for either Dolphin Encounter program is $180 per person and includes full-day admission, educational materials and a certificate upon completion. The Dolphin Dip program puts you on a submerged platform to greet a dolphin with a backrub and a flipper shake while learning to give signals like a trainer. This group activity includes approximately 20-25 minutes of in-water time and is $100 per person for ages four and up and free for children under four who are held by a parent or guardian. Group size is limited to no more than six people.
Play with the Dolphins is offered Monday through Sunday afternoons for $50 plus the cost of admission for visitors aged five and up. It includes participating in a short orientation with a trainer about dolphin behavior and the importance of play in a dolphin's daily life, a trip down on the dock to meet a dolphin face to face and a chance to pick a toy and join one of the dolphin's playtime sessions. General admission is $19.50 for adults; $16.50 for seniors 55 and over, $13.50 for children four to 12 and free for kids under three.
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