A Family Oasis in Orlando
Published: September 1, 2022
By: Carol Muse Evans
Orlando is full of great theme parks and family fun, but Discovery Cove Orlando is an oasis in the middle of it all, offering rest, relaxation, education and yes, even entertainment, while secluded from all the rest.
This all-inclusive day resort gives guests chances to rest, relax, enjoy the water and also enjoy one-of-a-kind opportunities with activities like swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with rays, tropical fish and even sharks, and hand-feeding exotic birds.
We made our way back for a second visit to Discovery Cove in late June, and it never disappoints. My husband, who is not a fan of the beach or water sports, says this is his favorite vacation spot ever!
A reservation for your visit to Discovery Cove is required, and you are treated as a VIP guest. You can enjoy all the “adventures” included there, as well as signing on for additional experiences, such as a dolphin swim.
Dolphin Lagoon is the highlight of most visits to Discovery Cove, and you need to be at least 6 years old to participate in the dolphin swim with a small group that includes training, touching, interacting with the dolphins, and even a brief swim holding a dolphin’s fin as they carry you across the lagoon! Water is cold for the dolphins, so a wet suit they provide is required.
The Wind-Away River is the lazy river experience at Discovery Cove, and while you float down the river and go through several waterfalls, past a beach with chairs for relaxing, you are in a bird sanctuary and can see numerous fascinating birds in free flight, as well as beautiful foliage. Flotation rings are provided, but it can move quickly so little ones should have something extra.
Serenity Bay offers swim and wading opportunities, as well as crystal clear water and the chance to relax in the sun or the shade. Cabanas and sleeping tents are offered for an additional fee and may be good for those with small children who need a nap or larger groups.
The Grand Reef is a special place where visitors can get up close and face to face with sea life in a safe environment. Snorkel, wade or swim with tropical fish and sting rays, or cross the bridge to see sharks below.
The Freshwater Oasis is a place to interact with animals like sea otters and marmoset monkeys, and the Explorer’s Aviary is home to more than 250 birds in a free-flight aviary. You can even hand feed birds.
Did we mention the food that is included with your admission price? It is not your normal “theme park” fare. Guests can enjoy unlimited food for breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria-style restaurant and eat outdoors. Everything is fresh, and you’ll get the typical kids’ meals options, as well as items like salmon, steak and other delicious choices, complete with salads, vegetarian and gluten-free options, and of course, dessert and fruit.
Marketplace service is throughout the resort with snack items like chips, pretzels and drinks like bottled water, soda and juice. Beer and wine are also available for those 21 and older, but a drink package is required for other types of mixed drinks.
While all the above is included in your admission to Discovery Cove, there are some “add-on” activities for additional fees that may be appealing and worth the cost. When we visited, we did the Dolphin Swim and the SeaVenture.
SeaVenture takes you under the water where you go on a walking tour in a diving helmet (it is 60 lbs. and helps you to stay under water). This activity is supervised and in a controlled environment, and you are led on your walk as you learn about the wildlife under the sea. You’ll be up close and personal with schools of fish and some of the most fascinating of sea life – you can hold a live starfish! It’s truly one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had, along with the dolphin swim. Guests must be at least 10 years old to participate, and photos are made and available for purchase, which is true for all activities all over the resort.
Ray Feeding is an early morning experience where you can feed several types of rays as well as tropical fish and meet some smaller animals. It includes hands-on opportunities and education, and guests must be at least 6 years old.
Flamingo Mingle is also an early morning experience on the beach with one-on-one visit with the flamingos and wading with them.
The shark swim is considered a once in a lifetime experience and you step into the shark habitat for an intimate shark training session with more than 20 types of sharks. You can snorkel and mask up to enjoy a deepwater free swim. Guests must be at least 10 years old to do the shark swim.
It is important to mention that Discovery Cove donates 5% of the proceeds of their add-on experiences to Rising Tide Conservation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and other organizations dedicated to preservation of oceans and ocean life.
If you are taking a trip to Orlando to the theme parks, this is a great “rest day” activity for the whole family – there is something for everyone, even if you don’t do an add on activity.
Discovery Cove only books reservations for visits to the resort, and thus controls crowds. You may be like us and make a trip to Orlando just to go to Discovery Cove!
Discovery Cove is located across the street from SeaWorld (seaworld.com/orlando/), and there are numerous hotels nearby that offer transportation. Parking is free. Food, swim gear, wetsuits, snorkeling equipment, towels, lockers, sunscreen, and other amenities are included in your admission price.
Admission price is per person and varies on the time of year you visit. Day Resort Packages (less dolphin experience) – start at $149, and Signature Dolphin Swim Packages (includes Day Resort amenities also) – start at $199. Prices for admission and additional experiences vary by day and season. The website has a calendar so guests can choose their visit date based on price if they want.
Before you go, please check to see recommendations on what to wear, what to bring and what not to bring: discoverycove.com/orlando/park-info/before-your-visit/.
There are also packages available for three parks owned by SeaWorld Entertainment, should you be interested in visiting Discovery Cove, SeaWorld and their water park, Aquatica (aquatica.com/orlando/).
For more information, visit discoverycove.com/orlando/experiences/. There are even Facebook groups that share tips and experiences – it’s a movement! Discovery Cove is part of SeaWorld Entertainment, www.seaworldentertainment.com. Discovery Cove also was voted No. 1 Best Theme Park in Orlando by USA Today.
Carol Muse Evans is publisher of Birmingham Parent, and a huge Discovery Cove fan, along with her husband.