Everything you should know before visiting Discovery Cove in Orlando Florida
Discovery Cove has to be the most beautiful theme park I have ever been to and I can safely say that it has climbed all the way up to the top number one of our family's favorite park, especially for my husband who before we even left the park announced that we were definitely coming back the following year.
And I totally agree with him! Discovery Cove is an awesome experience and I cannot wait to go back and enjoy it again. With that being said here are a few tips and things you should know before you visit the park.
Discovery Cover Orlando, Florida
1 - Arrive early
The park opens at 7 am and closes at 5:30 pm but the water attractions don't open until 9 am. Breakfast start right at 9 am so you can use that time to enjoy a nice meal, take a look around and become familiarized with the park. This is also a great time to set up a meeting spot just in case anyone gets lost.
2 - Consider waiting time
You only have about 8 hours at the park and honestly that can go by super fast especially when that time has to be used to check you into the park, classes before an animal encounter activity and even the food line.
Time is precious at Discovery Cove!
Checking into the park can take several minutes because they have to schedule your animal encounter sessions, create an ID card for each person and give a few important information about the park. The overall time spent checking in will vary depending on the time of arrival and how many people are there at that time.
3 - Parking is free
Unlike many other parks, Discovery Cove is more like a resort so parking is included in the price of the ticket and there is no extra charge for it. So no more packing everyone in one car to avoid the extra $20 parking fee.
4 - Schedule your animal encounters for early in the day
For quite a long time I have been waiting to swim with the dolphins, it's been a dream of mine ever since I was a little kid and considering we were visiting for my birthday, the dolphin encounter was a birthday gift.
My husband and I had to participate in two different animal encounters so one of us could stay with the little ones - only kids 6 and up are allowed to participate in the dolphin encounter. We set one up for 12:25 pm and another for 2:05 pm.
The 12:25pm session started right on time and the dolphin encounter lasted for almost an hour, meanwhile, the 2:05pm started nearly forty minutes later. My youngest son and I thought we were running late for the safety class, we were running like we were about to lose our flight only to find out they were asking everyone to return thirty minutes later.
Apparently the dolphins were not ready and needed more time. I figure that after an entire morning of dealing with people, they probably got a little bit jaded which brings me to the point to schedule your animal encounters in the morning. Yes, the water will be colder in the morning but the chances of the time of your encounter changing diminishes, not to mention you will have the rest of the day to enjoy the park.
My husband also pointed out that the 2:05pm encounter was much shorter than the earlier one.
Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience and I am so thankful we got to do it, most certainly a dream come true for me.
5 - Discounts
Discovery Cove tickets can be quite expensive especially if no discount is used. As a family of six we take advantage of the seasonal price drops and discounts to schedule our theme park trips.
Make sure that you sign up to receive the park's newsletter so you can find out about discounts and promotions. If you are a veteran you may even be able to score free tickets and special military discounts.
Be on the look out for those price slashes as they may make a huge difference in your budget. For our most recent visit to the park we got 60% off the regular price, that was a deal we just simply could not pass up.
6 - Personal dolphin encounter not so personal
As mentioned previously you will have to take a class before the scheduled animal encounter. The class lasts about 20 minutes and it is basically comprised of an educational video about the animal and the trainers discussing what visitors should expect during the encounter.
Now, I can only speak for the dolphin encounter as it is the only animal encounter we have done so far and although I loved it, I did think that it could be a little bit more personal and private.
Be aware that each group has 7 to 9 people so you will be sharing those memories with strangers unless you have a group that is big enough. For me it wasn't such a great deal but my husband did not enjoy it as much as he would have if strangers weren't involved.
7 - What to bring and not to bring
Bring nothing but yourself! Seriously, Discovery Cove has everything you can possibly need during your stay. Here's a list of everything you can expect to find at the resort:
Goggles for children and adults
Swimming vest for all ages and sizes
Swimming suit for all ages and sizes
Animal friendly sunscreen
What you should bring:
Waterproof cell phone case
A change of clothes
Phone Charging cables
Also check out : Everything you need for your theme park trip
8 - Best times to enjoy the Grand Reef
The grand reef is where our family spent most of our time and we could have spent all day there if that was the only attraction available simply because swimming with an array of fishes, huge sting rays is one of the coolest things in our books.
However, other people love it too so the grand reef gets really jammed with people snorkeling. The best time to enjoy the reef will be early in the morning as soon as the water opens for the public which is right around 9 am and towards the end of the day right before the park closes right around 4:45 - 5 pm.
Here is a picture of the grand reef thirty minutes before the park closes and there is absolutely no one in the water and the fishes and rays are coming really close to the shore. Simply splendid!
9 - Get ready for the next adventure
The bathrooms at Discovery Cove are equipped with several shower stalls and mirrors so you can shower and get ready for your next adventure in Central Florida.
You don't even need to worry about bringing waterproof bags for your clothes, there are rolls of plastic bags available in the bathrooms at no extra charge and you can use as many as you need.
Just don't forget to bring soap, shampoo, conditioner and extra clothes including underwear.
10 - No smoking
If you are a smoker then you might as well leave your pack of cigarettes or whatever it is that you smoke in the car. The only place where smoking is allowed is in the parking lot in a small designated area before you even enter the park.
There is no smoking allowed inside the park, if you want to smoke you will have to go outside to the only smoking designated area.
11 - Time to eat is all day
It's almost impossible to not indulge a little bit at Discovery Cove. Everywhere you go there is food and drinks and everything is unlimited and included in the package.
Breakfast and lunch are served at the Laguna Grill restaurant. Breakfast hours are from 7:30 am to 10:30 am and lunch hours are from 11:00 am to 3:30 pm.
Here's the breakfast and lunch menu for when we visited the park:
BREAKFAST MENU Scrambled Eggs , Sausage Links, Hash Brown Potatoes, French Toast Sticks, Buttermilk Biscuits Seasonal Fresh Fruits Whole Apples, Oranges, Bananas, Mixed Cubed Melons, Pineapple, and Seasonal Berries Breakfast Pastries Mini Muffins, Petite Cheese and Fruit Danish, Cinnamon Buns Assorted Yogurts Assorted Dry Cereals Traditional Warm Oatmeal Brown Sugar and Raisins BEVERAGES Freshly Squeezed Florida Orange Juice Whole and Chocolate Milk Brewed Regular and Decaffeinated Coffee, Tea, and Hot Chocolate
Laguna Beach Burger served with French Fries
Caribbean Spiced Salmon Island Style Rice, Fire Roasted Vegetables, Pico de Gallo
Grilled Churrasco Steak Roasted Potatoes, Fire Roasted Vegetables, Chimichurri Sauce
Grilled Jerk Chicken Island Style Rice, Fire Roasted Vegetables, Mango Salsa
BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich served with French Fries
Pasta Marinara served with Meatballs
COLD WRAPS AND SALADS
Seaside Wraps Ham, Turkey, Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion, Spinach Tortilla
Vegetable Wrap Assorted Vegetables, Red Pepper Hummus, Spinach Tortilla
Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad
Laguna House Salad Baby Spinach, Tomato, Red Onion, Black Olives, Feta Cheese, Vinaigrette
Seafood Pasta Salad Shrimp and Crab, Spicy Remoulade
Quinoa Salad Quinoa, Black Beans, Corn, Shaved Red Onion, Tomato, Cilantro, Fresh Squeezed Lime
Kale and Wild Rice With Fat Free Raspberry Vinaigrette
Pina Colada Cupcakes
Chocolate Decadent Cake
New York Style Cheesecake with Strawberry Topping
Assorted Whole and Mixed Fruit
KID'S MENU Hot Dog served with French Fries Chicken Tenders served with French Fries Macaroni and Cheese Pasta Marinara served with Meatballs
Snacks beverages are also available all throughout the park, here are a few items that you may find available during your trip:
SNACKS Assorted Chips Fresh Warm Soft Pretzels Assorted Snow Icee Sugar-Free Cookies Whole Fresh Fruit
BEVERAGES Assorted Coca-Cola Products Bottled Water Hot Chocolate Coffee and Tea
12 - It's 5 o clock somewhere
You can enjoy complimentary beer and wine selections throughout the park at each of their bar locations.
Which to be quite frank with you we didn't take advantage of it at all. Myself due to breastfeeding and my husband simply because he likes to be alert and aware for the little ones which we happen to have four.
If you aren't into beer or wine, you can also opt to add a premium drink package for $40 per person and enjoy their signature cocktails such as pina colada and many others.
13 - Cabanas
The cabanas at Discovery Cove happen to be a bit pricey but I would say they are worth every penny we spent on it.
To start off the location of our cabana was simply perfect and the view of the reef was amazing. The service was five stars! Andrew, our concierge person, was attentive, made sure we had everything we needed, from fresh towels to cold water.
Each cabana comes with a refrigerator with sodas and water, a locker, chairs, table and snacks. Depending on the cabana you get you may even have access to a hammock, ours didn't but the view compensated for that.
14 - Photos
A day after our trip to Discovery Cove I had regretted not purchasing any pictures from the dolphin encounter and decided to reach out to the park via email asking if there was a way that I could still purchase a photo package.
Lucky enough, they replied back to me and were able to retrieve my photos.
So, if for some reason you can't make it to the photo booth to purchase your animal encounter pictures or if the line is too long, just reach out to their customer service and you should be able to order your pictures online.
I am so glad we did because the photos turned out great!
15 - Birthday necklace
Celebrating your birthday at Discovery Cove? Let them know it is your birthday and you will get a red necklace instead of the standard blue one that every one gets.
Staff members will also shout " Happy birthday" once they see your red necklace, so if you like to feel special, definitely let them know it's your b-day.
16 - First Aid and Quiet Area
Need a quiet area to breastfeed or maybe someone in your party got hurt and you need first aid? Right by the entrance you will find the first aid and quiet area that is available for guests.
17 - Water is cold but tolerable
Being the tropical girl I am, I was a bit nervous about the temperature of the water considering many people had expressed how cold it is but quite frankly it is pretty tolerable, unlike some springs I have been to that I just simply could not stand how cold it was.
The coldest water has to be the dolphin encounter pool but you get used to it. I was glad my encounter was in the afternoon rather than in the morning as I am sure the water would probably be colder then.
18 - Adult ID needed
Make sure to bring your ID's. Discovery cove requests an ID for each and every adult that enters their park, so be sure to not forget yours.
19 - Don't miss out on the birdies
The aviary is simply awesome. The kids loved feeding the birds and exploring the different species.
You can even play scavenger hunt and see who finds the most different species of birds by using the bird catalog available at the park.
20 - Autism friendly
Discovery Cove has partnered with The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) and it is know considered a certified autism center and as a parent of a child with autism going places where I know my son will be understood and will feel comfortable is very important to our family.
At the time of our trip my son with autism was 11 years old and he had a great time. He even participated in the Dolphin encounter and enjoyed it so much. The entire staff was calm, understanding and very understanding of my son's special needs.
As stated in their website, "Discovery Cove staff receive specialized training to ensure they have the knowledge, skills, temperament, and expertise to cater to all children, including those with special needs."
The SeaWorld Parks also provide a sensory guide to parents to help plan rides and entertainment ahead of time according to your child's sensory needs.
Discovery Cove is an absolute dream! At the time of our trip our children were 3 months old, 3 years old, 5 years old and 11 years old and they all had a great time, yes, even the baby!
People ask me quite frequently if Discovery Cove is a good park to take the kids to and I say most certainly! Mine loved seeing the sea animals, swimming in the reef with the fishes, feeding the birds and floating in their lazy river which by the way, is one of the best that I have ever been to.