Carnival Magic backed slowly into the dock at Amber Cove near Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic under sunny skies, which were quite welcome on a day where the weather forecast included thundershowers. Although it rained some overnight, no thunder or showers made an appearance during our stay.
Amber Cove is a fairly new purpose-built cruise ship port. Which means everything there was built specifically for the port. It’s not in a previously existing town. The port area has shops (of course) as well as a pool, waterslide, zip line, and a variety of displays. Each display has different information, some about flora and fauna of the local area. Others are about the amber that gives Amber Cove its name and larimar, the blue Caribbean stone found only in one mine in the world – in the Dominican Republic. While amber is normally the orangish amber color associated with the name, other colors are found in the Dominican Republic including rare and valuable blue amber found only there.
Anyone who hasn’t booked an excursion through the ship can find things to do on their own whether they just want to hang around the port or venture off to see more. Excursion booths offer last minute tours and people can also opt for a taxi to the beach or a taxi tour. For a cheaper ride dodgy-looking unlicensed taxis sit out beyond the boundary of the port’s gates.
Not having been to the Dominican Republic before, we booked an excursion through the ship because the grandkids wanted to see dolphins and we were unsure of the price, availability, or reliability of local transportation. Unfortunately when booking Ocean World through the ship if you want to go on the same bus everyone has to do the same excursion. If you got there on your own and some wanted to do the dolphin encounter, some the dolphin swim, and some just wanted park admission you could do so.
Admission through the park’s website cost the same as through the ship, but included lunch instead of transportation. The brochure made it sound like once you paid for a dolphin swim or encounter the admission included everything else in the park. Once we got there we found out waterslides cost and additional $10, which was a disappointment to the oldest grandson because there were not enough slides nor did we have enough time to justify the extra cost for everyone, where we would have used them briefly if you could just go slide down.
The minimum age for the dolphin swim is 6 so we did the encounter instead since the youngest grandson was just 5. The price is also less for the encounter. Before going to the dolphin platform people have to remove things like jewelry and hair clips because anything a person loses may be eaten by a dolphin. There’s a roofed area with wooden railings near the platforms where people can put their things. Nothing goes in the pen with the people, not even cameras. They do have professional photographers and of course would like to sell people the photos and video they take.
The park has birds, stingrays, sharks, and other fish as well as the dolphins. Shows include bird, sea lion, shark, and dolphin. Local time there was an hour later than ship’s time. Carnival cruises that start and end at the same port stay on ship’s time which is the same time as the port of origination. With all the shows and exhibits there was more at Ocean World than we could see or do during the amount of time we had to spend at the park before we had to catch the return bus to the ship. Though we were on a ship’s excursion, once the dolphin encounter finished we were free to explore the rest of the park on our own and responsible for getting ourselves to the meeting point for the bus on time.
The kids loved the dolphin encounter. They divided the participants into 3 groups, 2 of which sat on the sides while the third went into the somewhat cold water of a small square area with a floating cement walkway surrounding it. Dolphins could freely swim under the walkway into that area or back out. Two came in when we first arrived. One stayed and the other was sent out to another group on a different platform. Our platform had a cover and some shady areas, but the other one was open to the elements.
There was an underwater platform along the edge of the floating one for the people in the water to stand on. The dolphin swam up and down the line of people, doing different things. The trainer told everyone in advance what parts of the dolphin were OK to touch and what was not. He let people pet him, hug him, and then kissed everyone. I’d have preferred to leave that part out in case any of the other people had germs he could spread, but none of us got sick from the dolphin’s kiss. At the end everyone fed him a small fish and he waved his fin goodbye. The dolphin could have swam under the platform and left at any time if he wanted to, but he preferred to stay and eat the fish he got for participating.
We also went to the sea lion show and the aviary. The kids enjoyed the walk-through building where love birds flock to anyone with a bit of the bird seed handed out there. The birds also loved sitting on top of heads or hats.
One area had a large fish tank where people could snorkel. Anyone who was too young or who didn’t want to get wet could watch the fish or snorkelers through glass panels on some portions of each side of the tank. The snorkeling had a specific entrance and exit so everyone in the tank swims in the same direction.
The dolphins and other large sea mammals there all seemed happy. We even saw some dolphins playing with balls just for fun without any trainers around. Their habitat was pretty spacious and they got lots of fish to eat. Dolphins and sea lions are very smart. The US navy uses both. Some of the ones the navy trains live in the wild and come to work voluntarily – paid in fish. One of their jobs for the navy is to locate and recover old mines, which they can do safely because living mammals don’t set the mine off like a metal ship or submarine would.