If you enjoy theme parks, Orlando is the place to be. Whether you like thrill rides, meeting characters or simply being immersed in a land of make believe, there are multiple options for how to spend your vacation dollars. One of the more expensive theme park offerings in Orlando is Discovery Cove. The admission cost for a day in this expensive park ranges from $169 for a day pass without the dolphin swim in the off season to $429 for a day pass including the dolphin swim in the high season. I visited Discovery Cove on a hot day in late July determined to find out if it was worth the money. Here are my top five reasons why it is worth the money.
1) A day at Discovery Cove is all-inclusive. Other than buying photos from your dolphin swim or souvenirs in the gift shop, you won’t need money for anything. All of your food and beverage needs are covered. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style, and though not gourmet, there are plenty of options for everyone. Snacks are available at kiosks throughout the park – soft pretzels, cookies, chips, fruit and more. Simply grab a snack as you walk by. There are plenty of options for drinks as well – Coke products, frozen slushies for the kids, beer, mango daiquiris and pina coladas for the adults and plenty of water to hydrate everyone in the hot Orlando sun. All of the equipment you need for the day is there for the taking. The park provides masks (including prescription masks for glasses wearers like me) and snorkels, wet suits or swim vests, animal friendly sunscreen, towels, life jackets and noodles for the lazy river (though not enough noodles for a crowded day).
2) Discovery Cove limits the number of people who can enter the park to 1200. On the day I was there, the park was definitely at capacity, yet it never felt crowded. There were plenty of places to set up your camp for the day. Though the line for the buffet wouldn’t have been considered short, once you had your food, there were always plenty of tables in the shade. There was always a staff member close by when you had a question or problem.
3) Discovery Cove provides a full day’s worth of activities. Other than short breaks to sit and grab a snack, we were on the go from the moment we checked in at 7:30am until we exited the park at 5:15pm. We started the day with breakfast, procuring our equipment and settling into our private cabana. Our first stop was to visit the aviary before it got too hot and crowded, and it was a lot of fun because you got to feed the birds. Then we spent hours swimming in the grand reef and enjoying the hundreds of tropical fish and manta rays. I am a strong swimmer, but others in my party who are not still enjoyed wading in the reef, looking at the fish from above and even sitting on strategically placed rocks to enjoy the wonders of the sea creatures below. We all managed a circuit through the lazy river. One problem we ran into was a shortage of swim noodles to float through the river on. People must have claimed them all early in the day and then hoarded them by their seats rather than giving others the chance to use them. The river passes through the aviary, by the otters and marmosets and through two waterfalls (keep this in mind if you don’t like getting wet).
4) Swimming with the Dolphins could be a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity. Up until my dolphin swim, I wasn’t too sure that swimming with the dolphins was going to be worth its huge price tag. Brandon, the dolphin trainer we worked with, made the experience enjoyable and educational. We were in the water for longer than 30 minutes and got to meet several dolphins. The best part for me was seeing how happy the dolphins were and how much they seemed to enjoy interacting with the guests. In fact, one was having so much fun, she didn’t want to leave. After our swim, they brought us to a computer kiosk to show us the pictures taken during our swim. We were not pressured in any way to buy the pictures but I chose to buy a small package because they had turned out so well.
5) One day tickets to Discovery Cove include 14 days admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica. We took advantage of our free admission to SeaWorld, and despite it being a 100-degree day, had a great time. We arrived when it opened and stayed until 2pm, and that was plenty of time to enjoy all of the rides, plus see all of the animal exhibits.
Yes, a day at Discovery Cove comes at a substantial cost, but you can definitely get your money’s worth, especially if you take advantage of admission to Sea World or Aquatica. The park in its entirety is beautiful and well maintained. It’s hard to believe the chaos of International Drive is just outside of the park’s borders. Even the bathrooms were spotless, not an easy feat with wet, sand-covered parkgoers tromping through them all day long.
If you’ve been craving a unique theme park option, this should be your next destination.