There are quite a few places in the Keyes where you can see, and swim with dolphins but we chose to visit the Dolphin Research Center on the island of Marathon. We had read about this place in our guidebooks and it seemed to be more animal preserve oriented instead of "experience" oriented so we decided to check it out and learn more about the friendly water based mammal. After paying our admission (which in hindsight was pretty pricey), we proceeded inside where we saw all kind of displays illustrating dolphin behavior, how they are trained, and some ways they are used in the military, which was pretty unbelievable. Joel in particular had lots of questions so we took the time to read and understand what these magnificent and lovable animals can do.
After getting a decent understanding, we headed out back to the "pens" along the docks where they keep the dolphins and you can get fairly close. Because there was such a limited amount of space for them to swim, you could really observe their size and anatomy. One pen even held mommy dolphin and her baby which was just adorable. I was really sad to see these guys so hemmed in unable to swim freely in their natural habitat but i was a bit relieved to learn that at different times during the day, they are allowed to swim in a much bigger pen that feels more like the open ocean, although not quite. Some of these dolphins have been rescued after getting hit by boats and are recuperating before before being released back into their ocean home. If you time it right, there is a short “show” in which the dolphins do some tricks, which was pretty fun to watch. They did flips and somersaults and the kids really enjoyed being so close to the action unlike somewhere like Sea World where you sit in a stadium. If you do want to swim with the dolphins, you can, but it’ll cost ya some big bucks which I wasn't prepared to pay. I would say overall it was an educational and fun visit but later on in the trip we had much better and much more thrilling encounter with dolphins out in the open ocean near Sanibel Island that you can read about by clicking here.