Here I am, happy as a clam...er, um, as a dolphin.
As you may have read in my Cozumel Adventure posts on my blog, my friend and I had a dolphin swim experience at Dolphinaris Cozumel (there are Dolphinaris in other areas too). The option we booked was the "Interactive Program". You can read up about it on the website.
We checked the reviews before booking and there were opinions all over the map. Mostly positive. I think the negative experiences ended up having more to do with being unprepared and having a different expectation than what was being offered. I read a LOT of reviews, I read the entire website, I had more than one lengthy online chat with a representative. By the time I booked I think I understood what to expect and adjusted accordingly.
It was a fantastic experience despite being very touristy and photo-sales-focused. They are wonderful creatures and I am so glad that I went. They are warm. Despite being wet and looking slick, they are like a rubber suit that doesn't even feel wet. We had no problems with the dolphins. They are wild animals, so do as you're told and pay attention to the instructions of the trainers. There's nothing more annoying to the trainers or the tourists, than a know-it-all tourist who does what they want and doesn't listen. That's how accidents happen.
Our trainer gave us a run-down of rules, and how we may touch the dolphins and when. He gave us some anatomy and behavior education about dolphins in general. You stand on a sandy ledge so you don't have to tread water. You are provided with a life jacket to borrow as part of your admission fee. You pretty much stand in a line with about 6-8 others in a group and the dolphin will swim by and let you touch it. Then one at a time, they begin to work on posing everyone with the dolphin to get the photos. It lasts about an hour with 40 minutes of interactive time in the water. It sure doesn't feel like that long. I could have stayed all day. It goes by QUICK.
The Mexico dolphin swims are WAY less expensive than those you can book in the states. They are also highly centered on selling the photograph packages which are truly, breathtakingly expensive. The smallest pkg you can buy is a $29 5x7 printed photo. The range can end up to nearly $500 in a quick hurry. For photos. So be ready for that. They spend much of your in-water time, setting up the poses for photos. That's a disappointment, but you're STILL in the water, with a dolphin!
So I tried to readjust my brain to just add whatever photos I purchased onto the price of the swim. The swim we chose was $79 per person. The photos, like many purchases in Mexico, are negotiable. Know that ahead of time. My friend and I negotiated a single pkg with photos of both of us, it contained about 33 photos on a CD, two printed photos, and a DVD of our swim (which is more of a promotional video for Dolphinaris). It was valued at over $400. We negotiated not only the combined single pkg, but got what I mentioned above for $158 and we were permitted to split it up so she paid half and I paid half. Still freaking expensive but it is sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity, and they know it. DON'T PAY FULL PRICE for the photos. If they are not working with you on a price you like, just get the $29 printed photo and walk away. Honestly, one great photo will be fine.
You can rent towels, and lockers. Do so. Well, we brought our own towels, but you'll need a locker for your valuables. You cannot take anything but your flip flops and your locker key to the water area with you, and even those are stowed in a seat compartment before you go to the water's edge. The lockers are small and will vary according to which Dolphinaris you book with. In Cozumel, they locker was square and large enough to hold both of our beach bags (I noticed at some other Dolphinaris areas, locker size will vary so ask ahead based on which facility you're visiting). We minimized what we brought with us because we knew space would be limited. We locked up stuff in our hotel safe. They have outdoor showers (cool water only), and the dressing rooms are private and fine for our purposes.
I will encourage you again, to read, read, read everything about the process from other reviewers and from the website, and ask any and all questions you have before you book so you'll be prepared.
You may not wear ANY jewelery in with the dolphins (so we locked ours in the in-room safe at our hotel). This will include any specialty piercings (if they are visible outside your suit). This is for the safety of the dolphins (so they don't get scratched or injured) and for the liability of Dolphinaris. They don't want to have to deal with issues of jewelry falling off or breaking and ending up somewhere in the bottom of a dolphin pool. I have a nose piercing and I used a clear spacer and that was not noticed.
You may not wear any perfumes, creams, lotions, sunscreen etc in the water. This is so as not to pollute the water and harm the dolphins. So we showered before we left, left all of those items off, and I braided my hair to keep it back and out of the way. If you wear anything on your skin, they are going to make you shower it off.
There will not be any cameras allowed down near the water's edge and many experienced being told that NO photos could be taken inside. Once the swims are underway, they want to sell you photos so they don't let you take your own. Disappointing, but if you know ahead, there will be less hard feelings.
They encourage you to eat in their restaurant. I read in the reviews that the food wasn't very good so we didn't eat there. Besides, we paid for all-inclusive at our hotel, so we ate there.
I read in the reviews that getting there early or booking the first swim of the day (you pretty much need reservations ahead) is a quieter, less busy time. We went in the off season (August), but still, we booked the first swim of the day. We arrived by Taxi before they even opened and just waited outside and snapped some photos of the surrounding area. Apparently, ruise ships dock and bring lots of passengers as the day wears on.
For a first experience, this was great. I needed/wanted something "tame" and controlled. I was not prepared to go into the open ocean for a dolphin experience. It had its down sides but once I was prepared ahead of time, there really weren't any surprises and I was satisfied with my experience.
Yes, these are captive dolphins. So if you have strong, negative feelings about that, this isn't the option for you. These dolphins were captured before the laws were passed making it illegal to capture them. It is my understanding that these are those original dolphins or their offspring. They would not be prepared to live in the wild, and if nobody patronized the Dolphinaris, they might either turn them loose or kill them...there would be no reason to keep them and they would be a liability. The trainers seem to truly love the dolphins, and the dolphins seem to be content and willing. I know it's hard to say for sure, but I got the feeling they enjoy the appreciation and awe they receive. They are ambassadors and teachers. I have stronger feelings about some of SeaWorld's underhanded practices than I do about Dolphinaris. It's a personal choice you'll have to make for yourself.
All we took with us was our passports, a credit card, a little cash. We had our suits on under a sundress, and brought towels and underwear for after. We were then able to leave Dolphinaris and do some shopping in the area before returning to our hotel. Our beach bags were waterproof, our suits were wrapped in our towels, and we just used our beach bags as our shopping purses.
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