Our first stop on our cruise was Cozumel. We docked at a pier and walked into town. Unfortunately, the area is so touristy, as expected, that all you see are shopping malls full of touristy type stores wanting to sell you t-shirts and other trivial stuff. There are also plenty of jewelry stores. On the ship they’ll tell you which ones you should visit. I’m guessing that’s because there’s some monetary exchange between the stores and ships. One of the first things you see when walking into Cozumel is a sign for Starbucks — not exactly the cultural experience I was looking for.
Prior to our trip we set up a dolphin encounter excursion through Shoretrips.com. Chankanaab National Marine Park was the destination. It’s a small park located about a 15 minute drive from port. We got a cab from port for $12 each way. Their price of the excursion was slightly cheaper than the dolphin excursion from NCL. The marine park was fairly crowded with groups from other cruise lines like Carnival.
The voucher said it would be an hour long excursion. I was under the assumption that meant an hour of time in the water with a dolphin but it turned out to be half an hour. The rest of the time was waiting around, filling out the waivers, waiting for our group to be called, getting fitted for life jackets, more waiting, walking to the spot where the thing happens, getting pictures taken.
The actual dolphin encounter was better than expected. There were about 10-12 people in our group. Each got to touch the dolphin mom (there was also a baby dolphin in our pen that we didn’t interact with) several times and each took turns doing some tricks — patting the dolphin’s fins, raising your arm so the dolphin jumps up to touch it, and giving it a kiss. There’s a photographer assigned to each group who takes photos of each person. At the end, of course, they try to sell you various photograph packages. Even before the excursion happened they were trying to sell you photos, saying if you bought a package before your experience it would be cheaper.
The marine park has different levels of interaction with the dolphins, some where you can swim with them and have them push or pull you through the water. With ours, we were relegated to standing on a platform in the water and touching/petting them when instructed.
The dolphin area is a rectangular area probably smaller than a football field with a walkway around the perimeter and individual bays, each with a dolphin so multiple encounters can happen at the same time.
There’s a restaurant at the park, which we did not try. They said our purchase included lunch but we ate before going. Next to the restaurant is a pool with a swim up bar, a sea lion exhibit and show, and a small beach area where people can swim or rent snorkel gear or kayaks.
The interaction with the dolphin was great, something my kid will never forget. The timing of the excursion was a bit of an issue. Since this was an independently booked trip, we wanted to make sure we were back to the boat in time and had to rush to get there before the ship’s 4pm departure. It’s not anyone’s fault, just something to be aware of when not booking through your ship.