SeaWorld is all about connecting humans with marine life. At Discovery Cove, SeaWorld's exclusive, limited-admission sister park, visitors can get really connected. Every guest is guaranteed hang time with dolphins, stingrays, exotic birds, and other creatures. But Discovery Cove's exclusivity comes with a steep admission price.
Part water park, part SeaWorld attraction, part hands-on, real-life adventure, Discovery Cove offers a unique respite from the typical theme park frenzy.
With daily attendance capped at 1000, guests are free to snorkel in the simulated coral reef, float around the tropical river, and explore the lush 33-acre park without being elbowed or waiting in any lines. Groups of no more than six swim and play with the dolphins, ensuring guests one-on-one quality time with the animals.
Discovery Cove's amenities and level of service resemble a posh resort more than a theme park. At about four times the going rate for theme park admission, the fee for all of this exclusivity is not insignificant.
Even Discovery Cove's Bathrooms Are Different
You'll know that this is not your average day in the theme park as soon as you pull into Discovery Cove. Veering away from the throngs queuing at SeaWorld's entrance plaza across the street, guests can choose valet parking or self-parking in the relatively cozy lot. They register in a spacious welcome center that looks like an upscale hotel lobby.
Well-appointed bathrooms off the welcome center include individual cloth hand towels. Inside the park, the bathrooms double as locker rooms and include stall showers, oversized terry towels, blow dryers and other features you might expect to find in a fancy spa.
"Adventure guides" lead guests from the welcome center through a nature walk where they might encounter sloths, anteaters, and other land animals.
The guides also provide a lay of the land and show guests the cabanas to which they will report at their assigned times for the dolphin swim.
It's All About the Dolphins
Clearly, dolphins are the star attraction here. Three lagoons each accommodate four "pods" of six guests, three trainers, and the dolphins. Each group of guests spends approximately 30 minutes petting the dolphins, learning hand signals, being pulled by the animals' dorsal fins and cavorting with the friendly creatures. Similar programs in Key West, Hawaii, and other locations are popular but none are as elaborate as Discovery Cove's.
Guests can also jump into a pool and swim with stingrays. (Discovery Cove handlers routinely clip the animals' stingers, so you'll have nothing to fear beyond the stingrays' slimy exteriors.) There is also an aviary with 300 exotic birds. Some eat out of guest's hands. Guests can walk into the aviary or swim in via the river. Waterfalls at either end of the river entrances keep the birds inside.
The all-inclusive price includes swim and snorkel gear, lockers, and a 14-day pass to SeaWorld or Busch Gardens. It also includes a full-course meal with dishes like chicken pesto and fajitas. The only upcharges are swanky doodads from the gift shop and personalized photos and videos of guests' dolphin experiences.
Advance reservations are required. Popular times fill up, often weeks in advance, so make your plans early. The all-inclusive ticket price includes admission, parking, breakfast, lunch, drinks, snacks, and wetsuit and mask usage. Reduced price non-dolphin swim passes are available. Discovery Cove requires separate admission from the adjacent Aquatica water park and SeaWorld Orlando; however, the ticket price includes a 14-day pass to either SeaWorld Orlando Busch Gardens Tampa or Aquatica. Children and adults pay the same price. Ages 2 and under are free.
Check for dates and availability. Buy direct from SeaWorld Orlando.
List of Key Features
- The highlight, of course, is the dolphin experience.
- The simulated coral reef, with its explosion of tropical fish and colorful grottos, is another highlight.
- Wind-away River- Its lush landscaping takes the concept of a lazy river to a whole new level.
- A huge aviary allows lots of interactive opportunities with colorful birds.
- Stingray Shallows- Although they are not nearly as intriguing as dolphins, it's nonetheless fun to cavort with stingrays.
- The Grand Reef- Another reef teeming with marine life.
The Renaissance Orlando Resort at Sea World is one of Central Florida's finest hotels. Its rooms are unusually large, its decor is striking, and it offers one of the best breakfast buffets in the area.
Operating Schedule: The park is open year round. The pools are heated and are therefore comfortable on cool winter days. Discovery Cove opens on rainy days. For tropical storms and hurricanes, the park closes and will reschedule or refund tickets.
Location: International Drive in Orlando, Florida, adjacent to SeaWorld Orlando.
Directions: From Orlando: I-4 W to Exit 72, From Tampa: I-4 E to Exit 71.