Saturday, March 22, 2008

Swimming with Dolphins

When I decided we would spend our spring break in Florida, swimming with dolphins was high on my list of things to do. I looked into wild versus trained, and trained was the way for our family to go. We did the Trainer for a Day program at Discovery Cove in Orlando. It cost a fortune. Ugh. I don't want to think about that part of it.

I want to think about this part of it instead:

As trainers for a day, we went behind the scenes to learn about and see how they care for the many different animals they have there. We got lots of private time with them. We hung out with a kinkajou, a spectacled owl (and a load of other birds), a nurse shark, an anteater, stingrays, reef fish, and a sloth. We also saw the engineering involved in running Discovery Cove, which is pretty intense.

They grouped us with another family of four. Their kids were sort of afraid of things. They were 14 and 9, compared to my kids of 13 and 8. I know it's a little weird to have stingrays sucking on your toes, and the sound of a shark snatching its meal inches from your fingers is startling, and large, colorful birds landing in your hair might make you a little concerned. But my kids were pretty into it. Kelsey asked questions everywhere we went. Kayleigh even posed for pictures, even though she lives in a constant state of adolescent self-consciousness and camera mortification.

There is a deliciously warm river that flows a portion of the park. You can swim through a cave, through the aviary, and past the reef. They've buried things deep down so you can swim down and investigate. (A snorkel and mask are provided, as is a wet suit.) There's a cannon, some urns, some statues. It's kind of fun. It was a coolish day, so we were glad to get in that warm water at the end of the day.

So, the dolphins. There are three pools and a lot of dolphins. We worked with about six. One was a nursing mom. One was named Kaylee. They are big. And strong. The trainer talks to you about their bodies and their training. The dolphins show off their different parts for you to learn about, they do a few tricks, they let you pet them and hug them. It's fun to hear the different noises they make; the clicks, whistles, buzzes, squeaks.

We had two sessions with them, for a total of about an hour in the water with them.

When your time is up, they pull you to shore as you hold onto their dorsal fin. The last time, though, you're pushed ashore with a double foot push, where you spread yourself out like an upside down pelvic exam. Two dolphins stick their noses on your feet and push you to shore. It's amazing how they can move through the water. I had the feeling if they had even a tiny streak of violence in them, we would all be dead. They are so strong.

It was fun to see their different personalities and different bodies. Kaylee was a little bitty thing, CJ was pretty big. Some are dark, some are light, or streaky or more solid. Some have short noses, some have long noses.

I was the last person to go at the end, so as the others were doing their double foot push and waiting for everyone else, I was having time with Kaylee. She was a gentle girl, so easy-going. It was kind of fun to just hang out and touch her while the trainer talked about her.

Being a trainer for a day had perks we weren't aware of. We got sling bags and T-shirts and got to go to the front of any lines, if there were any (there weren't). We had reserved tables in the shade. If we were doing a training session, they kicked everyone else out of that area until we were done. Heh. We also got passes to SeaWorld or Busch Gardens for a week. I knew we got passes, but I didn't know we could go for an entire week. Not that we would.

There are so many theme parks in Florida; one roller coaster is much like another. But this was a unique experience. We were so fortunate to be able to do it. And grateful. Even the kids were grateful. That's worth it right there.


aims said...

Sigh - Huge Sigh! I've always wanted to do this...

I think this memory will stick with you and your children forever...Dolphins are so special....reminds me of the book - So Long and Thanks for all the Fish....

laurie said...

unfair! discrimination against those of us who can't swim!!

that's a beautiful picture. the water looks really inviting.

and that sounds like a wonderful time.

jan said...

What a wonderful experience for your girls. For your next trip to Florida you must investigate the swimming with manatees.

Amy said...

Aims, go for it. Next time you go to Disney, go down the street to Discovery Cove.

Laurie, even you nonswimmers can have a good time there. They will give you a life vest and drag you by the arm through the water so you can do it all. And yes, it was a wonderful time.

Jan, I did look into it, believe me. For next time, is there a particular outfitter you would recommend? When I was hunting the internet, I wasn't really sure what I was getting into with most of them. I was delighted to see them in the wild, though. It was really amazing and so fulfilling. Loved it. But I'd love to swim with them, too – although I'd probably cry again.

MJ Krech said...

This was such a wonderful thing to do! I'm envious! Love the Kaleigh and the Dolphin photo. Memorable vacation, I would say!