Swimming with Dolphins in Cozumel

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There’s nothing like the thrill of knocking something off your bucket list. On our recent Carnival cruise, I was finally able to check off one: swimming with dolphins.

While several of our port stops offered a dolphin interaction excursion, we opted for the Royal Dolphin Swim offered by Dolphin Discovery. This was a 60 minute adventure that included a foot push (I’ll get back to that in a minute), a dorsal tow, a handshake, hand target, and the chance to touch these lovely creatures.

We met up with the group of fellow dolphin lovers in port, where a guide gave us wristbands and then led us through the shopping center to the parking lot. From there he divided us into taxi vans (included) that drove for five minutes or so to Chankanaab National Reef park. The guide quickly pointed out all the amenities and explained what was included (the sea lion show, the restaurant, chairs at the beach and beach access) and what would be extra (the zip line, renting a kayak). We dropped our bags in the lockers and went outside to gather life jackets (mandatory) for everyone, then an employee made quick work of breaking us into groups. It was time to meet the dolphins!

We gingerly descended the steps into the dolphin area.  The unexpectedly cold water stole my breath for a moment. As we adjusted to the temperature and our trainer introduced us to the two dolphins, they swam back and forth in front of us and permitted us to gently touch their backs, and then bellies. They are such beautiful creatures, and it really felt like a gift to be able to interact with them so closely.

Miss M winning at the foot push.

Miss M winning at the foot push.

For the foot push,  two dolphins raise you up the water surface by pushing you from the bottom of your feet. It’s a pretty odd feeling but you look (and feel) like you are flying! With the dorsal tow, as you wait with your arms outstretched, the dolphins swim up from behind you so you can gently hold onto their dorsal fins and they’ll pull you through the water!

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The boy trying to avoid a face-full of seawater.

The dolphins are housed in an open-sea pen. As we stood on the platform, small fish weaving around our feet, waves rocked us, so we held on to the back of each other’s life jackets as we leaned forward for our kiss. (Said the Boy “tastes like fish”.) I don’t think Miss M minded as much.

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The dolphin trainer explained that Dolphin Discovery Cozumel is the only habitat on the island of Cozumel where all dolphins were born under human care because of their breeding program, Miracle. I confess to knowing there are strong feelings about this as well, as they are creating generations of dolphins ill-prepared for life outside the pen. The caution and protectiveness the trainer exhibited for these two helped ease my concerns a bit.

The hour passed by quickly, and before we knew it, they were splashing us goodbye!

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We thought that the adventure had ended as we collected our shoes from the storage basket at the top of the pier, but the trainer walked us to the far side of the pens where two incredibly large manatees were slowly swimming.  The trainer held a stack of lettuce, and as the manatee glided past us on his back, he nibbled on the lettuce, whiskers quivering with each chew.

As the giant creature peacefully swam past us, the trainer pointed out some features and shared some facts:

  • Manatee have toenails! Their closest living relatives are actually elephants, and if you look at a manatee flipper, you will see it does indeed resemble an elephant foot (albeit, a flat one.)
  • While they come up for air every 3-5 minutes, they can hold their breath for up to 15-20 minutes.
  • They’re big, not fat! Their size is due the very large stomach and intestinal systems they have. Since they eat a very low calorie vegetarian diet, they must eat a lot of it.
  • A manatee will eat roughly 10% of his body weight a day (that’s a lot of salad!)

We spent about 10 minutes in the (rather smallish) pool with the manatees, then gathered up our shoes and discussed what we would do next as we dried off. Photos, of course!

Dolphin Discovery does NOT allow you to take pictures during the excursion. I could see this for safety reasons – no one wants to drop their expensive camera in the water or bonk a poor dolphin on the head with a heavy camera. Each party of 8 had a photographer that captured the entire experience. (Proof that mom was present on vacation? Priceless.) The photographs are pricey but as this was a once in a lifetime event for us so we splurged on the DVD (because ultimately, for 190 or so images it was a better deal than purchasing one or two pictures) – until we realized we didn’t bring the credit cards with. No worries, we were told, put down $20 for a deposit, and they’d meet us back by the car park later that afternoon so we would have time to nip back to the ship for a credit card. (And guess what – they really did!)

Before you put that credit card down though, hand the reins over to your best negotiator because I’m told they will negotiate on the price, something I wish we had learned before we went.  Keep at them, and I’ve read that you can get the price down to nearly half. (sobs) Credit card soon to be weighted down considerably, we were happy that our ticket included lunch and headed for the restaurant in the park where we rehashed the experience.

Drier, and with full bellies, we watched the sea lions perform a brief show, then everyone lined up to get a fish from the poor boy, staff photographer on hand. (I’m sensing a theme here.) The sea lion’s fish was decidedly fisher yet.

The rest of the time in the park was spent wading in the shallower waters (the area is wonderful for snorkeling but entry into the water is a bit treacherous feeling as it’s quite rocky and the surf is strong.) All too soon, it was time to head back to town.

The Nitty Gritty

It was a wonderful adventure, timed out at about 4-1/2 hours, which leaves plenty of time to explore the shopping district and indulge in duty free shopping. DON’T apply sunscreen before the excursion as the sunscreen is harmful to the dolphins, and do bring a beach towel from your boat as they aren’t available at the park. When viewing photos, you can select only the ones you want – and then negotiate. There is a lot to do at the park and you likely won’t be able to take care of it all.  There is a gift shop that sells tees, souvenirs, sunscreen (apply it after you swim), and snacks.

This was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. What about you – have you done this kind of activity? Where and when, and what was your experience like?

 

This adventure was paid for by me. You can find out more about the different encounters offered and all of their locations internationally at their website www.dolphindiscovery.com

 

Comments

  1. Love the pictures. Cant wait to see the DVD.

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