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Take a Small RV to the Dolphin Research Center in Florda Keys

Updated on August 25, 2009

You can park your small RV out of the way like this!

Small RV under Dolphin Research Center Sign
Small RV under Dolphin Research Center Sign

Take a Small RV to the Dolphin Research Center in Florida Keys

In July we went to the Florida Keys in our Small RV . It’s a Sprinter-based Itasca Navion 24’ Class C RV and it offers the perfect balance of comfort and convenience. It’s small enough to navigate the narrow roads of Key West during the day, and yet roomy on the inside when camping at night. The Navion is made by Winnebago, which has an excellent reputation in the large Class, A motor home market, and is also quite innovative when it comes to the Small RVs.

Summer in the Keys has a few challenges, namely the heat and the mosquitoes, and the occasional hurricane. The trade off is that it’s less crowded, so no hassles with restaurants, camping, driving or even parking. The small RV comes in handy to get out of the heat because the A/C runs on generator if you’re not plugged in at an RV campsite.

There are so many places to enjoy in the Keys and one of the highlights is the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) at Grassy Key (links below). It’s located near Marathon at mile marker 59 on US1. That’s the main road through the Keys and since mile marker 0 (zero) is in Key West, the DRC is 59 miles north.

The DRC was an unexpected joy to discover and visit. To start with, it is RV friendly and they didn’t mind the generator running, so the cat stayed comfortable inside. Of course the small RV’s size allows more options to park out of earshot, so that the generator is not a nuisance.

Talk about dog friendly!

Dogs get plenty of pets and kisses here
Dogs get plenty of pets and kisses here
It's a hot dog but the A/C is nearby in the small rv
It's a hot dog but the A/C is nearby in the small rv

Dogs are welcome here!

The DRC is very dog friendly. In fact the staff and other visitors are so dog friendly that Abbey, the dog, could barely walk five feet without getting pets, hugs, and kisses. It was awful.

As a matter of fact, the staff is really just outstanding. They’re happy to talk about the dolphins, sea lions, training, medical care, history, etc. and all with a warm smile. They even pointed out which one of the dolphins likes to show off for visiting dogs.

The main attraction!

Dolphin showing off a little tail walking with the Gulf of Mexico behind
Dolphin showing off a little tail walking with the Gulf of Mexico behind
Dolphins love to people watch
Dolphins love to people watch
Swim with dolphins! ...notice in far background pin, staff does a dolphin wellness check
Swim with dolphins! ...notice in far background pin, staff does a dolphin wellness check

About the park

For the low entrance fee of $20 you can wander all around, with the dog, and watch various presentations. It’s a very intimate and interactive experience, all in a natural setting. So don’t expect a SeaWorld type attraction. The dolphins are very curious and like to watch people, and dogs, by slowly swimming by with one eye out of the water. It’s an amazing feeling to make eye contact with these incredible beings. All around, the other dolphins are busy performing or learning tricks and it’s fun to sit and watch these presentations.

There are also more expensive packages that include a swim with the dolphins and various interactions with them. You can even be a trainer, or a researcher, for a day at the upper end of the scale. So plan ahead and bring your bathing suit. If swimming with dolphins is your lifelong dream, this is your opportunity to make it come true!

The fees collected are what runs the DRC and supports all the wonderful work and play. So you can feel good about your ‘donation’ and have fun at the same time. The DRC is all about research, education and rescue, including manatee rescue. There is a rich history to explore as well. You’ll see the memorial and resting place of Mitzi, who was the inspiration and main star of the Flipper movie. So be sure to explore all the grounds.

The DRC refers to their dolphins and sea lions as family, and each is thoughtfully named. The attitude and atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed, and when you visit you’ll feel like part of the family. If you’re like me, you’ll want to return to enjoy it again and again.

Lunch eats

Good food just steps away
Good food just steps away
The grill's bar is on left directly up walkway
The grill's bar is on left directly up walkway

Lunch spot

If you're around for lunch just walk right next door and grab a grouper reuben at The Wreck and Galley Grill. Oh and don’t worry about the dog, if you don’t want to put her in the cool RV with the cat, she can just go to the Grill too. Though she’ll have to sit at the bar area because dogs aren’t allowed at the inside tables. Rules are rules after all, but hey the bartender’s happy to serve up a nice cold bowl of ice water.

After lunch, just stroll back to DRC for more activities, or just relax, watch and enjoy. The entrance fee is good all day so you can come and go as you please.

Beach campground

RV camping on the beach
RV camping on the beach

Florida State Park Campground

If you want to stay nearby in your own Small RV, just head over to Curry Hammock State Park, which is only 2 miles south of DRC. Yeah, the big rigs fit too, but there aren’t many spaces so if you haven’t made reservations online at Reserve America, you’ll want to stop by first thing to check on vacancies. This is a wonderful little camping area right on the Atlantic, and so convenient to the Dolphin Research Center.

Do you own a small RV? Where's your favorite place to go in it?

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