I wouldn’t say swimming with dolphins is on my bucket list as much as it’s a lifelong obsession. While visiting Punta Cana recently, I was lucky enough to visit the Dolphin Explorer Park. I was hyperventilating with excitement when I first read the itinerary, but I had no idea what was in store for me.

As we made the short drive from the Hard Rock Punta Cana, I started to imagine the setup of the dolphin park. Maybe there would be four or five dolphins in a large saltwater tank. Maybe we would be able to have some one-on-one time. I soon found, however, that the Dolphin Explorer Park offers an incredible –and highly personal– experience with dolphins, that would top my highest expectations.

First of all, there isn’t a small, saltwater tank. The park’s 20 dolphins enjoy a marked-off parameter of gorgeous Caribbean sea that we reach via a protracted wooden dock. Our group of four was directed to one of the four sections, where two flipper-happy dolphins were waiting for us.

I couldn’t get in the water fast enough. Our trainer– who was extremely friendly and commanded the dolphins with drill sergeant precision– guided us through this breathtaking experience, which included being launched in the air by prodding the dolphins’ bottlenoses, holding onto their fins as they swam from side to side and my personal favorite, giving them kisses and rubbing their bellies. All in all, we were in the water with these majestic creatures for over an hour.

The unique wildlife park also boasts a pristine stretch of beach, which is lovely to explore after a dolphin encounter. I particularly appreciated that aspect of the park, as I needed a nice stroll on the beach after my adrenaline-spiked swim.

Or guests can opt for another aquatic adventure after a dolphin encounter. Snorkel with nurse sharks, stingrays or the kids’ favorite"”fur seals.There are also two Bengal tigers, exotic birds and a 20-minute seal show (akin to the traditional Sea World shows) to round out the family-friendly atmosphere.