By David Yeskel
As little as fifteen years ago, a pool-based, human-dolphin encounter was a rare, bucket-list activity only available in a few ports around the world. Since then, immersion programs with these intelligent creatures have become ubiquitous in resort locations throughout Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico. Along with this proliferation, however, have come vast differences in the quality of facilities, training and program stewardship, thus affecting guest satisfaction. A recent experience at Cabo Dolphin Center in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, however, demonstrated how one company’s commitment to running a first-class operation makes all the difference.
Introduced in 2006 in a prime location just a short walk from the main pier, the Cabo Dolphin Center is a modern, clean and purpose-built facility that’s all about first-world comfort and safety – for both human and dolphin species.
After check-in, guests are issued short wetsuits and flotation vests and directed to a changing room with lockers. While waiting for our dolphin experience to begin, we relaxed on umbrella-shaded daybeds in a nicely-landscaped courtyard. After a short tutorial on do’s and don’ts from the trainer (don’t stick your finger in the dolphin’s eyes, blowhole or mouth), we slipped into the pool and were introduced to Aqua – a 26-year-old, Pacific bottlenose dolphin – in an extraordinarily intimate way. As our small group of eight (the maximum number of guests per dolphin) treaded water in close proximity, Aqua swam slowly between us, snug and tight enough to permit running our hands over the length of her body. Surprisingly, her skin felt just like the cheap vinyl covers your grandmother put over her couch for protection. While deftly maneuvering around us clumsy-in-the-water humans, Aqua was careful not to knock against us or flick us with her powerful tail. She then proceeded to give us each a very gentle kiss on the cheek, which was reciprocated at the photographer’s urging.
After this 15-minute meet-and-greet period, we were prepped for the highlight of the experience: a ride on Aqua. Due to local regulations – or lack thereof – dolphin programs outside the U.S. typically offer a more intimate dolphin experience than those in Hawaii. Thus, we expected a lot – and weren’t disappointed. After another brief tutorial on how to ride a dolphin (a skill not typically taught in P.E.), we took turns doing either a belly-to-belly ride (pictured below) or a dorsal fin ride (faster but tough to hang on). After completing her circular route around the pool, Aqua gently deposited her rider back to the starting location, slightly wetter but nonetheless thrilled. It’s difficult not to be awestruck by the beauty, grace, care and extreme intelligence of these animals, who perform for us not only for the frequent fish treats they receive, but also, apparently, because the attraction is mutual.
It’s certainly not an understatement to call this dolphin encounter a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and, at about $200 per person, it’s not one you’ll likely repeat anytime soon. Small groups, a professional staff and a world-class facility all combine to make the Cabo Dolphin experience best-in-class. Cabo Dolphin’s shore excursion programs are offered by most cruise lines calling at Cabo San Lucas. Cabo-area resort guests can also book the programs, based on availability, at 888-526-2238 or at www.cabodolphins.com/
David Yeskel is a long-time travel writer specializing in Las Vegas, Cruising, and Mexico.