6 Best Places To Go Swimming With Dolphins In The Florida Keys (Updated 2023)

The Florida Keys offer the opportunity to swim with dolphins, providing firsthand encounters with these popular and intelligent marine mammals. 

Guided by experienced professionals, visitors of all ages can get into the water and witness the natural behavior of dolphins in a controlled setting. 

Dolphin encounters are educational – and memorable – experiences that allow for a deeper appreciation of these remarkable creatures and the marine ecosystem of the Florida Keys.

The six best places to go swimming with dolphins in the Florida Key are:

1. Dolphin Research Center 

2. Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder 

3. Dolphin Connection

4. Theater of the Sea

5. Island Dolphin Care

6. Dolphins Plus Bayside.

In this article, we’ll highlight the best locations to swim with dolphins in the Florida Keys.

Key Takeaways

  • The article introduces the reader to the top Florida Keys locations for swimming with dolphins
  • Readers will learn about a variety of facilities and tour companies that cater to dolphin swimming experiences
  • Information about each location’s unique offerings and highlights will be provided 

Top 6 Locations to Swim with Dolphins in the Florida Keys

1. Dolphin Research Center

Two dolphins on the surface of the water.

The Dolphin Research Center is a nonprofit research and education center just over two hours from Miami on Grassy Key in the Florida Keys.

This facility offers various dolphin interactions, including a land-based ​​Meet the Dolphin program and in-water Dolphin Encounters.

With the Dolphin Encounter, guests engage in various fun behaviors with the dolphins under the guidance of experienced trainers.

The in-water experience lasts 20-25 minutes, and participants can expect a series of structured interactions, including a dolphin kiss, handshake, and a dorsal pull.

Just note that no two Encounters are alike, as each dolphin has a unique personality and likes to play in different ways.

Dolphin interactions at the Dolphin Research Center are appropriate for children ages five and up; however, a paying participating adult over 18 must accompany children between five and seven years old.

The Dolphin Research Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for Christmas Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving Day. 

2. Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder

The Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder in Key Largo offers visitors a chance to interact with marine mammals and learn about their rescue and rehabilitation through the facility’s Connect to Protect programs.

In the deep water lagoon, visitors have the opportunity for guided interactions with dolphins, including dorsal tows, belly rides, foot pushes, back or belly rubs, handshakes, hugs, and/or splash fights.

Each Connect to Protect program reflects each trainer’s personalized approach and the dolphins’ distinct personalities. 

This means there are no specific time limits for sessions.

Rather, the focus is on guest comfort and preferences while allowing the dolphins to complete a pre-set number of behaviors at their own pace.

Encounters are offered twice daily at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., and visitors should plan for 1.5 to 2 hours from arrival to departure, including check-in, safety briefing, in-water program, and visiting the facility.

This family-friendly activity is safe for children seven and up; however, an adult must accompany children aged 7 to 10 in the water. 

Additionally, all participants must be okay with large animals and be able to swim/tread in deep water.

3. Dolphin Connection

A woman taking a picture with a dolphin.

The Dolphin Connection is located in a natural lagoon within the Hawks Cay resort area of Duck Key.

The facility offers a few different dolphin interactions to accommodate the needs of different guests.

The Dolphin Connect Dolphin Encounter is a 25 to 30-minute shallow water interaction that is great for families. 

Dolphin Discovery is a deep water program including a deep water swim adventure with one dolphin for approximately 30 mins. 

The Royal Swim experience is a 25 to 30-minute deep water program consisting of two deep water swim adventures with two dolphins. 

For animal safety, the Dolphin Discovery and Royal Swim encounters have a guest weight limit of 250 lbs (113 kilograms).

Additionally, participants must be at least 48 inches (122 cm) tall to take part in the Dolphin Discovery or Royal Swim program. 

Children between 48-54 inches (122-137 cm) must be accompanied by a paying adult (one adult per child).

Program times at Dolphin Connection vary by season, so it’s best to call 1-866-393-5158 or (305) 289-9975 for the most up-to-date information.

4. Theater of the Sea

At Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, visitors can swim with dolphins in one of the oldest marine mammal facilities in the world. 

Dolphin encounters run three times per day between 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, and the facility is open 365 days a year.

There are a few different dolphin interactions to choose from at Theater of the Sea. 

The two most popular are: Shallow Water Swim with the Dolphin and Swim with the Dolphin.

The shallow water swim is ideal for guests of all ages and swim levels as it only requires standing in 3 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 m) of water. 

Swimming with the dolphins is ideal for visitors aged five and older who are comfortable treading in deep water without a life jacket while using fins.

In addition to dolphin interactions, guests at Theater of the Sea can also swim with sharks or play in the water with sea lions.

5. Island Dolphin Care

A person swimming with two dolphins underwater.

Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, Florida, is a not-for-profit organization focusing on therapy programs for children and families with special needs, as well as veterans living with PTSD. 

The eight bottlenose dolphins at the facility cannot survive independently in the wild and rely on the staff for their well-being. 

They reside in a natural seawater lagoon where a team of animal care specialists consistently provide for their needs throughout the day. 

The highly-trained staff at Island Dolphin Care customize each program to cover the comfort and needs of every guest while prioritizing the autonomy of the animals.

Sessions typically run Monday to Thursday at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and Friday to Sunday by appointment.

6. Dolphins Plus Bayside

Dolphins Plus Bayside, located in Key Largo, offers visitors a unique opportunity to interact with dolphins in a natural seawater lagoon. 

Set along the Gulf of Mexico, the facility is just an hour’s drive south of Miami and offers a variety of dolphin encounters throughout the year: 

The Shallow Water Encounter is recommended for guests ages three and up.

Children between three and five years old must be accompanied by a paying adult who can hold them in the water, as they must be at least 4 feet (123 cm) tall to participate on their own. 

The Dolphins Plus Bayside Signature Swim program is appropriate for good swimmers aged seven and older, although children aged seven to nine must be accompanied in the water by a paid parent or guardian, and children aged 10 to 17 must have a paid spectator watching.

Guests wishing to try the Premier Swim With Dolphins must be comfortable in deep water and at least seven years old to participate. 

Children between seven and nine years old must have a participating parent or guardian, age 18 or older, in the water with them. At the same time, kids between 10 and 17 can enter the water independently but must be accompanied by a participating or observing parent or guardian.

Sessions run several times throughout the day, with the most up-to-date schedule available online.