The next stop on our 2018 Out-of-Alaska tour brought us to Gulf World in Panama City, FL. It was a bit out of our way but we couldn’t resist the promise of swimming with the Dolphins!
We came for the Dolphin Swim Adventure. Since the kids were both above 48” they could go by themselves, and we obtained ‘Observer’ tickets. Kids under 48″ have to have a fully ticketed parent or guardian in the water with them. We called and made reservations over the phone. Our tickets allowed us access to the rest of the park which had some neat features.
Birds of Paradise
The park has a fantastic selection of Parrots or all different colors. What made the exhibit really special was that the birds were not in cages. You couldn’t approach or feed them, but it was neat not having to see them through a cage wall.
Near the Parrots exhibit was a pool for petting and feeding Stingrays, which was pretty neat.
Other Exhibits and Shows
We had to drive a couple of hours to get to Gulf World, and the focus of our trip was the Dolphin Swim Adventure, so we didn’t try to schedule in other shows due to time constraints. We’re glad we kept it simple as the Dolphin Swim Adventure was a bit of sensory overload for the girls. But if you are in the area and don’t need to factor in a long drive the other shows are definitely worth considering.
The other shows at Gulf World can be viewed here – some looked pretty interesting!
Dolphin Swim Adventure
The whole focus of our trip! I’d like to start off by saying that the kids absolutely loved the Dolphin Swim Adventure. They got to go into the pool with a Dolphin named Turk with eight other participants. The kids were in heaven as they got to hug, kiss, dance and swim with Turk. This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events and they will never forget the experience. However, for us parents the experience felt like a gut punch.
The tickets for the Dolphin Swim Adventure cost $130 for each child which did include park tickets for them. Parents needed not only park tickets but an additional $5 ‘Observer Fee’ to view the Dolphin Swim Adventure, which brought the ticket total to $405 dollars! This really stretched our budget but we went for it to give the girls a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they have been dreaming about. Our oldest has wanted to be a Dolphin Trainer when she grows up for years!
When we arrived we found that the experience was only for 20 minutes, not 2 hours. That may have been a misunderstanding on our part so we let it slide. We were then told that no pictures were allowed, and that anyone caught using a camera or cell phone would be immediately escorted away. What? We spent over $400 to be here and we can’t even take a picture??
It turns out, and this was not explained up front, Gulf World has a staff of photographers on site to take several photos of each participant from optimal angles. OK – so they use their own photographers to take care and not spook the animals, right? Not really. Each Dolphin ‘Behavior’ (kiss, hug, swim, etc.) was choreographed by the Dolphin Trainer in the water for optimal position and framing by the photographers. “Touch the Dolphin and look at the camera”…”Hug the Dolphin and look at the camera”…etc. It was less of a Dolphin Swim and more of a Dolphin Photo Shoot. There was even a staff member dedicated to monitoring the crowd for any rule breakers – ugh.
The photos were available for sale after about 45 minutes of uploading and processing. There was a large area with lots of computers available for you to pick your photos. The pricing and packages varied, but for about two dozen digital photos of both kids and two 4”x6” prints was another $100 that we didn’t plan for. Basically plan for $50 per person to get any photos.
The $400+ in tickets was pretty much our limit for the day. Had we known about the extra $100 fee for photos up front we probably would not have made the trip to Gulf World.
On the bright side the photos were really good quality, and they did a good job of capturing the looks of sheer joy on the kids faces – we just couldn’t turn them down. We could put down the camera and just enjoy the experience with the kids, which I’ll admit was a nice change.
The Gulf World photography staff were in optimal position for framing and provided a value that we could not have gotten with our own gear. The pictures were fantastic and there is no way we could have gotten this level of quality on our own. Unless we were flat broke we would have purchase the photos anyhow even at their over-inflated prices. There was no need to restrict our cameras or hold photos of the experience hostage.
Read about our trip to the US Space and Rocket Center to see how photography should be handled
By the way – the full sized photos were delivered via CD. Do you still have a CD player in your computer? We don’t! I had to dig one up and luckily it worked. USB sticks were not an option.
They do host low resolution photos online and you can download them. They are suitable for sharing online via Facebook or other platforms, but not for printing.
Overall we have to say that the trip was a success. The kids will never forget their Dolphin Swim Adventure, but we as parents feel that we were very mistreated with the whole photography experience. Had we known up front about photography rules and the additional $100 photography expense (bringing the total for the day to over $500!), we would have probably have passed on Gulf World and looked for different Dolphin Swim options for the girls.