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September 15, 2016

Discovery Cove deal gives Florida residents more time at SeaWorld and Aquatica

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This week, Discovery Cove announced the return of one of its best Florida resident deals. My family and I took advantage of this offer several years ago, and we definitely recommend it.

Through the end of the year, Florida residents can book the Dolphin Swim for $219 per person. That's a great deal, considering that during peak times, such as the summer, visitors from out of state pay as much as $339 per person. What also makes this Florida-resident deal so sweet is that it includes unlimited admission to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica water park through Jan. 31, 2017, after your day at Discovery Cove.

We spent our day at Discovery Cove in late September for our children's birthdays and then had four months to enjoy Aquatica and SeaWorld. This deal is a great way for locals to sample all the SeaWorld Orlando parks. Plus, the crowds are light, for the most part, which makes each experience all the more enjoyable. We were a little chilly swimming in January, but that didn't stop my then-8-year-old and 10-year-old from diving right in and having a blast, that's for sure!

Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive park, which means your ticket provides breakfast and lunch plus unlimited snacks, drinks and alcoholic beverages; wetsuit and equipment for snorkeling; and lockers, towels and sunscreen. Discovery Cove only admits 1,300 guests per day, so the park is never overcrowded.

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Guests wade with stingrays (that have been debarbed), snorkel among exotic fish in a saltwater lagoon, feed tropical birds in a free-flight aviary, float down a lazy river and relax on white-sand beaches. The highlight of the day for many is, of course, a 30-minute interaction with dolphins that includes holding onto the dolphin's dorsal fin for a short swim. (Florida residents who do not want to participate in the dolphin interaction can purchase a Resort Day pass for $149 and get the current deal with SeaWorld and Aquatica.)

Aquatica

SeaWorld's Aquatica water park is themed to feature sea animals, of course, and its centerpiece attractions are Dolphin Plunge, which takes riders through a tank of black-and-white Commerson's dolphins, and Ihu’s Breakaway Falls, which drops riders into a water slide after the bottom falls away. There are a variety of tubes and slides, two family raft rides, a lazy river, body-surfing rapids, and two separate kids' play areas. As with SeaWorld, there is an all-day dining option in one of the three restaurants. (You can read more in my review of Aquatica.)

SeaWorld Orlando

At SeaWorld, visitors can see a signature Shamu show, feed a dolphin, pet a stingray, brave some monster roller coasters or play in the kids' area all in a day at the Orlando theme park. The newest attraction, Mako, opened in June and is the tallest, longest and faster coaster in Orlando.

Florida residents who opt for the Discovery Cove deal also can experience Halloween parties that include trick-or-treating and Christmas celebrations with amazing decorations and special shows at SeaWorld at no additional charge. This definitely is another selling point because Disney World and Universal Orlando both require separate tickets for holiday events.

Perhaps the only downside to the Discovery Cove deal is that parking is not included for SeaWorld or Aquatica. But the $20 or $15 charge, respectively, is a small price to pay for all you're getting.



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February 12, 2015

Tips for maximizing your day at SeaWorld Orlando's Discovery Cove

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With the many amazing experiences theme parks in Orlando offer, it would be difficult to pick a single favorite place. But SeaWorld Orlando's Discovery Cove is among our family's top picks because of the unique and relaxing day it provides guests.

In my previous blog, I wrote about the park's signature Dolphin Swim Package. Although that certainly is one of the main attractions for many visitors to Discovery Cove, we also enjoy that there is enough to do at this park to fill a day for even the most active family.

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Reservations and pricing

First, know that Discovery Cove is not inexpensive. It is priced more like a resort than a theme park: Prices vary based on seasons and can increase as the date approaches. The current Florida resident special is $219 per person, and admission is more for out-of-town visitors, especially in the summer. Guests who do not want to swim with dolphins can purchase a Day Resort Package, which covers everything except the actual dolphin interaction, at a discounted price.

However, part of the appeal of Discovery Cove is that it is not crowded. Although officials won't give an attendance number, it's commonly thought that only about 1,000 guests are admitted each day. For these reasons, it is recommended that you book your reservations in advance. (Discovery Cove does allow one complimentary rescheduling should that need arise.)

Planning your day

Because you are paying a premium for your day at Discovery Cove, presumably you will want to make the most of it. As basic as this sounds, one way to do this is to know the operating hours: 7:15 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. This is not the day to sleep in! Check-in begins at 7:15 a.m., breakfast service starts at 8 a.m. and the waterways open at 9 a.m. You can take your time exiting the park, however. Guests can swim right up until 5:30 p.m. and still be able to shower, shop at the gift shops and purchase photos. As one team member told me, "We stay open until the last guest leaves." My daughter and I were walking to our car about 6:45 p.m. and never felt rushed. (During colder periods, the park only is open Friday through Monday.)

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What's included

Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive experience. Every admission comes with an all-you-care-to-eat breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks and alcohol for those 21 and older. The meals include hot and cold entrees, as well as healthy and gluten-free options. Breakfast is served from 8 to 10:30 a.m., and lunch is 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. You may go through the serving line as many times as you would like during those times. Snacks and drinks are served at the Beach and Island Bars from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I think my daughter stopped every time we passed a bar for one of the frozen drinks and either a salted pretzel or warm chocolate-chip cookies. It's fun to sit in the water seats (pictured) across from one of the bars, too.

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In addition to food and beverages, your admission includes complimentary parking, the use of a wetsuit (short and long styles are available) and life vests, a locker for the day, samples of sunscreen that is safe for the dolphins, the use of a mask and snorkel (and you keep the snorkel), unlimited towels, changing facilities with complimentary body wash, shampoo, conditioner and the use of a hair dryer, and bags to take home your wet swim suit. (An aside: Prescription-lens masks are available at Guest Services.)

Plus, Discovery Cove guests are given unlimited admission to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica for 14 days after their visit to the day resort.

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Explorers Aviary

So, if you're not eating and drinking or swimming with the dolphins, what can you do at Discovery Cove? My daughter especially loved hand-feeding the birds in the aviary. Team members provide cups of food, and guests can wander through three outdoor areas to entice the friendly birds to perch on the cups. The not-so-shy feathered friends rest on people's arms and even their heads. My daughter thought this was hilarious! We did the feedings twice and found that the birds seemed to approach my daughter more in the morning than the afternoon, perhaps because they were not yet full. There are not set times for feedings; guests may enter the aviary any time between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. There is a hand-washing station at the exit.

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Wind-away River

The Wind-away River is my favorite non-dolphin attraction at Discovery Cove. It's essentially a slow lazy river, but one that doesn't really feel like a man-made attraction. The foliage on the banks is thick and lush, so you can't see the rest of the park, for the most part. Swimmers enter the river through a cave that features waterfalls. At the beginning, you can pick up a "noodle" to use as a float, which I would recommend if you don't have a life vest on and don't want to swim the whole route. There are many spots that are too deep to stand. Also, there are a lot more lifeguards stationed along this lazy river than I have seen at other water parks. See Wind-away River for yourself in this video I shot:

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Freshwater Oasis

In the Freshwater Oasis, swimmers can see otters and marmoset interactions up close as they float or wade by their habitats. The marmosets are located behind a moat, and a team member talks abut the creatures and answers questions. The otters are behind a glass tank, and guests can look through their masks and snorkels under the water or view them above the water's surface. The Freshwater Oasis forms a smaller circle than Wind-away River.

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The Grand Reef

The Grand Reef, which opened in 2011, is the newest addition to Discovery Cove. It covers 2.5 acres where about 125 species of marine life live. The reef is open to swimming and snorkeling, and guests seem to be most impressed by being able to be so close to stingrays whose barbs have been trimmed. The rays we saw were gentle giants, though their quick movement and size startled a few children, including my daughter. The rays allowed guests to touch them, and we even saw some of the babies in a special pen pop up as if seeking out a hand. Snorkelers also can see sharks, which are swimming behind a glass wall.

The Grand Reef also is the location for the Seaventure underwater tour. Guests wear dive helmets so they can walk along the reef floor to see and even touch the marine life. The adventure ends with schools of fish feeding around the divers. The program is about an hour long including orientation; the time underwater is about 25 minutes. Groups are capped at eight people per excursion, and the experience costs an additional $59 per person.

Upgrades

Discovery Cove offers several upgrades to enhance your day. My daughter and I were invited to enjoy one of them, a cabana, on our most recent visit. The cabanas are tucked into the landscaping around the waterways and are very private. Ours opened out onto the Grand Reef. It included a table and four chairs, two chaise lounges, a refrigerator, locker, sand toys, towels and the services of an attendant. Cabanas are priced at $199 for six people for the day and can be reserved up to three weeks before your arrival. It was such a treat for us to experience a cabana, but we didn't have as much time as some families to enjoy it. We wanted to experience all the water aspects of the park and didn't spend much time lounging. I can see cabanas being a good investment for groups that have folks that need shade or aren't interested in being in the water the entire day.

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Other upgrades are the Trainer for a Day program, which is open to ages 6 and older, and special occasion packages that are described at DiscoveryCove.com. (Children ages 6 to 12 must be accompanied by a paid adult participating in the trainer program.)

Most people, including myself, would consider Discovery Cove an expensive experience, but perhaps if you factor in everything that is included and compare that total to what you would spend at another local theme park, it would be more comparable. Either way, Discovery Cove excels in offering unique experiences and animal interactions in an uncrowded tropical setting.

DISCLAIMER: My first visit to Discovery Cove was at my own expense, and I was a media guest for my second visit. This did not affect my review. My opinions are my own.



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February 10, 2015

Swim with dolphins at SeaWorld's Discovery Cove

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Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive theme park in Orlando that is part of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. As far as local theme parks go, it's relatively new, having opened in 2000. (By comparison, SeaWorld is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.) In its short history, though, Discovery Cove has become synonymous with dolphins, and its layout literally is built around guest interactions with dolphins.

Certainly Florida offers many opportunities for visitors to get up close with bottlenose dolphins, but what sets Discovery Cove apart is its dolphin swim. Other locations allow guests to get in the water to pet and feed dolphins, but Discovery Cove makes it possible for guests to hold onto a dolphin's dorsal and pectoral fins and "swim" through the water. For my elementary-school-age daughter, this was a dream come true.

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Here's how it works. When guests check in at Discovery Cove in the morning, they are assigned times and locations for their dolphin interactions, which take place in one of the three pods of Dolphin Lagoon in the center of the park. A few minutes before that time, they are asked to go to the corresponding cabanas for the Sand Dollar, Seahorse and Starfish pods. There they fill out waivers and see a short video presentation about dolphins. A trainer also goes over what happens in the lagoon and answers any questions.

Once that 15-minute segment is completed, the small group of guests heads to the lagoon. Our group had nine participants, two trainers, a photographer and videographer. Talk about feeling special!

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Our trainer talked with us about how and where to touch dolphins before we were introduced to Thelma, an older bottlenose dolphin who is one of the matriarchs at Discovery Cove. Then she appeared and we were able to pet her multiple times, feed her a fish (if we wanted to), and give her some simple hand signals and see her respond. Throughout the interaction, our knowledgeable trainers shared a lot of information about the mammals.

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Then, it was time for the highlight of our 30 minutes with Thelma - the actual swim. Most people chose the deep-water swim, which required us to swim a short distance and tread water for a few seconds next to one of the trainers. When Thelma appeared, the trainer reminded each of us where to put our hands and then we were off! Thelma towed each of us back to where we could stand in the lagoon. She did all the work on the gentle ride. (Participants just hold on; they don't actually have to swim.) If the deep-water swim not something you would like to do, the dolphins will do the same tow in the shallow water so you never have to tread water. Honestly, though, the treading water does not last long at all.

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Throughout the interaction, we posed for photos with Thelma. We each were shown how to "kiss" her for the photographer. Plus Thelma posed (tail up, mouth open in a "smile") for family and individual shots. In addition, the photographer captured stills from each person's swim. And the videographer recorded the entire session. All the images and video are available to purchase as part of a photo package or as a la carte products. Be aware that participants are not allowed to take personal cameras in the water, but other members of your party are welcome to capture images from the shore.

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Things to know before your dolphin swim:

** To participate in the dolphin swim, you must be at least 6 years old. Children ages 6 to 12 must be accompanied by a paying adult who also is participating in the dolphin experience.
** Do not worry about whether the dolphin will be able to pull you. We were told Thelma weighs 600 pounds and can pull more than twice her weight.
** Guests are asked to wear wetsuits, which are complimentary and come in enough sizes to fit everyone.
** Jewelry is restricted to what trainers are permitted to wear: A tight-fitting watch and wedding and engagement rings. Guests are asked to remove earrings, bracelets, necklaces, etc. In my opinion, it's better to just leave those at home, but if you forget, you can always stash them in your complimentary locker.
** You also may wear a hat, glasses or sunglasses. This was of particular concern to me because everyone in my family needs glasses for more than just reading. Know that your head does not go under water at any time during the dolphin interaction - unless you choose to put it there! I wore my prescription sunglasses the entire time and was fine. My daughter chose to wear her glasses out into the water so she could see the trainer during the interaction, but took them off during the swim and photos.
** Dolphin swim times are booked on a first-come, first-served basis. Check-in begins at 7:15 a.m. and the park opens at 8 a.m. so get there early if you'd like your dolphin experience to be early in the day.

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As amazing as the dolphin swim is, that's only a small part of your day at Discovery Cove. My next blog will bring you details about everything else you can do there!

DISCLAIMER: My first visit to Discovery Cove was at my own expense, and I was a media guest for my second visit. This did not affect my review. My opinions are my own.



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September 7, 2013

Discovery Cove deal gives Florida residents more time at SeaWorld and Aquatica

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This week, Discovery Cove announced a Florida-resident deal that really is a great value. My family took advantage of this offer last year, and we think it was worth every penny.

Through the end of the year, Florida residents can book the Dolphin Swim Day for $219 per person. That's about half the price during peak times, such as the summer, when visitors from out of state pay as much as $399 per person. What also makes this Florida-resident deal so sweet is that it includes unlimited admission to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica water park through Jan. 31, 2014, after your day at Discovery Cove.

We spent our day at Discovery Cove in late September for our children's birthdays and then had four months to enjoy Aquatica and SeaWorld. This deal is a great way for locals to sample all the SeaWorld Orlando parks. Plus, the crowds are light, for the most part, which makes each experience all the more enjoyable. We were a little chilly swimming in January, but that didn't stop my 8-year-old and 10-year-old from diving right in and having a blast, that's for sure!

Here's a quick look at what $219 buys:

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Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive park, which means your ticket provides breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks and alcoholic beverages; wetsuit and equipment for snorkeling; and lockers, towels and sunscreen. Discovery Cove only admits 1,300 guests per day, so the park is never overcrowded.

Guests wade with stingrays (that have been debarbed), snorkel among exotic fish in a saltwater lagoon, feed tropical birds in a free-flight aviary, float down a lazy river and relax on white-sand beaches. The highlight of the day for many is, of course, a 30-minute interaction with dolphins that includes holding onto the dolphin's dorsal fin for a short swim. (Florida residents who do not want to participate in the dolphin interaction can purchase a Resort Day pass for $149 and get the current deal with SeaWorld and Aquatica.)

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Aquatica

SeaWorld's Aquatica water park is themed to feature sea animals, of course, and its centerpiece attraction is Dolphin Plunge, which takes riders through a tank of black-and-white Commerson's dolphins. There are a variety of tubes and slides, two family raft rides, a lazy river, body-surfing rapids, and two separate kids' play areas. As with SeaWorld, there is an all-day dining option in one of the three restaurants. (You can read more in my review.)

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SeaWorld Orlando

See SeaWorld's signature Shamu show, feed a dolphin, pet a stingray, brave some monster roller coasters or play in the kids' area all in a day at the Orlando theme park. The newest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, opened in May and features the park's penguins and a ride. The South Pole area also houses a new restaurant, an exclusive Coca-Cola drink, and a gift shop.

Florida residents who opt for the Discovery Cove deal also can experience Halloween parties that include trick-or-treating and Christmas celebrations with amazing decorations and special shows at SeaWorld at no additional charge. This definitely is another selling point because Disney World and Universal Orlando both require separate tickets for holiday events.

Perhaps the only downside to the Discovery Cove deal is that parking is not included for SeaWorld or Aquatica. But the $14 charge is a small price to pay for all you're getting.

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About Discovery Cove

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Discovery Cove category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Destination: Disney Style is the previous category.

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Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.