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discovery cove

Miranda posing under water


This spring we had an opportunity to visit Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida.  Before this, I had no idea places like this existed. This park is by reservation only and they only take 1,300 reservations per day.  The crowds are small, the service is awesome, and the attractions are amazing.

After checking in we had a quick snack before meeting Kaylee, the dolphin.  The food was ok.  The nightmare was all the wild birds trying to take your food from you.  Although they were beautiful and I enjoyed looking at them, they were extremely aggressive and would pull food right off your plate while you were sitting right there.  Everyone thought they were annoying.


Kaylee is an atlantic bottlenose dolphin.  We spent a while playing with her and learning about her.  She even gave us each a ride through the water.

Miranda, Matthew, and Kaylee

Miranda, Matthew, and Kaylee

After the trip Matt was telling me about wanting to let his class at school know all about the dolphin facts he learned.  He now knows the patterns at the back of the dorsal fin and the patterns at the end of the tail are unique to each dolphin.  He knows they are light on the bottom so they blend in with the sky better when viewed by predators from below.

We all enjoyed our time with Kaylee.


A huge southern ray sneaking up on Miranda

A huge southern ray sneaking up on Miranda

Discovery Cove has an awesome attraction named The Grand Reef.  It’s a large salt water area done up like an ocean reef and stocked with lots of tropical fish and rays.  As you snorkel you can find yourself surrounded by beautiful fish or petting a ray.

Miranda petting a cownose ray

Miranda petting a cownose ray

They have dozens of cownose rays, southern rays, spotted eagle rays, and bluntnose rays. The rays tend to be very friendly and will brush right up against you.  Many of them seem to enjoy being stroked.

There are thousands of tropical fish, including angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasses and tangs as well as larger, unusual looking hogfish and filefish.

At one point I dove to the bottom passing through a dense school of fish.  When I looked around I noticed they were swimming in a tight circle around me.  It was quite the view.

Holly and Matt looking into the shark tank

Holly and Matt looking into the shark tank

The Grand Reef also includes tanks of more dangerous fish such as sharks and eels separated from the swimming area by glass. You can see them while snorkeling as though they were swimming with you.

While The Grand Reef water is heated, it’s not terribly warm.  They need to keep it at a temperature good for the fish.  However, with the provided wet suit vest I found it quite comfortable.

A spotted eagle ray and a southern ray swimming under Miranda

A spotted eagle ray (background) and a southern ray (foreground) swimming under Miranda

The aviary at Discovery Cove has many beautiful tropical birds you can feed right from your hands.  Miranda was very good at getting them to sit on her hands while eating, but Matthew also had a chance to feed some of them.  I saw one woman feeding a bird that had landed on her head.

Unfortunately, we didn’t think to buy one of the waterproof, disposable cameras available in the gift shop until late in the day, so I don’t have any photos I took of anything other than The Grand Reef.  Here are some stock photos from Discovery Cove.  You can scroll through them by clicking the tiny arrow on the right side of the image.

Stock photo - Marmosets

Stock photo – Marmosets

There are a couple of lazy rivers at Discovery Cove.  One is the laziest lazy river I’ve ever seen.  You could barely tell the water was moving at all.  However, it had the advantage of flowing by the marmoset island and otter tank.  The otters were curled up in a ball sleeping when we swam by.  I like that the separate tanks, such as the otter tank, shark tank, etc. are designed to appear to be an extension of the area you are in.  Yes, you can tell there is a big glass wall there, but there is continuity.  For example, the water level is the same inside and out. The eel tank is entirely below the water line and just looks like a cave.  At the otter tank there is a downed tree that starts in the river and extends into the tank.  If you look at it, you’ll see that it is clearly cut through by the glass, but if you don’t choose to look for that it adds to the feeling that you are with the animals.

The other river flowed through the aviary and a large cave and under a waterfall. We had our masks on while travelling down this river and we discovered all sorts of treasures on the bottom.  For example, we found a large dinosaur “fossil”, a vase, a cannon, etc.

Stock photo - Wind-away River

Stock photo – Wind-away River

There are beaches with sun bathing chairs.  There is a lagoon with chairs in the shallow water.  We didn’t really use either of those for any length of time since we were much more interested in the other attractions.

There is an extra attraction you can pay for separately called SeaVenture which involves walking for 25 minutes under the water on the floor of The Grand Reef wearing a breathing helmet.  Matt was much too young and we had spent enough money already so we skipped that.

Stock photo - tortoise

Stock photo – tortoise

In addition to awesome attractions, there was something else that set this park apart. It is an all-inclusive, first-class park.  When we approached the entrance a man greeted us and took us to the woman who was going to check us in.  We didn’t wait in a line.  After checking us in she pointed us to a man who would guide us into the park.  Once in the park we were approached by a woman who explained the various attractions and the layout of the park.  She guided us to the people who would pick out our wet suits for us.  Those people had a good eye and knew what size we needed just by looking at us.  They guided us to the changing rooms and lockers. The whole day was like that.  There was always someone handy to point us to the next thing we wanted to do.  They all had a smile.  Even the people sweeping the sand off the pathways or cleaning the bathrooms were friendly and helpful and always looking for a way to improve our visit.

Cownose ray

Cownose ray

Everything we needed was included. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks, adult beverages, masks, snorkels, wet suits, towels, sunscreen, showers, shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. were all free for the taking as we needed and without limit.  They even had prescription masks for people like me.  And that’s another thing.  The masks are magic.  I don’t know how else to describe them.  They have two sizes, adult and child. My six year old son and eleven year old daughter used the same size mask and it worked great on both.  My mask didn’t leak even though I have a mustache.  I watched huge hulking men and tiny women wearing the same “adult” sized mask.  I never once saw anyone fighting with their mask or dumping out water that had leaked in.

Stock photo – Discovery Cove sign

When we were leaving we passed the dive shop and I noticed that they were only charging $70 for the full wet suits.  That surprised me so I mentioned it to Holly and she ran in to check the price of the masks. They were only $16 each so she grabbed four. I would have expected them to gouge us on the price.  I’m used to spending $3.50 for a bottle of water at an amusement park.

This was a great day and I recommend it to anyone willing to pay the price.  They do have a way to mitigate the price.  For an extra $20 per person you can get unlimited tickets to SeaWorld, Bush Gardens, and Aquatica for use during a 14-day window.  Your Discovery Cove reservation must be within that 14-day window and the window starts the first time you use one of the tickets.  During that window, I believe, you can visit SeaWorld, Bush Gardens, and Aquatica as many times as you wish. Dividing the price across four parks brings it down from insanely expensive to just expensive.

Stock photo - Dolphins jumping

Stock photo – Dolphins jumping

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