Imagine leaving Marco Island, Florida, one of the 10,000 Islands in the Gulf of Mexico. You’re aboard the “Dolphin Explorer”. This is an eco-experience that introduces science and nature to young and young of heart explorers. The Everglades have the alligators, but the salt water areas have the dolphins. Time to find them in their natural habitat.
If you ask my son the highlight of his 11th year on Earth, he would say, “Seeing the dolphins on Marco Island”. We found this gem in the National Geographic book 100 Places that Can Change Your Child’s Life by Keith Bellows. While Florida is famous for its alligators, I think we’re all partial to the dolphin now.
During your three hour cruise, you’ll pass many of the small islands, go under a large bridge and explore around the mangrove trees as you search for dolphins.
Each trip has an onboard master naturalist who is able to tell you facts about dolphins and the area you’re traveling in. The naturalist is also the official photographer of the trip, taking pictures of the dolphins and groups of people.
Kids become members of the Dolphin Explorers Club by carrying a Master Dolphin Sighting Form (middle picture below) that helps to track the date, time, location, and other information for each dolphin. They help identify and catalog the world’s largest population of nonmigratging bottlenose dolphins. All of these dolphins stay in and around Marco Island.
The captain and naturalist know where the dolphins are and the dolphins trust the boat. Fortunately we stumbled upon a group of dolphins having a “dolphin playdate”. They were very interested in us and played in the wake of our boat. Some dolphins chased the boat, leaping up into the air. Others rocketed out of the water and splashed on their sides. This was truly the highlight of the entire cruise.
Your final stop is an almost uninhabited eight-mile long barrier island, called Keewaydinan. You’ll walk through a stretch of Mangrove trees that open onto the most pristine beach. Now, it’s time for swimming and shelling. The Gulf Coast is the best around for all shells. Fortunately the Dolphin Explorer gave us shelling bags and my youngest filled it up to the top! The naturalist also took and printed a picture of our family (at no cost) and it might just be our next Christmas picture.
Tips for the Dolphin Explorer
- Sit in the back of the boat. There’s more shade and most importantly, when the dolphins jump the wake of the boat, you’re in the front seat!
- Best for ages … 2-99. Everyone will enjoy the dolphins and the stop at the private island. This trip is not just for children, but also for photographers.
- Trips leave at 9:00 and 1:00 and reservations are highly recommended
What to Bring With You:
- Kid’s Camera – I highly recommend this waterproof camera for kids. GREAT pictures and kids love it. Most of the pictures in this post were taken by this camera.
- Smart Phone case – I highly recommend this case (click here). It goes around the neck (inexpensive), waterproof case for your phone.
- Snacks – drinks are provided
- Hats – We found that this type of hat with a chin strap was perfect.
- Sunscreen – This sunscreen was awesome, my kids liked it and it doesn’t stick to sand!
- Kids Dramamine – excellent for motion sickness!
Dolphins that Change Your Life
Why? Seeing dolphins in their natural habitat was jaw dropping to my children. They weren’t doing tricks or letting people ride on their backs, instead they were doing what dolphins do. Playing, jumping, and interacting with one another.
If you’re a regular on this site, this was how we celebrated Brother’s Day this year. This year we actually told the boys that we were taking a boat ride near Marco Island. We didn’t want to make any promises or set them up with crazy expectations for dolphins. Let’s just say this trip didn’t disappoint!
Full Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post in anyway. All opinions are my own.
Here are some of our other favorite places to play in Florida:
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