On our recent Marco Island, FL family vacation, we planned to spend most of the time at the beach, soaking up the sun and playing in the Gulf of Mexico. But I didn’t want to spend our entire vacation lying on the beach, so I planned a few afternoon activities. Our favorite was The Dolphin Study Eco-Tour and Cruise, which is the only Florida attraction featured in National Geographic’s 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life.
The Dolphin Study offer two cruises per day, and we booked an afternoon cruise. The marina was just a short ride from our hotel, and we enjoyed shopping at the Marina shop before boarding. The Dolphin Explorer does offer cold water on board, and guests can bring food. We ate lunch right before our cruise, but brought snacks for the kids.
At boarding time, we were introduced to both our ship’s captain and naturalist. The naturalist walked around the boat offering small clipboards with activity booklets for the children, as well as binders with laminated sheets featuring each of the dolphins they’ve cataloged.
During our three-hour eco-tour and cruise, we saw somewhere between 13 and 18 different dolphins, including the playful one pictured above. My kids had a great time identifying the different dolphins by comparing fins to the dolphin photos in the book. The naturalist took photos and printed them right on board, so the kids could see the fins better. The naturalist spent the breaks in the action talking to the kids about the wildlife and habitats of the area – my children especially loved to see the osprey nests located throughout the Gulf.
During the cruise, we also had the opportunity to stop at an uninhabited island to do some swimming and shelling. Each person was given a shell bag, and we walked around the waterfront collecting the best shells we could find. The naturalist walked around, answering questions, and taking photos of each family (which were printed on board and offered at no cost).
My kids had a great time, and so did we. They are already asking if we can go back next year and do the tour again.
You can find out more, and book your tickets (definitely book in advance) at the Dolphin Study Eco-Tour and Cruise website.