I had high expectations for my visit to Discovery Cove. First and foremost, this is right up my alley. I love everything ocean and animal related, especially hands-on experiences. Plus, Discovery Cove is billed as "an all-inclusive day resort experience that's one of a kind." Finally, TripAdvisor, a source I generally find very reliable, ranks it #2 out of 198 attractions in Orlando.
Highlights of the day were...
Originally I wasn't going to participate in the Dolphin Interaction because it's $110 extra and I'm a low paid writer, however, I'm so glad I did sign up because it was the highlight of the day! After we were divided into groups of 8 or 9 people, we were introduced to our first dolphin of the interaction. Ours was a middle-aged (in dolphin years) female. The trainers showed us a few of her behaviors and gave us multiple opportunities to touch and feed her. Then there were photographs of us "kissing" her and rubbing her back or tummy. I got to rub her tummy and found her ticklish spot, which made one of her flippers wiggle back and forth. If you've ever found a dog's ticklish spot it's similar to when the dog's leg moves up and down.
Next the trainers brought out a young male, Dexter. We again got to feed and touch Dexter and see him jump. The final experience of the dolphin interaction is the swim where you get to hold on to your dolphin's dorsal fin while he tows you a short distance. It was fun, but honestly I enjoyed the other interactions with the dolphins more. The trainers were great throughout, answering everyone's questions and ensuring that all the guests were comfortable with the amount of interaction during the experience.
I'm much more of a fish/marine mammal enthusiast than I am a bird lover, but Explorer's Aviary turned out to be another highlight. The variety of bird species was amazing and they come up so close you can see all their unique features. There's also bird food provided, so you can feed the birds and let them land on you, if you want. Naturally, being a person who loves touching things, I adored having birds perch on my hand and arm.
Fun experiences, but less than expected included...
The Grand Reef
The Grand Reef is a large saltwater pool with multiple kinds of fish, rays, and sharks (behind a glass viewing wall). I snorkeled around the reef a couple of times and then went to hang out in the shallow area with the cownose and southern stingrays. I was disappointed that there were no spotted eagle rays -- as shown prominently on Discovery Cove's website -- because I'm a huge ray lover. The area was also crowded with many people showing no respect for their fellow snorkelers.
SeaVenture is another price add-on where you get to experience The Grand Reef underwater by wearing an air-filled helmet and walking along the bottom of the exhibit. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see the sharks at eye level (through the glass wall) without having to keep swimming up and down from the surface. I also liked seeing the fish from different angles and holding the 2 crabs our escorts provided. However, rather than being able to walk along the bottom of the whole exhibit, we were limited to a very small area.
It was unlimited, which was nice, but tasted mediocre at best. On the plus side, there is free alcohol for all guests over 21.
Discovery Cove's employees were friendly, but not especially helpful. For example, all guests are told they will get a tour of the park upon entering. The "tour" consisted of having the gift shop, photo pick-up, and restaurant pointed out to us. I guess the actual things we came to see weren't important.
The biggest disappointments were...
Freshwater Oasis is an exhibit where you are supposed to be able to see river otters and marmosets up close. Unfortunately, there were no river otters or marmosets to be found the day I was there.
Wind-away River is a lazy river that connects Serenity Bay, Freshwater Oasis and Explorer's Aviary. The idea is that you can float along the river and stop to enjoy all these exhibits. You can, in fact, do that. But, there were no inner tubes to float on and the current in most of the river is so slow I either had to swim or walk to keep moving.
It's a pool. With a beach area, a waterfall and a grotto. Enough said.
The bottom line is I'm glad I went to Discovery Cove, but I have no desire to return. While it's a lot of fun and offers the opportunity to experience things that are difficult to experience in the wild, I think it's overpriced and overhyped. Maybe if my expectations were set a little lower, I would feel differently.