Monthly Archives: October 2016

SeaWorld Orlando, Florida

SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld Orlando in Florida, USA

SeaWorld Orlando is one of the biggest attractions in town and provides a fun-filled day for the whole family. We visited in the off-peak season on a weekday and it was a really comfortable crowd, not too busy at all with very little wait times for rides.

While there are some great rides at SeaWorld Orlando, the real stars of the SeaWorld experience are the animals and shows. Our advice is to get there early, right at opening time and ride the roller coasters first, then plan the rest of your day around the show times. Show times and park hours vary daily so be sure to check before you arrive.

One Ocean Shamu Killer Whale Show

Watch in awe as you learn all about these majestic creatures of the ocean.

Blue Horizons Dolphin Show

This show is not just about the amazing dolphin performances, it also features colourful theatrical acrobats as well as talented tropical birds.

Clyde & Seamore’s Sea Lion High Show

A very funny and entertaining show that the whole family will love – featuring sea lions, otters and even a walrus.

Pets Ahoy Show

Witness the clever tricks performed by cats, dogs, birds and other pets that have been rescued from local animal shelters.

Thrill Rides

  • Manta – This coaster makes you feel like you are flying through the air at high speeds head first.  Watch our YouTube video of Manta here.  You can also stop by the Manta Aquarium after the ride.
  • Mako – Newly opened in June 2016, this ride is named after the fastest species of shark. This is the longest, fastest and tallest roller coaster in Orlando.
  • Kraken – Named after the legend of the Kraken Sea Monster, this is Orlando’s only floorless roller coaster.
  • Journey to Atlantis – Prepare to get wet on this water flume ride that travels through the sunken city of Atlantis.

Shamu’s Happy Harbour

The little ones will love the children’s play area of SeaWorld Orlando called Shamu’s Happy Harbour . There’s quite a few rides as well as a huge climbing area to keep them entertained. If the kids bring their bathers they can also play in a splash zone to keep cool in the Orlando heat.

You can see our YouTube video of Shamu’s Happy Harbour.

Animal Exhibits

SeaWorld Orlando is home to an array of animal attractions including;

  • Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin
  • Turtle Trek
  • Shark Encounter
  • Flamingo Cove
  • Dolphin Nursery
  • Manta Aquarium
  • Stingray Lagoon
  • Wild Arctic

There is of course plenty of restaurants and eateries as well as quite a few shopping areas – and you just never know who you might bump into!

For more information on SeaWorld Orlando visit their website www.seaworld.com

We had unlimited access to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica Water Park for 14 consecutive days included as part of our Discovery Cove ticket package.

Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida, USA

Discovery Cove Orlando

A Day at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida, USA

Discovery Cove is a great way to spend a day in Orlando, especially if you need a break from all the theme parks. It is a day resort (affiliated with SeaWorld) where you can go to relax, snorkel with tropical fish and stingrays, float around the lazy river or even swim with a dolphin or two.

Check-In

First piece of advice for going to Discovery Cove in Orlando is to arrive early! Check-in begins at 7.15am so we recommend getting there between 7.15-7.30am as the dolphin swims are allocated on a first come first served basis. On arrival you are shown to a check-in desk where you get given your dolphin swim time (if you have booked a dolphin swim). We arrived around 7.20am and were given an 8.50am time-slot. Each member of your party is provided with a waterproof identification card with lanyard to wear for the day (photos are taken and put on the card). These cards have your dolphin swim time, cabana where your group will meet and your swim pod number printed on them. If you are over 21 you must produce photo ID to get your Discovery Cove card printed with a 21 on it which will allow you to be served alcohol. If you do not have that 21 on your card, you will not get served alcohol – no matter how old you look!

After check-in, you have a group photo taken which you can pick-up later in the day and is complimentary. You are then shown to the locker area and you can pick-up your wetsuits, towels, snorkelling gear and swim vests if necessary. Discovery Cove also provides animal friendly sunscreen in the locker areas. You are then free to roam around or grab some breakfast before your allocated dolphin experience.

Breakfast

One of the great things about Discovery Cove is that all food and beverages (including alcohol) are included in the admission price. Breakfast is served at Laguna Grill and there is a pretty good balance of breakfast items on the menu – bacon, scrambled eggs, potatoes, cereals, yoghurt, fresh fruit and pastries. Drinks include juices, flavoured milk, coffee, hot chocolate, bottled water and soda.

Once we finished breakfast, we had about half an hour to spare before our dolphin encounter was due to begin. We got changed into our bathers and wetsuits, grabbed some sun lounges to reserve for the day and headed off to find the cabana where our dolphin group were meeting.

Dolphin Experience

At the meeting point you will watch a short video and one of the dolphin trainers will briefly go over a bit about the dolphins and what will happen during your dolphin interaction. There are between 8-12 people in each group and you must be aged 6 or over to do this experience. All children between the ages of 6-12 must be accompanied by an adult.

It is then time to head off into your allotted dolphin pod. Your group line up closely as one of the dolphins swims slowly past and you all get to feel and touch it gently and give it some well deserved treats. At the same time, the trainer will teach you a little more about dolphin behaviour and how they communicate with each other. The trainer will also teach you some hand commands which you will practise on the dolphins who then do their little tricks. You also get a little one on one time with them where you get a nice big kiss from your dolphin.

You can then swim out to the deeper water and hang on tight to the dolphin’s dorsal fin to get towed back in-shore by theses beautiful animals. If you are not a strong swimmer, they will also do it from the shallow water as well.

During the whole time of the dolphin encounter, Discovery Cove have people videotaping and taking photos which are available to purchase later in the day. If there is a member of your party not doing the dolphin experience, they are welcome to take photos or videos from the shore.

The whole dolphin experience lasts for about 30 minutes and it definitely worth doing if you have not swum with a dolphin before. Depending on what time of the year you visit Discovery Cove, the dolphin swim can add an extra $60-$140 dollars to your standard admission price.

Grand Reef

After our dolphin experience we headed off to the Grand Reef to spend a bit of time snorkelling. Our boys had not done a lot of snorkelling before and this is a perfect place for beginners to learn. As you swim around the reef you are surrounded by tropical fish, colourful coral and awesome stingrays (no stingers of course!).

At the back of the reef is a shark enclosure where you can watch these reef sharks safely from behind the glass. For an additional cost (starting from $49) you can book in to do a Sea Venture dive which takes you on a 20 minute underwater walking tour of the reef wearing a sea helmet. The whole Sea Venture experience takes about an hour.

Serenity Bay

This freshwater lagoon is a nice chill out area. It has lovely warm water and you can swim through caves or under the waterfalls (no fish in these waters). From here you can also head around the wind-away river which takes you through another feature of Discovery Cove – the Explorers Aviary. You can stop and feed some of the colourful birds or just watch as they fly around you.

As you wind down the river you will come across hidden little quiet coves better known as the Freshwater Oasis. There is even an otter and marmoset enclosure hidden between the water trails, so be sure to try to find them.

Lunch and Snacks

With all the swimming that you do at Discovery Cove, you certainly work up an appetite. Luckily all food and drinks are included with admission and there are snack huts located all around the resort. Snacks available include potato chips, pretzels, cookies and fruit. Alcoholic drinks available are beer, red and white wine, pina coladas and frozen daiquiris.

Lunch is available from Laguna Grill and there is something to satisfy everyone. Choices include burgers, chicken, hotdogs, fish, salads and pasta. There are also plenty of desserts on offer as well including cheesecake, fresh fruit, cakes and pastries.

You can access Discovery Cove’s full meal & beverage menu here.

Summary

When planning your Discovery Cove experience, be sure to book early as numbers are limited to around 1300 guests per day and some days book out early, especially in peak season. As numbers are limited it never feels overcrowded and there are plenty of sun beds all around the resort. If you want to splurge some extra money, they also have cabanas for rent that come with a fully stocked fridge (water & soft drink), personal locker, towels, sun beds, table and chair and a basket of snacks.

Discovery Cove is truly a fun day out for both adults and kids. While the price may seem expensive at first, keep in mind that it also includes all food and drink for the day as well as unlimited admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica for 14 consecutive days around your booking date. It actually turns out to be pretty good value  when you take all this into consideration.

From a kids perspective – Sam shares his thoughts on Discovery Cove here and takes you on a tour of the Grand Reef here.

For more information go to www.discoverycove.com

While visiting Discovery Cove we stayed at the nearby Hilton Orlando.

Hilton Orlando Hotel

Hilton Orlando Hotel Review

Hotel Review of the Hilton Orlando in Florida, USA

Located just 15 minutes from Orlando International Airport, the Hilton Orlando was our first stop on our two-week stay in Orlando. We used the Hilton Orlando as our base for 5 days while we were visiting SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica Water Park due to its close proximity to all three of these parks.

Unfortunately upon arrival we had a trainee who checked us in who did not really explain any features of the property, including how to access wi-fi or what the benefits were for HHonor Diamond members. We were allocated a room on the 4th floor which overlooked the pool area and it was a pretty good size for two adults and two kids. Beds were comfortable and the room had a good sized desk to work at. We had two bottles of water waiting in our room which were replaced daily. There is an empty mini-fridge in the room which we prefer so we can stock our own drinks and snacks, as well as an in-room coffee machine. The bathroom has a bath and shower in one.

Pool and Recreational Facilities

Our kids loved the Hilton Orlando pool area which features two pools (one adults only though), a lazy river, water slide and a whirlpool spa as well as some pool basketball rings. There are poolside cabanas available for rental as well. We found the pool area quite busy on the weekends but pretty quiet during the weekdays as the Hilton Orlando caters a lot to convention guests who were away from the hotel during the day.

Recreational features here include a huge fitness centre, 9-hole putting green, jogging track and basketball courts which can also be used for tennis, volleyball and bocce ball. There is an eforea day spa and salon if some pampering is in order. There are also a couple of fire pits by the pool area to sit by and relax.

Dining Options

There are a vast array of dining and bar options at the Hilton Orlando including;

  • Spencer’s Steakhouse (open Tues – Sat from 5:30pm to 10:30pm)
  • David’s Club Sports Bar & Grill featuring indoor and outdoor seating with fire pits (open daily from 4:00pm to 1.00am)
  • The Bistro (open daily for breakfast & lunch 6:30am to 2.30pm)
  • Tropics Pool Bar & Grill (bar open daily from 11:00am to 11:00pm and grill open Sun – Thurs from 11:00am to 9:00 and Fri & Sat from 11:00am to 10: 00pm)
  • Lobby Bar (open daily from 3:00pm to 11:00pm)
  • The Marketplace (for snacks on the go – open daily 24hrs)

We ate mainly at Tropics Pool and Bar which is more casual than the other restaurants and as the pool is open till late, the kids can still enjoy their swimming time while the adults kick back and relax with a few cocktails.  You can also grab a smore’s pack from Tropics Bar ($7 per pack) and let the kids make up and roast their yummy smore’s in the fire pits.

Another good restaurant to take kids is Davids’ Sports Club which had really good meals – must try the curly fries there, they were delicious!

Executive Lounge

If you are a HHonor Diamond member or have purchased an executive room you have access to the executive lounge for breakfast, snacks and evening canapés. Breakfast is continental style with only one hot dish, being scrambled eggs. There is also a waffle machine, bagels, muffins, toast and other pastries available. The evening drinks and canapés are available from 5.00pm to 7.00pm but be aware that alcoholic drinks are not free, you do have to pay for them (at a cheaper rate than the other hotel bars though). There is bartender service and we were able to set up a tab and just charge the drinks to our room. There are two hot canapés served which varied each night and plenty of cold snacks as well.

Location

The Hilton is located on Destination Parkway which is just off International Drive where you can hop on the I-Ride Trolley to explore the shopping and dining areas of International Drive or travel to the SeaWorld Parks – SeaWorld, Aquatica Water Park and Discovery Cove. The SeaWorld Parks are only five minutes from the Hilton Orlando – around $10 taxi fare and there were always plenty of taxis at the hotel waiting. There is a Hertz Rental Car on-site as well if you would prefer to drive around yourself. While there is a concierge desk at the resort, note that it is run by Expedia.

This part of Orlando also contains a lot of convention centers and the Hilton Orlando is directly connected to the Orange County Convention Center and not far from the International Drive Convention Center. For this reason the rates here can fluctuate quite a bit, depending if there are any conventions on in town. If you are planning to stay for family travel it is best to have a play around with dates to try and avoid any major conventions as it will be much cheaper.

Please be aware that the Hilton Orlando charges a daily resort fee of $22.00 + taxes so in total you need to add-on an extra $27.00 per night to any advertised room price when considering which hotel to book in Orlando.

You can also watch our following you tube videos of the Hilton Orlando;

For more information on the Hilton Orlando go to: www.thehiltonorlando.com