Swimming with Dolphins, Stingrays

& Creatures of the Deep

By Marianne Schwab | Best Travel Deals Tips Blog

Ask anyone who loves to travel and you'll find that swimming with dolphins is on the top five of their bucket list. Swimming with stingrays, however, may be a wee bit little farther down. Well, I've actually done both.

Of all of my wild life encounters, it’s amazing how many have involved sea life since I don’t scuba dive (just snorkel). But wildlife under the sea is equally fascinating as those that roam on dry land. Here are few highlights from my travels.

Bahamas - Swimming with Dolphins. I think it’s almost every traveler’s dream to swim with dolphins. I got my swim with “Flipper” at Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Your dolphin trainer will combine elements of hands-on contact, education, fun, and adventure to make your dolphin encounter an unforgettable experience. As much fun as it is, do be aware that not all organized dolphin encounters treat these precious sea mammals humanely. I interviewed Dolphin Encounters and liked that they limited the number of encounters allowed per day, the length of time for the encounter, as well as limited the size of the group participating so as not to overwork the dolphins.

For any questions you may have regarding the humane treatment of marine animals in these programs, you can go to the Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. There is a controversy over participating in these programs so let your conscience be your guide. I am personally not a fan of Sea World theme parks, but I felt my experience with Dolphin Encounters on Paradise Island, Bahamas, was a very positive one and I did not sense the dolphins were mistreated in any way.

Finally, be very cautious about wild dolphin swims. I've heard that untrained dolphins can be rather cantankerous.

[Photo: My dolphin encounter on Paradise Island, Bahamas.]

Massachusetts & California - Whale Watching. In Southern California, from December through April, you can have a unique opportunity to glimpse one of nature’s most extraordinary events—the migration of California gray whales from the chilly Alaskan seas to the warm water lagoons of Baja California where they birth and rear their young. Tens of thousands of these “peaceful giants of the sea” come within a few miles of the coast on their 5,000-mile southern journey, the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis.

With 70 miles of coastline, San Diego makes an ideal location for viewing this impressive parade but the peak migration season is in mid-January when as many as 200 whales per day can be spotted off of Southern California shores. We went in mid-March and only saw one or two whales (not so spectacular) plus due to whale watch protocol, you can't maneuver your vessel toward the whale, the whale must swim toward your vessel. So make sure you do your research on the whale migration season when you plan your whale watch so that you go at a time when there are plenty of whales to actually watch. I still think a whale watch is far better than going to Sea World since I would rather see whales in their natural habitat. I saved a lot of money with the Go San Diego Card which also includes the whale watching excursions (you don’t have to use it for Sea World). We used it for Legoland, the San Diego Zoo Safari, San Diego Zoo and whale watching and it was a great travel deal since we saved well over $100 to $150.

[My souvenir photo at San Diego whale watch with my nieces & nephew.]

My first whale watch was spectacular on a July weekend in Cape Cod. As the humpback whales make their way north, you can see them from late April to early October. We went in July and saw several magnificent humpback whales. It was one of my favorite memories of a marine mammal encounter. Hawaii also has whale watches so if you ever get an opportunity to go on a whale watch, GO! [Note: If you're prone to sea sickness or if there are really big swells the day you go out, take Bonine according to the directions on the packet and you'll be fine. On our San Diego whale watch there were nine foot swells, so Bonine was a good thing.]

Hawaii - Snorkeling with Tropical Fish. One of my absolutely favorite beach vacation activities is snorkeling and I’ve snorkeled some amazing reefs off the coasts of the Florida Keys, the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Jamaica, Kauai, and Maui to name a few. Maui is my favorite place to snorkel and has some of the best snorkeling in my opinion. I love the calm waters and that you can snorkel right off the beaches as the reefs are easy to get to and filled with schools of beautiful tropical fish. If you’ve never been snorkeling, it’s easy to do and you'll definitely enjoy this fun activity on your next beach vacation.

Grand Cayman - Feeding Stingrays at Stingray City. Stingray City is the most popular boat trip in the Cayman Islands. Thousands of people visit this amazing snorkel site each year. I can tell you that this is as close to danger as I want to get. My sister was petrified of getting off the catamaran in Stingray City because her only knowledge about stingrays was that The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, died from a Stingray barb puncture to the heart. Since I had swam with the stingrays at Stingray City many years ago, I was well aware that this was not a dangerous activity at all as long as you were smart about it and followed the rules (i.e. don’t jump into the water, but slide into the water from the back of the catamaran, etc.).

[Photo: Stingray City off of Rum Point, Grand Cayman.]

The catamaran tours take you to a sand bar off of Rum Point on the north side of the island and the water is about waist deep. There will probably be several other catamarans anchored there (it used to not be so busy.) You can snorkel and swim with the stingrays for about an hour. Most tour operators will also have some food for the stingrays so that you can feed them and some of the tour guides will also capture one of the more friendly stingrays for a photo op. I think that from the underbelly, stingrays look quite friendly and almost, dare I say, “cute.” You can even kiss a stingray (my photos came out terrible by the way since the water was very turbulent that day and kept spraying sea water in my eyes causing me to squint and grimace - ugh). If you’d like to arrange to scuba dive at Stingray City, my friends at Sunset House can help you out – that’s where the serious scuba divers lodge in Grand Cayman.

I have absolutely no desire to swim with sharks or to have any dangerous encounters with animals or sea creatures, but I do have a wildlife encounter bucket list: A safari in South Africa, the Chengdu Panda Reserve or Wolong Panda Reserve (badly damaged in the 2008 earthquake) in China, the Galapagos Islands, and though it’s not really “wildlife,” I really want to take a mule ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon one day soon.

One final note, as I mentioned in the dolphin encounters information, always make sure you have a wild life encounter you're comfortable with that is humane and respectful to the animal you're meeting. A friend of mine, Matt, wanted very much to ride an elephant when he was in Thailand but it ended up being a bad travel memory for him because the elephant was being poorly treated. I was very touched by what he shared on his travel blog, Landlopers.com about his experience plus his thoughts on zoos (very similar to mine).

So exercise compassion for God's creatures when you encounter them with your wildlife travel adventures.

I’d love to hear about your real life wild life and sea life encounters from your travels!

Had a close encounter of an animal or sea creature kind?

Do you have a great story about a real life wildlife adventure? I'd love for you to share it!

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About Marianne Schwab
TV Travel Show Producer

For over twenty years, TV Travel Show Producer, Marianne Schwab, has been collecting money saving travel tips as a travel producer for high profile television programs. She has flown all over the world and produced live television productions on location from Caesar's Palace on the Vegas Strip to the beautiful island of Oahu. Read more