Discovery Cove – A Review

When we booked our last trip one thing that we really wanted to do was swim with Dolphins and all I’d heard about Discovery Cove was good things.

One of the biggest appeals of DC is the fact that they limit the amount of people they allow in to 1200 so it’s never as packed as the major theme parks.

TOP TIP – book for a weekend, it’s a great time to avoid the busiest times in the other parks.

Whilst DC can be expensive in high season it’s well worth the money I think. Not only do you get to swim with Dolphins if you wish – which is actually quite an emotional thing to do – but the whole day is fully all inclusive. All your food, drink, snacks etc are included, including alcohol for those who are old enough, and there’s not many places, if any, in Orlando where you get that. Literally all you need to take is yourself and your camera.

It’s a relatively small park and is divided into 3 main areas, Dolphin Lagoon, The Great Reef and Wind Away River.

dcmap

The image above is what you will have on the lanyard you’re given on check in. This will have a photo of yourself on it and acts as your ticket for the day and also as your ticket for visiting the other Seaworld Parks included in your package after your day at DC.

We checked in at around 9am although the park actually opens at 7:30am for breakfast. If you’re swimming with Dolphins your swim time is allocated when you check in. Our swim was about midday so checking in at 9am was perfect for us.

On checking in you may be lucky enough to meet the lovely Sloth they have, you’re not able to hug him, which upset me, but you can give him a stroke and he was so lovely.  There’s animal encounters throughout the day just by wind away river so if you don’t see him in the morning keep an eye out there.

slothdc

As you get into Discovery Cove you have a complimentary photo taken that you can pick up at the end of the day.

You are able to pick up you snorkels and wetsuits once you’re inside. You have the choice of a proper wetsuit or you can just choose to have the jackets which is what we did. There are flotation devices for children as well if you need them.

Our first port of call was the Grand Reef which is a freshwater pool with 100s of fish and Rays swimming beneath you. What I wasn’t prepared for was the temperature!! The Grand Reef is cold! It’s kept at a temperature suitable for the marine life within it and although it will get warmer if the weather is hot, be prepared if you go to it first.

If you have a go-pro or other waterproof camera this is an amazing place to use it!

It’s not a massive area so can get a little packed during busy times and it’s also quite deep so be aware of that for non-swimmers. However there are rocks that you can hold on to as it’s just like a reef you’d find in the ocean.

I absolutely love Rays so being able to see them swim past you and swimming with other fish was amazing, and also not having to be in the middle of the ocean to do it makes it really appealing!

Amelia absolutely loved the snorkeling and we struggled to get her away from it to see the rest of the park!

DCIM107GOPRO

TOP TIP Although we didn’t stay all day I have been told that towards the end of the day the fish are fed and will all come up to the surface to feed. This is something incredible to see so it’s worth staying in the park for the day to witness it.

Next place we went to was the Aviary. I am not a fan of birds and they are really quite friendly so if like me you like to look at them from a safe distance then this is not the place for you!! They will land on you, and you will have a job getting them off… I had a little bird sit on the front of my ECV for ages looking at the pictures now it was pretty cute but I didn’t like it at the time!!

Discovery Coves Explorers Aviary has over 250 different birds and it wasn’t a small aviary either. You walk through into different areas with birds from different countries we spent a good half an hour if not more there. Again this is great for kids as you can see…

Wind Away River is Discovery Coves version of a lazy river and as you would expect from somewhere so tropical it’s not your average one. It’s not like you would normally find where you would sit in a rubber ring and float around this one you swim in. There’s no current but it takes you through caves and around islands where you can come face to face with monkeys and otters.

One other thing thats just by the entrance to the Wind Away River is a lovely little bar (and don’t forget all your snacks etc are included) and it’s a nice place to just sit in the bar area in the water and have a drink in the sun.

And now to the good bit, and the main reason most people go to Discovery Cove, the chance to swim with the dolphins.  I was really excited about doing this and it was so much better than I could ever have imagined.

Before you go in the water with the Dolphins you are given a pre-swim briefing that tells you all the do’s and don’t and lets you know exactly what to expect from your swim.  From memory I think it lasted no more than about 10 minutes and it was quite interesting.

You cannot wear any loose jewellery or take cameras into the water with you but if you have people in the party not swimming they can take photos from the beach and each group has a photographer and videographer capturing your time in the water. There is about 8 to a group.

The initial part of your experience is in shallow water – again a little cold – you’re introduced to a few different Dolphins and I remember being surprised by how different each one was personality wise. They reminded me a little of my dogs and the way they react to stuff. You can see that these mammals have genuine love for their handlers as well and they are incredibly affectionate animals.

You’re told in the briefing how to handle the Dolphins and you’re able to stroke them and get close. They are a lot bigger than I thought they’d be. That’s the first thing I thought when I saw one swimming towards me!

I forget the names of the Dolphins we met but we were told that some of them absolutely love being handled and stroked and these are the ones we got close to, they didn’t however like ‘swimming’ with people so we were introduced to a different Dolphin for that.

You’re shown a few commands to get them to do things and then you get to pose for photos. You are not rushed. You get to do this on your own and with your family group as well. Some of ours were taken twice, the photographer was great and made us pose again until she got the best shots.

You’re ‘swim’ is done after this and you are given the choice of staying close to the shallow water or swimming out a little deeper and being bought back.  This is an incredible thing to do. You’re shown how to hold on to them and then off they go. Personally I was terrified!! These are big animals, I am a really small woman, I could barely get my arms round it to hold on!! It’s a pretty quick swim but I’m so glad I did it and would definitely do it again.

One thing we didn’t do is SeaVenture, it looks amazing but its not something that appealed to us this trip as Amelia was too young to do it. It’s just off the Grand Reef and as you will have no doubt seen online is deep sea diving. Allowing you to walk long the seabed and see the fish from a completely different view. It’s not included in your package for Discovery Cove and it is something you pay extra for, it’s around £40 in advance.

The food at Discovery Cove was nice. You do have quite a lot of choice and as it’s all inclusive you can go back for more if you wish. There is one main restaurant and then snack carts around the parks. We ate a lot of pretzels!!

DC food

EXTRAS – You can also have a Cabana for the day here which is an extra cost and can only be booked through Discovery Cove directly, so when you’ve made your reservation for the day you can call them and book one if you like. It’s a good way to have a base for the day and you’ll have a fully stocked fridge all day while you’re there. It’s a nice way to make the day a little more special but it’s not something I would say is essential being as it’s not that busy.

Photos and Videos of your Dolphin Experience are of course extra and there are a few levels of packages you can purchase. We went for the bigger package that was around $190. For that we had all our photos printed and digitally, a photo album, frame, a poster size print and also a Blu-Ray of the swims. I haven’t been able to watch that yet though as our player isn’t multi regional so bear that in mind.

ACCESS INFO – Most if not all of Discovery Cove is accessible. A lot of it is on sand which can be a little tricky for standard wheelchairs, however they do have some outdoor wheelchairs that can maneuver easily on the sand. They’re not self propelling though so someone would need to push you. It’s recommended that you book these in advance. The aviary is accessible for chairs and can accommodate an ECV (just be prepared for the birds to be attracted to it!!) You can do the Dolphin Encounter as long as if you need one you have someone with you to assist you in and out of the water.

There are loads of places in the Wind Away River that you can actually take a wheelchair in the water to to be able to transfer into it. You may need help for some of the other areas if you have mobility issues.

All in all I really enjoyed Discovery Cove and it’s definitely somewhere I’d visit again. It’s a nice relaxing way to spend a day in Orlando away from the constant noise and chaos of the theme parks. It’s somewhere you can just chill out and not have to worry about anything. It’s like a tropical island paradise in the middle of Orlando. Swimming with Dolphins was one of the most incredible things I’ve done in my life and I’d highly recommended it to anyone!

Planning your Trip – Where to Start! – Buying Park Tickets

I realized that although I’ve given you loads of tips and info on what to do when you get to Orlando what I haven’t really touched on is how to plan from the beginning!! So let me give you some basic info about Orlando and what there is to do, there are still people out there who don’t realize that Walt Disney World is not just ‘the park with the castle’…..

Orlando is a 8/9 hour flight from the UK. My big tip with booking flights is to leave the UK as early as possible to get to Orlando late afternoon – you’re able to have a look about go out for some food and then go to bed at the same time as you would at home. I find this stops any jetlag you may suffer from. Coming home, always get the latest possible evening flight, giving you at least half the day to maybe visit your favourite park or do a bit of shopping..

Orlando has 3 main theme park resorts. Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, Seaworld Parks and Entertainment.

Walt Disney World (the clue is in the name, it is a WORLD) not just one park. Disney is made up of:

Magic Kingdom (the one with the Castle)

Epcot (the one with the Golf Ball)

Animal Kingdom (the one with the tree)

Hollywood Studios (the one that used to have the Hat…)

Blizzard Beach

Typhoon Lagoon

Disney Springs

Disneys Boardwalk

ESPN World Wide of Sports

Disney Resort Hotels

Universal Orlando Resort is made up of:

Universal Studios (including Diagon Alley of Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

Universal’s Islands of Adventure (including Hogsmeade and Hogwarts of Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

Volcano Bay

Citywalk

Universal Resort Hotels

Seaworld Parks and Entertainment is made up of:

Seaworld

Aquatica

Busch Gardens

Discovery Cove

Most of the parks are in Orlando with the exception of Busch Gardens which is just over an hour away on the west coast in Tampa.

All the tickets that we can purchase in the UK are valid for unlimited access for 14 days, and on first trips people always say ‘but I won’t need 14 days’ – you will!! Buying your tickets in the UK before you travel is a lot cheaper than purchasing them on the gate in Orlando. The 14 day tickets are not available once you get there. With these tickets you’re able to ‘hop’ between the parks meaning you can visit more than one in a day if you like and Disney parks tend to stay open late. It gives you the flexibility to be able to see the evening shows at Disney but spend a day somewhere else if you wanted. ‘Hopping’ at Universal will include the use of the Hogwarts Express which transports you between the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter. All 14 day tickets for the Seaworld Parks will include complimentary bus travel to Busch Gardens.

The only park that you cannot visit multiple times is Discovery Cove. This is a one day experience where you can swim with Dolphins if you wish. This is a fully all inclusive day with all your food and drink (including alcohol) included. You have to book a date for this as it gets booked up quickly and prices vary throughout the year. All the Discovery Cove tickets include unlimited access to Seaworld and Aquatica, there is an Ultimate package which will also include Busch Gardens.

Are there any waterparks included?

Yes. Disney has Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, Universal has Volcano Bay when it opens and Aquatica is Seaworlds offering.

What Parks Shall I Visit?

If you’re unsure what parks you want to visit my advice to you is to use YouTube to watch some holiday planning videos that show you what there is at each of the parks.

Think about who there is in your party and what would be of interest to them.

Surely I won’t need 14 day tickets?

You may not think you do and you may think that buying a smaller amount of days will save you money. That all depends on what parks you want to see.

If you want to visit all the parks at Disney including the Water Parks you will need at least 9 days! The 14 day tickets include water parks and park hopping. On the gate you’d pay $60 for each of the water parks and around $120 per day for each of the theme parks, plus an extra $55 to park hop. And don’t forget the 6% sales tax you have to add as well.

If you want to see all of Universal then as of June you’d probably need 4 days. One for each of the theme parks, one to hop between the 2 and see things you might not have on the other days and then a whole extra day (maybe 2 it looks HUGE) for Volcano Bay. Again the 14 day tickets are much more cost effective than buying 3 days on the gate and including the hopping.

Seaworld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove you could spend a day in each and see everything. One day in each of the parks (with the exception of Discovery Cove) is around $70 (plus the sales tax). If you want to visit one more than once or all of them then again the 14 day tickets work out best.

Ticket Types

In the UK you are able to buy the 14 day tickets that I mentioned. There are many ticket sellers in the UK who provide these at a lesser cost than travel agents and usually the parks directly.

It is really important to check that whoever you buy from is providing you with real gate ready tickets. This means that when you get to the parks you are able to go straight in. Some travel agents will provide you with vouchers which you would need to exchange when you get there, meaning you have to queue for them BEFORE you get in the queue to get in.

You will also need your ticket numbers to be able to book your Disney FastPasses, although these numbers can be given to you by your travel agent 30 days before you travel this isn’t automatic and you may find yourself chasing them for it and missing out on booking some of the rides you want to do.

There are a number of resellers in the UK who send real tickets and will have offers on throughout the year.  There are links to some of those in the useful links page.

Most of these are Orlando experts and will give great advice.

Most will allow you to secure the current prices with a small deposit and will give up to 6 weeks before you leave to pay the balance.

The tickets all have the same names with the sellers:

Disney Ultimate

Universal Explorer

Seaworld 3 park

Discovery Cove Standard ticket and Discovery Cove Ultimate ticket.

All the resellers above do combination ticket packages which works out better than purchasing them individually.  They will all have different names but they will include the same tickets within them. Each of the tickets will have 14 days on it from the first day of activation so if you’re going for longer than 14 days you are able to stagger that so you can visit parks for the whole duration of your trip.

You cannot buy a combination ticket to include Discovery Cove. This is a stand alone ticket and will include your entry to the other parks owned by Seaworld.

Do they offer discounted tickets for Disabled or free carer tickets?

No. And the reason for this is that 90% of the rides and attractions are fully accessible. Universal do a small discount on the gate but this is for day tickets only and it the saving is minimal. There is a system in place for guests with disabilities. I go into  much more detail here – Disney with Disabilities

What’s included in my ticket?

All the tickets above will include unlimited park hopping access to all the parks owned by that company.

Disney tickets also include Disneys Fastpass which allows you to skip the line at some of the key attractions by being able to book your time on the ride 30 days before you go (60 if you’re staying on site). It gives you 3 fast passes per person per day which you can book on your My Disney Experience (MDE) account. The app for this gives you all the current wait times for rides so by looking at it a bit before you go you’re able to figure out what rides you would need to book for. Peter Pans Flight always has a really long line, as does Soarin’, some of the character meets will have a long wait you can book some of them too.

Currently the UK tickets also include Disney Memory Maker (or photopass) free of charge. This is ALL of your professional photos taken around the parks, ride photos (and videos for the ones that have them), character photos and all the ones in the scenic places around the parks. These are all digital photos that are uploaded to your MDE account when the photographer scans your ticket. You can then download them all when you get home and get them printed off when you like. I found when I did mine that if you leave them in your shopping basket with some of these companies they start to send you discount codes so you will buy them. Photobox is what I used for my 2000 odd when I came home. It’s a great thing to have with the tickets it’s worth $170.

Disney tickets also include mini golf free every day (before 4pm) there are 2 mini golf courses on Disney, Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens and they’re so much fun. Nothing like the boring golf we have here.

You can also use the Oak Trail golf course if you want a ‘normal’ round of golf. Tickets include a round and club hire.

Universal tickets include park hopping as well – this means you can use the Hogwarts Express to travel between the 2 Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter.

Seaworld tickets currently include free parking if you’re purchasing a ticket to include all 3 parks and you do get the free transportation to Busch Gardens as well if you don’t fancy the drive.

Can I skip the lines?

Yes you can.

Disney’s Fastpass is free and included in the tickets.

Universal have their own called an Express Pass which you can only buy from them directly. It’s more cost effective to buy a 1-day 2- park Express meaning you can do all the rides in both the parks in one day. With an Express Pass it’s easy to do that. The UK based booking site has them and they vary season to season – these tickets allow you one ride on each of the rides that day. You can get unlimited ones on the gate. Some of the hotels on the Universal Resort include free express passes and early entry to Harry Potter.

Seaworld and Busch Gardens have a ‘QuikQueue’ ticket which is the same sort of thing. All the re-sellers I mentioned sell an unlimited one which gives you as many rides as you like on each of the rides. This varies in price by park and season.

None of the waterparks have fastpasses. Volcano Bay however has a virtual queuing system using a wristband called ‘TapuTapu’ which allows you to select the ride and time you want and will vibrate when you can get on, meaning you can do other things while you’re waiting.

Hopefully that should answer most of the questions you have about tickets. If there’s anything else you want to know or I’ve missed let me know.

 

 

 

It’s NEXT WEEK!!

Excuse me while I squeal a little!! I can now finally say we go next week!! The excitement is getting a bit much now to be honest I may well burst at any moment!

I get asked loads why I love Florida so much and how there are ‘loads of other places in the world’ but you know what? Apart from Italy (and maybe Germany after watching a Vlog about Europa Park) there isn’t really anywhere else I’m that bothered about visiting and I don’t think they’ll live up to my expectations after being to Disney.  I’m not a sit by the pool and drink type so a package holiday being stuck in a resort is my idea of hell I need things to do!!

I get asked why I don’t get bored being that I’ve been before – this will be trip number 6 – I don’t get bored because there’s always something new to see. In the space of 17 years I’ve seen loads of things come and go.  Rides like Snow Whites Scary Adventures and Mr Toads Wild Ride and Toon Town where you could visit the houses of Minnie and Mickey Mouse have gone and are missed and then there are things like Alien which scarred me for life and I’m not sorry to see the back of.

Of course the big new thing is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which has now stretched over 2 parks instead of just the one that there was on my last trip.

Even in 3 years there has been loads of development and new stuff to check out this time. Aside from the WWOHP extension there’s also the New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom, the new Frozen show and new parades at Disney. As well as the developments at Downtown Disney.   Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure now has a Raptor encounter and Universal Studios has Transformers and Springfield USA is open.

Seaworld has opened Empire of the Penguin and opened some new shows as well, not to mention the big opening of I-Drive 360 which comprises of the Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds and Sealife Orlando.

With more changes and new rides/parks opening over the next few years – Avatarland at Animal Kingdom, the Star Wars expansion at Hollywood Studios (or whatever it will be called then…) and Universals Volcano Bay as well as the much talked about Nintendo Partnership at Universal.  And then there’s the King Kong ride that I totally forgot about – I remember the original one!! You can never get bored of Orlando there’s always something new opening!

The other thing I love is how accessible it is and how completely suitable it is for anyone with a disability. Be it a mobility issue like me or more complex needs no matter where you go in Orlando they will do whatever they can to help you and have policies in place for everything you could think of. Nothing is a hassle to them and unlike some other holiday destinations – I’ve been put in upstairs rooms in hotels with no lift and been felt like I’m causing the problem when I’m unable to walk up the stairs!! Here any sort of Disability isn’t seen as a major problem and rather than make a fuss they just figure out how to help you rather than huffing about it!!

The one thing I haven’t done properly in Orlando is a water park – I did Aquatica last time but all I did was bob along in the lazy river – I’m curious to see how they are geared up for someone like me.  There’s quite a few things I’m doing for the first time on this trip, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon which I’m really looking forward to. Discovery Cove which is something I’ve heard nothing but good things about (and that’s not just because all the food and drink is free), We’re doing a Penguin Encounter at Seaworld where we actually get to meet a real penguin – I’m a BIG fan of anywhere where I can cuddle any sort of animal, not sure the penguin will want me to cuddle it but I will give it a try.  We have an Airboat ride as well which I won’t lie, I’m a little bit scared of. I don’t really like boats at the best of times – unless it’s a cruise ship – so being on something that doesn’t look that steady and surrounded by gators isn’t exactly filling me with excitement. I panic in a kayak so goodness knows what I’m going to be like on this.  Also I’m finally getting to do a character breakfast – the bonus of taking kids – we’re doing both Chef Mickeys and Universals Superstar Breakfast (if the tickets get sorted in time) and also the Pirates Adventure Dinner Show. Last time I went to a dinner show I was ill with sunstroke and it wasn’t a pleasant experience so fingers crossed this one will be better.

The only thing that could make this trip even more perfect is that elusive booking at ‘Be Our Guest’…..

To Plan or Not to Plan…..

I’m now at my 37 day mark and to say I’m organised is a bit of an understatement. As you are well aware I’ve booked all my FastPasses, checked in to my hotel and booked an ADR (advanced dining reservation) for those who don’t know.  All my reservations/stuff we’re doing have now been put in a spreadsheet – yes I am that organised with it all – and the whole 14 days is pretty much planned out for us.

Is this planning a little TOO much, well for me I don’t think so. Having been to Orlando before I know how much there is to do and it’s impossible to do everything in 14 days, besides the theme parks there’s over 100 other attractions in Orlando and if you wanted to do everything it has to offer you’d need at least 67 full days there! It’s not all about the themeparks you know!!

I am well aware that I have probably planned FAR too much but I know some of the things that are really unmissable so you have to make sure you cater for that sort of thing. Disney, Magic Kingdom especially has some ridiculous wait times for rides so if you don’t want to spend most of your day queuing for rides – or to meet Frozen characters if you have girls – then it is wise to book some fastpasses and plan a little for those days. The rest of the day leave to chance.  Planning and booking those rides that your kids just HAVE to do is also a great way to avoid disappointment and tantrums!!

You can do Disney without planning but be prepared for LONG queues and stress.

Universal Studios as well needs a bit of planning. We all know that the busiest part of those parks are the Harry Potter parts so unless you want to be queuing for ages for those it’s good to plan to do them first or last thing. Universal offer an express pass that will allow you front of line access to each ride once during the day which is a really good way to avoid planning. However it doesn’t include the Harry Potter rides. You can buy express passes before you leave the UK for a much cheaper price than on the gate, £50 for 1 park and £57 for both for one day. You can get them from the UK Universal Bookings Site Universal UK Bookings

If you want to go to Discovery Cove, particularly over the Summer months then that again needs some planning. Discovery Cove gets booked up from 6 months in advance.  Working for a travel company and having calls over the last few weeks from customers who are wanting to book every day I’m experiencing first hand the disappointment from people who just cannot get a booking after leaving it so late.

There is no real need to book every day down to the minute but it is an idea to pre book a few things that you really want to do and then do the rest when you get there. Orlando is a place that you really need to research before you go there are so many amazing forums and websites with info and people who will give you honest opinions on what to do and not to do. A good one for planning advice is the Facebook group‘It’s Orlando Time’ loads of people who love Orlando helping you make your trip as magical as it can be.  A little bit of research will really help your trip run smoothly.