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.

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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!

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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!

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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.