The Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida, is one of my all-time, favorite travel destinations. It has been since I was a kid. As you may or may not know, my family has had a home in the Florida Keys for as long as I can remember. My grandparents built it long ago, and now my folks have it. Needless to say, I’ve been blessed to be able to visit the Keys a LOT since I was young, and try to visit the Dolphin Research Center there every time we go. It’s super easy to find, too. Just watch for the giant dolphin that looks like it’s leaping over a parking lot at mile marker 59, Gulf side.

dophin research center parking lot

I absolutely love this place. Home to 26 dolphins and four sea lions, the not-for-profit Dolphin Research Center cares for animals that are unable to survive in the wild because they were either born under human care or they were injured and had to be rescued. They work with and learn from their dolphins. And if a dolphin doesn’t want to participate in activities? That’s just fine. After all, who doesn’t have a bad day every now and again?


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Dolphin Research Center


If you’re planning a visit to the Florida Keys, you simply MUST plan a stop at the Dolphin Research Center. It’s a wonderful place that I know you’ll love. And for when you go, here’s our list of seven tips to help make your visit memorable.

1. Prebook your activities

I can’t imagine anything worse than pulling up for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with marine mammals only to find that there are no available spots for the day. Whether you’d like to simply meet a dolphin, swim with one, or spend an entire day as a trainer, the Dolphin Research Center has a program for you. A simple visit to their website will help you pick the type of experience you want and will lock in your spot. If you’d like to do anything other that just watch the dolphins, it’s always a good idea to make a reservation in advance.

dolphin research center marathon

2. Don’t wear fancy shoes

The Dolphin Research Center has brick sidewalks as well as boardwalks–it is a marine center after all. Folks come here to swim with dolphins and get in the water. Wear something sensible like sandals or slip-on shoes and you’ll do just fine. After all, you’re in the Florida Keys!

dolphin research center walkway

If you’re planning to get in the water with the dolphins, it’s best to wear swim attire under loose clothing, so you don’t have to change there. Also, be sure to take your sun glasses and eco-friendly sunscreen.

3. Check the schedule

Located near the main lagoon is a large board with the day’s schedule. Check this board when you get there and you’ll be able to note the times and places for various activities during the day. Whenever a group of people has an encounter with dolphins scheduled, others are encouraged to watch. Each of these programs is used as an opportunity to teach guests about dolphins. The more you attend, the more you learn!

Dolphin Research Center schedule board

4. Keep an eye out for extra animals

The focus of the Dolphin Research Center is marine mammals, and the dolphins and sea lions are the definite stars. However, a number of other animals call the facility home, as well. Keep your eyes peeled, and see if you can spot any of the seven exotic birds, various pea fowl, eight cats, and the iguanas who spend their days here. But there are a number of other residents, as well, and they can be a little harder to spot so keep on the lookout.

lizard at dolphin research center

5. Buy in the pictures taken by the Dolphin Research Center

If you do decide to participate in a program with the dolphins, we recommend investing in the pictures taken by a Dolphin Research Center photographer. They will be better photographs than anything anyone in your party can take from a distance, and you know you’ll get a great photo memory of your experience. When we swam with the dolphins a few years ago, we purchased pictures through the Dolphin Research Center’s photo shop and are so glad we did. See our daughter, Meghan, below. We would have never gotten that shot.

dophin research center photos

We have certainly enjoyed looking back at those photos and remembering our great time there. And we know that our purchase supports the facility and the care of our new dolphin friends.

6. Take home a souvenir

When we travel, we like to find souvenirs that are tasteful and meaningful, not cheap and kitschy. The gift shop at the Dolphin Research Center is a perfect place for us because it is full of unique items you won’t find elsewhere. Inside you’ll find paintings created by the dolphins (really!) as well as jewelry including pendants made to look like the tail flukes of different dolphins in the facility’s pod.

dophin research center neclaces

Each dolphin’s fluke is different than any other’s, kind of like a fingerprint. One of these charms makes a great memento from your day with the dolphins.

7. Learn about dolphins

The Dolphin Research Center exists to promote education about marine mammals. I’ve been dozens of times, and think I’ve learned something new on each trip. Staff will answer any question you have and they provide excellent programming. In addition, they’ve even worked with classroom teachers over Skype to bring dolphins to students thousands of miles away. Check out the video below for an example of what you might learn on a visit.

The Visitor’s Center at the Dolphin Research Center was recently expanded, and we think it looks great. Not only that, they put a lot of thought into making it a functional space. Here’s a picture of Steve’s dad checking it out for the first time.

new visitors center DRC

I just can’t say enough good things about the Dolphin Research Center. If you are planning a trip to the Florida Keys, put this spot on your must-visit list. You’ll be glad you did.


By the way, we were excited to include a video in this post. For Christmas, my parents gave us a gimbal to help us create videos for our blog. This was my first attempt at using it. I hope you enjoyed my new-found videographer skills. 

Steve using his new camera

  • We've been having the best time in the Florida Keys visiting Steve's mom and dad this week. Today, it was cold for Floridians, but we loved the sunshine (and were thankful for awesome neighbors who were likely shoveling the snow from our driveway back home).⁣
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We are so thankful for a flexible schedule and opportunities like this one to share time with family. Life seems to pass us by so quickly the older we get and we're fortunate to be able to travel and share experiences with the people we love most. ⁣
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Feeling especially blessed tonight, in the beautiful Florida Keys.
  • We enjoyed a delicious dinner tonight at Hideaway Cafe on Grassy Key with Steve's mom and dad. We went early at 5 p.m. for the sunset dinner menu which has smaller portions and the most beautiful views of the sunset. ⁣
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The food was fresh and made-to-order and served by gracious and professional staff who made us feel right at home. ⁣
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Hideaway is a great restaurant choice for dinner if you're in the Florida Keys. Get a reservation ahead of time, as it fills up quickly, even at 5 p.m.
  • Need some inspiration for staying healthy while traveling? Good news! We are taking over the @noom Instagram stories this afternoon and hope you’ll all follow along as we share tips on how to make healthy living choices while on a cruise ship. We’ll take you inside the beautiful @celebritycruises Edge and show you how we stayed on track with our Noom goals while still enjoying a fantastic cruise vacation. Be sure to follow @noom! Our takeover has just begun. 😁
  • The Rooftop Garden is a unique space on the top deck of the @celebrityedge. There’s no water slide on this ship, no go-carts, and the’s no rock wall for climbing. Instead the Rooftop Garden provides a “living urban playscape inspired by childhood playgrounds and designed to waken the inner child in all of us,” according to the Celebrity Cruises website. There are live plants, comfortable outdoor seating, and unique art installations that set the space apart from anything else at sea. @cruisecelebrity
  • Blu is a restaurant on the Celebrity Edge that is dedicated to guests in Aqua Class.  It serves “clean, crisp flavors and inventive cuisine” in a gorgeous blue venue. To give you an example of the types of entrees served, for dinner tonight Blu is offering seared duck breast with wilted chard, farro risotto, and black cherry jus; a cracked pepper corn-crusted tuna salad, watercress, and dijon vinaigrette; and pumpkin gnocchi with sautéed arugula, sundries tomatoes, marinated artichokes, goat cheese and basil pesto. What would you order?
  • Yes, cruise ships are huge, but if you do a little exploring, you’ll find that the designers have included many small spots perfect for intimate conversation and watching the world go by. We found this nook in Eden, on deck 5 of the Celebrity Edge, near the stern.
  • Last Sunday we began the second half of our very first back-to-back cruise on the Celebrity Edge. We’ve had the best cruise vacation and have enjoyed every single minute of our vacation. The Edge  been an ideal place to relax, recharge, and prepare for a new year. We’ve also used this time to try new things and focus on a healthy lifestyle. Thank you all for coming along on our journey and sharing your sweet comments with us along the way. We are grateful for each of you.
  • We just love these guys!! These two characters were the bartenders on the Retreat Sundeck for our cruise aboard the Celebrity Edge. Johannes and Vince created a light, fun atmosphere and made you want to go to the pool every day. Their personalities helped make the Retreat a welcoming place with professional service. We shouldn’t be surprised, though. We found similar cheerfulness in crew around every corner of the Edge, under the command of @captainkatemccue.

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