Dolphin leaping out of water in Florida Keys

Best Places to Swim with Dolphins in Florida Keys

After college, I volunteered to support a team of scientists studying Common and Striped dolphins in the Alboran Sea off the coast of Marbella, Spain. On one particular day, we spotted an enormous pod of dolphins playing, mating, and swimming with their young calves. It was a rare and wonderful experience to witness so many of these majestic creatures at one time in their natural habitat.

As the volunteer driver of the Zodiac, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dive in the water with more than a hundred wild dolphins. That was an epic, incredible adventure that’s hard to replicate and impossible to fully describe in words.

While I cannot take my 8-year-old on an extended scientific research expedition, I have taken her to Duck Key, Florida for a dip in the ocean with trained dolphins. If you have ever dreamed of interacting with an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, read on for our list of the best places to swim with dolphins in the Florida Keys.

Dolphin doing tricks out of water at Hawks Cay Resort
Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida (Image credit: Isabel O’Donnell/TREKKN)

Where to Swim With Dolphins in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys is comprised of a collection of small tropical islands stretched across 120 miles. Located at the southern tip of Florida, the Keys are a popular destination for various water sports, including fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving.

There are also a few great places to book a memorable experience swimming with dolphins.


Only mineral-based, environmentally-friendly sunscreen and insect repellent should be used when visiting marine parks and wildlife areas.

Related Reading: Top RV Destinations in the US

Theater of the Sea

Founded in 1946, Theater of the Sea is one of the first facilities to specialize in marine mammal education and live entertainment. General admission to the park includes a trainer-led dolphin show as well as various programs with sea lions, alligators, and other marine life. The popular parrot shows are also quite entertaining.

Admission includes access to a fish and reptile tour as well as a bottomless boat ride and access to the on-site lagoon beach. Dolphin interaction programs include both shallow water and deep water experiences.

Animal encounter programs extend beyond dolphins. This is the best place for a broad selection of interactive programs with marine life. You can choose to meet and feed sea turtles, swim with sharks, swim with rays, or swim with sea lions.

Location: 84721 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, Florida

Dolphin Swims at Theater of the Sea

Select from various dolphin interactions designed for all ages and levels of swimming experience. Current rates range from $115 to $235 per person, depending on the selected swim program.

  • Shallow Water Swim. A great standing experience for younger children. Stand in shallow water and pet, cradle, touch, and kiss the dolphins.
  • Swim with the Dolphin. For guests who are comfortable with deep water swims without a life jacket, they can enjoy dorsal tows, kisses, and snorkeling with the dolphins. Participants must be at least 7 years old and good swimmers.
  • Express Dolphin Swim. For guests aged 7 years and older, this shorter version of the Swim with Dolphin includes dorsal tows or foot pushes as well as pets and kisses.
  • Meet the Dolphin. A dockside interaction to allow guests aged 5 and older to sit, kneel, or stand on the dock to meet the dolphin for a pet and a dolphin kiss.
Theater of the Sea

Dolphin Research Center

Established in 1984, the non-profit Dolphin Research Center encourages the advancement of peaceful coexistence between humans, marine mammals, and the environment through research and education.

The DRC is open daily with the exception of select holidays, including Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Location: 58901 Overseas Hwy, Grassy Key, Florida

Dolphin Swims at Dolphin Research Center

Current rates start at around $100 per participant per program. The fee includes general admission to the Research Center.

  • Memory Maker Meet. Designed for the youngest guests, this experience offers children as young as 12 months a dockside opportunity to meet and touch a dolphin.
  • Dolphin Encounter. In addition to watching the dolphins in a trainer-led presentation, participants will also enjoy a 20-25 minute in-water experience that includes a dorsal pull. Participants must be at least 5 years old.
  • Family Dolphin Splash. An ideal program for families with young children, this in-water program is experienced from a submerged platform. Stand in waist-deep water while an experienced trainer instructs dolphins to meet guests, pose for photos with your family, and play a variety of games.
  • Ultimate Trainer for the Day. If you want to splurge on the ultimate, all-day experience, check out the opportunity to accompany a trainer. This is an intensive, interactive adventure designed for individuals aged 16 and older. Experience the Dolphin Encounter, paint with dolphin, and play with dolphin sessions.

Only floatable, waterproof cameras are allowed during in-water interactive programs. Cell phones, selfie-sticks, and non-floating cameras are not permitted.

Dolphins Plus

Dolphins Plus offers four different types of encounters with bottlenose dolphins. Prior to getting in the water, the staff at Dolphins Plus will present an educational briefing about dolphin anatomy and biology, ocean conservation, descriptions of dolphin interactions, and safety guide.

Dolphins Plus is a great place for families with young children. In addition to the dolphin program, they offer a touch tank where kids can experience hands-on marine education.

Location: 101900 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, Florida

Dolphin Swims at Dolphins Plus

Select a personal experience that will be the best way for you and your family to swim with dolphins in the Florida Keys. Based on the age and swimming experience of the individuals who plan to participate, you may want to choose a shallow water encounter or deep water swims.

Current rates for this interactive program range from $120 to $225 per person. Swimmers aged 7 – 17 must be accompanied by an adult. Advanced reservations are recommended to secure the date and time slot that works best for your schedule.

  • Premier Swim. This is a deep water experience and a great way to swim with dolphins. Guests must be strong swimmers and at least 7 years old to participate. Led by a dolphin trainer, this unique experience may include a fast-paced swim with foot pushes and dorsal tows. Enjoy praising these wonderful sea mammals with a handshake, belly rub, or a kiss.
  • Signature Swim. Start this experience in the shallow end of the water area before partnering with a dolphin that will take you to deeper water for fast-paced activities. Participants must be at least 7 years old and good swimmers.
  • Shallow Water Encounter. This is a perfect choice for younger children and individuals who feel more comfortable in shallow water. Stand in waist-deep water and meet the dolphins up close and personal to give them body rubs, handshakes, and hand kisses.
  • Dolphin Dockside. Enjoy up-close dolphin interactions from the edge of the dock. This trainer-led program enables guests to meet the dolphins for belly rubs, handshakes, dolphin kisses, and fun photo opportunities. You will also get a chance to use hand signals to instruct the dolphins to complete various tricks.
Young boy laying on edge of dock meeting dolphin.
Image courtesy of Dolphins Plus

Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort

Hawks Cay Resort is the only resort in the continental United States that has a swim-with-dolphins program onsite. The Resort’s Dolphin Connection is located in the ocean-fed saltwater lagoon near the main lodge. This is a great way to witness Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in action at nearly any time.

Book a reservation in advance to ensure you don’t miss out on this interactive swimming experience during your stay.

Location: 61 Hawks Cay Blvd, Duck Key, Florida

Dolphin Swims at Dolphin Connection

Enjoy a presentation to learn about the marine ecosystem and safety precautions before getting up close and personal with bottlenose dolphins in the Florida Keys. Dolphin Connection provides wet suits that you can wear for the in-water experience. Both dockside and in-water programs are offered. A paying adult must accompany minors.

Current rates range from $25 to $400 per person, depending on the program selected (and excluding private platform group experiences). Digital photos are included in the price of all programs.

  • Dolphin Dockside. Younger children will enjoy petting, giving the dolphin a melon rub, shaking hands, and mimicking the dolphins. This dolphin experience is enjoyed while sitting, kneeling, or standing on the dock.
  • Dolphin Encounter. Dolphins will follow the instructions of an experienced trainer to give you kisses, touch a hand target, and dance. This is a shallow water dolphin encounter. As such, it does not include toe pushes, belly tows, or other interactions that are done in deep waters.
  • Dolphin Discovery Program. Designed for participants aged 7 and older, this 45-minute deep-water program will give you a chance for hugs, deep water dance, and handshakes with a dolphin. You will also get to participate in the popular belly tow.
  • Royal Swim Program. This program is similar to Dolphin Discovery and includes a double dorsal swim with two dolphins.

Hawks Cay Resort

If you’re visiting from out of town, you can book a Hawks Cay Resort vacation to enjoy the dolphin swim as well as other activities and local attractions.

This family-friendly resort has a kids club area with age-appropriate activities, a water splash, a playground, and mini golf. The resort also offers a lagoon-side beach, swimming pool, cafe, and a couple of restaurants on the property. Other activities include tennis, boating, fishing, kayaking, and snorkeling trips, among others.

Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida (Image credit: Isabel O’Donnell/TREKKN)

Florida Keys Swim With Dolphins

Founded in 1995, Florida Keys Swim offers family experiences to swim with dolphins, snorkel trips, and sea lion swims. As with the other swim with dolphin programs, the encounters at Florida Keys Swim With Dolphins include the chance to experience a dorsal fin ride with two dolphins, a foot push, or possibly a belly ride.

Location: 101425 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, Florida

Dolphin Swims at Florida Keys Swim With Dolphins

Current rates range from $185 to $310 per person, depending on the selected dolphin encounter program. Participants must be at least 5 years old. Reservations are required.

  • Dolphin Swim. These 30-minute deep water swims include a foot push or dorsal tow as well as jumps and dolphin pets.
  • Dolphin Encounter. Novice swimmers may prefer this calmer, shallow water experience. An experienced trainer brings the dolphins to the guests. Because this is a no-swim encounter in waist deep water, participants typically have more opportunities to interact with the incredible sea mammals compared to the Dolphin Swim. Consider this option if you want to give lots of pets, belly rubs, and kisses.
  • Snorkel Trip. If you’re a strong swimmer and comfortable snorkeling in open water, this full day snorkeling trip may be the perfect in-water experience for you. This is a full day program and an extension of the Dolphin Swim. So, in addition to the deep water swims, you will also enjoy a boat trip to John Pennekamp Coral Reef to snorkel the along the beautiful coral reefs. It includes an experience at Theater of the Sea on Islamorada and Sundiver Snorkel in Key Largo. Participants must be at least 7 years old.
  • Sea Lion Swim. This is a 30-minute deep water swim that offers the unique opportunity to pet a sea lion.
Florida Keys Swim With Dolphins

Which Florida Keys Dolphin Swim Will You Choose?

We always love to hear from our readers. Remember to leave your suggestions, questions, and comments below. Any tips you provide can help others who are planning their trip to the Florida Keys.

We can’t wait to hear about your next incredible, memorable, outdoor experience!

Courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida

Related Reading: Top RV Parks in the Florida Keys

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