Set in the north of the Netherlands, the Dolfinarium is a must see. But be warned, the weather here is chilly and you would do well to go well protected against the elements.
The best way to get to Harderwijk is by train. If you are traveling from Amsterdam and Rotterdam, you may need to change trains are Amesfoort or Utrecht.
Just outside the Harderwijk station is the Connexxion bus stand from where you can take the mini-train, The Wonderland Express, to the Dolfinarium. It runs every hour. But the suggested method to get there is to walk. The Dolfinarium is hardly a 15 minute walk from the railway station. The walk takes you through this quaint waterside town. Complete with cobbled, narrow streets which are pressed on either side by eateries of various kinds, it’s almost like another world. But somehow it all seems familiar, if you have read stories like Kidnapped and Treasure Island, the streets of Harderwijk will remind you of the settings from those stories.
The best part about the walk is the destination. You come on it suddenly. One moment you are hemmed in by buildings on a narrow street, and the next you standing at the edge of a wide open vista of swan-spotted waters, with sea gulls flying on a background of brilliant blue skies and cold, grey waters.
The Dolfinarium is a misnomer, because the park contains a lot more than just dolphins, which would have been sufficient really. You have walruses, sea lions, seals, rays, dog fish and of course the dolphins.
The park is demarcated into various show zones. At the entrance you are given a map and a schedule. You would do well to spend a few minutes on the map and schedule and outline the order in which you are going to do things, or you may just end up spending more time in the chilling, biting, freezing, cold than you need to.
I wish I could say which of the shows can be missed and those that can’t be missed. The fact is, don’t miss anything. We started with the sea lions. The show was for about 15 minutes. The trainer put the animals through their paces, they waved to the crowd, did flips and generally enthralled the sparse morning crowd.
The Dolfinarium opens at 10 and it is a good idea to be there by opening time. That means you get to see the first few shows in a relatively shove-free environment. As the day progresses the throng increases and then it is a fight for elbow room.
After the sea lions we went over to meet the seals. These animals are naturally funny. They are fantastically trained and the show choreographed to show off their funnier side. It is amazing to watch one of the seals refuse a particular type of fish while the other happily gulp it down. The emphatic shake off his head leaves us in no doubt that he detests that particular fish. It is a huge tribute to the choreographers of the show. The animals had the entire crowd in splits as they went about their routine.
From the sea lions we moved to the rays. The Dolfinarium has a huge collection of rays and dogfish. You can watch these beautiful creatures swim lazily in the shallow pool. The rays are so friendly that they swim around at the absolute edge of the pool and the moment you put your hand it, they come up to be petted. If you are lucky and they are in a good mood, at least one of them with show their underside, the ray has a perpetual smile on its underside. They look like something straight out of a Disney movie.
Next up was a skit involving the seals. The skit had two sailors whose ship had just docked. The seals play the sailors’ sweethearts. The spoil-sport in the romancing is the local policeman, who constantly hounds the romancing couples. Hilarious is an understatement.
Next we moved to the 3-D theatre where we were shown a movie titles “Pirates”. Apart from being 3-D, the park had added its own set of realistic effects. For instance, when a set of doves fly over head, you are showered with bird-droppings. When a set of bees attack, your seat begins to buzz, and when a sea of bats fly by you can feel the wind from their wings passing your neck.
Then came the heroes of the show, the dolphins. The dolphin show lasts about 30 minutes and the trainers put them through their paces. It is impossible to capture the show in words, nothing can be said that is even adequate a description for what we saw, so I not even going to attempt to do justice. Let me just say that it was thrilling.
We took a quick bite of lunch and then rushed off to see the walruses, with their hug bodies and cute moustaches. Belying their serious demeanor, these animals are very naughty. If you stand too close to their enclosure, they sweetly swim up to you and then spit water jets on you. There was this one incident during the show when one of them swam up to the crowd and spat a jet of water on them. When the trainer scolded him, he immediately went up to her and buried his head under his fins in shame. It was the cutest sight I have ever seen.
This done we moved to an open air arena where yet another set of dolphins paraded their talents. This was followed by a quick trip to the souvenir shop.
You need half a day at the bare minimum to see every show at least once. If you have the time, see the shows twice. The animals are so well trained, and the synchronization so wonderful, that you are left spellbound. You find your jaws drop in awe, your hands just begin to applaud and when the trainers and animals wave, you instinctively wave back.
Leave the adult in you back at the gates, or better yet leave it home. When you walk through those gates, you are transported back in time. There is very little difference between the adults and the children in there. Everybody is young, and has wonder-filled eyes.
There is no excuse good enough for missing the Dolfinarium if you have stepped within the boundaries of the Netherlands. You can buy tickets at the gates, but it is advised that you check with your hotels, most hotels will have the tickets priced at least a Euro below the cost at the gate.