By Michael Mozena
In 1966 Walt Disney imagined EPCOT to be the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. When it opened in 1982 as EPCOT Center it was a true testament to what marvels the future could hold. As time went on the park continued to evolve. In 1986 with the addition of the Living Seas, guests could take a futuristic journey through the story of how Earth went from volcanic planet to a world of oceans. The Living Seas was sponsored by United Technologies until 1998, but after United Technologies stopped sponsoring the ride, it soon became a forgotten attraction earning the nickname “The Dead Seas”. It wasn’t until 2004 when Finding Nemo came out that the area would once again be alive with special tour opportunities, one of which my wife and I will never forget.
I’m going to take you back, way back to 2008. At about 8:00 AM on a Wednesday morning, we found ourselves at the entrance to EPCOT. We were waiting for a cast member to come get us, and my wife had no clue what was about to happen. I had heard about this incredible opportunity to take a tour called Dolphins in Depth, and knowing my wife’s love for dolphins, I had to see what I could do to treat her to this special experience with live dolphins. Being that this tour was so unique, I thought it would be memorable to share with my wife.
Soon we were met by a cast member who took us backstage to the back entrance of the aquarium. First up on the tour, a very informative presentation on the things we as humans do to harm ocean life, and dolphins in particular. It really shed some light on the importance of ocean conservation efforts, and it truly is amazing what little things we can do to help out, for instance did you know what happens to all those little bottle caps or plastic bottles that people throw out of their windows or into the water system? Most of it flows to the ocean where animals such as dolphins will find it and a lot of times get the object (the plastic can holders are terrible to say the least) around their mouths and around their fins. It really is a shame, what we as humans take for granted that will harm such beautiful creatures. There were other examples given, but I’ll let you take the tour to learn more about all of those.
After that we donned our wet suits, and prepared to go meet two of the dolphins in their tanks! We were told by our guide that they could not promise the dolphins would interact with us, but as luck would have it, that day they did. It was fun taking them through a couple commands that we were taught such as; how to send the dolphins out to retrieve an object, and how to get them to react to certain cues in the tank.
The highlight of the day was getting in the tank with the dolphins and have the dolphins come up to us, rest on our knee and get a very nice picture with us! It’s important to note that you are not totally in the water but wading about waist high. I had never been that close to a dolphin before in my life and to have a 375 pound dolphin resting on my knee was quite an experience. To be honest he felt as light as a feather.
After all that excitement, we were taken to another room where we could get back into our dry clothes before one final meeting with the cast. At that meeting we were presented with our pictures which were framed, and a nice t-shirt that we proudly wore out over the years.
If you are interested in this tour, here are a few things Disney has posted on their website that you should know:
- Dolphins are highly intelligent animals whose interaction with Guests is voluntary; they are never forced to participate. Fortunately, dolphins are also extremely social and generally friendly, so while interaction isn’t guaranteed, it is likely.
- Please note that this is a wading encounter where the dolphins are brought to you in waist-deep water. You will not actually be swimming with the dolphins at any time.
- Guests must be 13 years of age or older. All participants under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a paying adult (18 years of age or older). For safety reasons, Guests must be able to fully understand English.
- A bathing suit is required to enter the water. Locker rooms with free lockable lockers, towels, shampoo and hair dryers will be provided. Shorty wetsuits will be provided in men’s sizes XS to 5X and women’s XS to 5X.
- No cameras, video equipment or cell phones may be used while backstage. Photography is allowed and encouraged in non-backstage areas.
- Unfortunately, no observers are allowed backstage. Also, no jewelry of any kind is permitted in the aquarium.
- Please check in at Guest Relations outside the Epcot Main Entrance 15 minutes prior to your experience. You will forfeit the entire price of your tour if you no-show or cancel within 2 days of your reservation.
It’s an experience we would gladly go back and repeat. At the current price of $199 per person it is well worth the money you spend for a 3-hour tour and the Dolphin experience. Best of all, the entire profit of tour ticket sales benefits Disney’s Wildlife Conservation Fund.
Have you ever tried the Dolphins in Depth program? What were your thoughts on this? Would you go back and do it again?