Discovery Cove Orlando offers a one-of-a kind experience for families to see and interact with dolphins, tropical birds and a wide variety of other land and sea creatures. With an all-inclusive experience, families don’t need to worry about bringing anything other than their swimsuits and a willingness to explore. This is the kind of place that creates family memories that you will cherish for years. It is truly an adventure of a lifetime.
Since this is an all-inclusive park, you definitely want to spend the entire day here. There is so much to do that you’ll never get bored. Since all food is included (breakfast, snacks, drinks and lunch) and even animal-safe sunscreen, you should be all set for the day.
Discovery Cove Orlando Check-In
The check-in process begins at 7:30am. The lobby is spacious and the staff is very friendly and helpful. There is an obvious effort to keep the crowds from building. The check in lines move quickly. It only took us 10 minutes. There are only a specific number of people allowed in the park each day, so you don’t feel the overwhelmed by crowds as in many Orlando area theme parks.
As we departed the lobby, the surrounding foliage gave us a sense of being on an isolated tropical island, a feeling that continued as we entered the fresh and salt water areas. There were a lot of “ooohs and aahhhs” from my 10 and 12 year old children. While you can bring younger children, I don’t recommend Discovery Cove Orlando for children under 7-8 unless they are strong swimmers.
Discovery Cove Orlando Park Layout
Take some time to explore the park to get a sense of the layout. Then, head to the area where you’ll get your wet suits and snorkels. Here, you will also apply animal friendly sunscreen (provided). I highly recommend a full wet suit. The water temperature in the Grand Reef and Dolphin Lagoon is quite cold so you’ll want to hold in your body heat. You can always peel off that layer or switch to a wet suit vest if you get warm later in the day.
Unless your dolphin swim is scheduled first, I recommend heading to the Grand Reef for snorkeling. There is a wide array of tropical fish and sting rays (don’t worry, their stingers have been removed).
The water here is a chilly 77 degrees. While this might not sound cold, it reduces your body heat quite quickly. The reason to hit this area first is that it can get quite crowded later in the day.
In addition to thousands of colorful fish, there are reef sharks you can safely observe from behind glass. Be aware that the sting rays can be a bit startling as they may swim right up to your feet. This freaked my daughter out at first. Keep an eye on the schedule for when you can feed the rays, which is really cool.
TravelingMom Tip: Even if you are a strong swimmer, I highly recommend life jackets for much of your snorkel time. This keeps you a bit warmer and allows you to gently float and observe without too much effort. You can always take it off to dive under from time to time if you’d like.
After your body is chilled, head to Freshwater Oasis. There is a large swimming area and Wind Away River. The water temps here are a comfortable 85 degrees. On the river, I recommend a life-jacket or a swim noodle so you can relax and float. The current is a bit stronger than some typical “lazy rivers” so it may be too challenging for younger children. The swimming area has zero depth entry, which is perfect for toddlers to splash around if you decide to bring them along.
Discovery Cove Orlando is probably best known for a place where you can “swim with dolphins.” That is not completely true. I would call it more of a dolphin encounter. There is a chance for a dolphin to tow you for about 10 seconds, but that’s it. That said, the dolphin encounter is still amazing!
You get assigned a 30 minute window with a small group (ours was 10 people). After a safety briefing, we waded into the water for our dolphin encounter. We had the opportunity to interact with two dolphins, one male and one female. They were both very well behaved and fun to watch and touch. They swam buy us quite a few times allowing us to touch their backs, stomach and fins. They did a few tricks for us too.
Toward the end of the encounter, it’s time for everyone to have their “swim.” You can choose between the shallow or deep water. We all chose deep water, which gives you more of a sense of truly swimming with the dolphin while he/she pulls you to shore. After your swim, you get to hug and kiss the dolphin too. This part was truly magical for our family.
Photography Rules at Discovery Cove Orlando
Cameras are allowed in most areas of the park. We used an under water video camera for most of the day. However, no cameras are allowed during the Dolphin Swim. There is a staff photographer and videographer capturing the experience. For a fee, you can purchase your photos/videos on CD/DVD. Our photos were excellent, but the video was not great. It is hard to hear the instructor and it is not edited for our dolphin swim. We don’t really care to see 7 other people swim with dolphins on our video.
TravelingMom Tip: If you are with more than one family (or a family member who skips this activity), have that person take photos or videos from the beach.
A hidden gem within Discovery Cove is the Explorer’s Aviary. Here you can watch hundreds of birds fly around you. You can even have a chance to feed birds by hand. Part of the Wind Away River floats through Explorers Aviary. You’ll see birds fly overhead and walk along the rivers edge. Many of them let you get right up close for photos and observation.
This is the only activity that is not included with the entrance fee. Prices start at $49 per person. It’s an under water tour in which you wear a dive helmet. No SCUBA certification or experience is required. If you get claustrophobic easily, you may want to skip this activity as the dive helmets can make you feel quite closed in. Participants climb down a ladder to the reef floor where they walk with underwater tour guides. The guides point out a lot of things and use a magnetic marker/pad to communicate. The program is about an hour long including orientation. The walk itself is about 20 minutes for groups up to 9 people.
TravelingMom Tip: This activity is quite COLD. In fact, my daughter was so cold that she had to leave the tour early. My son and I shivered through. We were in the Grand Reef before this so our body temps were already low. I highly recommend some time in the sun to get nice and warm before this activity.
While in Orlando, you may want to check out Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure too. I recently had a wonderful solo trip to Zion Ponderosa Ranch. Another adventure on our list is Costa Rica. Check out this Costa Rica experience from Los Angeles TravelingMom.
Have a favorite adventure of your own? Share in a comment.