A vacation to Central Florida often leaves people feeling like they need another vacation. That’s especially true after traveling with children to Orlando’s crowded, mayhem-filled, nickle-and-dime squeezing theme parks.
Spot Cool Stuff’s suggested remedy: Spend a day chilling out at Discovery Cove.
At Discovery Cove won’t find yourself standing in line for rides. There are no rides.
You won’t find yourself amongst a mob of other vacationers. There is no mob — Discovery Cove requires reservations and the number of guests allowed in is strictly limited.
And you won’t pay again and again for extra fees, incidentals or even food. Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive park.
You’ll notice these differences from the moment you pull into the Discovery Cove parking lot — it’s free and the walk from an empty space to the Discovery Cove park is a short one.
Entering Discovery Cove is not done via turnstile but through a spacious lobby of the sort that a five-star beach resort might have. You’ll be personally greeted, given an orientation, issued a lanyard pass and provided with a wet suite and snorkeling gear.
Once past the lobby, you’ll find yourself enveloped in a tropical setting. You wouldn’t mistake it for Bali or Bora Bora but it does have shades of those places—sand beaches, green foliage and blue waters filled with brightly colored fish.
The Tropical Reef — a saltwater pool for wading, swimming and snorkeling. One section is populated with sting rays; go wading in here and you’ll likely brush up against one of these velvety, wing-shaped creatures. Another section contains natural coral, home to scores of tropical fish. (There are sharks too, though safely behind glass).
Serenity Bay — a large swimming area fronted by an artificial beach. You could easily wile away much of your day on the plentiful lounge chairs on the sand here.
Wind-Away River — a lazy river and a Spot Cool Stuff personal favorite. Flotation devices are available with which to literally go with the flow.
Explorer’s Aviary — a mesh-enclosed area populated by 250 exotic birds. Guests can enter the aviary on foot. But the cool way in is to swim under a waterfall along the Wind-Away River.
Conservation Cabana. Another difference between Discovery Cove and the typical Orlando theme park: A visit to Discovery Cove is educational (if you want it to be). The staff is extremely knowledgable about fauna and flora within the park and welcome questions. The Conservation Cabana is the hub of organized activities such as animal encounters and horticulture tours.
Laguna Grill—the outdoor/indoor restaurant that serves a basic breakfast and surprisingly terrific lunch. All food and drink are included in the admission price.
However, the signature event of a visit to Discovery Cove is:
The Dolphin Encounter at Dolphin Lagoon. For 30 minutes you and a small group of five to seven others get into the water with a bottlenose dolphin and a expert trainer. You’ll have the chance to interact with a dolphin, swim next to it and watch it do tricks. All the dolphin encounters are scheduled in advance so there’s no waiting in line for your chance.
All-inclusive tickets to Discovery Cove start at $199 with a dolphin encounter or $129 without. Along with Discovery Cove admission you’ll get a 14-day pass to your choice of SeaWorld, Aquatica or Busch Gardens. (A 2-day adult pass to SeaWorld by itself is $79).
The basic entry fee is definitely a solid value. Whether the dolphin encounter is worth the extra $70 is harder to figure. Not one Discovery Cove guest Spot Cool Stuff spoke with disliked the dolphin encounter. A few found the experience a little underwhelming. A few were very much whelmed, describing it akin to a life changing experience. The majority ranked the dolphin encounter as one of their top travel experiences in Orlando. Unfortunately, you’ll have to take an educated guess as to what group you’d fall into—dolphin encounter tickets must be booked in advance.
Whether you do the dolphin encounter or not, Spot Cool Stuff suggests planning a Discovery Cove visit for the end of your Orlando stay. After working through Orlando’s other theme parks you’ll need the opportunity to relax.
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