Orlando: Dip into Discovery Cove
By Helen Wright
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.
MAKING A SPLASH
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
What else should you do in Orlando? For more ideas, click here!