Amber and I knew that it was going to be difficult to top last year’s trip to the Grand Ole Opry for Kaitlyn’s birthday. For several months, we batted around several ideas, and we finally decided on taking a trip over to Panama City Beach so Kaitlyn could swim with the dolphins (finally!).
It took a lot of planning, and a lot of secrecy (the whole “loose lips sink ships” thing comes to mind with us not wanting anyone to slip up and ruin the surprise),we were able to pull it off. We were able to get Kaitlyn on board with the trip to Panama City Beach, but didn’t even hint about a possible swim with a dolphin.
We made the drive over Friday morning, and Kaitlyn just figured we were going to spend time on the beach and hang out at Pier Park for a while, then have what seems to be becoming our traditional birthday dinner for her at Dave & Buster’s. There was no disappointment from Kaitlyn that she couldn’t go more than about shin deep in the water thanks to strong rip currents in the wake of Tropical Storm Cindy; we searched for shells, and Kaitlyn managed to get wiped out by a wave once, so that was fun!
After a quick lunch, we took a stroll on the pier, and stood at the end for about 15 minutes searching for some wild dolphins. Sadly, we came up empty. About this time, Kaitlyn was resigned to not seeing any dolphins on her birthday trip. Amber and I knew better though!
This morning, we had Kaitlyn put on her bathing suit, “just in case we went to the beach before coming home,” and she was fine with that. She didn’t suspect a thing, even when we pulled into the parking lot at Gulf World, and while we stood in line. It wasn’t until the door opened and those with a reservation for a dolphin swim were allowed in. Her face lit up, and she asked, “wait, I’m going to swim with a dolphin today?” It was right then that our efforts were worth it.
There was no way the smile could have been wiped off of Kaitlyn’s face as the swim neared. She was given a life jacket to wear, and we headed to the dolphin pool (her swim ended up being in the same pool where her meet and greet took place back in 2014). She was in a group of 7, and was the only one who paid complete attention to the trainer and was not intimidated by being in the water with the dolphin; at one point, the trainer had to have Kaitlyn move several feet closer to the shallow part of the pool because she wanted to maximize the distance of her swim in.
Today was another step in Kaitlyn’s progression to becoming a dolphin doctor. For her, it was more than a mere swim with a dolphin on her birthday; for Kaitlyn, today was the first of countless days that she will spend interacting with dolphins. Amber and I know that before too long, instead of being observers of her in the pool swimming with a dolphin, we will be observers of her in and out of the pool training and caring for dolphins, and educating the public about them.