Updated: Feb 12
In 2017, my husband and I got to experience something that I've always had the urge to do: go swimming with dolphins through the Unexso Underwater Explorers Society in the Bahamas. The decision to swim with dolphins came completely by accident as Hurricane Irma derailed our plans to visit Princess Cay, a Carnival-owned private island, on our cruise aboard the Carnival Ecstasy. Instead, our ship touched down in Freeport, Bahamas just ahead of the storm. The detour caused our day of lounging on the beach to be cancelled, and we had to pick a new shore excursion quickly.
As we looked upon the packet of remaining excursions, it was clear that many companies were wary of the storm. Several adventures had been cancelled and the options were slimming down. We hadn't planned on spending the extra money to swim with the dolphins, but in attempt at a last-minute hoorah, we went for it anyway.
Should I swim with dolphins? Here are some reasons why I think you should.
1. The staff was very informed, and taught us a lot of facts about dolphins. They explained that the dolphins at Unexso had open range to explore the ocean, but they always come back due to the free food. We had the pleasure of watching dolphins do flips and tricks, as well as splashing numerous guests who were clapping excitedly. We learned about dolphin behavior and that the creatures actually get sad if the watchful humans aren't clapping and cheering loudly enough. The up-close-and-personal encounter with the dolphins was certainly worth the extra money.
2. We were able to get in the water with the dolphins and even snap a once-in-a-lifetime picture. The skin of a dolphin feels just how you would imagine: a smooth, rubbery surface. The dolphin posed for the picture, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and even rolled over to let some swimmers pet its stomach. Encounters like these give us a chance to safely interact with wild animals that we may never get the chance to alone.
We had such a good time that I honestly didn't think anything bad could come of it. Alas, this is reality, and all good things coincide with bad. It's just balance.
What should I know first?
1. Dolphins are allergic to perfumes, sunblocks, and lotions. We received a letter about this underneath our door the night before the excursion. The late notice due to the detour didn't give us a chance to search for natural protection from the sun. We arrived at the pool with the dolphins, removed our shirts to expose our bathing suits, and regretted it for 2 weeks. My back was as red as a fire engine by the time we got back on the ship. If we would have known how long the instructional time would take, we would have kept our shirts on until it was time to delve in the water with the dolphins. I guess you live, learn, and share so other people don't make the same mistake.
With that being said, you would be thrilled to know that there are sunscreens that are safer for use around dolphins. One of them I recommend is Banana Boat Simply Protect (the spray is preferred). I did a little bit of research to find this out, however, I'm not a scientist, so please ask your tour guide before applying this or any other reef-safe sunblocks.
If you want to take extra precautions and be 100 percent sure the dolphins are safe and you don't get burnt, I suggest buying a swim shirt.
2. On top of the considerable price that we paid to swim with the dolphins, we also had to pay if we wanted a copy of our photo. I understand that the business has to make money, but I wish one photo could be included with the price to swim. I must admit, the staff and organizers are smart, because everybody wants a copy of their dolphin pic to take home. I wouldn't say this was a huge ordeal, but perhaps a minor inconvenience to budget travelers.
Additional Tips: During the instructional period, we were informed that dolphins like to hump everything and everybody, including humans. We were asked not to pet the dolphins too low lest they get "excited." This is more of a funny fact than anything, but something to keep in mind if you ever come in contact with a dolphin. We were also informed never to wave or point at the dolphins, because they will mistake our hand signals with the instructor's hand signals, and expect a treat in return for following a command. Since we don't have treats, we are rudely teasing the dolphins if we do this.
If you're considering whether or not to spend the extra money to swim with dolphins, I'd say do it! It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows you to get face-to-face with one of nature's smartest and friendliest creatures. Just make sure to either wear a shirt until it's time to get in the water, or opt for a reef-safe sunblock, unless you want to feel the wrath of the sun.
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