When I received my itinerary for the Jet Atlantis trip to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and saw that we would start off by getting in the water with dolphins I realized that this was not something I had ever previously dreamed of doing. Maybe it’s because I don’t really like to swim, or maybe it’s because I’m not a huge animal person. Anyway, it’s not something I would have included on my personal “bucket list.”
But I’m sure glad that other people were in charge of my plans for the weekend because it turns out that getting into the water with large marine animals can only be described in cheesy superlatives – Thrilling! Awe-inspiring! Ravishing!
The dolphins at Atlantis were rescued in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina from the destroyed Oceanarium in Gulfport Mississippi and live in the Dolphin Cay, a 14-acre area of the resort that includes a lagoon, medical lab, and education center. The Cay also has a private beach, a changing area with lockers, and a gift shop. Wetsuits are provided and there is a brief orientation by one of the friendly, enthusiastic “marine mammal specialists” (who also handed out generous bags of fresh fruit as a pre-swim snack) before you head into the water. Several of these specialists work with each group while they are in the water offering instruction, encouragement, and buckets of fish; they were very happy to help reluctant or intimidated children get safely close to the animals.
Lest you be misled by the title of this post, Teddy and I had what is called a “shallow water interaction” and were never in water that was over either of our heads. Our group of ten (a mix of adults and children ranging in age from 4 to about 10) first waded out and formed a line while Jackie, our dolphin, swam in front of us. She allowed us to touch the smooth surface of her back, which felt strangely and wonderfully like living, breathing plastic. After that we each had a photo-op chance to kiss and hug Jackie, to feed her fish, and to watch her do some of her of tricks.
The program finished up with all the groups who were in the water at the time (we were in one of about six) forming one big line cheering as each dolphin came up to us and did something special. We saw dolphin after dolphin flip, “walk” backwards on their tails, or leap dozens of feet into the air all while we stood close enough to get caught in their wake. If you are ever given the opportunity to see a dolphin stand straight up on its tail mere inches away from you, please take it. You won’t be sorry.
Travel-with-kids tip: If you’ll be doing the swim with a younger child, or one who is sensitive to cold, think about the time of day. We were there in the late afternoon and it was quite cool and breezy. I had to coax Teddy to stay in the water for the entire experience and by the time we got out his lips were blue. Also, the changing room in the Cay is pretty small (especially given that the dolphin interactions are scheduled in groups of 6 to 10 people). On the day we were there it was also fiercely air conditioned. If you think you’ll want to shower and change after the swim, I recommend planning a return to your room to do so.
Now any kind of interaction you have with the animals (there sea lions in the Cay too) will cost you – including just sitting on the beach and watching them. The shallow water experience starts at $105 per person, and it can be almost twice that much to do the deep water interaction where you do actually swim with the animals using a hand-held water scooter (this one is only for kids 10 and up). Also on offer is a Trainer for a Day program that supplements a deep water swim with a behind-the-scenes tour of how the animals are cared for. Even photos are an added expense. We were asked not bring even waterproof cameras with us into the water; this is to protect the animals who apparently have a habit of eating things they shouldn’t. The pictures of Teddy and me were taken by a professional photographer on the staff who also photographed us kissing the dolphins. We were given the photos as a gift (one of many on this trip) but guests of the resort have to pay for them.
That said, would I recommend budgeting for this as part of a visit to the resort? Absolutely, especially if you or your children love animals. Of everything that we experienced in a jam-packed weekend at Atlantis, this was definitely a high point. I will always remember the amazement on Teddy’s face as Jackie passed under his hands for the first time and the way he delighted in feeding her.
This post is part of a series I wrote about my tip to the Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island Bahamas. If you enjoyed it, you might also be interested in:
Almost all of the expenses for my trip were paid for by LEGO, JetBlue, and the Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas. But I was under no obligation to write about my experience, was not compensated for this post, and the opinions it contains are (you guessed it) my own.
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Photo of Dolphin Cay courtesy of MHJohnston via Flickr.