Imagine the sand at your feet while swinging in a hammock overlooking a lagoon where dolphins are playing. A cabana host brings a dry towel and refreshing cocktail as you recount the dozens of varieties of fish observed while snorkeling. After enjoying a delicious lunch, you plan to watch the Asian small-clawed otters frolic while gently floating in the warm water. You may be thinking this scene takes place in the Bahamas or Hawaii, but this happens every day at Discovery Cove in Orlando.
Discovery Cove has the feeling of a secluded island but is nestled conveniently near other Orlando-area attractions. It is an all-inclusive day resort where guests enjoy one-of-a-kind animal encounters in a lush, tropical setting.
Sometimes a trip to Orlando can feel more like work than relaxation with the burden of planning, packing and preparing for exhausting days and long lines. Discovery Cove is worlds apart from that experience. They limit daily capacity, so guests never have to fight crowds. All you need to bring is a bathing suit and ID—the rest is provided so that families can enjoy a worry-free and relaxing day. Admission covers everything, including animal-safe sunscreen, snorkel gear, wet suits, towels, lockers, beach chairs and parking. Breakfast, lunch and snacks are also included, along with unlimited beverages—even a selection of beer and wine for adults (premium cocktails are available for a small upgrade).
The real highlights at Discovery Cove are the tropical reefs, winding rivers and animal immersion experiences. The pinnacle of a day at Discovery Cove is visiting with the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins during a memorable encounter. Guests touch, connect and interact with two of the forty dolphins at the resort, then enjoy a memorable glide, pulled by one of these majestic sea creatures. The entire experience is guided by a zoological professional, who shares important information about dolphins, displays some of the animal’s impressive behaviors (like “talking” and jumping) and answers any questions guests may have.
The Grand Reef is an area inspired by reefs from around the world and is filled with unique varieties of sea life. Younger guests can choose to stay in the shallow end while the more adventurous can don snorkel gear and swim through the deeper areas. Along the way, there are surprises to discover, like sharks and eels, behind underwater viewing windows. It is an exhilarating experience to swim through a school of fish and then reach out to gently touch a stingray as it passes by just inches away. Professional aquarists are close by to ensure guests know how to safely interact with the wildlife.
Wind-Away River is unlike any lazy river guests have encountered before. It gently flows past white sand beaches, through rocky lagoons, under waterfalls and through dense tropical forests in a relaxing journey around the resort. Guests can exit the comfortable 85-degree freshwater at multiple points and even stop along the journey to visit Explorer’s Aviary. The aviary is home to more than 250 exotic birds that guests can hand-feed for a memorable experience.
Nearby, the Freshwater Oasis features face-to-face encounters with playful otters. A clear protective barrier allows guests to swim beside the otters. Another popular spot in the oasis is the home of a family of marmoset monkeys. Zoological professionals offer sessions throughout the day to learn more about these curious creatures. There is even a shallow end with lounge chairs in the water, proving a relaxing place to cool off on a hot day.
Additional upgrade experiences are available for an extra charge, including SeaVenture, a shark swim and ray feeding.
SeaVenture is a unique underwater walking tour of the reef floor. Guests wear an innovative dive helmet that allows them to breathe normally underwater. Tropical fish and rays swim past as the guides convey fun facts. Visitors get to walk past sharks (which are behind a clear, viewing window) and even touch unique sea life. The adventure culminates with a special feeding, as schools of fish gather around.
With the shark swim upgrade, guests enter the shark habitat for an intimate training session with more than twenty sharks. Enjoy a deep-water, free swim alongside blacktip reef, nurse, zebra and bonnethead sharks.
The ray feeding option allows participants to help feed a variety of rays from the cownose rays to the impressively large southern rays. The session includes educational hands-on opportunities with the sea creatures that call the reef home.
For guests who want hands-on interactions with land animals, the resort offers Animal Trek and Flamingo Mingle for a small extra charge. With Animal Trek, guests have a private 30-minute tour with an animal expert to meet birds and small mammals. Possible encounters could include an anteater, armadillo, kinkajou, macaw or sloth. Flamingo Mingle allows guests to meet, mingle with and help feed a flock of Caribbean flamingos.
Another favorite upgrade is to rent a cabana for the day. Cabanas are tucked away behind foliage to offer maximum privacy and a shady place to relax throughout the day. All include ample shade, chaise lounges, chairs, a table, a spacious locker, a stocked mini-fridge and snack bar. Elite and VIP cabanas come with additional perks such as hammocks, a photo package, private animal encounters and more. With a VIP cabana, you’ll be assigned a host to check on your needs throughout the day. It’s like having your own luxury oasis in the middle of paradise.
A day at Discovery Cove is a truly unforgettable experience. Some encounters do have age restrictions, and all require advanced reservations, so plan ahead for a memorable family day. DiscoveryCove.com
Extend Your Vacation
If you want to continue the fun, it's easy to add additional days at Discovery Cove’s “sister” parks. As of press time, you can add a day at both SeaWorld® and Aquatica® for just thirty dollars more, and a day at Busch Gardens® for only an additional twenty dollars on top of that. It’s a small upgrade to stretch your day at Discovery Cove® into a longer lasting vacation.
SeaWorld places an emphasis on conservation, education and animal protection, while providing memorable experiences for all ages. SeaWorld is best known for their educational animal presentations, thrill rides and Sesame Street Land™.
Aquatica is SeaWorld’s waterpark, filled with water slides, splash areas, pools, a lazy river and more.
At Busch Gardens, visitors can experience thrilling coasters and rides for the whole family. They also have more than 200 species of animals, a safari and more.