I’ve visited all the theme parks in Orlando except one: Discovery Cove. From Discovery Cove’s website, the park looked like a beautiful tropical paradise and an enjoyable time. What kept me away was the price tag. Currently, the price with the dolphin package is $259 to $279, depending on the time of year. The price without the dolphin package is also dependent on the time of year and runs from $159 to $179. I checked the price for an early March visit and found a Florida resident discount of $199 with the dolphin encounter. Each admission includes a seven consecutive days pass for Sea World Orlando and Busch Gardens Africa. You could pay $30 more and have admission to both parks for 14 consecutive days. Even with the discount and the admission to the other Florida Anheuser-Busch parks, it took me days to decide to book. What made me take the plunge was reading many trip reports on different Internet discussion boards about the park. Every trip report I read said that the experience was great and well worth the money. I finally booked so I could enjoy my last un-visited theme park in Orlando.
After utilizing the free parking, the first stop at Discovery Cove was the lobby. In the lobby, a very friendly employee found my reservation, created an ID badge, put charging privileges with a credit card on the badge, and set the time for my dolphin swim. My time was 11:00 am and assigned a meeting place for the swim: the Starfish Cabana. Your ID badge comes with a lanyard. Attached to the lanyard is a small map of Discovery Cove. The entrance winds through beautiful vegetation. Each guest had his or her picture taken for the complimentary entrance photo. Another employee took small groups of guests on a penny tour of the park.
Discovery Cove is divided into two parts. One part is the Resort Pool, Tropical River, and the Coral Reef. The other part was the restaurant, the Dolphin Lagoon, the bathhouse, and the cabanas for the dolphin experience: the Sand Dollar Cabana, Sea Horse Cabana, and the Starfish Cabana. Sorry, but you cannot obtain a fruity alcoholic drink at these cabanas! A blue bridge divides these parts of Discovery Cove.
If you hadn’t eaten breakfast, you can enjoy the continental breakfast. The restaurant had all the pastries, coffee, juices, and milk that you can eat. It’s all included in the price. You can go back through the restaurant and have seconds if you want. Don’t worry, no employees were keeping a tally or giving evil eyes to those who want second helpings.
The next thing to do was to pick up a vest or wetsuit. Since the day was pretty warm, I chose a vest. I also picked up a bag with a mask, snorkel, and a package of dolphin-safe sunscreen. At the end of the day, you could keep the bag, snorkel, and the sunscreen. It’s important to note that if you bring in your own sunscreen, you’ll be asked to wash it off and use the dolphin-safe sunscreen.
I went to change in the bathhouse. I put on my vest, swim trunks, and Aqua socks. I stored my goods in the free lockers. I swam in the Resort Pool before my dolphin encounter time. As I had never used a mask and snorkel before, I tested them while swimming around in the pool. I ended up getting water in my mask until I figured out the proper fit. I sounded like Darth Vader when I breathed through the snorkel. I must admit that I haven’t swum in water in a long time, but thankfully, the pool wasn’t too deep. Discovery Cove’s website notes that pool depth as four feet deep at its deepest point. The Resort Pool has a small cave with a large waterfall running in front of it. It was quite lovely and would make a nice photo op for your family and friends. In fact, the same nice photographer that took my entrance photo took a photo of me in front of the waterfall. I didn’t buy it, though.
I decided to travel along the Tropical River. The Tropical River winds in a circle. It starts at one end of the Resort Pool and ends at the other. I suppose you were supposed to swim the river, but being 6’3”, I walked pretty much time entire length of the river and was able to keep my head above water. One part of the river is about 8 feet deep, so I had to swim that portion. Discovery Cove posts warning signs that you are about to head into deep water. The Tropical River has more lush vegetation to admire and beautiful waterfalls to swim through. The river has things to see underwater. I saw vases and other “ancient artifacts” below the surface. Underwater rocks create a bright path to follow. Discovery Cove’s website states that the Tropical River is 1,600 feet long, so it was quite a workout to walk the entire route in about an hour! After the workout, I visited a snack stand. I had a bottled water, but fruit juices, Pepsi products, Anheuser-Busch beer products, chips, and other snacks were available. All drinks and snacks were included in the price of admission. You can have all the drinks and snacks that you want!
As it was approaching 11:00 am, it was time to experience the pièce de résistance of Discovery Cove: the dolphin encounter. A group of 32 guests met at the Starfish Cabana and was divided into groups of eight. Another nice employee showed a short introductory video on dolphins. The groups then headed into the Dolphin Lagoon to meet up with their assigned dolphins. Four groups with four dolphins were in the lagoon. My group consisted of four young ladies from Tennessee, and a gentleman and his pre-teen son. You are not allowed to bring anything in the lagoon except for your mask and snorkel. If you do, an employee will place your items on a nearby rock. Prepare for cold as you enter the Dolphin Lagoon – the salt water felt like it was 60 degrees! Discovery Cove’s website states the water is 77 degrees (plus or minus 3 degrees). After being in the water for 5 minutes, though, I got used to it. I don’t think the young ladies from Tennessee were acclimated to the water in that time, though. They shivered pretty much during the entire time and they were wearing wetsuits! Photographers with digital cameras and camcorders were in the water, capturing the group’s experience.
Our dolphin was named Marena. She was three years old. Marena made a grand entrance by jumping out of the water and doing a flip! The Discovery Cove trainer told the group many facts and features of the dolphin. One interesting fact is the trainers always ask, not force, the dolphins to do tricks when they give hand signals. The entire group touched the dolphin’s skin, flippers, dorsal fin, and tail fluke.
During the dolphin swim, each guest in the group was able to interact with Marena. The first opportunity was a pose with the dolphin for a Kodak moment-worthy photograph. During the second opportunity, each guest gave Marena a kiss. Don’t worry. I didn’t see any dirty dolphin “lips!” The pre-teen boy had a look of terror on his face and shook his head “No!” when the trainer asked him to give the dolphin a kiss! The group should have sang “Sha la la la la la, it looks like the boy too shy, he ain’t gonna to kiss the girl.” Alternatively, the boy was able to do a cool pose with the dolphin.
The last interaction was a ride with Marena. Each guest swam out to the 12-foot deep end of the lagoon about 20 feet away. Marena approached him or her. The guest put one hand of the dorsal fin and the other hand where the dolphin’s flipper meets her main body. Hang on tight when the dolphin swims back to the main group! The ride was very exciting! Even though I am about 250 pounds, Marena was able to pull me through the water with little trouble. After the ride, I was able to feed Marena with a fish. She also liked ice and the trainer gave her a steady diet of the frozen water along with the fish. At the end of the dolphin encounter time, all four dolphins grouped together and jumped out of the water a few times. The entire dolphin experience lasted about 45 minutes.
After the dolphin swim, the group was led to a small building where we could view our pictures. I saw that the camera crew took numerous photos of me. I could pick out what photos I wanted on a touch screen monitor. A nice employee showed the prices of the packages. The package deals included an array of photos for a set price. One package included photos and a souvenir DVD. I don’t remember the prices of the packages or what they came with, but I do remember how I reacted when I saw the prices. I nearly passed out when I saw how much the packages would cost! I decided to go a la carte. I chose the souvenir DVD and two 6x8 photos. The DVD cost $60 and the two photos were $16 each. Still, I almost leapt out of my skin when I saw those prices! I believe I bought the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD for less than the souvenir DVD! I’m glad I had my MasterCard because the items may have a cost, but the memories are priceless.
It was now time for lunch. The lunch line had the longest line all day. It was a whole five minutes. They were serving jambalaya, macaroni and cheese, lobster salad, cheeseburger and fries, and other delicious dishes. The restaurant also served side salads and a variety of deserts. Food at the Anheuser-Busch parks tend to be of very good quality and lunch was no exception. I tried the jambalaya and it was sumptuous! Of course, I had to try desert. The chocolate cake was delicious! Like breakfast, you could have second helpings if you wanted. No tallies or evil eyes here! I suspect, though, after two or three lunches, you might experience the Law of Diminishing Returns.
After lunch, it was time for more snorkeling practice in the Resort Pool before I ventured into the Coral Reefs. I swam around the pool for 30 minutes and sounded like Darth Vader again. After I was confident in my snorkeling, I headed over to the Coral Reefs. The salt water was pretty cold. Much like the Dolphin Lagoon, it felt like it was 60 degrees! Discovery Cove’s website reports that the water is the same temperature as the Dolphin Lagoon. I swam around the area and it was like swimming in Bermuda. I saw a lot of colorful fishes. Giant stingrays swam so close that you could touch them! I was quite surprised on how close they came. I spent an hour in the Coral Reef, swimming from one end to the other and being dazzled by the sea creatures. I can stand in front of an exhibit at an aquarium and watch the fish swim for hours. Yes, I am easily entertained! You could swim by sharks and barracudas (they’re separated from you by a protective glass), but I never got that far into the Coral Reef area. I’m not the greatest swimmer to begin with, but I was quite proud I was able to swim from one end of the area to the other.
I had one more thing to see at Discovery Cove – the Aviary. You can enter the Aviary through a door near the Coral Reef or through an entrance at the Tropical River. I saw many colorful birds in two rooms. You could feed the birds from the palm of your hand. I even saw the deer that hid in the bushes during my visit.
I spent the rest of the day snorkeling around the Resort Pool. I took another lap around the Tropical River. This time, I swam most of the river. It was fun snorkeling and seeing the “ancient artifacts” below. I wouldn’t try snorkeling through the waterfall though. It was neat to swim through, but water fell into the snorkel and it was not fun sucking in water when I was trying to breathe!
It was around 3:30 pm and I had done all that I wanted to do. It was hard to leave, but I had my fun. I went to the bathhouse to change. The bathhouse had curtained-off private showers. One curtained area lead to a small changing room and the other area was the shower. The shower had shampoo and body gel. If you had wet clothes, the bathhouse had huge plastic bags with the Discovery Cove on it. I stopped by the snack stand and had a Diet Pepsi and Sun Chips. I picked up my DVD and photos and I had to wait a whole 5 minutes for them. I shopped in the gift shop, purchasing a t-shirt and some postcards. Then I walked through the exit with the lush vegetation.
Yes, Discovery Cove is expensive. Is it worth the money? I’d say it is. The experience is quite memorable and pleasurable. Four months after my visit, I still often think of the good times I’ve had at the park. Discovery Cove is different than the other parks, as there’s no need to make a plan or decide in what order to experience the attractions. As a maximum of 1,000 guests are allowed entrance every day, you don’t have to wait for much of anything or deal with huge crowds. If you can overcome the sticker shock of Discovery Cove, you can have a grandiose experience. I’m already pondering a return visit!
My Discovery Cove video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eTeQp7DT5c
My Discovery Cove pictures (click on the link to Pictures): http://www.myspace.com/barryhom
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