Last week we took Maggie on a special 10th birthday getaway to Orlando. It was just me, her and Tom. The 3 of us haven’t been on a trip, just us, since she was an “only child” and that ended when she was 18 months old. I’ll share more about the trip soon but so many people have asked about the Discovery Cove portion of the trip (I shared some of that on Instagram). Since many people said they might want to try it out for Spring Break, I wanted to get the post done ASAP. So here we go: all you need to know about visiting Discovery Cove Orlando.
How I found Discovery Cove: ALL Maggie has wanted to do for years and years now is swim with a dolphin. Since I am 8 months pregnant, I was trying to fond somewhere that was not too far to fly to and domestic. I stumbled upon Discovery Cove in many travel reviews when searching.
Besides knowing it was a spot she could swim with dolphins, it wasn’t easy to figure out exactly what the place and day would look like. So I’m hoping this detailed recap helps you out if you are interested in visiting but wanted a little more info.
Planning a Trip to Discovery Cove Orlando
Before you go to Discovery Cove:
- When booking, make sure to take note to the age requirements for certain activities. For some add ons you have to be 6+ and some 10+.
- We did the signature swim with dolphins package. This includes the day at Discovery Cove plus swimming with dolphins. This was perfect for us and with just this one add on (dolphins) and all that is included in the base package, we didn’t run out of things to do and we were there from opening to closing. If you are doing more than 1 day there, then maybe look into other add ons, but know that you really get A LOT with the base package + swimming with the dolphins.
- Look for sales and deals! If you’re thinking about going sign up for their emails. I had almost booked and got distracted… the next day had an email for their Black Friday sale which was HUGE. We saved $280 for our 3 tickets in the sale/with the code.
- Is it worth the $? With no sale, the entry with swimming with dolphins is $199. I think it’s very much worth the cost if you are looking for somewhere nice to swim with dolphins. Some of the other places I looked into were similar prices for just swimming with dolphins and the “all-inclusive” day at Discovery Cove includes SO much… See below for what’s included in the day..
What’s Included in the “All-Inclusive” Day at Discovery Cove:
- Food and Drinks: I was really surprised by how much was included as far as food & drinks. When you arrive, you go into a cool little restaurant and get breakfast. There was lots to choose from and the food was great (tons of fruit too!). There was coffee, oj, other drinks etc. You sit outside and feel like you are really on vacation. The lunch had even more options! Again, lots of fruit, salads, etc. Then, throughout the day you could visit any of the bar areas for beer, wine, soft drinks, lemonade, water and snacks. There were soft pretzels, fresh baked cookies, ice cream and bagged snacks. Again, all included. So when considering the cost, think about how much you would normally spend on breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks in a day at a resort (or Orlando theme park) for you and your kids (makes the price seem a lot better, right?!)
- Facilities: There are showers, changing rooms, lockers, towels for the beach and shower, sunscreen, shampoo/conditioner/etc. Basically you don’t have to bring anything but your swimsuit and clothes. I was pretty nervous about this going into it because we actually had to go directly from Discovery Cove to the airport on our last day. But when we were all done for the day and it was time to get ready for our flight, I felt totally comfortable getting ready at Discovery Dove (same as if I was at a hotel).
- Gear: All gear for the day is included too. There is snorkeling gear for adults and kids at each spot to swim. You can pick a shorts wetsuit, long pants wetsuit or a vest. Important to note: you HAVE to wear one of the 3 while in most places. If your kids (or you) don’t want a wetsuit, the vest is an easy option. They have all sizes… even a vest big enough to fit me, very pregnant!
- SO MUCH adventure, swimming and interacting with wildlife. Honestly, don’t feel like you need a ton of upgrades to meet the animals/ interact with them. My little animal lover was in heaven and never felt like there were any areas of Discovery Cove that were not accessible because we didn’t purchase more upgrades.
Discovery Cove: The Activities, Animals and Sea Life: What our day looked like
I figure the easiest way to understand what’s included as far as animals and activities, I’d share our day. Again, we got the Signature Dolphin Package.
- Arrived and checked in. You wait in line at the entrance and go through security. You can’t being in ANYTHING glass (even a mirror). During check in you get your time assignment for swimming with dolphins. You can start checking in at 7:30AM and they fill the time slots first come, first serve. We arrived around 8:30 and got a 10:45 dolphin swim assignment.
- Once checked in, we had breakfast and then went to the locker rooms to get changed and collected our gear (vests, snorkeling gear and towels).
- Maggie was super eager to get in the water so we went right to the Grand Reef. Right away, Maggie was swimming with tons of sting rays and beautiful fish of all sizes. There were employees throughout the reef to answer questions (they were awesome to talk to) but you could swim around at your leisure. Much of the reef you can stand but some areas are deep for swimming. I couldn’t believe how many beautiful things there were to see. This is a GREAT place to teach your kids to snorkel. Since it’s not a real ocean, there is no current or dangers and you don’t have to look far to see things. You could literally tell them to float in one spot, practice breathing with the snorkel and they’ll see plenty of fish/ rays. The reef was clean and all of the sea life seemed very well taken care of.
- Next it was time to check in for our dolphin swim. You check in at a “dolphin hut” where you get to meet the trainers you’ll be with and the rest of your group. The groups are about 6-9 people. Ours was us (3) and one other family of 6. You learn about safety, what you’ll get to do during your swim, ask questions, etc. Then you head over to meet the dolphins. Again, the area was super clean and the dolphins seemed very loved and well taken care of (with plenty of space to swim). You really get to learn about your dolphin and interact. It was truly an amazing experience and Maggie said it was “the best day of her life”.
- For safety, you can’t bring anything into the dolphin area, so no go-pro, camera etc. Also for safety, you can’t keep getting in and out of the water. There is a photographer IN the water (more details on that below) but if you really want your own photos/ videos, you’d have to have someone in your group be the designated person on shore.
- After the dolphin swim we grabbed a snack, relaxed for a few minutes on the lounge chairs and decided what to do next…
- We went to the Wind Away River next. This fresh water lazy river is awesome. It’s super warm (which was nice because it was a little chilly the day we went!. You grab a float and wind around the water ways. There’s lots to see along the way. It’s a long route and probably took us about 45 min to go around (we were enjoying it and taking our time). There’s a spot you can see otters (behind glass, my daughter thought she was going to basically swim while hugging an otter… not the case!). There’s a little island in the middle of the river, at one point, with monkeys to see and you also pass the bird sanctuary so you can spot some beautiful birds flying overhead. There are also waterfalls and a really pretty lagoon to swim around.
- Next we dried off and went to lunch.
- After lunch, dad took a relaxing nap on the lounge chairs and I took Maggie to Explorer’s Aviary. Here there are various “rooms” (all outdoors but separated by bird size/species) of birds. There are awesome employees that teach the kids about the different birds and give them food to feed the birds if they want. There were so many to see and they loved landing on your arm to get a snack! Maggie loves birds, so this was a blast for her.
- On our walk back, Maggie stopped in a gift shop to browse and grabbed a lemonade and soft pretzel to enjoy on the beach.
- At this point we had about another hour to enjoy and Maggie chose to go back to the Grand Reef. We spent even more time swimming with the sting rays and fish and it was honestly hard to leave when the time came!
- We got ready in the locker rooms and went to pick up our dolphin swim photos before we left. It was really a GREAT day!
Two Things to Consider: I want this to be the most honest review possible (since it was hard for me to decide whether or not to go and hard to find info before I went!)…
- Crowds: the day we went, the lady who checked us in, said it was “not a crowded day at all”. This is important to note, because while we had an amazing day, I can’t say what it would be like crowded. If crowds don’t bother you (I mean it is Orlando!) go any time. If you’re like me and can’t imagine swimming/snorkeling in a reef with a ton of people… definitely research a good time to go and maybe call and ask. One thing that I think made our day so relaxing and enjoyable was that there were not a lot of people there.
- Photos: When budgeting the day, if swimming with the dolphins is an important part of it, consider the cost of the photos. As I noted above, you can’t really get great photos yourself while your family swims with the dolphins and the ones Discovery Cove gets are really awesome… but expensive. If you look on the site, you can see all the prices (and there are some discounts for purchasing in advance). If you have a group of you swimming, the digital only package that comes with all the photos is good. There were also a bunch of things not listed online that were less expensive – Maggie wanted a keychain and that was $12. As a member of the press, I was given all of my photos (but paid for everything else that day and was not compensated in any other way for this post).
Overall I would highly recommend visiting Discovery Cove while in Orlando. It was a really unique experience and a dream come true for my dolphin, sea life loving little girl. Enjoy!
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