Orlando: Dip into Discovery Cove


Planning a trip to Orlando can be overwhelming. With so many big attractions to choose from it’s easy to get stressed about what to do and where to go. There are the obvious choices, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World, but not everyone considers the lesser-known Discovery Cove. In my opinion it’s one of the best things you can do on holiday in Orlando, whether you’re travelling with friends, family or just as a couple.


Discovery Cove, the sister park of neighbouring Sea World, is a hidden tropical paradise nestled in the heart of themepark land. After you arrive you are led through an idyllic tree-lined path passing tropical birds, waterfalls and thatched beach huts. Turning the corner, a white sandy beach lined with sun-loungers and a bay of bright blue water bursts into view. I was there with my boyfriend Simon and a group of our friends and we were all blown away by the surprise beauty of the park which was totally different to anywhere we’d ever been before.

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The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove

Those who have heard of Discovery Cove know the park as the place to swim with dolphins. And if you’ve never been up close to one of these amazing animals you will love the dolphin experience here. Organised into small groups of 7-8, you are given a designated time and meeting place. A dolphin trainer gives you a quick talk about the conservation and rescue efforts of the animals as well as a safety talk. Then it’s time to dive in and meet your new dolphin pal. I had surprised Simon for his birthday and at 34-years-old he was as excited as the seven-year-old in our group (maybe more).


Meeting our dolphin for the day – Maui

Everyone gets a chance to stroke the dolphins, feed them a fish and ask questions throughout the 30-minute interaction. Then, individually you can swim out to the deeper water and hitch a ride back in on the fin of your dolphin. It’s a totally unique experience and we just loved every second. A professional photographer is on hand to capture all the moments including getting a big kiss from our dolphin Maui but don’t let your group get carried away. Photo packages are on the pricey side at $100 (£75) for four 8×6 pictures and $150 (£100) for a video of the experience. If you can, get a member of your party to stand on the beach and capture a few snaps as a back up.

We loved being in the water with Maui!

So much to do

Of course, the opportunity to play in the water with the gorgeous dolphins is the big appeal of Discovery Cove but I was surprised at how many other things the park had to offer. Those who do not want to add a dolphin experience can pay a standard entry into the park which includes a host of other activities. There are two big beaches, a lazy river, a huge aviary featuring tropical birds and monkeys, an education centre and an otter pool. The highlight was a deep salt-water swimming bay, the Grand Reef, filled with tropical fish and huge stingray that you can feed, stroke or snorkel side-by-side with. For anyone who has never dived in the sea before, children or less-abled bodied guests, it’s a fantastic thing to do. I’ve stroked a stingray at an aquarium but never had one swim between my legs, grazing my toes! I was thrilled. Don’t worry, the animals aren’t at all dangerous and any barbs have been removed.

discovery cove

discovery cove
Surrounded by tropical fish

You’re allowed stay in the Grand Reef for as little or as long as you want and visit the pool at anytime during the visit. Vests and snorkels are provided and qualified staff are in the pool for safety and to answer any questions. We all absolutely loved this and it was probably my favourite part of the park. For the best photos, grab your waterproof camera and be in the water for feeding time where you will be surrounded by hundreds of fish and cheeky stingray eager for a treat.

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We loved the snorkelling!

On dry land

Another big surprise of the day is that all food and drink is included in your admission price, including beer, wine, breakfast, lunch and all-day snacks. This means you can lock all your valuables and credit cards away at the beginning of the day and explore the park and the water at ease which was a welcome bonus. Everything has been considered here – so much so, that you don’t even have to worry about wearing sunscreen. A chemical-free (animal friendly) high factor sun cream is supplied and there are dispensers around the park for top ups.

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I made a friend in the aviary

special occasion

As it was Simon’s birthday and we were visiting as a group, we rented one of the private cabanas as a special treat ($199 / £140 per group). This was a real highlight of our trip. We had our own private space, hidden from view, which had sun loungers, a hammock, our own fully-stocked fridge and lockable cupboard. Plus, we were lucky enough to be beside the dolphin pool and got to see them off-duty playing in the water, jumping up and tossing a ball around – all without any trainers or humans in the pool. They are real show-offs too, when they saw us watching from the side they swam straight over and started splashing and jumping up for our attention. It was like our own private viewing station and seeing them having fun and being themselves was almost better than the interactive experience we’d had earlier. As well as the best view in the park, our cabana also came with a surprise visitor – a tiny bunny was camped out in the shade all day, I was not expecting that. So cute!

discovery cove
discovery cove
discovery cove
VIP treatment!

Renting the cabana also meant we had our own host, Alex, to take care of anything additional we needed, and to offer advice. Staff around the park were all super friendly but on finding out it was Simon’s birthday, Alex organised for him to get a huge cake – complete with candles! He was thrilled with the surprise and we couldn’t thank Alex enough for the extra special treatment.

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Simon (the big kid) loved his cake!

For more photos of the gorgeous cabana, see our gallery below.

Guaranteed fun

Everyone in our group loved the Cabana and the park. The day went so fast that by late afternoon there was just enough time for a swim in the lazy river and a drink in the shallow water ‘bar’ at the end. This palm tree lined paradise is such a hidden gem and after a few hours here it’s hard to believe you’re still in Orlando! I’d recommend Discovery Cove for any type of group. The park is ideal for everyone as you can be as relaxed or as active as you want and the adults all seemed to be having an even better time than the kids. The unlimited food and drink softens the higher admission cost and most tickets purchased directly from the park also include access to Sea World, Busch Gardens (in Tampa) and Aquatica water park too.

discovery cove
discovery cove
discovery cove
It was one of our favourite days in Orlando!

We were almost the last people to leave the park and everyone was sad to go. The only thing that helped was knowing that we’ll definitely go back – hopefully soon – and do the whole thing again.

Get the details:

The Discovery Cove Ultimate Package includes one day reservation at Discovery Cove (with 30 minute dolphin swim experience, all meals, snacks and beverages) plus 14 day unlimited entry to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica Orlando. Prices start from £159 per person.  (Entry without a dolphin interaction starts from £138). Cabana rentals require a reservation in advance.


More pictures of Discovery Cove in our gallery below:

What else should you do in Orlando? For more ideas, click here!

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