Like me, my 8-year-old has his own traveling and experiences bucket list. Swimming with dolphins is on it. It can be a controversial thing for some travelers, but were all very excited for our first family experience with dolphins. We headed to Dolphins Plus in Key Largo, Florida.
Swimming with Dolphins in Key Largo
Key Largo is just 40 minutes away from our home in Miami. That made it easy to celebrate birthday number 8 by crossing off a bucket list item! I have to say we had held back on it working on strong swimming skills. Yes, I was a bit nervous because after all, we were encountering huge powerful animals.
Before Getting in the Water
Swimming with dolphins has become controversial. Some tourists won’t do it, believing that it is abusive to the animals. At Dolphins Plus, we found a group of trainers who clearly love and care for the dolphins. Our entire family came away with a new appreciation for these beautiful creatures.
Dolphins Plus offers 11 different dolphin interaction programs, ranging from a guided swim to summer camp. There are trainer-for-a-day and marine-biologist-for-a-day programs, as well as special programs for people with cancer and one in which a dolphin paints a picture for you. We chose the guided dolphin swim, which would let us snorkel alongside these majestic mammals.
Getting to Dolphins Plus
With your reservations made, head south just about mile marker 99. Well, that is the bayside location and you could miss it if you are not focused on your destination because while the sign is pretty, it is a bit hidden. Also, keep in mind that Discovery Plus has two different locations. Oceanside and Bayside. When you book your activity, make sure you know where it will take place because while the locations are near each other, you will loose a good 15 minutes from one to the other.
The buildings are beautiful Key West style houses. It will get your flip flop mode in full gear. Once out of the car my little one just wanted to make a beeline for the dolphins. You can see the ocean a few steps away from the parking area, but you have to first check in at the gift shop. Nestled between the entrance buildings and the actual dolphin facilities there is a sheltered picnic area.
After you register, you are sent to the open air classroom which has restroom facilities as well as open air fresh water showers and changing stalls. The dolphin encounters take place by a cement deck that has covered picnic tables for anyone who plans to watch but not get in the water. The dolphins are in a small natural ocean lagoon surrounded by mangroves.
Our Dolphin Experience
Once cleared at the check-in desk, we headed over to the dolphin facility. Next, we sat in an outdoor classroom where we got fitted with our life jackets and got a 30-minute class that reviewed what they do at Discovery Plus training dolphins and educating humans on the mammals.
Then we got our dos and don’ts while with the dolphins. It is quite interactive, and we were encouraged to participate, share answer and ask questions. Of course, my talkative son had an answer and a comment for just about everything. The trainers welcomed it, and high-fived him plenty.
A Bump On The Road
Originally, we booked the Guided Dolphin Swim. We just couldn’t wait to get our snorkel gear and jump in the water with the dolphins. It was not to happen. The moment I mentioned our program, it was obvious they were not expecting that to happen that day. The trainer redirected me to the check-in desk.
The lady at the phone was adamant that our swim was only on specific days and was not to happen. But, one of her co-workers explained that the guided swim would not happen because of calves and the personnel was not in place for it.
What We Did Instead
Nevertheless, she offered an enhanced Shallow Water Encounter. Quite honestly, I don’t know what part of the experience constituted the “upgrade” to the shallow water. But my main concern was my son. He didn’t want a “baby” dolphin interaction standing on a ledge. Especially not for his birthday celebration. But there was nothing to do about it. I promised we would be back to actually swim with the dolphins in exchange for him giving the experience at hand a chance.
The Shallow Water Dolphin Encounter
Two adorable toddlers were on hand, ready to watch their parents interact with the dolphins. From the sidelines, they were invited to stand on the lift and get a dolphin kiss. It was adorable! The trainer was focused on getting the perfect interaction for the little ones. She did a great job putting the parents at ease and giving them instructions to get that perfect dolphin kiss photo. Once those kisses had been given, then eight of us were invited to meet Leo and Brig, two Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins.
Meeting the Dolphins
We stood on the lift at the edge of the pool and down we went to pet Leo and Brigg. Once the formal introductions were made, my demanding little one started being vocal. This was not what he wanted.
“This is for babies.”
“I don’t want this.”
Oh boy, I didn’t want to focus on dissipating his displeasure while we still got the chance of a lifetime for many to be up close and personal with these beautiful intelligent creatures. The trainer caught it and from the start she encouraged him, congratulated him on following directions and kept him interested in the encounter. Disgruntled as he might have been at the start, before long he was totally mesmerized.
“Mom this is the best birthday ever!”
Once you hear that, your year is made. Well, mine was 🙂
Personally, I loved being pulled by the dolphins while I held on to their fins. For my demanding little one, his favorite part was when the dolphins pushed him from his feet. He loved pretending to be Batman at that point. It was thrilling, fun and educational for all of us.
We were all smiles withing the first 10 minutes of the experience. Once we showered and changed, we observed some training and were allowed to sit on the ledge to enjoy the dolphins at play. If you take a gazillion photos without a memory card, don’t worry. The in-house photographer takes amazing beautiful images for us.
Family Friendly Dolphin Experience in Key Largo
We will come back for the guided swim very soon. We did feel welcome, and I appreciate the staff trying to work around our little bump. More importantly, the little man was impressed, very happy and more interested in his marine biology. A big high five for this mom.