Just south of St. Augustine, Florida on Route A1A is Marineland. My husband and I had read about Marineland when we researched dolphins in Florida. However, when we did our initial research we learned that it was closed for renovations. So we put it on the back burners of our minds and only just remembered about it last year.
Marineland is actually a town, albeit very small. The population in 2006 was – ten!! There are probably more people employed at the Dolphin Conservation Center than actually live in the “town”. The Center was originally built in 1938 as one of Florida’s first theme parks and was described as the world’s first “oceanarium”. In 1999 Hurricanes Flloyd and Irene caused a prolonged closure and also much damage. In 2003 it was decided to completely close the place and do a major overhaul.
It was opened as the Dolphin Conservation Center in early 2006 and is now a hands-on interactive center for the public and the dolphins. There are many different “packages” that can be booked offering a range of interactive programs from swimming with the dolphins, to training them, to painting with them. Yes, I did say painting! However, it is also possible to pay just a general entrance fee and simply admire and watch the dolphins as they swim freely in a huge round tank and then watch a short “performance” as the trainers put them through their routines. As you watch them in the round tank you may get lucky and find yourself playing “catch” with the dolphins as they toss their balls over the walls of the tank to unsuspecting members of the public!
It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to drive there from where we live. So one beautiful day in late spring 2008 we decided to take the Harley for a run. The weather was perfect – not too hot, a nice breeze, and no rain on the horizon. We chose to elongate the ride by following 17 south past Palatka, then we cut across SR 100 and enjoyed a beautiful ride over to A1A. What a blessing it was to be enjoying God’s creation together!
We parked the bike, paid our admission fee, and headed on in. The set up is very beautiful with a well laid out visitor and gift center and also a small restaurant/cafe. We followed the walk along the sea wall from the center over to the dolphin tanks. There were hundreds of butterflies (Monarchs I think) so it may have been migration time for them.
As we approached the first big round tank there were three or four dolphins swimming there and no sooner did they see us than they began to toss their toys over the top of the tank to us. We spent a while “playing” with them and just watching the grace and beauty and strength of their bodies as they moved so easily in the water. I don’t think I will ever tire of watching dolphins swim.
Shortly after this we were called to come to the big rectangular pool (about half the size of an Olympic swimming pool). A couple of trainers entered the pool and opened the gate to the tank. One of the dolphins came through and we watched as the trainers showed us exactly how they trained the dolphins and we marveled at their intelligence. The gate was opened once more and two more dolphins came through and for the next fifteen to twenty minutes we were mesmerized as they leaped into the air, carried trainers on their noses, on their backs, and showed off their talents, skills and intelligence.
Although this was a much smaller “show” than any I had seen before, I still enjoyed just being in the presence of these incredible creatures. I always feel as though I am in the presence of some great energy. For me being with the dolphins is a very spiritual experience. We rode home after the show and I know my heart was full of joy and my soul was singing. And I found myself wondering when my next dolphin experience will be.