Swimming with dolphins has always been a dream of mine, and in the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to do it twice. The most recent time was at Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, when my family and I were guests of the Jamaican Tourist Board. Swimming with dolphins may not necessarily be an activity that comes across as baby friendly, but Dolphin Cove is definitely a place you can relax and enjoy with baby, while other members of your family are enjoying the more active pursuits that Dolphin Cove has to offer.
If you’re not participating in any of the dolphin swim programs, than admission for children aged six and under to Dolphin Cove is complimentary. There a great trail to explore – with loads of beautiful birds, ginormous insects, and other interesting flora and fauna to look at. The trail itself is not particularly stroller-friendly, although a decent jogging stroller should be able to manage ok.
There’s a small beach, that’s protected by a small breakwater that keeps the big waves at bay. There are plenty of beach loungers, and the sand is very soft. The boardwalk that extends along the little gift shops makes for a nice stroll, but bolting toddlers need to be kept on a short leash (I guess both literally and figuratively ;)), as the guard rails (when they are there) are not exactly substantive. The restaurant had a number of local dishes (the jerk smelled divine), as well as choices that might appeal more to those with a picky palate. Definitely pack your own water and healthy snacks, if you plan to come for more than a couple of hours.
My daughter and I were fortunate to take part in the Dolphin “Encounter Swim”, where we both donned life jackets and entered the water to touch and interact with our dolphin, Nina. My daughter, then aged four, was a little nervous, but was as equally delighted as I was to be in the water with such a beautiful creature. The minimum age for both this swim and the 2-dolphin “Swim With” program is three, but participants must be able to swim and those under 11 must be accompanied by a paying adult. Pregnant women are not permitted to participate in any of the swimming with dolphin programs – something to do with dolphins having acute sonar and the possibility of them being unpredictable if their sonar picked up on the baby in your tummy.
However mamas-to-be AND little toddlers may participate in the dolphin “Touch Encounter” program, where you stand in knee deep water and can interact with and pet the dolphins. This is free for children under five so long as they are accompanied by a paying adult and kept in hand with a grown up. Bub was 16mos at the time, which I figured was too little, but now that he’s two and adores all animals, I can really envision him loving the dolphins.
More activities that are included in the Dolphin Cove admission are swimming with stingrays (barbs removed), glass bottom boat rides, snorkeling, mini-boat rides, as well as watching the shark show and the dolphins at play.
Be sure to pack extra towels, snacks and water, sunscreen, as well as extra money should you decide to purchase a photo from your dolphin encounter. Cameras are permitted, but not in the dolphin areas or while participating in the dolphin experiences. They request that you apply sunscreen after your dolphin experience, as the chemicals can be harmful for the dolphins. My suggestion is to wear a rashguard or other swim shirt so you’re protected during the program as well.
There are no change tables, but lots of places where you can easily change baby, and lots of shade in different areas to sit and quietly nurse or feed baby. The freshwater showers are quite refreshing, and while they may be chilly for smaller babies, older ones may feel good for the splash. There area quite a lot of stairs going down from the parking lot and main entrance area to the main Dolphin Cove areas, but once you’re there you should be fine in a stroller along the boardwalk and beach areas. Again, a jogger or all-terrain stroller should handle the jungle trail just fine.
Swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cove is expensive, and prices vary depending on the season (that’s why there are no prices on their website). When I went, the “Encounter Swim” was around $150 USD, and that included admission and access to all the activities. Pricey for sure, but if you pack snacks and make a day of it, it’s a definite treat that your kids (and you) will love.