By David Platt, your Mouse Master specialist to Disney Destinations and beyond
Today we’re taking a look at a non-Disney destination: Discovery Cove. One of Orlando’s hidden secrets, Discovery Cove is a bit of a conundrum to describe. My best attempt? “A slice of tropical heaven in the middle of Orlando, and the closest thing you’ll get to experiencing a port of call without actually getting on a cruise ship.”
My family spent a day here in the middle of a recent theme park vacation, and it was the absolutely perfect rest day. It provided some much-needed down time after several days in the theme parks. Looking back on our entire trip, every member of the family lists it as a highlight.
But what exactly is Discovery Cove? While it’s primarily a water-based park, it’s by no means a traditional ‘water park.’ You won’t find water slides or wave pools here. What you will find? Relaxation. Serenity. Flowing beaches. Truly tranquil ‘lazy rivers.’ Discovery Cove is owned by Sea World, and they did their best to recreate a tropical oasis right in the heart of the Orlando area.
First, a rundown of the physical aspect of the park. There are three main areas: a saltwater reef teeming with tropical sealife, a massive dolphin pool, and a freshwater lazy river connected to numerous freshwater swimming areas.
The Grand Reef: this saltwater lagoon is where you can grab a mask and snorkel to see manta rays and tropical fish up close (and even sharks— but from a distance behind glass!). My family spent a large portion of our day here, where there’s something new to look at around every coral reef. You can also pay a bit extra to experience a ‘SeaVenture,’ an extended underwater experience with a helmet attached to an air source.
The Dolphin Lagoon: for many people, this is THE reason to come to Discovery Cove. It’s one of the very few places in the United States where you can actually swim with dolphins. Note that you can only enter the dolphin pool if you’ve purchased an add-on ‘dolphin swim’ package.
Wind-Away River: this isn’t your typical ‘lazy river’ at a super-crowded water park. It’s not wall-to-wall inner tubes with kids jumping around everywhere. It truly is relaxing. It varies in depth from a couple of feet at entrances to eight feet, and takes you on a journey through caves, through aviaries, and by freshwater beaches where you can take a break from the river and swim. It never feels like you’re in an artificially-created environment, but looks and feels like a real river.
Are you sold yet? Wait, it gets better.
I haven’t even touched on the service aspect of the park. Discovery Cove is darn near all-inclusive— with your standard entry, you get all food (breakfast, lunch, and snacks), beverages (including beer and wine), wetsuits, and parking. They even provide sunscreen if you didn’t bring your own! While there are add-ons you can purchase to upgrade your day, like the previously-mentioned dolphin swim and SeaVenture, it’s entirely possible to step into Discovery Cove and never spend another dime.
Another fantastic aspect of Discovery Cove? It’s never crowded. They limit the number of tickets they sell per day, so you’re hardly ever waiting in line for anything. The ONE exception to this rule is at meal times— lines at the restaurants may be long, but move very quickly.
We had concerns about visiting Discovery Cove. On paper, it seems like there’s not a lot to do, particularly if you choose not to do the dolphin swim like us. But we easily spent a whole day here, and never felt bored in the slightest. We spent hours exploring the reef, floated down the lazy river multiple times, and quite simply RELAXED, which is something we’re not great at.
Would I recommend it? In a heartbeat. I can’t imagine visiting Orlando without a visit to Discovery Cove now.
Disclosure: While I received a travel professional discount for my Discovery Cove package, the discount did not influence my review.
I'm David Platt, your Mouse Master Disney Destination specialist. I'm delighted to bring you the latest news on Disney Destinations.