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Dolphin Research Center - The best place in the Florida Keys for kids!

Updated on January 7, 2015
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Hope Saidel is co-owner of Golly Gear, a bricks-and-mortar and online shop featuring fun, affordable and practical small dog products

Some places aren't just kid-friendly - they're kid-welcoming!

The Dolphin Research Center, (DRC) in Grassy Key, Florida, is one of them.

Children are not tolerated - they're encouraged to play, learn, touch, watch, ask and participate.

From the self-guided tours around the facility, dotted with informational signs and games, to the film presentations, to the in-water programs with dolphins, DRC is designed to make learning about the ocean, the environment, and most of all, the amazing dolphins, fun!

All photographs were taken by me and are used with permission from the Dolphin Research Center.

Something to learn and discover around every corner

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Before you even walk in the door at DRC you'll know what there is to see and do.The entry to this lush, beautiful facility welcomes you with vocalizations from the resident birds.As you round the curve toward the first, Front Lagoon, you'll see the schedule of that day's programs and where to find them.Your first look at the Front Lagoon, dolphins, and the beautiful, natural environment of Florida Bay where DRC is located.A friendly face will probably greet you at the front lagoon! The yellow spot is zinc oxide (sun screen) used to identify dolphins at a glance.Every lagoon has informational signs, including facts about the dolphins and their environment.Touring the facility is easy - just follow the painted dolphins or sea lions on the paths to find your way.As you round the corner around the Sea Lion enclosure, you'll see the vista of the back lagoons.Even the paths have information about the beautiful natural environment that's part of everyday life at DRC.
Before you even walk in the door at DRC you'll know what there is to see and do.
Before you even walk in the door at DRC you'll know what there is to see and do.
The entry to this lush, beautiful facility welcomes you with vocalizations from the resident birds.
The entry to this lush, beautiful facility welcomes you with vocalizations from the resident birds.
As you round the curve toward the first, Front Lagoon, you'll see the schedule of that day's programs and where to find them.
As you round the curve toward the first, Front Lagoon, you'll see the schedule of that day's programs and where to find them.
Your first look at the Front Lagoon, dolphins, and the beautiful, natural environment of Florida Bay where DRC is located.
Your first look at the Front Lagoon, dolphins, and the beautiful, natural environment of Florida Bay where DRC is located.
A friendly face will probably greet you at the front lagoon! The yellow spot is zinc oxide (sun screen) used to identify dolphins at a glance.
A friendly face will probably greet you at the front lagoon! The yellow spot is zinc oxide (sun screen) used to identify dolphins at a glance.
Every lagoon has informational signs, including facts about the dolphins and their environment.
Every lagoon has informational signs, including facts about the dolphins and their environment.
Touring the facility is easy - just follow the painted dolphins or sea lions on the paths to find your way.
Touring the facility is easy - just follow the painted dolphins or sea lions on the paths to find your way.
As you round the corner around the Sea Lion enclosure, you'll see the vista of the back lagoons.
As you round the corner around the Sea Lion enclosure, you'll see the vista of the back lagoons.
Even the paths have information about the beautiful natural environment that's part of everyday life at DRC.
Even the paths have information about the beautiful natural environment that's part of everyday life at DRC.
Trainers and dolphin at play
Trainers and dolphin at play

Learn even more about dolphins and training:

As little, or as much, as you want!

DRC allows whatever level of participation you want - for you and your children.

Some children are gung-ho, enchanted by dolphins and can't wait to plunge into an in-water experience like the "Dolphin Encounter," that includes in-water interaction with dolphins.

Other children are more tentative and may not be ready for an up-close and personal session with a dolphin. There are lots of other programs to choose among - from "Meet the Dolphin" (you get to rub the dolphin's back and "shake" its flippers), to "Paint with a Dolphin" (you pick your colors and hold your T-shirt while the dolphins create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece for you), to "Dolphin Dip," "Play With The Dolphin," or "Dolphin Explorer."

Kid-friendly - by design!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Kids Adventure may start here - but wonder is throughout DRC!Small learning adventures greet children - this one dares them to feel different textures of skinThis fun table invites them to identify the soundsA series of clues takes them on an adventureAnd the "Sprayground" invites children to come in and play!
The Kids Adventure may start here - but wonder is throughout DRC!
The Kids Adventure may start here - but wonder is throughout DRC!
Small learning adventures greet children - this one dares them to feel different textures of skin
Small learning adventures greet children - this one dares them to feel different textures of skin
This fun table invites them to identify the sounds
This fun table invites them to identify the sounds
A series of clues takes them on an adventure
A series of clues takes them on an adventure
And the "Sprayground" invites children to come in and play!
And the "Sprayground" invites children to come in and play!

At every turn - friendly gray faces will greet you

Dolphins are the main reason to visit DRC of course. And visitors quickly find that the dolphins, most of whom were either born at the facility, brought in as rescues, or adopted from other facilities, seem to think we're there to entertain them. They're curious about people and will come close to check you out. They are encouraged by our responses, and seem to demonstrate their behaviors higher, faster, stronger when the people are louder with their applause and cheers.

There are narrated sessions throughout the day at DRC, with staffers from the education department explaining the work the trainers are doing with the dolphins; from an actual research session, to medical behaviors, to learning a new behavior, to simple play sessions.

Among my favorites are the sessions where the trainers leave it up to the dolphins to come up with something new. There are dolphins who love to bring "presents" - usually small rocks or bits of seaweed, dolphins who love playing with toys, and dolphins who seem to fly high above the water.

There are young and baby dolphins at DRC and children love learning about how these babies learn by watching their mothers and the other dolphins around them.

And, just like children, there are days and times when the dolphins choose not to go along with the trainers' game plan. Unlike human children - the dolphins are allowed to get away with it!

Dolphins showing off their "tail walk"
Dolphins showing off their "tail walk"

It's best to plan ahead!

If you're planning a trip to the Florida Keys and want to make a day of it at DRC, do try to plan ahead and make reservations for the programs you and your children want to participate in. Remember to bring your swimsuits - the dolphins love to get people wet.

The "Dolphin Dip" is perfect for families - but if/when you're asked to do something for the dolphin to imitate, be ready if you decide to splash the dolphin. They're notorious for winning every "Splash Fight" they've ever gotten into - and they seem to be laughing just as hard as you, and your family, will!

The DRC website is where you'll find detailed information about all the programs - and it's easy to remember: www.dolphins.org

© 2014 Hope

Have you (and your children) visited DRC? - If you haven't - don't you want to?

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