A Three-Hour Tour

For all of our family time, private adventuring, and fishing in Florida, Camp Granola also embarked on an eco-tour that I highly recommend if you get down to Marco Island. Yes, it was in fact a three-hour tour and no, the boat was not the S.S. Minnow.

What big teeth you have
Kent giving us the low-down on dolphin biology.

There’s nothing at all Gilligan about the fabulous folks at The Dolphin Explorer and their fun little tour centered around the bottlenose dolphin. For a nature junkie like yours truly, it was quite a high. While group tours are not generally our style, Gma convinced us that this one would be worth it. She was right of course. No surprise there.

The tour sets out from the Marco Marina and sells out most days from what I understand so be sure to make a reservation. As for the outing itself, it’s set up to involve kids by giving them little clipboards with simple data sheets to fill in about the dolphin behavior they observe. Excellent idea for getting little ones excited and lots of fun to boot. Granted, my minions were in slight moods that day so they were only lukewarm to the survey aspect of the tour at first but they warmed up to the idea after they got to see some dolphin action. For all ages, including us middle-age types, guests peruse the dolphin photo book to identify which individuals were frolicking that day by comparing dorsal fin markings. Once you make the match, you can find read a bit more about the history of that particular dolphin.

Little explorers
Fred and George getting ready to take notes.
Blue Egg
I found this mysterious blue egg laying in the middle of the beach. My best guess is that it's a heron egg that got snatched by a critter as a little snack. Nature doesn't always play nice.

For our trip, we were under the guidance of Captain Chris who piloted us around the area in search of the ever-charismatic dolphins. Our naturalist was the quirky Kent who was much, much fun. But then I like dry, scientist humor…even if he did some time at UF. We won’t hold that against him. (Ahem, go Noles!)

Initially we caught only glimpses of dorsal fins and a fluke here and there. With a little more time we were able to get a bit more of a show. Some playful dolphins began tossing various things in the air and a few came in closer to the boat to snort at us. I know there’s a more technical term than snort but you’ll just have to go with my elegant description for now.

Whelk egg sack
Naturalist Kent came equipped with a whelk egg sack for us to examine all up close and personal. I tried not to go uber-dork over it but it was pretty damn cool. Side note: that little dot in the ocean is Fred.
Leaping Dolphin
This acrobat decided to put on quite a display for us.

The action built up nicely to the apex of dolphin viewing, the jump alongside the boat. For all of the hints of their character up until that point, they finally delivered the quintessential dolphin behavior that we bipeds so admire. That’s epic stuff right there. It’s a different experience to have them put on displays of their own accord in the wild versus the the canned shows of aquarium parks. I’ll take the chance of striking out on a dolphin sighting in their habitat over the guarantee of a show at a theme park any day. Authenticity counts.

The Dolphin Explorer folks don’t leave you with just a little ocean cruising for cetacean action. The boat also takes a break at a beach that is nothing short of remarkable. They let everyone off to take dip, do some shelling, and just explore in general. And you know this is where Fred and George hit their stride…when they could get dirty, touch things, and be set to their own devices. Between the water, the shells, the sea turtle nests and various plant-life, it was a granola wonderland. And it was certainly over all too soon. Three hours slip by very quickly when you’re having that much fun.

Captain Chris
Captain Chris and his fabulous pooch took some time to enjoy the beach too.
Sea Turtle Safety
Sea turtle nests get extra protection to level the playing field a bit.

So while I learned a great deal about critters and on this trip, I also learned that I definitely suck at shooting photographing fast-moving critters in mid-day sun in very glary water. (Note to self: learn how to do this properly.) I certainly lacked the lens for the situation which didn’t help and, as you know, is not the only time on this trip I bumped up against this problem.

All-in-all, the tour was very educational, engaging, and nicely paced with plenty of extra-dry naturalist humor thrown in for free. What more could you want? You’ve got dolphins, fabulous ocean scenery, pristine beaches complete with sea turtle nests, and top-notch guides. You’re all set with the folks at Dolphin Explorer. Go check them out. They certainly get the completely uncoveted Val in Real Life Seal of Approval. But whatever you do, don’t tell them the crazy lady who took six million pictures of a little blue egg sent you. That will just make them question their line of work and we don’t want that.

And now for your moment of green…

Endless Beach
A haven for sea turtles, this excellent beach is also a haven for granola types. Not a hotel or condo in sight.


  1. Very nice, Val. Great way to get the kids involved. Brad and I will have to check it out sometime since we’re only an hour away from Marco.

    1. I always forget how close you are to Naples/Marco. It really is a great trip. It’s very genuine in that it isn’t simply about entertainment and sightseeing so it isn’t manufactured. That’s pretty groovy in my book. You guys should check it out. Next time we head your way, we’ll have to catch up with you. Been too long.

  2. Nice review Val, did you send a copy to the captain? Oh, and nice pictures too!

    1. No, I haven’t sent it yet but I will. Glad you liked the post and thanks for taking us!

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