Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is from our friend Louise Mullen who wanted to share her shore excursions with you. Here is the first of two blogs with what Louise and her husband did on their recently Western Caribbean Cruise. Thank you Louise!
Before describing either experience with the dolphins or turtles I would like to make a disclaimer. There are people that are opposed to any wild animals being held in captivity and those people would be highly offended by both of these Disney excursions. I understand that point of view, but realize that a few animals being “sacrificed” to spend their days interacting with humans in a large pool is a not all that terribly bad. People learn about the effects of habitat destruction, over fishing, and global warming on these creatures, we are more able to appreciate the ocean wildlife. We can learn our own way to do our part in order to save wildlife in general.
Any time when several hundred people are disembarking a ship all at once, there seems to be a bit of confusion and hubbub. It took more time to load the ferry, or tender, than to get to the dock at Grand Cayman. We had to show our room keys and then waited for the wristbands that kept the people in the different excursions separated and organized amongst all of the confusion. We were escorted to the bus to take us to the Dolphin Encounter and Turtle Farm. The twenty-five minute drive seemed to go by quickly as we kept getting peeks at the ocean and coral reefs between the trees and buildings from inside the bus.
Once we arrived at the main building for dolphin encounter, we waited to be ushered through the gift shop and into the area we could get our lockers and changing area. We changed clothes, making sure we had plenty of sunscreen and waited to be given life jackets. The life jackets are mandatory, but in the tropical sun, so is the sunscreen. We waited again to be put into groups for our pre-dive instructions. There seemed to be a lot of separate steps to do before we could do our dolphin encounter. But safety is safety and dolphins are large and fast animals. They can swim up to fifty kilometers per hour. Their tails are so powerful that if they swam into you, you would be injured. Safety was a priority during the pre-dive instructions. That being said, even small children were able to safely enjoy their dolphin experience. They asked if anyone was pregnant. I believe they did not want pregnant women to do the dolphin encounter at all. (Jealous females?)
We were given five hand signals in order to have our individual interactions with the dolphin Allegria. We lined up so each of us had a chance to use our hand signals on her. There were about fourteen in our group. We stood in chest high water. If you were short, your life jacket just kept you afloat. Water shoes were recommended because we were in the water for some time and the bottom of the pool had some very slick spots. At different intervals the trainer had Allegria either swim past us quickly, or slowly swim upside down or sideways so we could feel her skin and get a very close look at her.
Parents of small children held them out so the dolphin knew which person she was interacting with. There were some children that were so small they looked to be only about two or three years old. Allegria was especially patient and gentle with the youngsters. The dolphin was so well trained that she seemed to wait until we had the correct hand signal before she swam close enough for us to pet her. Allegria knew what she was doing even though some of us humans were having difficulties giving the correct hand signal! The trainer told us a lot of information regarding dolphins before, during, and after our individual encounters. And of course there was a photographer on hand to take multiple pics of all.
When we were finished we returned our life jackets and retrieved our stuff from the lockers. You can guess the only exit was through the gift shop! That was where you could view and purchase your photos. We knew this would be an upcharge. One photo was $25. So, if you had a family of four, to spend $100 for a CD holding well over 100 pictures seems like a bargain. My family consists of my husband and me. There were over 70 pictures for us to choose from. At times we were concentrating on Allegria and not the photographer, for others, vice-verse. So we felt, for us, it was over-priced because we liked maybe a dozen of the photos. I guess $100 is better than $300 if we spent $25 for each of the dozen we liked. For us two, the CD seems over-priced, but for a larger family, the price per person is greatly reduced and may be well worth it. Something else to consider if you are there with a group of friends is to buy one CD with everyone’s pictures on it and then have one person burn extra copies and pass them out.
Several years ago I went to Discovery Cove. The time and interactions I had with the dolphin there was quite abbreviated compared to the time and interactions I had this time on this Dolphin Encounter. Both my husband and I felt it was well worth the price and enjoyed it very much. We loved watching the little kids interact with Allegria and the gentleness she showed them, and the awe on the faces of the kids when touching her. However, because we have done this once, we probably would want to explore other excursions on Grand Cayman before we revisit something we have already done.
The second portion of this excursion was at the Turtle Farm. It was literally a walk across the street. We entered through a building that was an education center and then walked outside where we came upon paths that wound around the different sized turtle ponds. There were several informative signs describing the different species and their natural ranges. Seeing some of the endangered species in the pools that were growing to maturity gave me hope for the future of these particular species. You would almost never get the opportunity to see these creatures by snorkeling around the regular vacation resorts. To see these species firsthand was remarkable and I was enthralled. I could have wandered around for hours and read every last sign.
We spent some time at some smaller pools where people were allowed to pick up some of the smaller turtles and pet them. I could have played with these guys for hours…But we went on these excursions with some friends of ours, and at this point as a group we decided we needed to have some time off our feet and drinks were in order. So to the exit we headed. And where might that be? Of course, you must exit through the gift shop. There were a lot of kitschy touristy trinkets, some which looked handmade. Many items were breakable and several signs warned something like the old adage of: “You break it, you bought it!” Some of the items were quite beautiful and the shop was quite large compared to the one at the dolphin experience.
We walked back across the street to pick up the bus to return to the port and dock area where we waited on the tender for it to return to the ship. All and all, the price paid for the dolphins was well worth the price and the turtle farm was an added free bonus. Some people like to go to one, but not the other and that is okay, too. I just felt it was wonderful to be in the great company of friends enjoying some of Mother Nature’s ocean creatures. Without places where concentrated areas of mature adult turtles are able to reproduce in ideal conditions, the oceans would probably be totally empty of turtles. The farm “grows” enough turtles for food consumption and for returning turtles back to the ocean. The endangered species are young, but I am sure they will work to increase their populations as the turtles mature and have young. I am hopeful for their long term survival. All and all it made for a perfect day on Grand Cayman!