Yes, I know that dolphins travel in pods, not schools. However, that doesn’t mean that the dolphins don’t have a thing or two to teach us. I learned a lot from my day swimming with the dolphins at Discovery Cove. The dolphin experience especially taught me several important things about how to best use the time of our lives. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my new merry marine mammal friends.
Make the most of your time.
A few years ago, I nagged a friend of mine to participate in a dolphin encounter in Hawaii. We didn’t exactly “swim” with the dolphins. It was more like “wading with the dolphins” because we kind of wimped out and took the encounter option that didn’t involve any deep-water interaction. I can swim and have been swimming since I was a very little girl. On the other hand, I was sort of anxious because I didn’t know how competent one needed to be in the water or how far I’d have to swim or how long it would take me to cover the ground I’d need to cover to do the deep-water swim. My friend and I had a wonderful, soul-lightening time on our “dolphin wading” encounter, but I still couldn’t help but feel that I was missing out on something.
The Discovery Cove experience did include a deep-water swim with the dolphin. Part of my hesitation in deciding to go was the same anxiety that I wasn’t a good enough swimmer, but I decided to throw caution to the wind. As I was standing in the water waiting for my turn at the swim, I confess to feeling a bit nervous. I am a self-professed proponent of carefully controlled adventure. I’d rather have artificial adventure than risk the dangers of the real thing.
I believe that litigation potential is a fairly effective vetting tool to determine if something is reasonably safe. I figure, if an organization is big enough and has deep enough pockets to get sued in the event of disaster, I’m probably going to come out of whatever adventure simulation they provide in one piece. Since Discovery Cove has been operating for over fifteen years and has not been felled by ruinous lawsuits, I figured I’d probably be okay.
I did believe our dolphin, Kaolani, was probably not going to attack. On the other hand, I still did not know what level of swimming competency was going to be required to keep up with the dolphin. All the trainers kept saying that if you had to ask if you’d need a life jacket, you probably shouldn’t be doing the deep-water swim. They offered a shallow water swim as an alternative. I kept thinking about it, even when I was out in the water. No one else was asking for the shallow water swim. I didn’t want to miss anything, especially after self-limiting my earlier dolphin encounter in Hawaii. There was a bitsy little girl in our group whose toes barely reached the bottom of the shallow part of the water. She opted for the deep-water swim. I decided that, if she could do it, so could I. As it turned out, I just had to swim about eight feet and tread water for a few minutes. I held on to Kaolani’s flippers and dolphin-surfed my way back to the shore. And I didn’t drown.
Once I had my dolphin encounter, I resolved to stop limiting myself. I stopped worrying about what I looked like or whether I could do something. It was incredibly freeing. I did everything the park had to offer. I felt like a kid again. But a more self-confident kid than the kid I actually was once upon a time.
Let It Flow.
It may seem almost contradictory to my lesson about making the most of time, but I think it is more of a corollary than a contradiction. I learned that nothing terribly bad happens if you stop worrying about what an experience is supposed to be like and what you are supposed to do to maximize your time. Sometimes, it is best to just let a day of exploration unfold as it is going to and react as you want to in the moment.
Before I went to Discovery Cove, I had this huge need to understand how everything worked. I had so many questions about the minutia of the operation! Here are some of the queries that ran through my head:
- How good a swimmer must you be to enjoy the dolphin experience? (just barely competent)
- Where were the lockers in relation to the activities? (all over the place and you could easily appropriate more than one locker if it was more convenient)
- Is there a preferred order in which to experience the attractions or maximize your time? (I don’t really think so- I felt like I could do all the attractions without prioritizing) How easy was it to get to the lockers periodically during the day? (phenomenally easy)
- How did you know when to go to the dolphin encounter? (they gave you the time and location when you checked into the park)
- How did you get reapplication of sunscreen? (there were stations all over the place)
- Where were the food stations? (again, all over the place)
- Since I eat like a four-year-old, what was there to eat? (a wide variety of sweet and savory offerings)
- Did you need to bring money for incidentals? (not really, although I never feel comfortable leaving the house without some money so I kept $40 in the locker and never took it out)
- Should I bring a hat? (yes, but know it will get drenched going under the waterfalls interspersed on the lazy river)
- Were there private showers and dressing areas? (yes)
- Would the required wetsuit vests fit me? (yes)
- Would I look awkward or funny doing the experiences? (maybe, but nobody cared)
I could go on and on, but I think I already have. The Discovery Cove website gave a lot of information, but I found that it was just enough to inspire my brain to craft new questions.
Once I was in the park for half an hour or so, I relaxed considerably and stopped worrying about “doing it right.” I just meandered and did what I wanted when I wanted. I did it right, without even trying.
She Who Travels Fastest Travels Alone.
I really wasn’t thinking so much about traveling fast through Discovery Cove, but I do think that I probably traveled better alone.
One of my other hesitations in booking my day at Discovery Cove was that I’d be going by myself because Max doesn’t do water recreation. The idea of him paying the high admission price to simply trail along behind me, take pictures, and consume all-you-can-eat hot pretzels all day seemed ludicrous.
Before I met Max, I did a lot of things by myself. After my divorce in 1988, I was single for many years. I learned very quickly that, if I really wanted to do something or go somewhere, I should do it by myself rather than wait for a time when someone else might join me. It was nice when I did things with dates or with friends, but I really had no problem having adventures on my own.
After Max and I met, I became very used to having a partner on my experiences. It was really nice to share our recreation and perspectives. Once he moved in with me, I almost never did anything fun on my own. I didn’t mind at all. He doubled my enjoyment of these activities. On the other hand, I found I was starting to lose my self-reliance in the fun arena.
When I first made the reservation, a day on my own at Discovery Cove sounded appealing. I could please only myself and wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs or desires. As the time approached, however, I started to feel a little bereft about being without Max while I had this new experience.
It turned out that Discovery Cove is a great place to have fun, with or without other people. I pretty much tuned out everyone else and did exactly what I wanted to do. To be clear, Max would have been fine paying his money and watching me have a good time. One of his favorite recreational activities is watching me do stuff he wouldn’t do, like feeding animals in a petting zoo or bouncing around in a swimming pool. It bothers me, though, to know he is waiting for me. Since Max doesn’t do water activities, I am sure I would have worried about him being bored while I cavorted in the deep. Without him, I was free to return to a second and third time snorkeling on the reef. I could lie around doing nothing when I felt like it. I could eat and drink when it felt like the right time for me. Also, I could enjoy showing him pictures and telling him all about my day when I got home.
So, dolphins don’t travel in schools. They are good teachers, though, and I think I am going to try very hard to apply the lessons I learned at Discovery Cove to the rest of my life!
Have you ever learned a valuable life lesson while engaged in some seemingly inconsequential event, like my day with the dolphins? Please tell us about it. Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day!