Swimming with Dolphins Close to Home

No expensive tropical vacation on the calendar?  No problem

Ever since my kids and I vacationed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island of Hawaii last year, I’ve been dying to swim with dolphins.  Every day we watched other families frisking around in the lagoon, but it just wasn’t in our budget.

Then this summer my daughter and I were invited to participate in the Dolphin Discovery program at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California as their guests and we couldn’t accept fast enough.

What and where

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and the interactive Dolphin Discovery program is open to participants 52″ or taller who are confident swimmers.  Kids 11 and under must be accompanied by a paid adult participant or observer.

Even though the park is only open seasonally, the dolphin swim is offered seven days a week year round at prices ranging from $125 to $190 (park admission not included).

Learning the ropes

When we went, the program began with a fun classroom session in which my daughter and I learned about the physiology and social lives of dolphins.  We passed around a cast model of a dolphin’s jaw (presumably to teach us a healthy respect for their 80-100 sharp teeth), and learned how dolphins breathe, sleep, swim, give birth, and raise young.

Then the instructor outlined the two cardinal rules: 1) Don’t touch the dolphins until the trainers tell you to, 2) Don’t touch the dolphin’s eyes, blowhole, or mouth.   We were pretty much bursting with excitement.

Gearing up

Next we were off to the clean but closet-sized changing rooms to wriggle into wetsuits and booties.  It probably would have been funny if it wasn’t so incredibly frustrating.  Somehow we hopped, stretched, and yanked our way into wetsuits that seemed two sizes too small.

There are no hairclips, sunglasses, jewelry or cameras allowed in the pool, so we left all this in a locker along with my wallet, camera, and iPhone.  The locker didn’t actually lock, but the area seemed secure enough.

Dolphins at last!

The Dolphin Interaction Pool is far from private.  In retrospect this makes perfect sense, since watching people swim with dolphins makes other people want to swim with dolphins.  We felt a little conspicuous at first, but forgot the hundreds of observers as soon as we slipped into the water.

Participants were divided into groups of four and assigned a trainer who slapped the water to call a dolphin over to where we were standing on a shelf.   First we got to greet, touch, and examine the dolphin.  Then we each took turns sticking out a hand for a dorsal fin ride across the pool.  This was the highlight of the day, even if I did get about two gallons of saltwater up my nose (photographic evidence at left).

Photographers were on hand to capture images of us dancing with dolphins, holding dolphins, and being kissed by dolphins.  These were available for purchase afterward at the Kodak kiosk.

Swimming with dolphins is controversial.  We loved swimming with them, but how do they feel about swimming with us?  It’s hard to say.  Ours seemed more than happy to go through the motions, but then again dolphins can’t frown.  The frozen fish we kept tossing in their toothy mouths probably didn’t hurt either.

If you go

I’d advise scheduling your dolphin swim at the end of the day if you’re planning to visit the park, since other activities will pale by comparison.  Also, leave jewelry at home because the lockers are in a secure area, but they don’t actually lock.  Finally, if you can bring someone along to take pictures from the side of the pool, do it.

Don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area?  Don’t despair.  Here are some other places you can get up close and personal with dolphins: Discovery Cove (in Orlando, Florida), SeaWorld (San Diego, California and San Antonio, Texas),  Miami Seaquarium (Miami, Florida), the Indianapolis Zoo (Indianapolis, Indiana)



  1. says

    Wow that is a wonderful experience. I always wanted to swim with dolphins but too bad I never gotten the chance. With a very busy mother like me, I have no time to travel and explore especially so that our budget is always at the limit. I envy you guys so much for that experience.

  2. says

    I love dolphins – they remind me of dogs:) I’ve done the swimming with the dolphins thing twice, and the first time was fabulous and sound similar to your experience.

    The second time was a giant photo op and selling machine:(

    I’m glad you guys had a great dolphin encounter!


  3. Michele says

    Thank you for the great insight of what I am looking forward to do tomorrow (10/16/10) I can’t wait…..I am already getting teary eyed (with happy tears) just reading your review. Thank you again

  4. Jessica Medley says

    What a informative article, thanks. I want to swim with dolphins so bad and cant wait to. I am waiting for the book Swim With Dolphins: A guide to professional wild dolphin swims, dolphin swim resorts and dolphin assisted therapy .. to come out on Kindle in a few months than I will know all the locations i can choose from and how much it costs and all the tips to do to make it a better swim. I am so excited to swim with dolphins I been waiting to do it basically all my life.

    Thanks for the story it gave me the inspiration and kept my dream alive of swimming with dolphins.. i can’t wait!!!!!!

  5. Amy Canby says

    Sounds like an awesome experience! I’m sure the dolphins knew what animal lovers were in their midst and were glad to take you for a spin.

  6. says

    Hello, I’m glad that you and your daughter love dolphins. I do too and had always wanted to swim with them. But after learning more about captive dolphins and how many marine parks get their dolphins for these programs it is something I cannot bear to ever do. For more info you may want to check out Tears of the Dolphins

    Learning about what actually happens to dolphins when they are “selected” for these programs is heart-wrenching.

  7. Kelly says

    All of you are idiots….did you not once think of the forced captivity, confinement and enslavement of animals for your entertainment?? I could go on and on about this, but the below article gives a better summary than I could when I’m so angry about what I just read. And no, this isn’t “bleeding heart liberal” stuff, but common sense about wild animals.

    Please read the WSPA article (just to start) and educate yourselves….

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