Not so much a park as a high-quality resort in a South Seas setting and with great personal service and animal encounters. Discovery Cove opened in 2000 and caters for just 1,300 guests a day in its exclusive environment, and you really need to book well in advance at peak periods. It provides breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks (both soft and alcoholic) as part of the entry fee, and also a free 2-week pass for both SeaWorld and Aquatica, making it surprisingly good value for a day out.
What not to Miss
This is the signature experience at Discovery Cove and, although you can book a visit without the Dolphin Swim, you’ll be missing out on a wonderful opportunity to get up close with the park’s dolphins, swim with them, give them a stroke and even a kiss (!), and generally hang out with these amazing creatures. It lasts about an hour, with a 30 minute pre-swim briefing and 30 minutes in the water, and a park photographer is on hand to capture every moment.
While the dolphins are the stars of the show, there are plenty of other animals to look out for. The Grand Reef provides a memorable opportunity to swim and snorkel with an amazing variety of fish and rays (totally safely) and it’s easy to spend an hour or more among them.
The walk-through aviary offers the chance to meet and feed a variety of birds while the Freshwater Oasis allows close-up views of a family of otters and the park’s comical marmosets.
While it might be easy to miss them, as they are right at the back of the park, the three aviary areas are well worth spending time in, as you get to meet the bird keepers, learn about the different species and get small cups of food to attract the many different inhabitants. It provides some great photo opportunities, while you can also snorkel right through the main aviary, as it is part of Wind-away River.
The whole park is really a superb ‘relaxation zone’ – a holiday from your holiday, if you like – but the blissful beach area is totally laid back, as is the Wind-away River, where you can float and drift to your heart’s content. There are several bars where you can sit back and relax with a drink and even an area with chairs set IN a backwater pool where you can literally chill out. Private cabanas are available for an additional fee.
Animal Encounters (Part 2):
One extra opportunity (for an additional fee, and worth every cent) is the unique SeaVenture experience, where you don a special diving helmet for an underwater walking tour in the Grand Reef. Here, you can see more of the Reef’s inhabitants (including the sharks behind a big plexiglass wall), explore the reef floor, meet some other inhabitants like a hermit crab and a lobster, and stand among a fish feeding frenzy as one of the guide divers doles out some treats!
There have been two significant expansions at Discovery Cove, with the massive Grand Reef replacing the original, smaller, Coral Reef, and the Freshwater Oasis being added, which provides walking and wading trails through the rainforest habitats for the otters and marmosets, with great views of both.
The more still you can be while floating and snorkelling in the Grand Reef, the more likely the fish are to get close to you. There are some large stingrays lurking in the deeper parts of the Reef but they are totally harmless. Be aware the Reef is kept at sea temperature (around 24C), which can seem chilly after the Freshwater Oasis and Wind-away River, which are heated to 30C. The dolphin lagoon is kept at 22C.
Trainer For A Day
This separately-priced programme is a chance to experience the park behind the scenes as well as a regular guest. In addition to the meals, amenities and Dolphin Swim, you get to shadow one of the trainers for the day and enjoy an enhanced deep-water interaction with dolphins, including a private photo session and dynamic behaviours such as the “double-foot push,” in which the guest is pushed through the water by 2 dolphins. You can also feed the tropical fish in the Grand Reef and have special meet-and-greets with some of the birds and small mammals. Participants must be 6 or older and under 13s must be accompanied by a fare-paying adult.
Special Occasion Packages
For things like romantic anniversaries, birthdays or even marriage proposals, Discovery Cove can arrange various enhancements with the aid of the park’s dolphins. Choose from a Celebration, Elite or VIP Package and enjoy different experiences, including having a special message delivered to your loved one by a dolphin!
Estimated Visit Time
Discovery Cove: A full day (from 8am-5.30pm).
You are not allowed to use your own suncream at Discovery Cove, hence the park provides its own animal-friendly version free of charge. You can also take advantage of wetsuits (either full or half) and floatation vests, while other included accessories are a mask and snorkel (you get to keep the snorkel), towels and shower amenities.
Breakfast and lunch are provided at the Laguna Grill and lunch is the one time you might find a bit of a queue from around 12.30-1pm. It can also get crowded if any bad weather threatens, as most people flock here to get away from any thundery showers.