LivingTravelSwim with dolphins at SeaWorld's Discovery Cove

Swim with dolphins at SeaWorld's Discovery Cove

SeaWorld is about connecting humans with marine life. At Discovery Cove, SeaWorld’s exclusive, limited-admission sister park, visitors can really connect. All guests are guaranteed time to hang out with dolphins, rays, exotic birds, and other creatures. But the exclusivity of Discovery Cove comes with a high price of admission.

Part water park, part SeaWorld attraction, part hands-on, real-life adventure, Discovery Cove offers a unique respite from the typical theme park frenzy. With a daily attendance limited to 1,000, guests can snorkel the simulated coral reef, float around the tropical river, and explore the lush 33-acre park without being elbowed or waiting in line. Groups of no more than six swim and play with the dolphins, ensuring guests quality one-on-one time with the animals.

Although it may sound like an oxymoronic phrase, Discovery Cove is a boutique theme park experience. Its amenities and level of service resemble a posh community rather than a bustling park. About four times the going rate for theme park admission, the fee for all this exclusivity is not insignificant.

Even Discovery Cove’s bathrooms are different

You will know that this is not your average day at the theme park as soon as you arrive at Discovery Cove. Stepping away from the crowds lining up at SeaWorld’s entrance plaza across the street, guests can choose either valet parking or self-parking in the relatively cozy lot. They check into a spacious welcome center that resembles the lobby of a luxury hotel.

Well-equipped bathrooms outside the welcome center include individual cloth hand towels. Within the park, the restrooms double as changing rooms and include showers, oversized terry towels, hairdryers, and other features you can expect to find in a luxurious spa.

The “adventure guides” guide guests from the welcome center on a nature walk where they can meet sloths, anteaters and other land animals. The guides also provide a plan of the land and show guests the cabins to which they will inform the allotted times for the dolphin swim.

It’s about the dolphins

Clearly, the dolphins are the star attraction here. Three lagoons can accommodate four “pods” of six guests, three trainers and the dolphins. Each group of guests spends approximately 30 minutes petting the dolphins, learning hand signals, being dragged by the animals’ dorsal fins, and frolicking with the friendly creatures. (If you like it, you could even get a “kiss” from one of the dolphins). Similar shows in Key West, Hawaii, and elsewhere are popular, but none are quite as elaborate as the one at Discovery Cove.

Guests can jump into another pool and swim with stingrays. (Handlers at Discovery Cove routinely cut off animal stingers, so you have nothing to fear beyond the slimy exterior of the stingrays.) There is also an aviary with 300 exotic birds. Some eat from the hands of the guests. Guests can walk to the aviary or swim in the river. The waterfalls on either side of the river inlets keep the birds in.

Discovery Cove main features

  • The highlight, of course, is the dolphin experience.
  • The simulated coral reef, with its explosion of tropical fish and colorful grottoes, is another highlight.
  • The lush landscape of the Wind-Away River takes the concept of a lazy river to a whole new level.
  • A large aviary allows for many interactive opportunities with colorful birds.
  • Although they aren’t as intriguing as dolphins, it’s fun to have fun with the ancient creatures at Stingray Shallows.
  • The Grand Reef is teeming with marine life and is another great place to explore.
  • Virtually everything is included in admission to Discovery Cove, but the park offers a few additional experiences for additional fees. These include: SeaVenture, an underwater tour of the Great Reef made possible by the use of modified diving helmets; Animal Trek’s 90-minute private tours offer behind-the-scenes looks and up-close encounters with the park’s birds and land animals; a shark swim experience for especially adventurous guests; an opportunity to feed the stingrays; and an exclusive experience that follows a dolphin trainer for a day.

What is there to eat?

Get a ton of this – all food and drink is included with general admission to Discovery Cove. That includes all-you-can-eat servings for breakfast and lunch. The park offers hot and cold dishes for breakfast, served cafeteria style. For lunch, visitors can choose main dishes such as fish or chicken, burgers, salads, and more. Tantalizing desserts like the cheery cheesecake top off the meal.

If you’ve ever dreamed of getting unlimited recharges on an Icee machine, Discovery Cove would fulfill your wish. You can also try cookies, fruits, and other treats to eat between meals. In addition to soft drinks, adults can drink alcoholic beverages, all at no additional charge.

Admission policy

The all-inclusive price includes swimming and snorkeling gear, lockers, sunscreen, towels, and pretty much everything you need to enjoy a day in the park. It also includes unlimited meals. As described above, Discovery Cove offers premium experiences, but the included activities could easily fill a day of fun.

In addition to complementary experiences, you could look for private cabanas, including relaxing lounge chairs and hammocks, private lockers, and a host who acts as a butler and concierge.

Advance reservations are required. Popular times fill up, often weeks in advance, so make your plans ahead of time. Dolphin swim passes are available at a reduced price. Discovery Cove is not included with admission to the adjacent Aquatica or SeaWorld Orlando water park; however, all Discovery Cove tickets include 14-day passes to SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens Tampa. This is a great value for visitors planning to visit all four parks. Children and adults pay the same price. Ages 2 and under are free.

Essential information

Operational program: the park is open all year round. The pools are heated and therefore comfortable on cold winter days. Discovery Cove is open on rainy days. For tropical storms and hurricanes, the park closes and will reschedule or refund tickets.

Location: International Drive in Orlando, Florida, adjacent to SeaWorld Orlando.

Directions: From Orlando: I-4 W to Exit 72, From Tampa: I-4 E to Exit 71.

Staying at the property: The Renaissance Orlando Resort at Sea World is one of the best hotels in Central Florida. Its rooms are unusually large, its decor is eye-catching, and it offers one of the best buffet breakfasts in the area.

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