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.

 

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