Everything you need to know if you’re thinking about a day at Discovery Cove in Orlando:
Looking for something else to do in the Orlando area outside of Disney? There are actually lots of great options and activities, and for something really special and unique I’d recommend looking into Discovery Cove in Orlando.
This location is owned by Sea World, and it’s about a 15 minute ride from Disney World. It’s described as an “interactive animal experience,” and there’s no other easier way to describe it because it’s probably a bit different from anything else you’ve done. It’s not a theme park with rides and attractions, but it’s not a zoo or aquarium because you do get to see and interact with fish and animals up close and personal. It’s also considered a “day resort,” meaning you get access for the full day for the price of admission and it includes basic activities and food.
We decided to visit Discovery Cove on our anniversary trip last summer because we wanted to try something new, and Jason didn’t have Disney park tickets. So if we were going to spend some extra money we might as well investigate Discovery Cove!
We visited on a Tuesday at the end of August – here’s a look at our experience and what you can expect from a visit at Discovery Cove in Orlando.
What’s included at Discovery Cove?
When you pay for a day pass to Discovery Cove in Orlando, it’s mostly “all-inclusive.” Here’s what you get with your Discovery Cove ticket:
- Access to the pools, including a snorkeling pool with reef and fish, an otter viewing area, and a lazy river
- Entrance to the Aviary, where you can see and interact with a variety of birds
- Snorkeling equipment to use while you’re there
- Food – includes breakfast, lunch, snacks, and basic drinks
What’s not included:
- Bigger add-on experiences, including the dolphin swim, shark swim, or seaventure
- Premium drink package
These are all things you can opt to pay extra for if you’d like to do that. The biggest one to be aware of is the dolphin swim – it’s kind of Discovery Cove’s big selling point, but it is technically an add-on. That being said, the price to add on the dolphin swim was pretty reasonable compared to a standard ticket price. If you’re going and paying for it anyway I’d definitely recommend getting the dolphin ticket.
Discovery Cove tickets
There are many different ticket types on Discovery Cove’s website, but don’t get too overwhelmed. If you want to basic experience, you’ll be looking at the “Day Resort Admission.” You can also instead choose the “Signature Dolphin Swim Package.” This is basically the same as the day resort admission but includes the dolphin swim.
If you’re planning to do some other things in the Central Florida area, you can book a package that includes Discovery Cove as well as some of the other theme parks that are owned by the parent company. They include:
- Sea World
- Busch Gardens Tampa
Once you select your ticket you’ll also be able to choose a number of “add-ons” that are detailed above in the “what’s not included” section.
Discovery Cove prices
Because Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive experience that not only offers unique interactions and activities but food and drinks as well, the tickets will reflect that. Price varies a lot by season (it’s much more affordable to go in the off-season, so take a look at their pricing calendar).
The day resort admission starts at $199 per person and goes up from there depending on season. The day admission with dolphin swim added starts at $274 per person. There’s no kids pricing, though 2 and under are free.
Discovery Cove Florida Resident rates
If you are a Florida resident, you may be able to get a discount at Discovery Cove in Orlando. Typically the discounted rate is 20% off, available for most dates. In addition they sometimes run other promotions throughout the year, such as a free premium drink package.
Discovery Cove Map
Arriving at Discovery Cove in Orlando
You can arrive at Discovery Cove in Orlando as early as 7:30am, though the waters and activities don’t open until 9am. There’s a number of things you need to do once you arrive though, so it’s not a bad idea to be early. We got there just before 8am and waited about 10 minutes to check in.
If you’ve paid for any addtional add-ons or activities, this is when you’ll schedule a time to do those. For example, we paid to do the dolphin swim, and were assigned a 9:40am time. We got lanyards that had any important times listed on them, our names, a map, and a designation noting that we had the premium drink package (this included any and all beverages).
From there we were instructed to grab breakfast and then get a locker and wetsuit.
Lockers and wetsuits
Once we’d eaten we proceeded to get a locker and wet suits. There are two locker areas, and they directed us towards a specific one that was a bit further down. I will say the location of the lockers was kind of inconvenient – I found myself using the locker a lot, but it was far away from most things. Certain activities didn’t allow phones (or I didn’t want to leave mine somewhere while I was in the water), but I also wanted to take photos of things. So I found myself running back and forth a lot throughout the day.
The lockers are a bit old school in the sense that they have an actual, physical key to open them and not a code. This is another thing you have to wear around your neck/carry around with you. It wasn’t a huge deal but just something to note. It’s definitely an area they could upgrade.
In the locker area you’ll also get your wetsuit. You have the option between an actual wetsuit or a vest. The water is pretty cool, so a wetsuit is going to keep you warmer – but of course the vests are a bit more comfortable. It was also very hot to be walking around in a wetsuit!
I personally found the wetsuits very tight – at least for me and my big thighs and quads! (I’ll blame it on running). I normally wear a size 4 or 6 in clothing. Here I went up to an 8 and that was still a bit tight on me and I probably could have done a 10. Luckily they let you try things on and switch them out if you need to.
This is also the place where you can pick up snorkel equipment to use. There are a few great places for snorkeling that you can do at your leisure so it’s a good thing to grab. Currently they are telling you that you can keep the snorkel tube that you breathe into, but return the goggles and bag at the end of the day when you’re done.
About sunscreen at Discovery Cove
I wanted to share some information about the sunscreen here, because the process is a bit different and at least for someone like me sunscreen is very important. They don’t want you to bring your own sunscreen to the park because they want you to use animal friendly sunscreen, so they provide it for you.
You’ll find the sunscreen in dispensers near the bathrooms that basically look like hand sanitizer dispensers. They don’t give a ton of sunscreen at once, so it took awhile to get enough to actually cover your body that way.
Be aware too that this is a thick sunscreen due to the ingredients, so depending on what you noromally you use it might surprise you (I heard people commenting about that, but I myself try to use enivronmentally friendly sunscreen all the time so I’m used to it).
For me the biggest downside was that I don’t think the sunscreen worked all that well. It was only an SPF of 30. Despite putting it on when we arrived and reapplying twice during the day, we both still got sunburned. With 7 days in Florida this was the only day that I got a sunburn. I completely support animal-friendly sunscreen, but I wish they would give you something that’s better quality.
Snorkeling at the Grand Reef
I would say the two main included experiences at Discovery Cove are the snorkeling and the Aviary. Around 11am we went to the Grand Reef to check out the snorkeling. This is a large pool and swimming area that’s a really nice space to snorkel and swim. It has some more shallow areas near the beach for kids, and deeper sections further out.
We saw a ton of tropical fish and stingrays here amongst the coral reef. You definitely don’t have to worry about whether or not fish will be around because they are everywhere. I saw so many stingrays! I’d say we spent about half an hour swimming around and looking at everything. Depending on your snorkeling interest level you could spend longer too.
You are allowed to bring a waterproof camera if you want to take pictures – you just need to make sure it’s secured to your body in some way (either on a neckstrap or a wriststrap).
At the Grand Reef there’s also a big beach area with lounge chairs and umbrellas, so after we snorkeled we relaxed on a the beach for a bit with some drinks. I liked having at least a little downtime to just enjoy a drink and read an e-book (and maybe take a quick nap!).
I love seeing tropical birds and taking photos of them, so I was excited to head to the Aviary. We arrived here around 10:15am and left around 11am. I probably could have stayed longer but I knew there were other things we wanted to do. This was probably my favorite included part of Discovery Cove (not counting the dolphin encounter).
There are many exotic birds here, and you can get a guide or download one on your phone to learn all about them and what you are seeing. There are a number of rooms and areas where you can see different birds so make sure you explore them all!
They also have cups of food so you can see them and interact up close. Some of the birds will immediately come right to you for food while others might need a little more coaxing. Some will land on your arm while others prefer to stay on a branch. I find all the different types of birds and their personalities fascinating.
The only birds you can’t feed or touch are the parrots, but there are still lots of opportunities to see them. The parrots really seemed to enjoy posing. There were also some trainers out working with the parrots that we could watch, seeing them fly around.
One last note – look up! Not just to see birds higher up but also to make sure you’re not standing directly below one that could poop on you. Not that I know from experience or anything.
Marmosets and otters
The other main animals advertised as being included are the marmosets and otters. The marmosets are a type of monkey, and they have a group of trees in the middle of a swimming area where you can see them. By the afternoon they are a bit tired but I still saw a few hanging around!
The otters are in one area and they are behind glass – from photos I’d seen on their website it had looked to me like you would be closer to them but that was not the case. I love otters and they are fun to watch, but it wasn’t too much different than seeing them at the zoo.
If you’re interested in learning more about the animals at Discovery Cove in Orlando, keep your eyes peeled for educational experiences happening throughout the day. At certain times there will be presentations where trainers might show off different animals and tell you about them, or do a feeding that you can watch. Definitely some cool things to see!
Extra fee: the Dolphin Swim
The Dolphin swim is an extra expense that you can add on to your ticket, but it’s not too much more than the standard ticket and is one of the main attractions at Discovery Cove, so you’re probably going to want to do it. When we arrived and checked in for the day we were assigned a time for our dolphin swim of 9:40am. After doing a few other things upon arrival and getting settled we headed over there to our assigned location at about 9:30am.
At that point we were checked in and given a whole safety spiel, watched some videos, etc. A trainer went over a few things… and then I got the odd feeling that she was killing time. Just by the way she was telling us somewhat random facts and asking if we had any questions. Sure enough, we had reached 10am and at that point someone official looking came in and told us that the dolphins were not cooperating right now. They explained they will not foce the dolphins to do anything they don’t want to do and so they offered for us to come back in the afternoon for a Dolphin swim at 1:20pm.They said at that point we wouldn’t have to sit through the safety spiel again or watch the videos – we could basically get right in the water.
It was a little bit of a bummer to have lost some time in the middle of our morning like that, but there’s not much you can do about it so we explored other things and then came back after quickly scarfing down some lunch to check in at 1:15. And at this point we sat around for awhile waiting for someone… and when they finally arrived it was all different people than had been there in the morning and they did allll of the safety stuff and videos again. There was no one there to instruct them otherwise.
Once we finally got out to the water and got to our dolphin swim though, that part was great! Our small group had a dolphin named Akai. The trainers there had given him the nickname “potato” and described him as a big mushy lovey dolphin. And it really seemed like he was! While in the water the trainer went over some general dolphin facts as well as information about Akai in particular. Akai is actually in his 40s, which is much older than dolphins live in the wild. He’s a bit of a ladies man too and has had 8 babies at Discovery Cove!
We had about 8 people in our group and we all got the chance to take turns petting him, giving him kisses and hugs, and holding on to his fin for a short ride. They took photos of all of the this, though the photos aren’t included – they charge you extra for those.
I loved being able to be in the water with a dolphin and experience it firsthand – I just wish it hadn’t taken up so much of our day. We finished the second time at 2pm, so at that point we had spent about an hour and 45 minutes on our 20-minute experience.
Food at Discovery Cove
Breakfast and lunch are included at Discovery Cove (and snacks). All food is at Laguna Grill and is mostly served as a buffet. For the breakfast it was basically your typical breakfast buffet. It included things like:
- Breakfast meats
- Yogurt and granola cups
- Fresh fruit
- Coffee, tea, and orange juice
You grabbed what you wanted and there were plenty of tables outside. But watch out for the birds – it seems they are used to getting extra bits of breakfast and they are ready for it! We were instructed to leave our trays and plates on the table for a staff member to clear, but the moment people stood up (or sometimes while they were still at their table) a bird would swoop in for a bite. Be vigilant!
The included lunch at Discovery Cove in Orlando was another basic buffet. There was a grill option where they prepared a few standard entrees. If you wanted something from the grill you had to order it from someone, which did lead to a bit of a wait and a long line at points.
The entree options on the grill included:
- BBQ Pulled pork
- Grilled jerk chicken
- Caribbean Spiced salmon
- Grilled Churrasco steak
Cold items on the buffet:
- Salads – caesar salad, seafood pasta salad, quinoa salad, house salad
- Wraps – turkey/ham and veggie
- Pina Colada cupcakes
- Chocolate cake
- Carrot cake
- Fresh fruit
- Chicken tenders
- Mac and cheese
- Hot dogs
- Pasta marinara
We tried a few different things for lunch. I got the salmon and it was actually better than I expected – it was well cooked and had a nice flavor to it. Jason went with the steak. The steak itself was just okay, but we both really enjoyed the churrasco sauce with it. But the biggest highlight for me was the seafood pasta salad. It had crab, lobster, and penne tossed together in a remoulade based sauce. I actually ended up eating mostly this for lunch!
We did also have desserts, but they were really just mediocre. I was excited about the pina colada cupcake but it was wayyyy too sweet. The cheesecake was just okay. The chocolate cake was probably the best out of what we tried but it was still a pretty standard chocolate cake.
Snacks are available throughout the day as well. These were usually found near the bars and you could just grab what you wanted. Most of it was basic pre-packaged snacks like bags of chips and cheese-its. It addition to that you also had soft pretzels and slushie machines.
When it comes to Discovery Cove there are some basic drinks included, and then you can opt to pay extra for the premium drink package. The basic ticket for adults does include things like domestic beers, wine, etc. The premium package is an extra $40 per person and includes everything. They have a menu of specialty cocktails that you can order too (these are included with the premium package or you can pay per drink without it).
The cocktails were very good, but that’s probably mostly because bartender Scott was awesome. I went back a few times and he noticed I headed towards the tequila-based drinks, so he asked if he could create something for me. So I had a few fun cocktails he invented that weren’t on the menu! My favorite was a mix of tequila, cranberry juice, orange schnapps, and a splash of Sprite.
Is Discovery Cove worth the money?
A day at Discovery Cove in Orlando certainly isn’t cheap, and if you’ve got a family that will add up quickly. However it is a beautiful place with lots of unique experiences, so it’s really up to you whether or not you find it worth it. For anyone who is an animal lover and wants to experience cool things, I think it’s the sort of place that’s absolutely worth visiting at least once. We paid full price for the tickets (no discount or anything) though we did get the premium drink package as part of a special they were doing, and we opted to pay for the dolphin experience. I’m really glad I did it, but I don’t think I need to go back and do it again – at least not anytime soon.
Budget your time
I think one way you might be able to feel like you’re getting more value out of your day at Discovery Cove is to budget your time a little better than I did. Although you can get in early (starting at 7am) most of the major stuff doesn’t open until 9. You stil want to get there early though because you can use that morning time to get a bunch of stuff out of the way, like getting your wetsuit, putting on sunscreen, getting a locker, and eating breakfast.
I didn’t anticipate how much time I would spend throughout the day running back and forth from teh lockers and reapplying sunscreen. I know it doesn’t sound like much but these things add up! Even though you could book multiple “extra” experiences I’m really glad we only did the one because we wouldn’t have had enough time to see all of the included stuff if we had somewhere else we needed to be.
Pros and cons of Discovery Cove
|Get to do things you may not have ever done before||Staff felt disorganized at times, like when they rescheduled our dolphin swim|
|Really great learning experience||Advertised as “all inclusive” but they have a lot of “add ons”|
|The Dolphin swim is awesome||Getting your photos was extremely expensive|
|The snorkeling pool is amazing||Food is just okay|
|Trainers seem to really care about the animals||Sunscreen didn’t work too well|
|Absolutely beautiful place||Inconvenient to go back and forth to lockers all the time|
Discovery Cove FAQs
How long do you swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove?
The entire “dolphin swim” experience is supposed to be about 25 minutes, though you’re not actively with the dolphins that whole time. Once you get out to the pool your trainer talks to you for a few minutes and then everyone gets in the water. You do a number of different things with the dolphin but each “experience” is probably about 30 seconds.
Is the dolphin swim at Discovery Cove worth it?
Yes, at least for me. The cost to add it on was minimal compared to the price of the ticket anyway. And while you may not get to frolic around with the dolphins for a ton of time I personally thought it was great how much we learned and really cool to hang out with a dolphin up close. If you’re someone who’s done this sort of thing before you may not need to do it, but I never had and I loved it.
Is Discovery Cove cruel?
Of course this will depend on who you talk to, but from everything I’ve heard and researched it is definitely not a cruel place. They are rehabilitating dolphins and animals and treating them very well. Every person I interacted with who worked there absolutely cared about the animals and put them first.
Is the water at Discovery Cove heated?
No, the water is somewhat chilly because it’s at a temperature for the dolphins and other sea creatures. Even when I was there in August the water felt rather cold. You are given the option between a full wetsuit or a vest, but the wetsuit will help keep you warmer in the water.
Do you need more than one day at Discovery Cove?
Probably not, unless you really love dolphins/sea creatures or you want to do a bunch of the extra add-on activities and don’t think you can fit it all into one day.
Can you book Discovery Cove through a travel agent?
Absolutely! Whether you’re looking to just spend a day there while in Orlando or you want to plan a Disney trip with a Discovery Cove day, a travel agent can help you get tickets and set that up. Contact me today if you’d like to start planning your Orlando vacation.
Have you ever been to Discovery Cove in Orlando? What would you most want to do there?