For a close encounter of the Cetacean kind, you have plenty of options, as dolphins inhabit all of the world's oceans from the tropics to polar regions.
We've selected a few locations that provide ocean swimming experiences with an eco-friendly outlook that don't over-exploit these creatures or their habitat. Although a 100% money-back guarantee of being able to swim with the dolphins is never explicitly offered, most companies boast 99% success rates or offer free additional trips if you are not satisfied with your tour. Obviously the warmer the water, the more enjoyable your experience may be, although we have included a few cooler options where a wet suit may make your dip in the ocean more comfortable.
Key West, Florida
There are a few operators that run dolphin inspired tours off the coast of Florida's Key West in the warmer Gulf waters. Wild Dolphin Adventures (tel. 866/296-3737; www.wilddolphinadventures.com) offer morning and afternoon trips for $85 per person plus tax for four-hours during daylight saving periods, or three-hours during the rest of the year. A 3% discount applies for trips paid in cash. Or if you would prefer, organize your own private charter for up to six people for $450 plus tax for four-hours or $775 for eight-hours. These charters can include visits to remote island beaches, snorkeling on coral reefs and shipwrecks.
If you are bound for the Hawaiian Islands and can drag yourself away from the beach, a magical Pacific Ocean dolphin experience awaits you with Wildside Specialty Tours (tel. 808/306-7273; www.sailhawaii.com/wildside.html). Setting sail from Waianae Boat Harbor, the tour boats take a maximum of 16 passengers for either a four-hour morning tour or a three-hour evening cruise. All cruises can combine a variety of marine life encounters (including spinner dolphins, turtles and/or whales) with snorkeling, swimming or just wildlife viewing. The price is $95 per person plus tax, with a 15% discount for a group of five or more people (children are the same price as adults). Private charters are also available for $350 per hour with a three-hour minimum for up to 10 passengers, and $60 per person thereafter. All tours include snacks, beverages and use of the snorkel gear provided.
The Bahamas is one of the many Caribbean island groups to offer dolphin-swimming tours. Bimini was the setting for Ernest Hemingway's Islands In The Stream, but there's more than game-fishing here. If you are serious about your desire to get up close and personal with these marine mammals, then Dolphin Expeditions' (tel. 877/597-1800; www.dolphinexpeditions.com) six-night/seven-day boat trip may be just what you are looking for. Staying on board the Calypso Spirit, the boat can accommodate six to ten passengers plus facilitators in either king or queen size double occupancy staterooms with three heads (that's a toilet to you landlubbers). They are currently taking reservations for December 17 and 28, 2004 trips, which cost $995.00 per person with most meals included. Additional costs are a $15 Bahamian departure tax and a $40 Bahamian environmental tax, both paid locally.
You can get to Bimini, the take off point for this tour, from Fort Lauderdale (from the Executive Airport, which is 20 minutes by taxi from the International airport). Charter Airline, Bimini Island Airlines (tel. 954/938-8991) flies every Saturday and returns on Fridays with a roundtrip ticket costing $190. Alternatively, Chalks International Airlines (tel. 800/424-2557), a seaplane service, also flies to Bimini from Fort Lauderdale for approximately $240 round trip.
Drake Bay, Costa Rica
Swim with dolphins in the marine heaven that is found in Drake Bay off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Considered to be one of the most cetacean-rich areas in the world, the marine life here is abundant with pods of pan-tropic spotted, bottlenose, spinner and common dolphins as well as humpback, pilot, sperm and blue whales, giant manta rays, sea turtles and more. The Delfin Amor Wild Dolphin Encounters (www.divinedolphin.com) are run through the Delfin Armor Eco Lodge (www.delfinamor.com) and cost $95 for a full day, including lunch. You can fax 866-527-5558 toll free or e-mail email@example.com for more information.
The nearby Drake Bay Wilderness Resort (tel. 561/762-1763 in the US; www.drakebay.com/dolphin_tour.html) also runs dolphin interaction tours as well as Whale and Dolphin Watch Packages. The four-day with three-night package includes two-day whale and dolphin watch trips, boat transportation to and from Drake Bay Airport, hotel lodging, three home-cooked meals each day and tours with bilingual guides for $726 per person. They can also arrange your flight to and from San Jose/Pavas airport for an additional $170 per person.
Airfare Planet (tel. 888/204 8869; www.airfareplanet.com) has roundtrip flights from New York to San Jose, Costa Rica from January 15 until March 31, 2005 for $446, or $508 from Los Angeles.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
The South Pacific Ocean may be a little chillier, but with marine life in abundance, you may be willing to overlook the temperature fluctuation to experience the Southern Hemisphere dolphins. Dolphin Encounter (tel. +64/3/319-6534; www.dolphin.co.nz/our_tours.htm) runs specialized dolphin boat tours every day of the year (weather permitting) from Kaikoura, located on New Zealand's South Island, some 110 miles from Christchurch. Although dusky dolphins are most prolific in these waters, the dolphin tours often encounter other marine mammals such as Orcas (killer whales), pilot whales, New Zealand Fur Seals, and Hector's Dolphins. Three-hour tours include guided commentary and the boats are fitted with hot showers and covered areas for protection against the elements. Boats take 13 swimmers and up to 20 watchers, with November to April being the busy tourist season. Prices are $80 for swimming adults ($42 to observe) and $73 for children under 15 ($35 for non-swimmers).
From the US, Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) has roundtrip direct flights on Air New Zealand from Los Angeles from $903 in December 2004. From Christchurch, regular trains (www.travelink.co.nz/nz/trainKaikoura.html) and buses (www.tourism.net.nz/region/christchurch/transport/bus-and-coach-services) service the route to Kaikoura.
The Azores, Portugal
The Azores is a group of nine volcanic islands situated along the mid-Atlantic ocean ridge, halfway between North America and Europe. These islands belong to Portugal, which is about a three-hour flight or 950 miles to the east. Pico Island is considered one of the most beautiful of the Azorean islands, and it is in this remote location, that some of the best dolphin swimming sessions can be experienced. Also common are whales, turtles, sunfish and Blue Marlin.
Pico Sport (www.whales-dolphins.net/azores_en/swimming_en.html; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) operates the island's dolphin contact swimming tours during the summer to early fall seasons. A three-hour trip costs $65 per person or $48 per person with bookings of groups of four or more. The use of scuba gear is strictly forbidden in Azorean waters so dolphins are observed closer to the water's surface using the snorkeling equipment provided. Guesthouse and hotel accommodations on Pico Island (through Pico Sport) start from $545 for seven-nights from June to September 2005.
With the remoteness of this island group, come the slightly longer flights and connections. From the US to Lisbon, Iberia (tel. 800/772-4642; www.iberia.com) has the cheapest fares (via Madrid). From New York to Lisbon in June 2005, a roundtrip flight including taxes is $576. Grupo Sata (www.sata.pt) has flights from Lisbon via Ponta Delgada to Pico Island for $450 roundtrip. As of April 2005, Sata will introduce direct flights from the mainland (fares unavailable at this time).
Have you participated in a swim with the dolphins program? Tell us about your experience, including location and price, on our Message Boards.