Each year as we head down to Panama City Beach my daughter and I plan to try something new. My family has been going to Panama City Beach and Destin, Florida for years and the one thing that both of us had on our “Lifetime List” of really wanting to do was to swim with dolphins. Aaron and I have been on excursions out on a catamaran with group tours where we have gotten into the ocean in dolphin spotted areas and had, dolphins swim around and underneath us, but we had not had that experience we both wanted of actually being with the dolphin in the water and getting to interact with it. My daughter began researching and making phone calls and we discovered this wonderful program offered by Gulf World-The VIP Sea Life Experience!

The VIP Sea Life Experience my daughter learned about while on the phone with a representative from Gulf World. After my daighter explained to the repreasentative what we were looking for, the representative offered this package and explained to my daughter what the VIP Sea Life Experience Swim included-and it really is a great package. VIP Sea Life Experience can be found on the website under the Interactive Programs along with all the other great programs offered at Gulf World and prices are listed for each event at http://www.gulfworldmarinepark

The VIP Sea Life Experience Swim Package Included:

Admission into park

30 minute swim with Stingrays

30 minute swim with Dolphins

30 minute swim with Sea Lions

CD loaded with pictures of each swim time with the animals by a photographer who goes with you to each event and takes special shots of holding the animal, swimming with the animal, etc.

One Meal-Lunch

Free Gulf World 32 oz Cup With Refills

For $3.00 Extra my Dad was able to come into the park with us and go into each swim experience and observe

At first glance my daughter and I thought this was going to be too expensive but as we compared prices to the other Dolphin Swim packages offered at Gulf World and other places we checked at and began adding another swim package, food and drink cost, picture package, and any other snacks or sovenirs, the VIP Sea Life Experience package per person was a great deal. Aaron and I both thought that what the experience is giving you, one on one time interacting and swimming with the animals and their trainers; a CD loaded of photos taken of you during each swim that would be a keepsake we will have forever of our adventure and all the extras, we agreed it was worth the price.

Aaron and I really lucked out on the day we chose to go because no one else had signed up for the VIP package which meant the Sting Ray Swim would be just my daughter and I, the Dolphin Swim we were in a group but it was a very limited number of people and the Sea Lion Swim, one other person joined us. You are also allowed one guest to accompany you to each swim event and my dad went with us so he wouldn’t miss out on our adventure.

First Event: Sting Ray Swim

What makes this so unique is the fact that not only are the Sting Rays huge and scary when you are looking at them from outside the pool area and you are thinking to yourself, “Do I really want to do this?”, but once you get inside the water with these amazing creatures all those thoughts vanish as the stingrays begin to swim all around you.  There is a trainer with you at all times and they guide you how to touch, hold and even feed the stingrays as well as educate you about these beautiful animals.

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Aaron with Gulf World Trainer Holding a Huge Stingray

The one surprising thing we learned quickly about the stingrays is they love to nuzzle on your feet.  They are so soft and smooth and a stingray nuzzled on top of your feet is something to try.  I was wary at first as they moved and circled around me but when the trainer instructing me to reach out and touch one and I felt the smooth , velvety skin I began to relax and have fun, which the stingrays weren’t going to give me much choice anyway as one quickly began to nuzzle my feet.

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Aaron Petting one of the Sing Rays
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Aaron in the Sting Ray Pool
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Aaron Giving one of the Sting Ray a Kiss

Second Event-Off to swim with the dolphins!

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Aaron and I Greeting Our New Friends

I cannot express how much fun this was!  Aaron and I were with a small group and as the trainers took us into the pool area the dolphins were both already greeting us.  We both got to learn a few small commands to do with the dolphins such as the movement of our arms and hands for the dolphin to come up, hand signals for spinning around and my favorite the signal for the dolphins to take off swimming and jump out of the water. But the coolest part of this event was getting in the water, waiting for the dolphins to come behind you and grab their torso fins and go for a quite a ride. The excitement of waiting on the dolphins and feeling their mouths on the back of your feet and being launched upwards to a stand while being pushed by the dophins across the pool, it was the coolest thing I have ever done and both my daughter and I would have loved to have kept doing it over and over, it was so much fun.  Both of us got into full stands with the dolphins.  After our swim time these two sweeties gave hugs and kisses to my daughter and I. The dolphins were sweet and playful and I love listening to the dolphins chatter-it was so cute. It was definately the experience with these charming creatures that I had hoped for.

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Aaron and I with Dolphin Trainer Learning Commands
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Sweet Dolphin Kisses
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Aaron Surfing On Top of the Dolphins
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Standing and Being Pushed by the Dolphins’s Mouths
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Aaron Taking A Fin Ride
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I’m Taking A Ride Of A Life Time
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It Is Amazing How High Dolphins Can Jump Out Of The Water

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Two Happy Ladies-We Just Swam With Dolphins!

Event 3: Sea Lion Swim

I cannot express enough how sweet, friendly and docile th Sea Lions were.  All three Sea Lions came out of the pool and slid over to greet u and the Sea Lion’s eyes looking up at you will make you melt.

Aaron and I stepped down into the pool with the trainer who instructed us how to introduce ourselves to each of the Sea Lions, which was no problem because these Sea Lions love the attention.  We were with one female Sea Lion, who happened to be a sea rescue, she was over 30 years of age and had developed very poor eyesight to where it was a danger for her in the ocean and Gulf World has had her for many years since her rescue.  The other two gentleman we had with us were both her babies, Sheldon and Flounder were fun,  sweet, and playful.  Mama Sea Lion loved to be held and when Aaron and I were holding her she literally went to sleep in our arms.  How sweet is that? Aaron and I learned that Sea Lions are smart, playful and very gentle-they love the attention and love to be petted.  The skin of the Sea Lion when looking at it appears to be slick, looks can be deceiving, as Aaron and I were both surprised to find out that their skin actually has a coat of fur to give the Sea Lion warmth in the cold waters. Their fur is so soft and velvety smooth you just want to pet them more.

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Aaron and Flounder
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Flounder Giving Aaron Kisses
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Flounder On The Left and Sheldon On The Right-Both Giving Aaron Sea Lion Kisses
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Aaron with Sea Lion Trainer and Flounder
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Aaron and I with Mama Sea Lion

Gulf World is a beautiful, fun place to just walk around and see the all of the animals, there is Sea Lion and Dolphin Shows, plus different feeding times for the animals so visitors can participate. Even if you don’t indulge and do one of the swim programs there is plenty to do and see.  It is a great adventure to take with your family and they will love it!

Aaron and I loved our Gulf World experience so much I can see us both doing it again! We also learned while we were at Gulf World there is an Interactive Program called , Trainer for a Day, and this thought peaked our interest to do this program next season when we come back for our vacation,

Finally, Aaron and I both got to swim and play along side dolphins but on top of that, the extra bonus of the sting ray swim and the sea lion swim made this a spectacular day and one that Aaron and I will never forget!

 

As Always, Live Life One Sweet Tea at a Time!

 

 

 

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