Okay, I know I risk pissing off the obvious tens of thousands of folks that were chomping at the bit to post about several more awesometastic monorail pics, but we're skipping ahead in the programming. Such is life.Discovery CoveGO THERE.
Seriously, out of all we did that week in Orlando, this was easily the highlight. I know it's easy to check out the website
, and perhaps experience a little sticker shock depending on which package interests you. However, the truth of the matter is that Discovery Cove is probably the best value in all of Orlando.
Depending on seasonal deals, Facebook promotions (thanks for the heads up, Renee!),etc., etc., you can get a Dolphin Swim Package at the Cove; which includes the ability to visit one other Busch park of your choice for a duration of up to 14 consecutive days prior to, after, or combined around your visit to the Cove, all for as little as $200.
And what does a day at Discovery Cove include? Well, for us it was a huge breakfast, a small crowd, large first come/first serve fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo.s, unlimited snacks/drinks/"beer", a small crowd, a huge and delicious lunch, unlimited access to all areas of the park, a reserved 30 minute dolphin swim experience, and most of all.......a small crowd, and a great chance to relax and take it all in!
So let's recap. For $200 a person, that's a packed day at Discovery Cove PLUS 14 consecutive days at either Sea World, BGT, or Aquatica. Um, yeah....in the end, it's very difficult to argue this one.
As for the Discovery Cove experience itself, it completely exceeded expectations. If you're a water park fan, a fan of the beach, a Sea World fan, or even just a little of all of those, this is a must-do
. Because they only allow a certain number of guests in each day, it really improves your overall visit. You never feel cramped or rushed to do anything. Our Dolphin Swim was scheduled for later in the afternoon, so we had the bulk of the day to experience the place at our leisure.
We arrived shortly after opening, and although there was a bit of a line out front, the check-in process seemed to move along fairly well. After you're checked in, you receive a lanyard with a card showing your picture and Dolphin swim time/location. You're required to wear this all day tucked into your wetsuit or vest, yet was never as annoying as it might seem.
So we checked in, grabbed a fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo., and made our way to breakfast. Not much to say except it was a really good quality breakfast buffet with pretty much all the major staples you'd expect to have for that meal (which, let's face it, would probably set us back $25-30 right there at the other parks). After that we grabbed our bags that each guest receives. It included a mask, souvenir snorkel which you could keep, and a sample packet of specially formulated biodegradable sunscreen (for the safety of the park's marine inhabitants).
Each guest is also required to wear either a wetsuit or vest while in the water areas. We suited up in vests and headed out to explore. Here's a review of the major areas:The Grand Reef
: What I really appreciated about the layout of the reef was that someone could enjoy it whether they liked snorkeling or not. Pictures really don't explain how immersive the experience is. They also don't convey just how large some of the rays truly are.....which are easily the width of the wingspan of your outstretched arms. And not only that, but they're not confined to any particular areas of the Grand Reef. In other words, you could wade waist deep onto the "shelf" of the reef, all while being surrounded by schools of fish, including the largest of rays!
Although the water's a bit chilly at first, the snorkeling experience was top-notch. It was incredibly relaxing, and just really fun.Wind-Away River/Explorer's Aviary
: The river itself is really good. The water is warm, and the easy flowing currents navigate through great looking caves and "rain forest-type" scenery. The real bonus is that you can access the aviary through it, and vice versa. Several times we exited the river to feed some birds, and then jumped right back in to continue on. Oh, and the river actually winds its way directly through the aviary itself....which was pretty unique, and definitely a great feature.Dolphin Swim
: I won't get deep into the ongoing debate over dolphins in captivity and these "dolphin swim" sessions that have popped up all over the globe. The only thing I'll say is that I'm an animal lover, and although a piece of me will always be on the fence about them, I feel safe in saying that this is literally the only place I was willing to participate in one due to the outstanding reputation and general respect Sea World has throughout the industry.
With that said, our half hour session was amazing. It's always been on Shannon's "bucket list" to swim with a dolphin, and that made it even more enjoyable from my perspective. Although the water seemed even colder than the Grand Reef, her adrenaline probably kept her much warmer than she actually was. Heck, even I was shivering at times.
Our trainers were very friendly and engaging. They basically take you in small groups of no more than 8 or so (?) into waist-deep water. There they provide ample time to teach, answer questions, and allow you to touch and hug your dolphin as it swims directly in front of you. Then they ask if you feel comfortable swimming out to the deep portion of the pool in order to be pulled back in by the dolphin. If you're uncomfortable with that, they provide a shallow water experience with the dolphin (which we did not witness in our group).
All I can say is that it was definitely a pretty awesome feeling, and something I imagine anyone would have a tough time ever forgetting, even however brief it may have actually been. Finally, as a "last act" of sorts, each dolphin from the handful of groups occupying the pool does a jumping trick out in front of you. All in all, it's a pretty awesome experience.
So, in closing, I'll just say it again. If you haven't already been......GO THERE
. Even without the new additions for next year, we'd still go back in a heartbeat!