Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I (swim/swam/swum) with dolphins!

It just doesn't seem right to have to wake to an alarm when you are away on your hols, but it was an hour's drive to Discovery Cove, and we needed to be there at 8am. I

f you ever do get the chance to go there, do this, then I cant recommend it highly enough. We had such a wonderful, super, and to take a word from the Americans, awesome, day. Discovery is not anywhere near as big as the other Theme Parks, but they pack a hell of a lot in. They only let in 1000 visitors a day, with about 75% of those booking interactions with the dolphins and it books up quickly. I can well understand why. It has a beautiful, lush tropical island feel with all the planting and meandering pathways, is clean, well organised, has high staff to guest ratio's,leaving you feeling relaxed and chilled out.

When we arrived (amongst some of the first, only row three back in the car park) we queued to show our tickets and ID. There were 8 booths and a member of staff at the head of the line chatting and directing proceedures. It was all very quick, our photo was taken and we were passed on to the next desk where, by the time we got there our waterproof maps and ID cards were hanging on a lanyard with our photos imprinted on them and our credit card details 'attached' to Martins. Now everything else could go in one of the free lockers and we didnt need anything else for the day because it was all provided.

Next we followed another member of staff down the winding path through the tall plantations where at a designated spot we were stopped and our complimentary photo of the two of us taken. Another staff member and on into the Park for real where we stopped again and the details of the day explained to us. All meals, snacks and drinks are included in the price as are towels, snorkels, wet suits, special animal friendly sun cream, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. In fact the only thing we ended up paying for was some water wear shoes and a souvenir tee-shirt for me!

You are given a set time for your dolphin swim, and as ours was at 9.55am we opted to get changed before breakfasting, so following yet another staff member (all so friendly and reassuring) we wandered further down the right hand path to the wet suit/vest hand out and the changing rooms.
You could choose to wear either a cut off wet suit or a vest. Vests leave you with more maneuverability but wet suits keep you warmer. We went for the wet suits. Of course never having worn one before and with no instructions I managed to put mine in back to front. Embarrassed or what? And a short dumpy lady with not so long arms is no match for a wet suit. Martin had to tug quite hard to get it off me again. Anyway with everything stowed in the lockers, we headed back to the restaurant for our 'all you can eat' breakfast. Well scrummy. Heaps to choose from, all clean, tasty, well presented and lots of tables so room for all. It didn't seem long until our swim time came round.

There is a very large lagoon in the middle of the park which has been divided into four smaller lagoons. One is for the baby and 'still-in-training' dolphins and the other three are where the interactions take place
Trainers having their morning briefing by the 'nursery' lagoon.

Four dolphins can be found in each, and you are put into small groups of about 8 to each dolphin with a trainer and a helper. Our dolphin was Tyler, Erron his trainer. The dolphins work on hand signals and we were shown how to signal for him to put his head on our hands raising it up for a kiss! Yes, I kissed a dolphin!! I also stroked him, hugged him and eventually got to have a dorsal tow from him! Wow!! These creatures are just so incredible, they defy description.

Erron explained that nowadays America have made it a federal offence to interact in any way whatsoever (and that includes just waving at them from a boat) with dolphins found in the wild in USA waters. This is to protect them as they are becoming more and more friendly, loosing the skills to find their own food but also getting hurt. And since only yesterday I heard on the local news that Dave the Dolphin, our lad swimming off the Kent coast, has now had part of his tail sliced off by a boat propeller (sight seerers getting too close) I can understand the Americans reactions.

There was a young girl in our group who was obviously a bit wary, so Erron didn't really put Tyler through the same sort of paces which the other dolphins were seen to be doing later on in the day, but it was great to know she had been so considered of the little girls feelings. The dolphins are very controlled by the trainers signals so you don't really interact so much as watch/receive the trained tricks, that is until the dorsal tow. As I lay against Tyler's side, getting my hands in th
e correct place, I could feel his body quiver against me with excitement. This may be his nine-til-five day at the office job but it was clear he was having as much fun as the rest of us and was eager to show off.
Now as much as I don't want to criticise, I do have to say there was one point we were very disappointed with. The whole time you are in the water there are three photographers taking pictures. Erron even gave extra goes, if she thought the cameras had not caught the action. After the swim you were taken to see the resulting snaps. There were about 12 in all and for the princely sum of $65 (yes that is right - about £32) you could be the proud owner of 3 6x8 prints of your choice and 2 key ring fobs (same pics). Now why? Why charge such a high price? To my mind it was just emotional blackmail. You knew that possibly this was a once in a lifetime event, you did want photographic recording of your memories, you couldn't take photos yourself while swimming unless one of your group wasn't in the water. So I expect most people coughed up the money. But really, that was way too dear. The photos themselves weren't of professional standard (sorry if they were professionals but in the end they were only snap shots) and we had already paid a fair price for the day anyway. I have to say this was the only example I saw of tourists being ripped off all holiday and I really was disappointed about it. A wrench but no, we didn't get the photos. I went back and took random people doing what we had done. So that and what we have held in our heads is our reminder of a fantastic experience.

This was only the start of our day at Discovery Cove. More photos and tales to come.

1 comment:

scrapdolly said...

Loved Discovery Cove (it had onky just opened when we went in 2000 and was very special and the pictures were cheaper)
Loved the dolphin swim and felt blessed I was the only one in our group who went out real deep with Natalie (our dolphin) and then 'rode' her back at unbelievable speed. Nigel didn't do the interaction as he is scared of water but they let him take loads of pictures as we begged LOL