Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to Discovery Cove. All opinions are my own.
For families looking to swim with dolphins in Florida, spending a day with Discovery Cove in Florida is a great way to do it. Discovery Cove, which is owned by SeaWorld, offers a high-end, all-inclusive resort experience, and guests can choose to swim with dolphins as part of the adventure.
Discovery Cove Resort
Travelers interested in visiting Discovery Cove should visit the website early and make a reservation. Unlike admission to theme parks, admission to Discovery Cove is limited (to a little over 1000 people) and needs to be booked in advance. Choose your dates and experience (with or without swimming with the dolphins), and then you’ll see rates and availability.
Arrive at Discovery Cove as early as possible (check-in starts at 7:30am) to take advantage of the full experience. Parking is free, and there’s also a complimentary shuttle from SeaWorld Orlando. You’ll have a photo taken for your ID badge and will be given your Dolphin experience time at check in. Then, you can head to the lockers and pick up your complimentary rental gear (wetsuit or vest, dolphin-friendly sunscreen, snorkel, and mask).
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style at the Laguna Grill, and are included in the cost of admission. Guests can also get complimentary alcoholic beverages, regular beverages, and snacks throughout the day. The food is pretty average – similar to what you’d get on a cruise ship – but is served quickly and efficiently. Once you’ve eaten and have settled in, you have your choice of activities – from the Explorer’s Aviary, The Grand Reef, Serenity Bay, Wind-away River, and the Freshwater Oasis.
Due to my flight arrival time, I didn’t get to Discovery Cove until lunchtime. My dolphin swim time wasn’t until after 3pm, so I started out at the Grand Reef, where I snorkeled for a bit. The water at the Grand Reef is a little chilly – 77 degrees – but once I was in the water for a few minutes it felt comfortable.
Then, I headed to the Wind-away River, which is similar to a lazy river. After grabbing a float, I headed down the river, under the overhead aviary, and through the park. It’s very slow and relaxing, but does have some big drops, so it’s best for someone comfortable in the water. Guests can also walk through the aviary for a more up-close experience.
After the Wind-away River, I checked out the new Freshwater Oasis, where you can see marmosets and otters. The otters are adorable, but are behind glass. You can, however, swim right up to the glass. The marmosets (a very small monkey) are on an island in the center of the oasis.
At that point, it was time for my dolphin experience. After a brief orientation, I headed to the 72 degree dolphin pool. There were eight of us in the group, and we all had the chance to interact with the dolphin a few times. Underwater cameras aren’t allowed in the water, but photographers are there to take your picture (photo CDs, DVDs, and prints are available for an extra charge). The whole experience takes about 30 minutes, but we actually experienced a thunderstorm during our swim, and had to go back to the cabana and wait it out. I think we ended up getting about 45 minutes total with the dolphins – definitely the full experience despite the rain.
So, is Discovery Cove worth the price? If you want to swim with dolphins in Florida, I’d say definitely. Guests also receive complimentary admission to Aquatica and SeaWorld (also Busch Gardens for an additional fee) for a consecutive 14 days, so if those parks are in your plans, it’s a better deal.
To learn more about Discovery Cove, visit their website.
Photo credits: top photo from Discovery Cove, second photo from me