Discovery Cove – The Definitive(ish) Guide.

A day at Discovery Cove is always a highlight of our trips to Orlando. Some consider it a relaxing day away from the fast-paced theme parks. But for those who don’t enjoy relaxing (which my wife says is me!), there are still plenty of things to do there, and time can quickly disappear. You have the dolphin swim, SeaVenture (extra charge) helmet diving. Animal encounters. All that food, plenty of snacks and many beverages to try. Swimming in the reef. Swimming in the freshwater lagoon. Going into the aviary to see and feed the birds. Watching the adorable otters. Seeing the monkeys. Now the new flamingo point area too.

It is very easy to fall into the ‘I must see and do everything’ camp. But I would suggest a bit of pre-planning to make the most out of your day there. Remember there is always next time!

We arrived this time at 6:45am and thought we would be too early. It was surprising to see a queue for registration with at least 8 desks open checking in the groups.

Remember to take photo ID for anyone over 21 so you can enjoy the alcoholic beverages. You can also upgrade to the speciality drinks package to get access to extra cocktails. A UK driving license is fine, you don’t need to take your passport. Discovery Cove supply wetsuits and snorkel gear, towels, suntan cream, body wash, shampoo and conditioner. There is no need to bring those items with you. The changing rooms and showers are large and well maintained throughout the day, they even have hairdryers.

We had a cabana booked so once checked in we waited for our cabana host to introduce herself and she then escorted us down from reception into the park to have breakfast. Breakfast is served in the Laguna Grill between 7am and 10:30am. 

It is an all you can eat buffet style breakfast where you can choose anything from cereals and yoghurts to the usual hot cooked breakfast items. You don’t have to specifically order any one platter that is shown above. You can pick and choose, and the staff will load your plate for you. There is also fruit along with tea and coffee and juice.

Once we had finished breakfast, we met up with our host again at guest services and were taken to our cabana.

The cabanas at Discovery cove are generally quite secluded and spread around the resort. Ours happened to be right next to the lagoon that houses the dolphin swims. It is a bit of luxury and a great base to hang out for a while during the day. And at this location watch the dolphins.

In your cabana there is a stocked fridge with soft drinks and a snack box. Your cabana host will ask you what alcoholic drinks you would like to be brought along at about 10:30am when they start serving alcohol.

If it is your first visit to Discovery cove you need to weigh up if a cabana is worth it for you. If you want to do all the park has to offer, then a free sunbed as a base might be all that is needed. You might find you are not spending much time in the cabana as you will be enjoying the park. But on future visits you might want to just relax and soak up the luxury a bit more. It does depend on the needs of your group though as to whether a cabana is for you. There are various levels available. Day Beds, tucked within lush landscaping and alongside pristine beaches provide a special place to relax and unwind when not in the water exploring. Private Cabanas, Elite Cabana Packages and VIP Cabana Packages with a guaranteed Dolphin Lagoon view.

There are plenty of free sun beds around. Pick a spot and then relax.

There are free lockers to store your clothes and valuables. Easily accessible throughout the day.

You can also find the wetsuits nearby. These come in a few different styles from just a jacket to a short wetsuit and full-length wetsuits. You will need different types depending on your daily activities. For instance, for general swimming in the reef and the dolphin swim you can just use a jacket. But it does get a bit chilly in the reef and dolphin areas. The next style up is the short wetsuit. This is required for the SeaVenture dive which is a helmet dive in the reef. The full-length wetsuits are required if you have booked the shark encounter.

There is a shop on site to buy anything you have forgotten. Such as water shoes or sunglasses. The sand and concrete do get very hot, so we always take our own water shoes. Or just any branded souvenirs of the day.

You will also find park maps with times for any animal encounters you might like to see during the day. Discovery cove is well thought out and planned to make your day as easy as possible.

There are plenty of free snacks available around the park. These are the same ones that are in the cabanas but available for every guest.

You can help yourself to the non-alcoholic slushy drinks as well as the soda fountain drinks. There is also a, new to us, pizza bar (opened late 2022) at Hibiscus Hideaway, which is open 11:30am until 4:30pm. You don’t get the whole pizza shown in the image they will give you a slice or two from a few different varieties that you ask for.

Along with very hot cookies and pretzels.

The newest part of Discovery cove that only just opened before our arrival was Flamingo Point. Some of the pinkest flamingos I have seen.

One of the best-known animal encounter areas at Discovery Cove is the bird aviary. A walk though area that houses some magnificently colourful birds of many species from many different tropical places. You can also feed them which attracts them to land on you. Some people actively avoid this though. You might end up with them on your head!

You can access the aviary by foot or wheelchair/ECV access. Or by using the steps from certain areas of the freshwater lazy river.

It was time for our SeaVenture dive. This has become a favourite of mine since it opened. My wife and I used to scuba dive, so this was a welcome back to the underwater world. It is a lot easier than learning scuba. You only must be able to breathe! If you can do that you will be fine!

The helmet is full of air. You can even wear glasses if you want to. My wife wore hers. You are given instructions of what to do, shown some simple hand signals and what to expect from the helpful dive staff. There is scuba equipped staff in the water too that accompanies you through the complete dive circuit.

You first get into the water and the helmet is lowered on to you via a winch. The helmet is heavy as it contains the weights needed to counter the buoyancy of you and the wetsuit. Once the helmet is on, you descend the ladder to about 8 feet to the floor. You might need to clear your ears, so take it slowly to allow for the pressure in your ears to equalise. If you have uncomfortable pressure in your ears at the bottom you can put your hand into the helmet to pinch your nose and blow to clear your ears. A couple of younger girls that went in before us had to surface again to get more instruction on this. The team were very patient, and it was great to see these children not panic and give it another go. This time successfully managing to sort their ears out.

Once under you are welcomed to this new world. If you have the photo package from Discovery Cove, they will give you a camera to use underwater to take you own images and the divers will also take some pictures of you, using these cameras.

You will be given any instructions by the dive team on these yellow pads. Along with information on the animals down there.

Part of the dive is spent with the sharks. These are behind glass so not actually in the same area as you. The SeaVenture area is part of the reef, so the fish can freely swim between that area and yours. You will find large rays in there and some big fish.

They ask you not to touch the fish, but you can touch the rays if they swim near you. They also give you a couple of animals to hold and have your photo taken with such as a sea urchin, hermit crabs and cowrie.

Towards the end of the 25-minute-ish dive they will feed the fish.

The fish know this is going to happen, so they gather around, and it becomes a frenzy when the diver opens the food container.

And that is the dive over. Time to say goodbye and ascend the ladder where you started.

Time does go quickly underwater! Both my wife and I really enjoyed this. I had done this a few times before but it was my wife’s first time. My wife confessed she had been a little anxious beforehand at the thought of wearing the heavy helmet and relying on others, rather than having a tank of air. But all worries quickly left when she saw the care and patience of the dive team.

As it was past the time the bars opened, we headed off to look at the offerings.  

There are two main bars. A new feature of this one since I last visited were the swing seats. Some of the alcoholic drinks are free such as domestic beer and wine, but the specialty cocktails and craft beers are extra. You can either pay for these individually or buy a drinks package for the day at $40 + TAX per person. You will have it marked on your lanyard that you have this package so the bar tenders can give you the drinks without charge.

The cabana host will also bring them to your cabana for you and place them in your fridge, if you are not there are the time. That happened to us twice!

We tried the Aloha Sunrise. Vodka, Rum, Blue Curacao, Grenadine, Pineapple and orange juice.

And the Hibiscus Hideaway from the bar that it shares its name with. Calypso Spiced Rum, Malibu, Hibiscus puree, sweet n sour and Sprite. We also tried the Flamingo Punch cocktail which looks very similar. Bacardi rum, Malibu rum. Orange juice, pineapple juice and cranberry.

Time was marching on. Doesn’t it always when you are having fun. It was time for the dolphin swim. Unfortunately, my wife had paid the price of always being tied to your phone in a theme park now. On our first day in Universal she fell off a kerb and badly sprained her ankle so that she could barely walk. We had to hire a wheelchair for her in the theme parks. At Discovery Cove though they were so helpful to her. They initially put her in one of the balloon wheeled wheelchairs at reception. But the cabana host said they are difficult to push so went and got her a free ECV to use. This was a total game changer for the day. It could only be used on the concrete paths, but it meant we could go basically anywhere. I helped her walk across the sand though rather than using the wheelchair they also provided.

Even though she had managed to go on SeaVenture her ankle was by now saying no to much more. So, I did the dolphin swim on my own while she sat on the beach taking some photos.

We had Capricorn. One of the oldest and largest dolphins in the world. I had met him before on several trips to Discovery Cove over the years.

There is a photographer in the water to take images of your interactions.

My wife’s photo from the beach of the photographer taking the picture. With the actual image below.

5/4/2024 1:48:58 PM 1/1/0001 12:00:00 AM 8540211_050424_582142 ERROR ERROR ERROR ERROR 8540211_050424_000581945.JPG92

You get plenty of 1 on 1 time or family group time with the dolphin. Where you might be shown how to give some commands to get them to do tricks.

You will also get a dolphin tow. This is where it differed from my last time there. Before the pandemic you used to get a choice of a shallow water dolphin tow or a deep water one. During the pandemic this was changed just to a shallow water one, because of mask wearing. Speaking to the trainers they said it is something they are now looking to bring back. 

5/4/2024 1:50:21 PM 1/1/0001 12:00:00 AM 8540211_050424_582241 ERROR ERROR ERROR ERROR 8540211_050424_000582102.JPG38

Also, you used to be able to have a photo kissing the dolphin. This was also removed because of the pandemic.

On to the Grand Reef. This is a saltwater lagoon that houses many fish and large rays. Stunningly themed with plenty of space for guests to enjoy. There are fish guides available so you can check up the names of the fish you have seen there.

The SeaVenture area is part of this lagoon as already discussed. Along with the shark area behind glass. You can book a shark experience session too.

What about lunch? The food is good at Discovery cove with lots of choice. Served 11am until 3:30pm

You can have burgers, chicken tenders, wraps, salads, various meat dishes, rice, vegetables and more.

With a decent number of desserts too.

All in all, the day at Discovery cove was pretty much perfect. Not enough time to do everything as usual but once you have been a few times you can cherry pick your favourite parts, and maybe relax in a cabana more. 

There is another bar called the ‘Blue Bamboo’ near the freshwater lagoon that we liked to frequent.

It has a conveniently located seating area in the freshwater lagoon that you can take your drinks into. Such as the Blue Bamboo, Serenity Bay and the Blueberry Splash we had to try. Warm water and a cool drink. What’s not to enjoy?

Relaxing in the water did help my wife’s ankle a lot. Or maybe it was the cocktail or 3 that really helped! Water therapy or cocktail therapy. You decide.

Discovery Cove is a beautiful place to spend the day. It is easy to think you are on a Caribbean island rather than in the middle of Orlando. Lush and tranquil.

It certainly wasn’t my first time there and it won’t be my last. I hope you found this report helpful if you have booked Discovery Cove and want to see what it has to offer. Or if you are just considering booking then hopefully you will now just book it. The package with SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica is such great value, it is almost too good not to buy it.