Newly Renovated Park Stores at Orlando International Airport

Just a few days ago I had to make a trip over to the Orlando International Airport so I could pick up some family.  Their flight was due in around 7pm and never really knowing how traffic will be on I-4 I left a bit early to make sure I had plenty of time to get there.  But as luck would have it traffic wasn’t too bad so I had quite a bit of time to wander around the airport.  Thankfully I remembered that some of the Theme Park stores in the airport had recently gone through some refurbishments.  Years ago they all used to have penny machines but most have disappeared, and the only one that was available was in the Disney Earport store but that is now closed for renovations. Go figure!

First I stopped by the Seaworld store.  I always liked that Seaworld blue color and it was all over the store.  The stuff here is the same as you will find in the theme park but I’m sure probably has an airport premium on the price.

I did notice that there was an abundance of Sesame Street merch in the store which would be thanks to the new Sesame Street land that opened earlier this year in Seaworld.  As I wandered through the store I kept an eye open for a penny machine but there wasn’t one to be found.

Next up I headed to the recently opened Magic of Disney store.  This was one of two Disney stores in the airport which are at opposite ends of the main terminal building from each other.  I always felt a bit claustrophobic in this store as it was just small, and not very open but that has completely changed now.  It looks like most of the walls were removed and it’s very nice and open.

I really liked this illuminated Mickey head behind the check out area with the castle silhouette.

Lots of pictures from the theme parks inside and the store was split into areas for all the different Disney properties like Star Wars, Pixar, and classic Disney items.

There was a bit of Halloween merch already in here but that’s not too surprised.  They are already hosting Halloween parties in the Magic Kingdom and it’s only September.  Unfortunately, this store didn’t have a penny machine either which I thought at the very least the Earport machine would have been relocated here temporarily.  But that was not the case.

The last store that was open for me to check out was the Universal Orlando store.

Of course, there was a big section of the store dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  All the different school houses, more wands that you can imagine and plenty of other fun souvenirs to take home.

The rest of the store was a big mashup of their other theme park icons like The Simpsons, Fast and Furious, and Jurassic Park.

Just like the other stores, there was no pressed penny machine.  But something that did catch my eye is this 2019 Universal Coin.  It was encased in this thin acrylic case with a large cardboard mat around it.  The coin itself just had the Universal Studios globe logo surrounded by reels of film.

The back of the coin has more of the film reels and says “The EPIC Adventures at Universal Studios 2019”.  It’s nice that it was dated so I’m assuming it will only be available through the end of the year.  Although to be honest there were a LOT of these in the store.  Did you see the price tag?  $24.99 for this one coin.  I was really interested in picking one of these up but wow that price was a bit steep and even I couldn’t justify spending that amount.  Maybe if I hold out until the end of the year they will be discounted, fingers crossed.

Located near that big coin I did find a basket with some new Universal Pressed Penny booklets.

The price wasn’t too bad at only $8.00.  Plus you do get one pressed penny embedded on the front cover.

It’s just the classic Universal Studios globe logo but still a fun penny to have in your collection.  I didn’t pick this booklet up at the airport as I’m sure they have them back in the parks so I’ll double-check the next time I’m there.

That was about the closest I got to a new pressed penny at the Orlando International Airport.  As I mentioned at the beginning there is one other Disney store called the Earport that is being renovated right now.  It is due to open again in a few months I believe so I’ll be sure to go back and see if the old machine is back or if maybe we can expect some new designs.  Safe travels!!

Jurassic Park Discovery Center – Islands of Adventure

I have spent a good amount of time this summer visiting Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure keeping an eye out for those new pressed penny designs.  If you read my post about the retired design stickers we found a few months ago, we have been anxiously waiting for those new pennies to show up.  Some have made an appearance and I’ll be posting about all the new replacements once they have all been released.  However, on my most recent visit, I actually came across a brand new machine.

This one caught me by surprise and to be honest I was lucky to even find it.  I had my two daughters with me as we visited Universal Studios first but had no changes, so we then went into Islands of Adventure.  The last few pennies we are waiting on still hadn’t shown up but we made our way around the lagoon just to enjoy the park for a bit.

There has been quite a bit of construction going on near the Jurassic Park area with rumors about a new Roller Coaster.  Nothing official has been released by Universal at this time.

We eventually made our way around to the Jurassic Park area and decided to head inside the Discovery Center for some air conditioning.

While we were inside I tried to think if I had ever noticed there were two floors.  On the main upper level, there is a quick service place for burgers and milkshakes, and a gift shop on the opposite side that has a 4 design hand crank penny machine.  So obviously I’ve been in that store a few times.  My girls ran over to the railing where the big T-Rex was located and noticed all sorts of things going on downstairs so we headed down to check it out.

There were quite a few dinosaur statues around and some interactive exhibits giving interesting facts about the dinos.  There was even a dino nursery with dino eggs just waiting to hatch.  They also had a few “scientists” walking around that were more than happy to answer questions you may have about the dinosaurs.

After we visited the nursery is when I noticed a penny machine stashed beside a planted tree which seemed like a strange place for it.

I started to wonder how long this machine may have been here.  The machine was in a pretty standard cabinet that looked like a wooden crate.

But it does have the NEW! sticker on the glass of the machine which seemed to be a new thing they are utilizing so I’m taking a guess that this machine was put here sometime this summer.

The designs on the pennies were of a Carnotaurus, a Triceratops, and a Raptor possibly Blue from the new movies.  Each design does also have Jurassic World along the bottom.

The latest Jurassic World movie Fallen Kingdom was released in June 2018 but maybe this is all due to that mysterious construction going on behind the Discovery Center building.  Guess we will just have to wait and see.

Manatee Viewing Center – Apollo Beach, FL

When you ask people about the wildlife in Florida, of course, they tend to bring up the Alligators.  But another one that is really synonymous with the Sunshine State is Manatees.  They are protected by the state, and during certain months of the year, they move inland to some of our state parks.  Visitors can come and quietly see them and we have done this in the past at the Blue Springs State Park.  But this year we got a bit of a late start trying to make it out somewhere new to see some Manatees but were able to see a couple in Apollo Beach.

This was in a bit of a unique location and when I was reading up on it before our trip I was a little confused about what it was all about.  This Manatee Viewing Center is actually run by the Tampa Electric company.  The Big Bend Power Station delivered electricity to the surrounding community.  In 1986 they began operating Big Bend Unit 4 and that same year people started seeing manatees in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal.  This is where saltwater taken from the Tampa Bay to cool Unit 4 flowed clean and warm back into the bay.  When Tampa Bay reaches 68 degrees or colder the Manatees seek out this area which is why they are only here roughly between November and April each year.

Due to a large number of people that would come out to this area to see the Manatees, the Viewing Center was born.  Today the Big Bend discharge canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary.  There is quite a bit of parking but just like all the other Manatee viewing places, they can fill up quickly with plenty of visitors.  I always recommend getting there as early as you possibly can.

As you walk around the raised boardwalk pathways that are about 8 feet above the water it gives you a wonderful overview of the canal.

I will admit that the large power station in the background was a little distracting but soon forgot about it as we saw the manatees gently swimming around below us.

As I mentioned we came pretty late in the season and there were not too many manatees still enjoying the canal.  We saw about 3 in total this day, but I was told that it came during the middle of the season there are so many more around.

In one area they did have posters hung up giving some information about the manatees that return year after year.

We also found one of these manatee statues up near the gift shop.  I remember seeing a similar one at the Blue Spring State Park.  I wonder if these are located at all the different manatee viewing areas throughout the state.  Guess we will have to keep that in mind as we check out other locations in the future.

We headed inside the gift shop just to see what they had available.

As you would assume the place was just filled from corner to corner with manatees.  From stuffed versions to ceramic art models, bracelets and all types of jewelry.

Plus plenty of t-shirts like the above shown above which I picked up for myself.

Outside the gift shop and over near the little snack bar area we found the penny machine I (not so secretly) new was also here.

It was a four design hand crank model.  Unfortunately, it was not leveled properly and tilted as bit as you turned the handle, but the pressed pennies still came out perfectly.  You just want to be careful on that first turn that you don’t knock the whole thing over.

The penny designs were of a manatee, two pelicans, two manatees swimming and a large fish.  Sorry, I’m not much of an angler so I don’t recognize exactly what type of fish this might be.

There were a lot of other things to do here if you didn’t want to just stand around and watch manatees.  Down on the main floor, they have a stingray touch tank, there are some of those mold-o-matic machines that once you pay $3 you get a wax mold of a manatee in different positions.  They also had a butterfly garden, and some nature trails you could explore.

Towards the back of the viewing center was also a large pier that extended along the length of the canal.  We saw plenty of fish in the water but no manatees along here this time.  But I’m sure if you go during the busy season this would be a fun place to see large numbers of them floating by.

This was a really great place to see some manatees.  I’ll definitely try to come back here next year during the busy season.  There are lots of viewing space so I would think even if there are lots of people you have plenty of places to stand and see these gentle mammals enjoying the warm water.

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) – Tampa, FL

On the weekend I was heading to Busch Gardens in Tampa for a special event but along the way, I passed the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) near the park.  I always loved science museums as a kid and knew I wanted to bring my daughter back to try it out.  This past weekend we finally made it back and had a great time.

There would usually be plenty of parking in the back of the museum.  However, during our visit, there was a renaissance fair going on nearby that was sharing the museums parking so spots were pretty sparse.  After a short walk, we made it to the museum entrance.

Even outside the museum were some fun science experiments like one with a couple large satellite dishes allowing you to whisper on one side for your friend to hear 30 feet away.

I will admit that the museum looks much larger from the outside.  Not to say it’s small, but I was thinking it may be more than one floor.  All the exhibits were spread out on the main floor that extended pretty far back.

The exhibits covered all sorts of different topics as they usually do.  At the very beginning was some info on the space program and even had a tire from one of the shuttles on display.

There was a hanging table that simulated seismic waves like an earthquake.  My daughter thought this was so much fun.  We would build a tower, then press the button and watch the table vibrate and our tower falls apart.

Another fun experiment was this tug of war contraption.  We watched a family pull on one side but couldn’t budge the one person holding the opposite end, due to all the pullies the rope was threaded through.  Ahh, science!

One area took me a bit by surprise as it had some dinosaur fossils, usually, I would think this more for a Natural History museum.  But there is science in all things so and I’m not complaining about being able to see some dinos.

Back in one corner of the museum was dedicated to hockey science.  They had displays showing all the different equipment the players wore and how it protects them against injuries.  Another display shows how they painted the lines on the ice and also how a Zamboni (the vehicle that cleans the ice) works.

Each area wasn’t huge in size but there were so many different topics to explore that we did get to spend a good portion of our day playing with all the different experiments.

However, one area of the museum that kept drawing my daughter was the obstacle course outside.  This is located outside in the courtyard of the museum.  There is a harness that you get strapped into that is connected to the support beams as you make your way through the course.  This just ensures you don’t have any way to fall or get hurt.  My daughter was so excited to try it but only made it a little way up as I think she underestimated how high up she would go.  It was still a lot of fun and she has been talking about it ever since.

We eventually headed back inside and were ready to call it a day.  Towards the entrance of the museum just past the admission desk, there was a wall of vending machines.  My daughter immediately headed to the Dippin’ Dots machine for some “ice cream of the future” as it’s labeled.  After she had her snack I used the pressed penny machine right beside it.

Each penny says the Museum of Science and Industry on it along with images of a T-Rex, a Sauropod, a Pirate and some Butterflies.

This museum had plenty for us to do and we will definitely be back for more fun.  They mentioned that new traveling exhibits come in and out all year long so we will keep an eye out for future visits.

One thing I thought of after we had left was about the penny machine and how they should make an exhibit out of it.  They could demonstrate the amount of pressure needed to squashed the coin, and how the gears work to allow us to create so much crushing power with so little arm strength.  I’ll have to submit a suggestion the next time we visit!  Happy collecting.

NEW Medallion Art of Disney Store – Disney Springs

On August 2nd the Disney Channel released the final movie in their Descendants series.  This is a series of movies my daughters have only recently found, but were immediately drawn into them and are their current obsession.  Basically the story revolves around the VKs (Villain Kids), the children of all the famous Disney movie villains like Mal the daughter of Maleficent, or Evie the daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White, Carlos is the son of Cruella de Vil, and Jay the son of Jafar just to name a few.

To celebrate this new movie, over at Disney Springs on the Waterside Stage they started having nightly DescenDance Parties.  Basically, there is a DJ up on stage encouraging everyone to dance, and periodically there are video clips show on stage with the Villain Kids showing off new dance moves or of course promoting the new movie.  When I told my girls about it they immediately wanted to head over and check it out.  To be honest, I was kind of blown away, the movie is great and the kids absolutely loved it.  Most of the adults are sitting back on the benches watching, and down front by the stage are all the kids (or kids at heart) dancing around enjoying their favorite songs.  The show starts nightly at 7:30pm and runs through 10:30pm.  We stuck around for a couple hours at which time our girls were exhausted but we still had to drag them away.  No one was quite ready to head home yet so we wondered around Disney Springs a bit and just window shopped a few of our favorite stores.

Over near Rainforest Cafe is one of my favorite stores the Art of Disney.  I try not to buy too many items from this place but they have so much cool stuff it’s hard to just look and not buy.  It had been a while since my last visit so we headed inside to see what was new.

The artwork is constantly being rotated in the store but mostly because it’s very popular and people buy up all the artwork as quickly as they put it out.  They have paintings, prints, posters, sculptures and so much more.  There are even animators on hand that will hand draw your favorite Disney character if you want.

As we walked through the store I noticed in the far back corner where the collectible Medallion machine usually was located, it was no longer there.

I headed over to that side of the store just to make sure but did find it had just been moved to the opposite corner.  This seemed a little strange so I headed up to it just to see if anything else had changed.

The machine itself was the same with no changes.

Then when I looked at the designs that were available one immediately stuck out.  There used to be a Frozen design with Anna and Elsa as the far left option.  But now there was Mickey’s 90th Celebration design.

Here is a close up of the button on the machine.

Above is a picture of the actual medallion that I picked up for my collection.  The cost is also the same as before, $10 for 3 medallions or $5 each.  Definitely a bit pricey but these are not plastic or cheaply made coins, they have quite some weight to them and the designs have very nice detail with Mickey and his birthday hat.  Plus I love the slogan World’s Biggest Mouse Party.  This will make a nice addition to my Mickey’s 90th Celebration set of pressed pennies that the parks released earlier this year.  If you want to read about those pennies you can check it out here.

Since Mickey’s 90th is only going on until the end of the year, and this machine also has a dated 2019 medallion the odds are good they won’t be around forever.  I’ll have to remember to keep a closer eye on this machine as the designs seems to be changing more frequently than I would have guess.

2019 MLB All-Star Game – Cleveland, OH

It’s that time of year again for the Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game.  This year marked the 90th All-Star Game and was hosted by the Cleveland Indians.

The game was played on July 9th, 2019 and (SPOILER) the American league won 4-3.  As with previous years, there were some special pressed penny designs issued for the game.

There were six pennies in total which is similar to other years.  The designs included the 2019 All-Star Game Logo, the Host City, and some other really nice images.

This was the 6th time the All-Star Game was hosted by Cleveland and the first since 1997.  This also established Cleveland as the team to host the most All-Star games, breaking a previous four-way tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cinncinati Red all having hosted 5 games.

The game was played at the Indian’s home Progressive Field.  The ballpark originally opened in 1994 as Jacobs Field and held that name until 2007 when it was renamed after the Progressive Company paid for the naming rights.

The above design was made for the Home Run Derby which is one of my favorite parts of the All-Star week.  This year’s winner was Pete Alonso of the New York Mets.

This is always a fun set of pennies I look forward to being released each year.  I wish I could say that I was able to press these in person but I’m not lucky enough to be able to attend every All-Star Game.  Thankfully the CTMGroup (Pennymen) press some extra sets and offer them for sale on their website.  If you are interested to be sure and head over there quickly before they sell out.  Now I just need to wait until next year.

Florida Theme Park Maps – Now Available

Over the years since I started posting about my pressed penny collection, and trying to keep everyone up to date on new Disney coins I receive quite a few comments and emails from all our wonderful readers.  The questions range from tips about starting or storing a collection to my guess on new coin designs.  But one question I do get quite often is if I have any maps of the Theme Parks that show the locations of all the coin press machines.

Years ago if you visited Walt Disney World you could head over to guess services and they would have printed maps showing where the machines were, but those quickly became outdated and are no longer available.  Then a few years ago I remember seeing a sign on one of the WDW machines listing a web address to maps that were being maintained by CTM Group, Inc (The Pennymen), they worked pretty well but that also quickly became outdated a year or so later.  Currently Disney has added the Coin Press machines to their myDisneyExperience mobile app which is a nice feature, but I find it lacks in information about what type of machine is there (Penny, Quarter, Dime), how much are the coins to press, and even if there is more than one machine in this location.

So in an effort to try and help fellow collectors, I have taken it upon myself to try and help with a series of updated maps.  These will be updated each time I visit the parks (which is on a pretty frequent basis right now).  I have been working on these for a few weeks now tweaking the layout and the information available that I feel would be most beneficial to anyone looking to press some coins.

First I want to review what maps are available.  Of course, there will be all of the Walt Disney World Theme Parks and Disney Springs:

We will also have maps of all the Disney Resorts:

 

Disney Water Parks, Mini-Golf Courses and even the ESPN Wide World of Sports.

There are also maps of the Universal Orlando Resort (Parks and Citywalk areas):

SeaWorld, Legoland, and even Busch Gardens.

 

Basically, we are going to try and keep updated maps for all the big Central Florida theme parks.  As you can see from the sample pictures above we are using updated maps directly from the parks, and we created a special legend to help review the cost per coin at each machine, whether a credit card can be used to pay, and whether you need to supply your own coin to be pressed, or if the machine supplied a preloaded zinc penny.

These maps have been added to its own area of the blog.  Located right underneath the main banner at the top of the page there is a menu option for “Penny Maps”.  Click here for a quick review of how the legend on each maps works, definitions used on the maps, and of course links to each available map.  The maps are all in standard PDF format and are completely FREE.  Please feel free to download, print, share and use these on your penny pressing trips and visits to the park.  If you have any comments about any changes you feel may be helpful in future revisions of the maps please let me know.  Happy Collecting!

Brevard Zoo – Melbourne, FL

Every so often on a weekend when I ask my daughters what they want to go and do they surprise me by saying no to a theme park.  As I child I would have given a limb to live so close to these world-famous theme parks, but I guess sometimes you just need to do something else.  A recent weekend had us in just this predicament so I quickly searched around for a place we haven’t visited yet and found the Brevard Zoo which was about an hour and a half away on the east coast.

Due to the drive, we arrived later than I would have usually preferred, and we did run into a bit of an issue finding a parking spot.  The parking area is a decent size, but it was packed which on the upside is a good sign that this is a popular place.

After we paid for our tickets we headed inside.  This was a really nice place with some wide-open areas to just sit and enjoy the day, plus a lot of different geographic zones showcasing the animals.

Weaving all around the zoo was a large pond/lake.  At one point we did see people canoeing with a guide which I believe is something the zoo offers for an additional cost.  We may have to come back and try that out when the girls are a little older so I don’t have to do all the paddling.

Even though we live in Florida it’s always still fun to see these zoos with a “Wild Florida” area filled with the wildlife we can see almost on a daily basis.

There were plenty of pathways taking you through the different exhibits, and most of them were a bit elevated so you could get a nice higher up view of the animals.

Of course in the Florida area, we saw plenty of Alligators both swimming (floating) or resting on land catching some sun.

We also came across a Bobcat which my daughter absolutely was fascinated with and wanted to bring home with us.  Thankfully we found a popcorn stand nearby and I was able to bribe her away from that idea with a snack.

After visiting our local Florida animal friends we headed into the Australian outback.

They had some big lizards back here but of course, the main event was the kangaroos.

Next was probably my favorite area of the zoo which was an African area.  It started out with an exhibit filled with Meerkats which is always fun to watch as they pop their heads out of the holes.

But then as we continued walking the path started to go up on an incline when we came to the big guys.  On one size were some zebras and a rhino all enjoying some lunch.

After that, we strolled over to the other side where the giraffes were found.  You could pay for some lettuce leaves to feed them which was a very popular activity.  I’m not sure exactly how much food a giraffe eats in a day, but I’m sure they get plenty at this place.  The walkway eventually deadends and you make your way back through the African area but we did spend most of our time here as I just thought it was a unique way to get up close and personal with the giraffes.

After we finished checking out the zoo and had some lunch along the way we headed back towards the front of the park.  Just outside of the Wonders of the Wild gift shop we found the penny machine that I maybe sorta kinda knew was here.

This was a really cool looking penny press.  It was shaped like a tree stump about four feet tall, and then had a statue of a monkey on top making sure you don’t use the machine incorrectly.  I’ve seen a similar machine at an Insect machine in Philadelphia years ago (just without the monkey).

The penny designs were pretty standard for a zoo.  Meerkats, a River Otter, an Alligator, and a Zebra.  To be honest, I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t a Giraffe design but I guess I’m one of the few that really liked that area of the zoo.

This wasn’t the largest zoo we have ever visited but it was a lot of fun and had some very unique exhibits that I really enjoyed.  I’ve always really loved visiting zoos and aquariums so you don’t have to twist my arm too hard to go to one.  Especially when they are within a reasonable drive from home, and of course having a pressed penny machines helps.

Hontoon Island State Park – DeLand, FL

Recently I was doing some research for places to find pressed pennies.  Don’t worry we have plenty of places to visit.  But I wanted to take a bit of a break from the theme parks and thought some unique locations around Florida might be a nice change.  Something jumped out at me as I noticed a large number of State Parks have pressed pennies.  So I created a new to-do list and figured we would start checking them out.  Just this past weekend my youngest daughter tagged along as we visited our first park.

We drove north to Hontoon Island State Park which took us on quite a drive on some back roads and through a residential neighborhood before we finally found it.

The parking lot is a bit strange as it’s just located between a couple houses, and the property wasn’t very big.

Then it dawned on me that this was actually just the parking lot, you actually needed to find a way over to the Island.  For some reason when I saw Hontoon ISLAND State Park, I didn’t realize it was actually on an island.

They do offer a free ferry that will take you over to the island, but please note the ferry is not very large and can only hold about 6 people at a time.  Also, the ferry stops running at a specific time each afternoon.  Make sure you don’t miss that last ferry or you may need to try and convince a nearby fisherman to take you back across in their boat.  The last ferry time is posted near the Ranger Station on the island, so take note.

Once we were on the island it has plenty of picnic tables, a large playground for the kids, and quite a few barbeques available should you want to make some lunch.

My daughter just loved the large open areas so she could run around and the playground had plenty of kids to play with.  There was a birthday party going on under a covered patio area which I guess you would book at the ranger station if interested.

There were a few benches located along the waterfront which made for a nice place to just sit and enjoy the view.  I’m not sure if Manatees frequent this area during the winter months but this does seem like the perfect place for them.

Back near where the ferry drops you off on the island is the Ranger Station and a few other inside areas.

At the far end, opposite from the Ranger Station is the Visitor Center.

Inside is a small museum with lots of information about the Island and the State Park which is really interesting.  My daughter was not so intrigued and started asking for some ice cream.

To try and find her some ice cream we headed next door to the Island Store.

This was a cute little general store with a decent selection of items you may need while visiting the island.  They had charcoal for the barbeques, or snacks like chips and candy, plus plenty of cold drinks.  Thankfully they also had a cooler in the corner with plenty of ice cream bars.

Near the ice cream cooler and drink fridge was the penny press machine tucked away in the opposite corner.

The machine was on wheels which were interesting but I’m sure it’s just so they can more easily move it around the store as they change things around.  The wheels were locked firmly so when I used the machine it didn’t move around and was easily to use.

The penny designs included a Snake, a Bear, an Alligator, and the Owl Totem which is located in the park.

Quick side note, here is a picture of the Owl Totem from out in the park.

After we pressed our pennies we headed up to the cash register to pay for our ice cream and I noticed in the glass case they had some pressed penny books and extra pressed pennies from the machine.

We went back over near the playground to enjoy our ice cream.  My daughter then continued to play on the playground for while until the birthday party (we were not invited to) started to dispurse.  I figured that was a good time to try and ensure we get back to the main land before the ferry stops running.  This was definitely a unique state park to visit and we had a lot of fun.  The pressed pennies are a great memento I have of this great afternoon we had and can’t wait to check out our next state park.

Discovery Cove – Orlando, FL

My wife was having a special milestone birthday this year and I wanted to try and find something special to do for her.  She likes the theme parks but doesn’t want to be the center of attention so doing something big at one of the parks just wasn’t going to work.  Instead, I focused on something maybe a little more laid back, relaxing but hopefully still special all at the same time.  Then something came to me that I thought might be the perfect solution.

I remember hearing about Discovery Cove years ago when I was visiting with friends and one of them was a big dolphin fan.  She was going to University to be a Marine Biologist and dolphins were going to be her specialty.  Discovery Cove is operated by SeaWorld and is basically known for allowing you the opportunity to swim with dolphins.  Way back when with my friends this place was next to impossible to get a reservation for as they needed to be booked years in advance.  Now however the property has expanded and there are more guest spots available each day.  It can book up quickly but with a little pre-planning, I was able to book our day.

Since our two daughters are still on the younger side I decided to have their grandparents keep them entertained that day.  This way we could really take our time to explore this new place and make a judgment call for future visits with the girls.  Check-in available pretty early in the morning, so we headed over around 8am.

Inside the check-in area, there was lots of dolphin art all over the place.  They had plenty of staff helping you to check in.  Part of the process was getting your day scheduled for you.  Your standard admission cost will give you access to the lazy river, bird aviary, pools, snorkeling pool, and the food and drinks.  Then they do have some additional experiences you can pay for to enhance your day.  We decided to splurge a bit and absolutely wanted to swim with the dolphins, and I wanted to get my wife a relaxing massage.

There was plenty of seating all around, but another upcharge we opted for was to have our own covered seating area.  It was located just near the snorkeling lagoon in a bit of a secluded area so we weren’t near the main pathway with a lot of foot traffic.

This is considered an all-inclusive experience so with your day admission price you do receive all your food and drinks at no additional cost.  You can go as many times as you like.  There was breakfast available when we first arrived and they have various stands around the property with snacks and drinks whenever you want them.

Above is a picture of the entire property.  It was much bigger than I had thought, but there was really just one main walkway that would take you to all the different areas.  Plus to be honest you really want to spend most of your time in the water.

The main swimming areas were beautifully designed and landscaped.  With the waterfalls in the background, you would almost think you were on a tropical island instead of the middle of Orlando’s tourist district.

Our dolphin swim was scheduled for about an hour after we arrived.  When you first check in you get a lanyard with your activity schedule on the back.  This way you know exactly when and where to go throughout the day.  We headed to the specific meeting location and went through an introduction and safety class before they lead us into the dolphin area.

This part of the day was really fun.  We were led by a team of dolphin trainers into one area of the pool.  The water was about waist high so not too deep at this point.  They would then go over how they train the dolphins and periodically the dolphins would swim by allowing us to touch “pet” them along their back.  We would give specific hand signals prompting the dolphin to do various things like wave their fins at us, splash us or swim off and jump high into the area.  The entire dolphin experience is about 45 minutes long and ends with each guest having the opportunity to swim out to the deeper part of the pool, hold on to the dolphin’s fins and swim you back inland.  You are not allowed to bring your own camera but as with any good theme park, they have photographers on hand to take pictures and video which they will sell you at the end.

After our dolphin swim, we continued our exploration of the park.  There really is a great tropical feel to it.

Eventually, we came across the lazy river which has a few different entry points.  We have used the ones at Disney which are not very deep and I don’t overly enjoy.  But these had a much higher water level and made floating around in them much more enjoyable.  Instead of big inner tubes, they had pool noodles which made the lazy river much less congested with all the other guests.

There are a few waterfalls that you go through on your trip down the lazy river, plus at one point you actually float through the aviary which was interesting.

Nothing better than just floating along down a calm river, and getting some sun at the same time.  Thankfully we had a great day, with plenty of sunshine and the temperature wasn’t too bad but that can change easily.  Best to just stay in the water.

After enjoying the lazy river for a while we headed over for some lunch.  Did I mention it was all you can eat and no additional cost.  This is a great place.  Okay enough eating, after we had our lunch my wife headed off for her massage, I headed back to our reserved seating to lay out in the sun for a bit.

When she was finished with her massage we got some drinks and just hung out at our lounge area a bit longer.  Then she was ready to try out the Grand Reef.

This is a large artificial reef that has tropical fish, and stingrays swimming around.  But the best part is you can swim with them.  Technically you are snorkeling along the top and they almost don’t even notice you are there.

I have never been very good a snorkeling but this was the time I was going to figure it out.  The water is pretty cold for this type of fish, but it’s also very salty which helps you float along the top.  There is almost no effort needed to keep yourself afloat.  Once you have the snorkeling technique figured out this was amazing.  It was very calm and relaxing to just float and watch the fish swimming around.  Some areas can get a bit busy with other guests, but with your face in the water and your ears filled with water, you almost don’t hear anything which helps with the relaxation.  This is where we ended up spending the majority of our afternoon.  When we were done snorkeling I think we both were just at a loss for words.  Out of all the activities we had scheduled that day I didn’t think this would be our favorite but it just turned out that way.

Unfortunately, the park is only open until about 5pm, but that worked out okay since a storm was about to start rolling into the area.  We had packed up all our stuff, grabbed a few snacks for the road and headed towards the exit.  But first, we stopped into the Tropical Gifts store for some souvenirs.

I always like to get a t-shirt so I found one I liked, and we also found a few stuff animal toys for our girls.  As we headed towards the check out area I noticed a penny machine in the back corner.

It was one of the newer multi-design machines that we have seen popping up more and more at Disney and other theme parks.  This one, however, had 12 designs available.  You know me, I’m a sucker for pressed pennies and had to get the entire set which cost $10.  For anyone else visiting if you only want one or a few of the pennies, they are $1 each if you don’t want the entire set.  The machine is also preloaded with shiny zinc pennies so you do not need to supply your own.

The designs on the pennies were really nice and had all the different animals and sea creatures you can encounter during your visit.  All of the pennies also have “Discovery Cover Orlando”.  I always like this type of location-specific design.

It was sad to see our day end as we headed back to the car.  But during the entire drive, we just couldn’t stop talking about this place.  I’m upset it took me this long to try it, and I know for a fact we will definitely be back.  I have a milestone birthday coming up so maybe we can go for that.  Or we may just wait a few more years and take our girls as I’m sure they will love it just as much.