on September 1, 2010
I have always wanted to swim with dolphins. They are such intelligent, gentle creatures. However, on most trips that my husband and I have taken, we never had the opportunity or the time to try this activity. Particularly since my husband was not overly interested in swimming with dolphins and I was not particularly interested in swimming with them on my own. When planning our trip to Cancun, I was attempting to satisfy the wishes of all traveling companions – me, my husband, and our couple friends. So, when our traveling companions expressed a desire to swim with dolphins, I happily booked the activity. We were referred to Interactive Aquarium ("IA") by a friend who had booked the experience on a prior trip to Cancun. DisclaimerPlease note that this review does not discuss the political merits of a captive dolphin program. For purposes of this review, I will assume that the dolphins are happy and healthy in their environment as I had no basis to determine otherwise during my visit to Interactive Aquarium.LocationInteractive Aquarium is located in La Isla Shopping Village, which is a short bus ride from most hotels in the Cancun "hotel zone." IA offers a variety of different activities including a 13 tank aquarium of tropical fish, a swim with shark encounter, and swimming with dolphin encounters. Interactive Aquarium offers three swim with dolphin encounters – the Education Program, the Advanced Program, and Trainer for a Day. We booked the Advanced Program which includes a 60 minute swim with the dolphins. Other Interactive Aquarium ActivitiesAlthough not advertised, also included in the Advance Program is general admission to the aquarium section of the facility. We were asked to arrive early to our scheduled swim time and prior to our dolphin encounter, we mingled throughout the aquarium looking at the fish tanks, watching a swim with shark encounter, and listening in on the dolphin education program. The aquarium contains about 13 tanks with tropical fish and sea creatures. A few of the tanks are interactive which allows visitors to touch certain sea creatures including a sting ray, some starfish, and a turtle or two. Overall, the aquarium was decent to look at while waiting to swim with dolphins. Admission to the aquarium is approximately $10/pp to view the aquarium and may be a nice option if one is seeking an activity on a rainy day in Cancun when the beach is inaccessible. The swim with shark encounter is basically a large indoor tank which contains the sharks. A visitor who pays for this encounter is lowered down in a glass cage where the sharks swim around him (and an IA employee). Then, they are allowed to extend a stick with food into the water and watch the sharks eat. Our group decided after watching this encounter that it did not look all that exciting as the tank was rather small and uninteresting. IMO – if you are going to swim with sharks, this is not the best place to do it. Swim with DolphinsWe then returned to the outdoor area at one of the large pools where the dolphins reside to wait for our names to be called for our swim with dolphin experience. Once called, we were then escorted to another large pool area where we were asked to sit on elevated stadium type benches while the IA employees explained the ‘rules’. Basically, no jewelry, no cameras, no sunscreen in the water with the dolphins. If you book the Advance Program, do not bring any of these items with you or you will be asked to leave them on the benches while you are in the water (I am not a fan of leaving my personal belongings unattended). My husband had abstained from booking the Advance Program; however, he agreed to watch us in the pool and take photos during our encounter. A nice service of IA is that they permitted my husband to access the Advance Program area to watch the three of us who had paid for the experience. Further, he was permitted to take photos with our digital camera and even allowed to walk around the pool area (within reason) to get closer shots of us in the pool. He was allowed access with the standard $10 aquarium admission price. If you do not have someone to take photos, IA also offers a DVD/CD of photos taken during the program which you can purchase for a fee in the gift shop. After explaining the rules, those wearing sunscreen were then escorted to a shower area where we were asked to wash off. The shower area was clean and there were plenty of stalls (with curtains) for those with sunscreen to wash off (myself included). Then, it was time to get into the water, which is a shock to the system – it is COLD! Freezing cold! Note – do not book this adventure on a cooler day. Since it is Mexico in June, it was hot outside so we managed to adjust to the water’s temperature and it soon felt refreshing. However, none of us expected it to be so ice cold. I will make one comment regarding the pool area – I recommend wearing an older swim suit. At one point, the dolphin pooped in the pool and it floated for a bit while the staff member retrieved something to clean it out. The water was clear and not cloudy, but the little bits of ‘stuff’ – not sure what it was exactly – floating around made it less than pristine clean. If this bothers you, do not book this activity. I ignored it and chalk it up to the fact you are swimming with live animals that eat and move and poop like the rest of us. The first part of the swim, we were encouraged to spread out in one third of the pool area as the dolphins swam around us. The staff members informed us that we could put our hands out and touch/pet them as they swam by. Dolphins are such beautiful and friendly creatures and it was amazing just being in the water with them. After a short period, we then lined up along the edge of the pool and each person was asked one at a time to move into the middle of the pool and hold out their hands. The dolphin would then swim up to you and give you a ‘handshake’. After each person had their time with the dolphin, it was time for the foot push. Once again, we lined up on the wall and waited our turn. Once it was time, we were instructed to hold our hands out and keep our feet straight behind us. Then, the dolphin would come up from behind and push our feet. If you keep ‘board straight’, the dolphin’s swimming power would push you completely out of the water. It was an exhilarating experience. Note – after you are elevated out of the water, the dolphin releases and returns to the front of the pool, leaving you to ‘face plant’ into the water. I was thankful not to be the first person at this task as I was able to note what happened and closed my eyes and held my nose during my turn as I got to the end of the pool area. After the foot push, we moved to another corner of the pool where the dolphin would give each of us a kiss. The IA staff also takes a photo during this time which you can purchase for a fee in the gift shop. Finally, the dolphins performed a mini show of sorts by swimming across the water and doing all sorts of tricks. ValueThe cost of the Advance Program is approximately $130/pp for an hour of activity. Given that we were permitted to access the aquarium on this fee as well, I believe it was a good value for the price. The interactive activities with the dolphins were exactly as advertised. We spent the majority of the hour in the pool and although our session was full with visitors which required some wait between activities, I felt as if I had ample time with the dolphins during the hour.OverallThe three of us left happy and satisfied with our experience. Dolphins are amazing creatures and it was a great way to spend an afternoon in Cancun. We were looking for fun and entertaining activity with dolphins and the Advance Program met our expectations. It was not overly educational, but that was not part of our criteria when seeking a swim with dolphin experience. Overall, I would recommend this activity to other IGOUGO travelers.
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