Discovery Cove (Florida)

That's me. I'm kissing a dolphin.

My friend Ally and I took a girls' trip to Discovery Cove and Sea World in Orlando. I've been to Sea World several times now (because it's awesome!), but Discovery Cove was a first.

It. Was. Amazing.

Discovery Cove is not your normal theme park. It's not a theme park at all. It's like a day in the Keys at an all-inclusive resort.

Let's get the one con out there first: it's expensive. They were running a deal for Florida residents that was $199 per person for the dolphin swim package. It's less to go and not actually swim with the dolphins. But that deal also included unlimited access to Sea World and Aquatica until 2013. Most of the packages I've seen since then include two weeks of unlimited admission to Sea World and Aquatica for two weeks before or after, so if you're planning on spending a few days at the other parks, it will easily pay for itself and then some.

Once you've paid for the ticket in, you're done. Everything else is included. Everything. Towels, sunscreen (don't put any on or take any in. They have special sunscreen for you that is animal friendly - yay!), food, drinks, margaritas (those were important)... you get the picture. There's even shampoo and soap in the showers in case you want to get yourself so fresh and so clean, clean for the fish.

When you first get there, they take your picture and give you a badge on a lanyard. That's your "ticket" for entry (also to the other parks later, so don't lose it!), for pictures and for food (they check it if you are getting an alcoholic beverage). After that, they show you to the lockers (free) and you get a key. You have to wear either a vest or a wet suit while you're in the pools, but you can switch them out at any time. 

They also give you a mask and snorkel for the Great Reef pool. Because I'm a germaphobe, I checked prior to arrival about the snorkel gear. Masks are cleaned with bleach in between uses and snorkels are brand new each time. THANK YOU Discovery Cove for not being gross. (I once went on a snorkel cruise and saw the crew "sanitizing" the snorkel gear prior to boarding - they were spraying the gear down with water. Um, not okay.)

Get there early. Dolphin swim times are picked first come, first serve. The park officially opens at 8:30 but they start registering guests at 7:30. We got there at 8 and went straight in, no wait. It's also not like you have to wait in a blob at a gate like at the theme parks. Once you check in, you're in. We found the lockers and wetsuits and then got breakfast, which is open from 7:30 on I think. The food was really good! 

Our first stop was the aviary. They give you little cups of food and the birds fly out of the trees and land ON YOU to get a snack. I was stingy at first, thinking we only get one cup of food, but then realized you can get as many as you want. They're set up all around the aviary. Mostly little chunks of fruit... those birds eat really well. We loved the aviary. Birds suddenly landing on you just doesn't get old.

Then, it was on to the dolphin swim!

Discovery Cove has photographers in the water with you and all over the park, but I looked up the prices before we went and... whoa. 

Ultimate Package - $219
7- 6 x 8 prints
1 – 4 x 6 print and 2 key rings (same image)
1 - Digital photo cd
1 – Interaction video (actually a dvd)
1 – Photo Album
1 – 16 x 24 poster

Adventure Package - $139
5 – 6 x 8 prints
1 – 4 x 6 print and 2 key rings (same image)
1 – Digital Photo cd

Island Package - $69
4 – 6 x 8 prints
1 – 4 x 6 print and 2 key rings (same image)

Additional Items - A La Carte (no package)
6 x 8 print - $20
4 x 6 print and 2 key rings (same image) - $20
Poster (16 x 24) - $35
Poster (24 x 36) - $45
Marble Photo Tile - $39
Dolphin Experience Video (dvd) - $75
Digital Photo cd - $125

Okay, in case y'all haven't figured this out by now, I'm super frugal. All I wanted was a cd with all the pictures but um, $125?

So I came up with the plan for Ally and I to be in different groups and take pictures of each other. It worked great!

If you try to take pictures, it works best in the Starfish pool (circled in orange).We requested it at check in and requested to be on one of the sides. There are four groups in each pool at a time; two in the middle and one on each side. If you're in the side groups, your photographer can stand on the rocks and take all the pics.

After each person in your group does the swim, they switch dolphins and you get to have some one-on-one time.

Dolphin hug!

I'm a huge believer in the power of animals for therapy. This family with their two young kids were in Ally's group. 

It was amazing to watch their son light up when he got close to their dolphin.

Their mom was taking pictures on the sidelines with me. After the group swim, the trainers asked if she wanted to come get in the water with them to take pictures of the whole family together. It was clear that all of the staff there were willing to go above and beyond for each guest. It was so refreshing.

We did go look through the professional photos and ended up buying the Island Package. We each picked two pictures of our individual swims, and then a picture of us together from the lazy river for the smaller print. Our pictures from the sides were great, but we just weren't as close as the photographers in the water.

Here are my two professional shots (the color is a little funky because they're actually a picture of the printed photo):

The other amazing part of Discovery Cove is the Great Reef. It's essentially a reef that you would find in the wild with thousands of incredible fish everywhere. I love swimming, so I was in heaven. I honestly thought this was going to be just pretty, small, tropical fish. Until I spotted the huge, HUGE ray gliding toward me. We're talking at least five feet across. Incredible.

The next day we spent at Sea World.

Ally had never been before and loved the shows.

Blue Horizons

Dolphin trainer Barbies... we almost caved.

One Ocean

Another pit stop at the North Pole

If you can save the money for Discovery Cove, it will absolutely be worth it. I've never had so much fun in one day!

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