Set Sail on a Dolphin Adventure Cruise

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Some vacation destinations have attractions where you can swim with trained dolphins or watch them jump through hoops, but you really haven't experienced these magnificent creatures until you've seen them in the wild. Myrtle Beach visitors have the unique opportunity to take a short cruise off the Carolina coast and see dolphins being dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sailing out of the nearby fishing villages of Little River and Murrells Inlet, about 15 miles north and south of Compass Cove, respectively, several charter boat companies and outdoor outfitters offer cruises just a few miles off the coast to areas that are known to be popular migration zones for dolphins. With cruises ranging from two to three hours round-trip, many go so far as to guarantee that your group will spot some dolphins or you can return another day until you see the main attractions.

Missing the dolphins rarely happens, as all companies boast a high success rate. But many passengers say the cruise is worth the price of admission just to spend some time out over the open ocean. Those sailing out of Little River can see the scenic beauty of the uninhabited Bird Island and Waites Island, a former Civil War fort, as well as a wealth of aquatic animals and birds of prey. Those departing from Murrells Inlet sail out past the jetties that separate Garden City Beach and Huntington Beach State Park and into deeper waters where dolphins are known to feed and frolic. Both guided tours follow the fish to find the dolphins.

Once the captain locates a pod, get your camera ready for action. The sight of man's aquatic cousins swimming in formation — and in groups ranging in size from a small family to a mass migration — is breathtaking. Some passengers report watching the smaller dolphins being herded along by the adults, seeing the playful youngsters engage in a dolphin version of follow the leader and being approached by the creatures that have grown accustomed to seeing boatloads of tourists check them out. They don't pose for photos like their counterparts in captivity, but you will gain an appreciation for nature by seeing them in the wild.

In Little River, Capt. Juel's Hurricane Fleet is a popular outfitter on the waterfront. Patrons can dine or enjoy drinks at the seafood restaurant while waiting to board the Sea Screamer or Sea Thunder for a two-hour tour. Other popular dolphin-watching charters include Blue Water Adventure, Express Watersports, Myrtle Beach Watersports and Voyager, just to name a few. Outfitters also offer other aquatic adventures, including deep-sea fishing trips, eco-tours for bird-watching and shell collecting, and tours of the Intracoastal Waterway and inland backwaters of the Grand Strand.

Passengers are advised to arrive 30 minutes prior to boarding for a short safety briefing, and this is a good time to purchase snacks, beverages or other items you might need on your trip, many of which are available at the bait shop at the docks. Be sure to dress appropriately for a boat ride in clothing you wouldn’t mind getting wet, like a swimsuit and hat for sunny days and a rain slicker and boots for overcast days so you can stay high and dry from the waves and water. Sunscreen, towels and a change of clothes for after the journey are also smart things to bring along, and it’s a good idea to bring a resealable plastic bag for your cell phone or a larger waterproof bag for your camera to keep valuable items from getting wet.

After a fun day at sea, head back to Compass Cove and relax while recounting your awesome day with the dolphins. Like your stay at Compass Cove Resort, it’s something that will make your Myrtle Beach vacation unforgettable.