Discovering Discovery Cove, Orlando, FL

While I’m not one for “attractions” per se, how could I say “No” when my boyfriend, Bernie, invited me to join him for a day at Discovery Cove? It’s been voted the Best Marine Mammal Park, the Best Theme Park in Orlando, and the Most Romantic Thing to Do in Orlando. It’s all that and more. The experience exceeded my expectations across the board.

We entered the park through the grand entry pavilion with its high beams, straw-thatched ceiling, and magnificent floating dolphin sculpture.

The moment we stepped out to begin our all-inclusive experience, we were transported into a lush tropical wonderland with magnificent colorful flora, waterfalls, streams, and lagoons. Apologies, I didn’t take many pictures of the grounds because I was in experience mode (versus documentation mode).

The Grand Reef

At the Grand Reef, we immersed ourselves in a colorful kaleidoscope of ~6,000 tropical fish, ~50 stingrays (barbs removed), 3 giant rays, and reef sharks (those behind glass). While I’m a PADI-certified diver, this is the most sea life I’ve ever seen up close and personal. If you prefer not to swim or snorkel, the water is clear enough to see while wading.  

Explorer’s Aviary and the Freshwater Oasis

Next, we strolled Explorer’s Aviary, where exotic birds flit and call through the lush canopy of trees and plants. For a closer look or photo op, you can lure them closer (even onto your arms) with tiny bowls of their favorite treats.

If you’re up for a cruise on a noodle floatie or a swim, there’s a “Freshwater Oasis” lazy river that winds you through a tropical forest with waterfalls and features playful otters and marmosets.

Dolphin Encounter

Saving the best for last, Bernie splurged on our add-on “Swim with a Dolphin” experience, which is more of a “pose with a dolphin” experience. Sure, I’ve seen dolphins up close while surfing, but touching, hugging, and looking one in the eyes is something else entirely. And there is a short “ride” with the dolphin, about 10 feet. Dolphins can swim 25 mph and leap 20 feet, but they go slowly and stay horizontal with guests onboard. Yes, these are captive mammals, but most are rescues, and it is an educational experience. We learned that the dolphins are “invited” to participate in the interactions and can and do refuse at their whim. Each dolphin has its own signature sound, like an audio fingerprint, which they use to greet each other and the guests. We also learned that dolphins breathe only through their blow holes. They have 2 stomachs split into 3-chambered like cows and deer, which is needed for digestion because they swallow their food (fish) whole They get their hydration (water) from the fish they eat, and they consume as much as 30 pounds of sushi per day. Their skin is soft and sensitive like ours. Reduced fish populations due to global warming pose a risk to dolphins.

Satisfy your appetite and quench your thirst

How were the food and beverages, you ask? (A tasty and varied breakfast and lunch buffet to satisfy any appetite). The coconut-encrusted salmon was a lunch highlight. Plenty of casual options include burgers, pizza, pretzels, desserts, and hot chocolate chip cookies—oh, my! (I know.) Perhaps fast the day before (and after), lol. And if you like to quench your thirst with “adult beverages,” the upgraded drink package ($40) includes cocktails and is worth it! The colorfully tattooed, friendly bartender added 2 super generous splashes of Grand Marnier to my margarita—decadent and delicious— the best I’ve ever had.

Those who know me know I’m not a theme park or “attraction” person. I’ve never understood those adult Disney World/Land fanatics whose idea of a “best day ever” is a crowded theme park with endless lines and nonstop noise.  I detest loud crowds— fortunately, there were none here. It seems they limit the number of guests per day to optimize the experience for everyone.

For couples and families, Discovery Cove is an excellent way to escape it all and spend the day in an engaging tropical paradise. Sure, it’s a simulated experience, but it is executed exceptionally well. When in Orlando, I’d say it’s a must-do. And a must-do again for me. I can’t wait to take my niece and share it with the rest of the family. Guess that makes me a Discovery Cove fanatic.

Practical stuff:

Lockers are available to store your belongings while you explore.

The bathrooms are immaculate and include showers and fresh towels.

There are plenty of beach chairs and towels by the lagoons, but if you prefer a more exclusive experience, you can upgrade to a private cabana.

Mask and snorkels are provided.