When you’re a kid who lives thousands of miles away from the nearest ocean, all you really know about dolphins, sea life and the beach is what you see on TV and the movies. While yes my kids have been to the beach here in Iowa, its just not the same going to a small man-made lake as it is going to crystal blue water with coral and tropical fish. I also had a little boy whose only vacation wish wasn’t to see Mickey Mouse in Florida, but was to merely go to the beach,
So what did our family do on our recent vacation to give our Midwest kids a taste of the ocean that they wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else? We made a special trip to Orlando’s Discovery Cove. A unique reservations-only, all-inclusive park where guests can interact with dolphins, snorkel with tropical fish and rays, wade beside marmosets and otters, hand-feed parrots, toucans, and other exotic birds in the free flight,, and relax in the large resort pool and swim along a tropical river.
One of my lifetime “bucket list” items has always been to swim with dolphins and that’s why my husband selected Discovery Cove as a stop for our vacation. I’ve always wanted to see one up close and touch one and my 8 year old step-daughter and I had the amazing opportunity to swim with dolphins, pet them and even kiss them during a half hour dolphin experience. The dolphin experience is optional and is additional cost, but was absolutely amazing in my opinion worth every penny. Kids do need to be at least 6 years old to participate in this experience and kids ages 6 to 12 need to be accompanied by a paying adult. This was something both of us will remember doing for the rest of our lives.
The tropic bird aviary is also amazing and the kids had a blast feeding the birds. When we first walked in they got a little freaked out because parrots immediately flew over and landed on us, but once they realized the birds were friendly and that they could pet them and feed them we had a lot of fun check out the variety of birds and feed them some treats. The snorkeling area was also amazing. If you’ve ever snorkeled in real life, you know it can be tough the first few times especially for kids. This is a shallow environment where kids can float or even stand and stick their faces in the water to see colorful fish, coral and even giant sting rays that are friendly and used to people being around.
The tropical rivers are relaxing and a lot of fun. The water is heated so they’re warm even in the winter months, my only advice is that because there are some sharp drop offs in depths that are unmarked on both rivers I would recommend that all children (even strong swimmers) have a life vest on before entering and that even adults have a floating noodle before entering the river due to the depths.
One of the things that appealed to us about this resort is that they restrict attendance. We knew the rest of the week we would be fighting crowds at the other theme parks and Discovery Cove restricts attendance to around 1300 guests a day so that it is uncrowded and intimate. There were no lines, plenty of chairs and lots of available staff to assist us. It was great to have a relaxing day without being mobbed by thousands where the kids could play in the sand and the water.
My little man’s favorite part of the whole park was the beach. Discovery Cove has beautiful, clean beaches and he played for hours in the sand and water. If you have a little one you may even want to bring some sand toys for a sand castle.
Discovery Cove is all inclusive and does include a freshly prepared breakfast and lunch, unlimited snacks and drinks, free equipment rentals and a souvenir snorkel. The food was great and I was happy to see healthy and vegetarian options.
Overall Discovery Cove was an amazing experience and my husband and I are already discussing our next visit. If you’re looking for a little place to escape to the beach and still stay in Orlando, I would definitely recommend it!
What to Know When You Get There
- Discovery Cove does provide wetsuits and life vests, as well as snorkels, masks, and environmentally friendly sunscreen. You may want to bring your own underwater camera. They sell them onsite, but it’s cheaper to bring your own. The water for the dolphin experience and snorkeling is saltwater which is cold (during winter months at least) so you might want a wet suit). The rest of the water is heated and warmer. A life vest might be easier for toddlers and young kids who have to take frequent potty breaks. All guests must wear either a wet suit or a vest. If you bring your own, it must be Coast Guard approved.
- Admission to Discovery Cove does include all your meals include breakfast, lunch, beverages and snacks. It’s all you can eat so no need to bring your own. Alcoholic beverages are available and guests over 21 who wish to indulge will need to bring photo ID proving their age.
- The tropical rivers are really fun and relaxing, but do have sudden drop offs where the depths without warning where they are sometimes 12 feet deep or more and some areas can be a little tough to navigate..I would recommend requiring all children even if they are strong swimmers to wear a life vest and to have a floating noodle at all times. Grown ups will need to also stay close by and have a floating noodle as well.
- The beaches are wonderful and clean, if you have little ones that like the sand, you might want to bring some sand toys
- Special outdoor wheel chairs are available for handicapped guests. Wheelchairs can be reserved by calling 1-877-557-7404 and assistance can also be requested during the dolphin experience as well.
- Kids must be at least 6 years old to swim with dolphins and children 6 to 12 must be accompanied by a paying adult.
How to Save On This Destination
Discovery Cove isn’t necessarily a frugal kind of place, especially if you do the dolphin swim experience but it’s not outrageous either. It’s one of those places that it’s worth the cost for the experience of a lifetime and if you’re going to be going to SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens, the cost really becomes more affordable since the Discovery Cove Day Resort Package includes unlimited admission to SeaWorld® and Aquatica™ in Orlando (and Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay can be added for an additional charge) My daughter and I did the dolphin experience while my son and husband just did the general admission which was less expensive. We all had a great time and our admission to Discovery Cove got us free admission to SeaWorld the next day which we were planning on going to anyway and made it more affordable.
Discovery Cove is a full day adventure with operating hours of 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. daily. Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m.
For more information on Discovery Cove visit www.discoverycove.com.
Disclosure: This excursion was paid for at our own expense and no compensation was given. All opinions expressed are our own. We are merely sharing our adventures because we think other families will enjoy the adventures at this park as well. However, as always we used smart shopping to get a great deal!