Dreams come in all shapes and sizes, and in the case of swimming with dolphins in Cancun, they can include wet kisses and belly rubs too.
My desire to swim with dolphins goes back to 2007 when I was on a snorkeling trip off the island of Moorea in French Polynesia.
Our small boat puttered past luxury bungalows built over water. Outside the bungalows, in a fenced area of water, were guests swimming and playing with a dolphin.
Since then, I've always associated the activity with luxury travel, but it's surprisingly affordable, as I found out in Cancun.
Departing the Mainland
Booking a 10:30 a.m. swim, the earliest of three each day, meant arriving at the Playa Tortuga ferry terminal in the area with Hotels in Cancun at 8:30 a.m.
You present your voucher and get a bracelet with your particular tour.
There are many options and prices to choose from when it comes to swimming with dolphins in Cancun, and the bracelets ensure the boatloads of customers match up with the tours they purchased.
Dolphin Discovery, located on Isla Mujeres, operates a ferry. With a bracelet on my wrist, I left on the 9 AM ferry with excited tourists from around the world.
There were lots of families with young kids and couples and groups of friends.
The 45-minute ferry ride brought us to the southern end of Isla Mujeres, where the water is colder and more suitable for the dolphins.
To my surprise, we pulled right up to the dock from which we'd later get in the water with the dolphins. Other customers and trainers were already in the water playing with them.
After depositing our clothes and valuables in the free lockers, we were given life vests. Everyone got in groups based on bracelets.
We were reminded no cameras, even waterproof ones, were allowed into the water. Each group would have a dedicated photographer taking photos, which were available later for purchase.
There were about 39 people in my group, and it was then split up into four sub-groups, with ten people per trainer. I was assigned to a group of eight Brazilians.
The dolphin trainer, at a minimum, was trilingual, speaking Spanish, Portuguese, and English.
We walked around the dock and removed our flip-flops in front of a metal staircase descending into the water.
In the Water
At the bottom of the staircase was an underwater platform made of rubber-coated fencing. A similar material stood vertically under the docks, creating a secure enclosure for the dolphins.
The trainer immediately introduced us to our dolphin friend by having him glide by us as we held out our hands to rub his belly.
I later learned that it was smooth and silky because dolphins lose and regenerate their skin once every two hours.
Next, the trainer demonstrated how we would each take turns kissing the dolphin.
This was followed by a trick where we each took turns holding our arm out parallel to the water, with the dolphin standing upright to touch its nose to our hands.
Everything was happening so fast that I didn't have time to appreciate what was happening, but I enjoyed every minute.
Around this time, grey clouds began to descend on the island, and the winds picked up.
Our trainer continued, unaffected. Trick number three had each of us swimming about 30 feet with a boogie board and then waiting for the dolphin to come from behind and push us by our feet.
The trainer used what appeared to be a dog whistle and hand motions to call out the commands.
By the time we cycled through all nine people in our group, the winds had kicked up the waves, and some struggled to hold the correct position.
Life jackets ensured even novice swimmers were in no immediate danger. On several occasions, I saw a red-shirted lifeguard dive into the water to assist people in other groups.
The next big trick has us swimming out 30 feet into the pool's center again. This time, we held one arm out perpendicular to our body.
When the dolphin came around underneath us, we were instructed to grab ahold of his right flipper with our right hand and then his left with our left hand, and he'd pull us back to the platform.
The tricks with the dolphin pushing and pulling us weren't what I anticipated, and they caught me by surprise.
I was happy to be in the water with these fantastic creatures, but I felt a little strange participating in the tricks that required such attention and energy from the dolphins.
I would pay again to spend an hour rubbing his belly, but I know many more people want the big tricks.
The rain began to fall on our experience swimming with dolphins in Cancun, but our trainer intended to ensure everyone had a chance to do all the tricks.
I was looking forward to getting out, as the wind-kicked waves required one's attention.
One of the last tricks involved us swimming out 30 feet as a group, donning snorkeling masks (provided), and watching underwater as the dolphin swam by us.
When all the tricks were completed, we climbed back up the staircase. My flip-flops had been plunged between the boars in the dock to ensure they didn't blow away.
The rain began falling harder, and we hurried back to the lockers, where we were provided towels.
I dried off quickly, skipping the shower, and before I could reach the gift shop, I realized I didn't get to ask our dolphin trainer any questions.
Talking to a Dolphin Trainer
I asked another trainer in passing if he had some time, and he replied that he did. We walked over to the railing overlooking the dolphin pools, and I began asking him questions.
I kicked the impromptu interview off with questions about reproduction.
Dolphin Discovery has a mating program, and the baby dolphins stay with their mothers for two years.
In the wild, it's typically three, but there are also fewer threats to them in captivity.
Male Bottlenose Dolphins reach sexual maturity after ten years, and females between 5-10 years.
The average dolphin in the wild can live 25-30 years, with an additional 5-10 years possible when held in captivity.
All the dolphins receive regular medical care, including daily check-ups before the customers arrive for their swims.
He explained that each dolphin has a unique personality, and their moods are continuously monitored.
If a trainer determines a dolphin is having an off-day, they aren't paired with customers.
I was also curious about the trainers. While most have a marine biology or psychology background, the trainer I talked to got his start at the bottom.
He began by separating the fish the dolphin would eat, removing the low-quality ones missing eyes, and stuff.
Ten minutes later, I thanked the trainer for his time and headed for the gift shop.
The rates were $25 for one photo or $50 for everything, but I didn't want most of them. When I told the girl helping me, she met me in the middle: three photos for $35.
It's still expensive, no doubt, but you have little choice when you're not allowed to take photos. The images were burned to a CD, including stock pictures of the dolphins.
At noon, the buffet lunch was served. A mix of familiar Mexican and Western favorites, including pasta, ensured something for everyone.
The first ferry back to Cancun didn't leave until 3 PM, so I returned to the beautiful Playa Norte, where we stopped for lunch on my whale shark adventure the week before.
I was provided with a complimentary dolphin swim in partnership with Get Your Guide.