I always dreamed of an Atlantis vacation, water slides through the shark tanks, the bed-sheet-sized sting rays, the sun and fun. But most of all, I just wanted to swim with the dolphins.
Months ago, I booked our dream vacation through my companies’ discounted travel website. Free airfare promotions and very off-season prices made it a doable trip for the three of us. I set our departure for December 19th figuring that if The Mayans were right that we’d spend December 21st sliding down the pyramid slide and all go out together. It seemed fitting.
Upon arrival we quickly learned that there were two kinds of guests at Atlantis; those who pay full price and actually shop at the Rolex and Gucci boutiques on property and the Priceline.com riff-raff like us. The tell was the hideous stares we encountered as we dragged unmatched luggage ourselves through the two mile treck to our room. Reminiscent of peasants on third class passage we had seen pictures of at The Titanic Museum in Branson the year before, I have no doubt that there would have been no lifeboat for the likes of us.
Our first night after dinner at The Caribbean restaurant “Johnny Rockets” we wandered to the closed water park, eager to map out a plan for our first full day there. The moon was a flashlight, reflecting squarely off the three-story pyramid. We turned the corner and were amazed by the azure glow of the illuminated shark tank. Extremely dark and utterly deserted like a scene from “The Bachelor,” it was as if the whole place had been rented just for us.
We spent the next few days at the water park and beach. I rode my share of watersides whose tubes served as megaphones, intensifying my screaming on the way down. The Bahamian lifeguards doubled over in laughter which Jack found rich. I was only thankful to be allowed to keep on the security blanket of my formal-length sarong carefully around my pear.
The last day held a special treat for me; a swim with the dolphins. To be honest it was more like a meet and greet photo op really. In true Atlantis style it was all about the pictures but I enjoyed it none the less. Since neither John nor Jack had “The Atlantis shallow-water dolphin encounter” on their bucket list, I flew solo. John gave me that experience for my Christmas present which was a splurge and came along to document.
The 3:15pm group consisted mainly of young families: men and women, children and a few stragglers like me. The Dolphin Encounter Guides instructed us on locker usage then motioned to the racks of wetsuits and told us to get dressed. As a group. Clearly no woman dug this plan. It was gym class all over again. I took a deep breath and shucked my sarong.
That week I had done pretty well avoiding omni-present mirrors, not worrying about foisting my pale body out there for the world to see. I just wanted to relax and enjoy life. I tried to channel the confidence I’d watched Honey Boo-Boo display in her new pageant swimsuit days before when she raised the royal blue curtains of her tankini top, slapped her protruding belly and exclaimed, “I look go-o-o-o-d!”
The wetsuits were indeed wet which was like pulling on Spanx saturated in Liquid Nails. Only those who did yoga routinely had the flexibility to reach behind their backs and clutch the slippery zipper. It was a battle against sprung back-fat as every other millimeter of ones’ body was already compressed tightly into the spandex turtle neck / bike short get up from hell.
I noticed a beautiful older lady who needed a zip and desperately took a chance. “Hey there, I’ll zip you if you’ll return the favor.” She was relieved and readily agreed, one orphan to another. We then thigh-clapped into the training room and watched the instructional dolphin video.
The trainer educated my class in dolphin physiology and interaction etiquette. The main take-away being that you never touch the dolphin’s face. She delved into the mucal layers of the eye just to drive it home. Half way through the presentation another older lady emerged from the dressing area and sat with her friend the zipee. The latecomer had a purple streak in her curly gray hair and a 3D rhinestone manicure like Christina Aguilera. She was awesome.
Employees divided the group into subgroups and I was happy to be with The Golden Girls. Together we met our dolphin. The trainer told stories of women who believed this dolphin was their reincarnated husband and that several weddings had been performed between widow and dolphin. While I enjoyed greatly my experience I got more of a friend vibe from the guy.
We got to touch, feed and pose with our dolphin in the cement “beach” incline. He was a beautiful creature with very empathetic eyes and perfect teeth. Sleek, kind and as intelligent as a nine year old the video said. We each had our chance to interact and pose with the animal. The photog barked out directions as the trainer used fish to keep the subject in place. Good thing they have perpetual smiles.
When our dolphin fled, the other trainers in the group kept the party going by slapping the water to summon another one. Several appeared including a mother and her baby right behind her, checking on her. Exactly like me except for my baby was enthralled in The Lord of The Rings back at the room at that moment. The 3:15 group reconvened as the eight dolphins put on an incredible show for the final portion of our interaction. It was breathtaking to be in the water, mere yards away from these powerful creatures, a beautiful end to the trip.
I had always wanted to meet a dolphin. I’d loved them since my early childhood when reruns of the TV show Flipper kept me enthralled. My shallow water dolphin interaction did not disappoint. Neither did my vacation. Even though Jack was the only one on the entire Island of Nassau to wear camouflage and the soles of my feet were perpetually blackened by the $1.00 Walmart flip flops and my husband voiced his disgust over a $3.00 banana, all told it was an unforgettable trip. From the time we trotted our mismatched luggage in until Christmas Eve when we made our welcomed exit. That’s just the way The Hensons roll.