Posted Dec. 1, 2012
By ALEXIS KANAREK
NASSAU, Bahamas — As I sped through the water with the waves crashing over my face, I smiled, not realizing I would inevitably get a mouth full of ocean water.
Looking back at my “engine,” Elektra, I felt a rush that could only be achieved by bonding with such a magnificent creature. When I reached the end of the lagoon, I couldn’t believe the ride I had just taken; I truly felt one with nature.
Dolphin Cay, the dolphin habitat at Atlantis Paradise Island, offers a variety of wildlife experiences, whether to swim with dolphins, play with seals, feed sharks, or pet stingrays. Filled with 6.6 million gallons of crystal clear seawater, this 14-acre facility is one of the largest marine habitats and dolphin rescue-rehabilitation facilities in the world.
Atlantis Paradise Island, accessed through Nassau, Bahamas, in just a five-minute cab ride, is a unique resort that offers a variety of accommodations, including its Royal Towers, Coral Towers, Beach Tower, The Cove Atlantis (all-suite style rooms), The Reef Atlantis, or its Harborside Resort.
Regardless of where one chooses to stay within the resort, all guests enjoy the tropical ambiance and full access to Atlantis’ amenities, including its infamous water park and casino.
Vacationers have the opportunity to play with dolphins in the Cay’s shallow waters, sharing in their childish exuberance, or experience their speed and agility first-hand in deeper water. Dolphin Cay has redefined the dolphin swimming experience through their various options and their value of customer care and satisfaction.
Not only was booking a package as easy as clicking a few buttons or calling the concierge, but from the moment my friend, Adam Gordon, and I made it down the winding pathway from our hotel to the Cay, it was clear this experience would be like no other.
Having chosen the Deep Water Scooter Interaction, we were given bracelets at the check-in stand and offered refreshments while asked to wait by the lounge chairs at the beach until our group was called. From there, we entered a large, outdoor locker room area where we were each given a wetsuit, personal locker, beach towel and complimentary Dolphin Cay bag with a mask and snorkel to keep.
Once we were finished changing and taking pictures, the group was asked to step into an adjacent room where we were shown a video, given interesting facts about dolphins, such as their tendency to sleep with one eye open and their ability to see equally well both underwater and out, and briefed on the dos and don’ts of interacting with them by a charismatic trainer named “G.” When all the curious vacationers were finished asking questions, we were split up into the six-person groups with which we would spend the rest of the experience.
As I entered the cold salty water, I momentarily regretted agreeing to this entire ordeal, until a dolphin swam up to us as if he were inviting us to come play.
After taking pictures kissing and dancing with the dolphins, Cosmo, Elektra and Tamra, and hearing G’s story about his shark encounter, which ended with a bite and 110 stitches, the dolphins gave us their signature “foot push,” in which we raced across the lagoon as they pushed our feet.
Once each person in the group was done, we put on our masks and snorkels and were given hand-held water scooters and allowed to swim throughout an area of the large lagoon.
Unlike its more restrictive counterparts, the Cay allows one to fully emerge into the dolphins’ habitat and swim carefree — as if we were in the ocean. With Cosmo, Elektra, and Tamra all to ourselves throughout the swim, anywhere we turned a dolphin would be waiting to be touched or played with, while a professional photographer documented the entire experience; making it that much more memorable.
At the end of the 30-minute water experience, we were invited to stay at the Cay’s private beach with all-day access. Instead of accepting their offer, like any other excited first-timer, I ran to the gift shop to purchase our pictures which, although overpriced, were an integral part of the experience and a must since no cameras are allowed in the water (only on the beach).
“I have swam with dolphins before, but this experience was definitely more inclusive, from the drinks and lounge chairs at the beginning to the scooters and snorkel gear during the swim,” said Gordon. “But, what made the day even better was going back to the pool and relaxing with our friends.”
After our dolphin experience, as guests of The Cove, Gordon and I were able to meet our friends for lunch at the hotel’s well-known adult pool, Cane, and got to use our new snorkel gear with friends on the hotel’s shallow, fish and coral-filled beach.
The Deep Water Scooter Interaction, in which one has to be at least 10 years old and must be able to swim in deep water without support vest or assistance, is not the only option.
The Shallow Water Interaction is a good alternative for those visitors under 10 and lacking swimming abilities, since guests only go waist-deep. However, children under the age of ten still need an adult present.
The Ultimate Trainer for a Day is a more intensive, full-day activity, in which guests get to work alongside professional trainers and aquarists as they interact with dolphins, sea lions, sharks, and stingrays. This experience takes pseudo-trainers behind the scenes, while allowing them to enjoy the standard guest interactions, like the dolphin foot push.
“The ultimate trainer for a day was so much fun,” said Libby Miller, a 21-year-old guest of the hotel. “I got to see and interact with so many different animals, and everyone I was with thought it was amazing too.”
For this package, participants must be in good physical condition and over the age of 10, but those 13 years old and under must be accompanied by a paid “Trainer for a Day” adult as part of the program.
This option, like the Deep Water Scooter, includes a complimentary bag, however, trainers for the day not only get the snorkel gear, but also a fish guide, an Ultimate Trainer for a day T-shirt, and a one GB flash drive that holds all the pictures taken by the professional photographer throughout the day.
Freestyle Swim, which is coming soon to Dolphin Cay, allows guests to swim for 30 minutes alongside dolphins, in a six-person group, throughout the lagoons, wearing a mask, snorkel and fins.
All programs include a wetsuit, which is required to go in the water, personal locker, beach towels, beverages, and a 30-minute interaction with dolphins; however, their prices, which can be steep, and activities vary substantially. While the Shallow Water Interaction is about $120 to $160 per person, the Deep Water Scooter Interaction is $190 to $210 per person, and the Ultimate Trainer for a Day is $399 per person.
Prices vary depending on dates and full refunds for reservations will occur only between six months and 15 days prior to scheduled visit. Because of the activity’s popularity, guests should reserve their session time within two weeks of making their hotel reservations and they should also know that it is a requirement to understand English or to bring a translator along.
These prices can get expensive in comparison to other places and not all reviews of these dolphin interactions were satisfactory.
“I did the shallow water interaction and didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” said Amy Marietta, a 20-year-old guest of the hotel who was visiting from New York. “All we did was go in the water, touch them for a little and take pictures.”
Although it is hard to believe that someone would prefer a Cay experience without dolphins, there are other options, some of them with different animals, including the Sea Lion Interaction, Sea Lion Behind the Scenes, Stingray Experience, Snorkel the Ruins of Atlantis, and Observer and Beach Pass, for those who simply want to watch. Most of these are also located at the Cay, however some involve going to the hotel’s other beaches.
Once done with any animal interaction, guests can browse the Cay’s gift shop, whose proceeds, in part, go to the non-profit Marine Foundation, and view or purchase their pictures in print or CD.
Guests can visit the Cay’s Education Center, complimentary only to hotel guests, which features a video presentation wall, an audio corner to hear dolphin sounds, specialists on hand to answer questions, and interactive kiosks with even more information on the Cay’s animals.
Regardless of the option or package chosen, the experience doesn’t have to end at Dolphin Cay. As a guest of the hotel, one could enjoy lunch at Mosaic, one of The Cove’s restaurants; its adult pool, Cane; Atlantis’ infamous water park, including water and river slides (some with views of sharks), pools, and rock climbing; or even hang out at the casino and gamble a little while the rest of the family enjoys the water.
Perhaps my satisfaction with the whole experience was due to my love for animals, specifically dolphins, but whether stopping on a cruise for the day or staying at one of the Paradise Island hotels, swimming with dolphins at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay is the perfect addition to the already exciting vacation.
IF YOU GO
Atlantis Paradise Island
Address: One Casino Dr., Paradise Island, Bahamas
Directions from Nassau International Airport (25 minutes): Head North on Coral Harbour Road, turn right onto Windsor Field Road. Continue onto John F. Kennedy Drive and take the first left onto Prospect Ridge Road. At the roundabout take the first exit onto West Bay Street. Turn left onto Marlborough Street. Continue onto Navy Lion Road Turn right onto East Bay Street, then turn left onto Atlantis Bridge. Take the first left onto Paradise Beach Drive and turn right.
Phone: 888-877-7525 or 954-809-2100
One & Only Ocean Club, Bahamas
Address: One Casino Dr., Paradise Island, Bahamas
Phone: 954-809-2150 or 888-528-7157 (within USA)
Rate: $650 for standard room (including tax)
Best Western Plus
Address: Bay View Drive / Harbour Ridge Road, Paradise Island, Bahamas
Rate: $250 for standard room (including tax)
Location: One & Only Ocean Club
Average entrée (Lunch): $35 – $40
Average entrée (Dinner): $55 – $75
Location: Marina Village
Average entrée: $20 – $35
Location: The Cove Atlantis
Average entrée: under $20