Forget Johnny Depp – Dolphins are the real stars at this family-friendly resort in the Mexican Caribbean city of Cancun.  Stepping into the water, you could almost feel the anticipation radiating through the group.

There were six of us, elbow deep in the warm saltwater, giggling nervously as the first of our eagerly-awaited hosts skimmed past us in the pool, the touch of their velvety sleek skin both foreign and thrilling at the same time.

We were sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the new Delphinus Dreams Cancun at the Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa in Cancun, Mexico; we were swimming with the dolphins. This dolphinarium just opened in May 2007 and is already one of the area’s most popular attractions.

Although he was tall enough to participate and enjoyed watching others, my 3-year old was not quite willing to take the plunge. There were, however, plenty of other kids who were more than happy to experience this thrill of a lifetime, and the water was teeming with both kids and adults.

All participants received a 15-minute introduction and then a 45-minute swimming session with the dolphins in their enormous salt-water pool. We were able to touch the dolphins, get kissed by the dolphins, learn some of their sign language, and finally get lifted into the air by two dolphins pushing the soles of our feet with their noses.

Named one of the top ten hotels in Mexico by Condé Nast Traveler, Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa is exclusively situated at the shore point known as Punta Cancún; it is the only resort surrounded on three sides by the Caribbean, and just a short walk from the shops, sights, restaurants, and nightlife of Cancun.

Dreams Cancun is an all-inclusive resort (well, almost all inclusive – the Dolphin swim is actually an additional $149 per person, regardless of age).  This is great for families, as you can enjoy the carefree ambience without the hassle of having to carry a wallet around. One word to the wise, be sure to memorize your room number early on as this is your ticket to just about everything this “no wristbands” resort has to offer.

What makes this experience unique from other dolphin encounters is the seamless collaboration between the hotel and the dolphinarium. The dolphin pool is literally butted up against the hotel, between the resort’s rooms and its other pools, bars, and restaurants.  It is not a separate excursion; it is quite literally part of the resort’s architecture and amenities – there for guests to enjoy whether you choose to swim with the dolphins or not.

You can even treat your family to a Dolphin View room, which affords unobstructed views of the dolphins either swimming alone in the late afternoon and nighttime or frolicking with guests during the early part of the day. Some of the people we met on our trip said they were even awoken in the morning by the sound of the dolphins splashing and chirping at each other!

Our room was on the oceanfront side, overlooking an endless expanse of the sparkling turquoise sea. This was a view I personally preferred for its privacy, serenity, and reminder that yes, I am on a real Caribbean vacation!  The room achieved a surprisingly harmonious meeting of rustic Mexican charm and first class amenities. It featured an amazing marble bathroom with plush bathrobes and towels, and a fridge in the room was kept fully-stocked throughout our entire stay with complimentary sodas, juice, snacks and beer.

There are four on-site restaurants, including the World Café buffet which is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner – perfect for families on the go who don’t want to be tied to a set schedule.  The resort also offers complimentary room service 24 hours a day.

In addition to the new Dolphinarium, families staying at Dreams Cancun can enjoy a wide variety of beach, land, and water activities, including two white-sand beaches, sparkling pools, big-screen movies on the beach, and nightly theme parties. Kids can also enjoy their own exciting activities at the Explorer’s Club for kids, a fully supervised children’s program for 3-12 year olds that offers a different program each day based on science, nature and exploration. Activities include sandcastle competitions, ocean trampoline, arts and crafts, game room, playground, and a weekly overnight campout adventure.

Check out famliy vacation packages at Dreams Cancun (or any of the Dreams and Sunscape Resorts in Mexico and the Dominican Republic)  for special “Kids Stay Free” promotions, offered at different times throughout the year.

Delphinus Dreams Cancun is the newest of five dolphinariums operated by Via Delphi. Considered one of the most successful in the world, Via Delphi’s breeding program has a survival rate which is double that of similar programs around the world and more than triple the survival rate found in the wild. Via Delphi is expecting six births in 2007, one of which will represent the third generation of dolphins born at Via Delphi. According to marine mammal specialists, the success of this program is a result of the environment provided and the care received including veterinary supervision, training, nutrition and the appropriate environment for socialization.

As for my 3-year old, I am not too worried that he missed out on swimming with these phenomenal creatures.  Without a doubt, we will be back to this Caribbean paradise very soon.

Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa – along with other properties in Mexico – is part of AMResorts.  For more information on Delphinus Dreams Cancun and the Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa, visit www.amresorts.com.

Gwen Kleist owns Mountainwriting.com and chases her 3 year old in Crestline, CA.

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