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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information go to www.discoverycove.com
While visiting Discovery Cove we stayed at the nearby Hilton Orlando.