So today I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to represent Theme Park Review at the grand opening of The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove in Orlando. For those of you that don't know, Discovery Cove is a "boutique park" featuring an all-inclusive admission (save for a few offerings) with the included experiences being the attraction of the park. No rides. No shows. Just a lush park with some beautiful animals, some amazing reefs, a wonderful lazy river, a very large aviary and unlimited food and drinks included with your admission! The park is known for its signature offering, a "swim with the dolphins" experience, but that wasn't why we were invited to the park. The park's capacity is limited to preserve the intimate feel of the experience as well, lending credence to the isolated environment that truly feels like nothing else found in Orlando, let alone the continental United States.
The Grand Reef is a new experience built on a previously-undeveloped expansion pad featuring sting rays, tropical fish and even some sharks. The Reef is built with different levels to accommodate for the different guests. The shores of this walk-in pool are friendly for the younger guests and are a common place for the sting rays to be fed en mass. Deeper in are some crevices and "coral" reefs (artificial coral is used in the reef) where the many fish populate and at the bottom are some of the larger rays.
Another section of The Grand Reef is segmented by thick, curved panels of glass, separating the guest from the tank with the sharks. This tank will soon be used for a new offering known as SeaVenture, a dry-for-wet diving experience that requires no certification to enjoy. This offering, while requiring a separate fee, is not yet ready for guests, but is expected to open within the next month or so.
Having never been to Discovery Cove, I took some time to explore the park as a whole, and I loved everything that I saw. The place is a relaxation paradise, but has plenty for the active guest to enjoy. I practically swam the entire park and then went back to walk it again twice over in the three plus hours that I was there.
Oh, and if I have to make one recommendation for a special treat offered at the park's many snack bars, get yourself a lemon slushie. You'll thank me later...
Inside of the main lobby, guests are greeted by a warm and spacious entrance. From the minute you enter the property's main gates from the road, you feel like you are a VIP.
I want this for my room.
Included with your guest badge (yes, the print one out for every guest) is a mini map of the entire park. Notice the plot on the right says "2012 Future Experience." This was the original salt water reef that opened with the park and closed yesterday in preparation for the opening of The Grand Reef.
This time around, mine says more than just "Participant."
We were escorted back to The Grand Reef, but not before passing the old saltwater reef which is now closed.
Seriously, it is like we've been transported to islands. We aren't in Florida anymore.
The park's architecture seems to draw influence from the Polynesian cultures, including the wood frames, triangular designs and thatched roofs.
All guests are required to wear wetsuits or neoprene vests during their time in the water.
And of course, there are fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo, which are included in your admission.
Some awesome little showers in the park...
The barnacled posts mark the barrier between the shark tank and the rest of The Grand Reef. The shark reef will play host to SeaVenture starting soon.
Shallows and depths are spread throughout the reef without any pattern or rhyme. The variability of the aquatic landscape just makes it all feel so much more real.
This area of the shallows is popular with guests as the stingrays tend to congregate, waiting for their feeding time.
The Grand Reef has bridges and pathways intertwined with the area to allow for some great photo ops (I'll get to those soon) and access to the SeaVenture tank.
I forgot my milestone paper sign... Darn! No photoshop caption contest for this photo!
Larry, this is for you.
You stay classy, Discovery Cove.
Another neat idea, they actually offer a visual guide for the fish in The Grand Reef that you can strap to your wrist while swimming.
Fishy, fish, fish, fish, fish.
One of the private cabanas that can be rented for the day.
Discovery Cove's signature experience allows guests to swim with the dolphins.
I'm sure I'll try this out next time!
Back to why we're here...
There's a running joke playing against me with this photo, but I dare not say it aloud.
You can actually tell the elevation change by looking at the tint of the water's color.
One of the smaller cabanas available for rent along the beach of The Grand Reef.
It really is a pretty big addition for Discovery Cove!
They did an amazing job with the colors of the reef, making it a visually inviting experience for even the non-swimmer.
You really are swimming with the rays. Sheer awesome!
It's a little hard to tell, but this is a glass barrier separating the shark section of the reef.
The net meets the top of the glass barrier and the glass itself is angled so as to flow and transition better with the rest of the reef.
One thing I love about The Grand Reef (and the rest of the park for that matter) is that they've scattered different ruins and stonework in the tanks, the river and the surrounding environment.
It all just adds to the realism of the park.
They even have a spotted ray here!
At first glance, would you jump to the conclusion that this is a ladder?
Thanks to the theming, I didn't.
The Grand Reef is truly one of the most beautiful settings SeaWorld has ever created!
"Look at all those humans in the human tank!"
In a very clever move, the park's gift shops sell books for those planning on reading while relaxing on the park's beaches.
Over at the park's main eatery, there is an entertainment venue for daily performances.
It's five o'clock somewhere.
Even the path work in the park is impressive!
The Enchanted Tiki Bridge!
I want to be sponsored by Starfish!
Another look at the walled off area leading to the old saltwater reef.
It's time to start!
I dove in and immediately recreated the opening title sequence for Finding Nemo.
I think this is hands down the most beautiful thing in an amusement park I have ever seen, in fact I may even go so far as to say it is the most beautiful man made thing I have seen. Great trip report...
I am incredibly jealous of you! I have always wanted to go and reading this trip report only re-energized me. I checked out the website and it is quite expensive to go (Packages start at $199!) but there seems to be a ton of stuff included. You get tickets to one of the other parks in the area (Aquatica, SeaWorld, BGT) included. Food (including breakfast, lunch, snacks, and BEER!) is also included along with all the gear and sunscreen you need. Parking is included and most of the adventures you saw him doing. The dolphin swim is extra which is kind of bunk, but I guess they probably want to reduce the numbers of people with the dolphins.
After seeing this trip report, Discovery Cove is officially on my Bucket List.
^You also have to be a certain age to swim with the dolphins so this gives families with different age children the chance to still at least go to the park instead of having a set age to even enter the place.
The Grand Reef was definitely a little chilly at first, but you get used to it within minutes of being in the water. It was cold compared to a heated pool, but normal for an animal tank, like you'd reach into at SeaWorld.
As for the rest of the park, The River is heated and I'd probably say the water was closer to 82 degrees... Needless to say, we spent a good deal of time there!
Change the scheme, Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you would be so kind!
Amazing report, I've always wanted to know what this place was like and now I only want to get there even more so. My aquatic animal enthusiast side is wondering though, was the spotted eagle ray in the main reef or was it secluded in the shark tank? If it was actually in the main reef consider my ticket bought!
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