The Southampton Princess unveiled an interactive Dolphin program
available exclusively to its guests. Senior editor Felicity Long
participated in one of the first sessions. Her report follows:
Reed Travel Features
SOUTHAMPTON -- Having enjoyed an up-close-and-personal encounter
with a handful of dolphins recently in Bermuda, I now am in a
position to answer the two most frequently asked questions in an
unofficial poll of friends and family: Yes, they feel like rubber
and, yes, they smile like Flipper.
But because dolphin interactive programs have come under fire
during the past few years due to concerns about possible dangers to
the animals, more serious questions came to the surface as we set
off to the beach on a recent December day to meet and greet our
marine mammal friends.
Upon arrival at the check-in area next to the Southampton
Princess tennis courts, we were introduced to the director of
animal training, David Gossman, who promptly put our fears to
For one thing, the program is not run by the hotel but by
Dolphin Quest, which is a conservation organization founded by
marine mammal veterinarians who specialize in fostering
appreciation of dolphins. The organization operates the dolphin
encounters, cares for the animals and maintains the habitat.
Two other Dolphin Quest programs are in operation: at the Hilton
Waikoloa Village in Hawaii and at the Moorea Beachcomber Park-Royal
in French Polynesia.
The first misconception that Gossman dispelled is probably the
most important for agents to tell interested clients before selling
them a Dolphin Quest package: Here, guests do not swim with the
What Dolphin Quest does offer, however, is something much
better. Guests can touch and play with the animals in a controlled
environment that is both fun for humans and safe for the
The dolphin habitat, which cost $1.6 million and measures more
than three acres, is one of the largest natural dolphin facilities
in the world.
The dolphins could leave the habitat if they wanted to. They are
not in a pen or a cage but rather in a natural coral cove.
Because of the nurturing and care they receive at the habitat,
they choose to stay.
There are seven bottlenose dolphins in the habitat, all of which
had just arrived from various locations in the U.S., and they are
fully expected to reproduce, according to Gossman.
Our encounter began with a few of us sitting on a dock and
putting our feet in the water. Immediately, the dolphins approached
and began playing with our toes.
Much has been written about dolphins' abilities to help children
with disabilities, and according to the trainers, this is because
dolphins are attracted to the unpredictability of all children.
Ironically, swimming is seen by the animals as an aggressive
behavior, according to our guides, and can result in unpredictable
or even dangerous reactions from them.
This is important when you consider that, although friendly,
dolphins weigh up to 500 pounds.
After getting to know our toes, the dolphins allowed us to hold
their snouts and rub their heads and sides.
In order for the hotel to manage the flow of interested
participants, guests must preregister for the Dolphin Quest program
by booking a Royal Dolphin package.
A limited number of additional participants will be selected by
The program is open to anyone 5 years old and up and is
As we reluctantly left the dolphins after our encounter, we had
another question answered to our satisfaction.
Yes, dolphins do make that chattering sound.
We were all gratified to hear them chattering in an indignant
chorus when they saw us walking away.