9 October 2019

THE TRAVEL DIARIES: DISCOVERY COVE


Theme parks and Disney ears aren't everything Orlando has to offer, there's also an aquatic world that's waiting to be discovered and waiting to give you incredible memories and experiences that will last you a lifetime. Say hello to Discovery Cove.
I'm not going to lie, I went to Discovery Cove about 15 years ago with my family, but I remember the day being a much-needed rest bite from all the parks and having an incredible day. So I was keen to head back, and thankfully my lovely parents decided to pay for Adam and me to go for the day as part of our 30th birthday present. And not only go for the day, but also have the dolphin experience while we were there. 






What is Discovery Cove?
Not quite a water park, not quite an aquarium... It's hard to describe Discovery Cove in one work. Essentially it's a resort where you pay one price for the day and your entry, food and drink is all* included. 

Included in the park are several different areas and experiences. You have Dolphin Lagoon, where the dolphin experiences take place but you are free to come and watch them and also just watch the dolphins swim around in-between experiences. There's The Grand Reef, where you can snorkel with a number of different aquatic species, including several rays. There was a very comical moment were quite a large grown man squealed and jumped up like a girl when he first saw one of the rays. And then you have your more tranquil experiences - such as the Wind-Away River where you also find the Aviary, the Freshwater Oasis where you'll find otters, and Serenity Bay. If you're lucky you may also see a sloth being carried around, or two!

All of this is surrounded by a complete paradise, beaches, trees, food, drink - it is the perfect detox day in the middle of all the park madness. 

There's also a few upgrades available for your day - including the dolphin experience, swimming with some of their sharks, feeding the rays, and being a dolphin trainer for the day. You can also upgrade your drinks package and add a cabana to your day.


Is it ethical?
So full transparency - Discovery Cove is a Seaworld park - and I know that will raise a few eyebrows and raise some questions around the quality of life for the animals. I am not an expert, but I did a bit of reading before we went and honestly - Discovery Cove does a lot in terms of welfare for the animals they have at the park and care a lot in terms of their quality of life. The dolphins seemed very happy during the experience, and they have a lot of areas to roam around. Also, they made it very clear that each dolphin is restricted to a set number of interactions a day so not to stress them out, and they do a lot of conservation work there. The trainers were incredibly knowledgable and really seemed to care.

Even in areas like reef where they had the rays, they always had a member on staff to educate you about the animal but also to keep an eye on them. There were also very clear in terms of just letting them be, don't follow them about or chase, don't go to touch unless they come to you etc. 

For me, I didn't feel guilty as I honestly feel like they were cared for and happy, and hearing about their conservation stories helped a lot. They have a conservation centre there as well for you to visit if you wanted to find out more information.





My Thoughts
We deliberately booked our day right in the middle of our trip - which I would highly recommend doing. You can run yourself down very quickly with all the parks so make sure you put in a rest day somewhere - and this is the perfect place to do so. 

You are very much looked after while you're there - you get animal-friendly sunscreen, lockers and wetsuits/vests to wear throughout the day. The food and drink are everywhere, and also very nice for an all-inclusive package. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our day. The reef was great fun, and once you get over the fact you may get braver fish swimming against your legs, or brushing by your hands, it's a great experience. The reef is beautiful and really does feel like your out in the wild somewhere snorkelling about. 

The river and beach was a good area to just swim around a chill, take in the scenery and have some time together. I'm not a huge fan of birds so the aviary is not my favourite part but Adam definitely enjoyed it, and I'd never seen a white peacock before so that was cool. And being able to swim next to the otter enclosure was very cool.


In terms of the dolphin experience - it was a little bit different from what I remember, but it's definitely a must-do if you can. General admission for the day without an experience is $149pp, but the dolphin experience is only an extra $50 so is worth doing. You go to a cabana first where you get a talk from one of the trainers about what you can and can't take in with you (remove all jewellery and don't take cameras or phones with you), and how best to interact with the animal. You then go down and meet your dolphin. I won't ruin it too much - but essentially for your extra $50pp, you get to learn about the animals from the trainers, stroke the animals and see some tricks, you get to have photos taken with the animal (not purchased), and you get to swim holding onto one. It is a very cool experience.

In terms of the photos - not going to lie, the pricing for them is extortionate. The photos taken are of each of you kissing the dolphin, a group one with the dolphin, and each of you swimming. If you wanted all your photos just in a digital format with would cost you over $200. There are some deals in terms of prints, however, they were also way too much for us to justify. So we ended up with one print of the experience which cost us $40. For one photo print. It hurts to think about it. I love that we do have a physical memory of the experience, but the price is a bit ridiculous for me personally. 




Tips
My main tip - just relax and take it easy on the day. There are no lines and there's no rush - so just do things at your own pace and chill. Definitely book it halfway in the trip to give you a bit of rest bite! I would recommend doing an experience, like the dolphins or the sharks, depending on your interest as I do feel it adds something to the day. 

I'll admit - it was a bit weird going from four days of go, go, go to a day of doing nothing. I did feel like I should be up and doing something continually so I'm glad we had the dolphin experience to keep a part of it otherwise I think I would have found it harder to chill. Also, if you have an experience - they book your time in when you get there, so first come first experience basically. Just something to note!

We did love our day here, and after we left we carried on our day of relaxing by ordering pizza to our hotel room and watching a film. It was a much-needed recharge day so when we did our next three days of parks we were well-rested and ready to go again.

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