Bear hugs, butterfly kisses, crocodile tears–our language is peppered with phrases from the animal kingdom. A whole new set of phrases might spring to mind to describe the unprecedented range of up-close animal encounters to be had in Discovery Cove Orlando. At this unique theme park, there are no lines, no crowds, and no rides. In fact, there is nothing to distract guests from the task at hand–to interact with animals ranging from dolphins to birds in a gorgeous tropical setting.
With a special reservations-only policy that limits the number of guests per day to 1,000, this is not your typical Orlando theme park. VIP treatment and personalized service begins as soon as guests check in, and all worries quickly fade away. Food, towels, snorkeling equipment, beach gear, even suntan lotion–everything here is taken care of in the all-inclusive price. A quick, private orientation tour introduces the park’s coral reefs, coves, aviaries, beaches, pools, and lagoons.
Slippery Flippery Smooches
For guests age six and older, the Dolphin Swim is a Discovery Cove highlight. In groups of seven, guests join a knowledgeable trainer in shallow water as they are introduced to the park’s bottlenose dolphins, a species that reaches a length of about nine feet in adulthood and can weigh up to 650 pounds. The bottlenose dolphin is an especially sociable mammal, given to activity and play. Learn about the hand signals and positive reinforcement techniques that trainers use to communicate with them as they chase each other, toss seaweed, carry objects, and play.
After learning about dolphin behavior, guests have a chance to get a little up-close and personal. Time for some hugs and kisses with the gentle creatures as guests pair up with the dolphins one-on-one. Moving into the deeper water of the lagoon, guests can swim alongside their dolphin, play, and depending on the dolphin’s mood, can enjoy an exhilarating belly ride or dorsal tow.
Tropical Reef Madness
Thousands of exotic fish from over 70 species await beneath the waters surrounding the park’s Coral Reef. Fully equipped with snorkel, mask, swim vest, fins, and even a wetsuit if desired, guests can submerge into a world where angelfish and butterflyfish appear to flap their wings, balloonfish and pufferfish float, and damselfish and hawk fish display their brilliant colors. An underwater shipwreck is available for safe exploration, even though the waters teem with barracuda and sharks.
Nearby, in the Ray Lagoon, snorkelers can swim surrounded by mysterious, undulating stingrays. The creatures can grow up to four feet in diameter and, despite their name, are surprisingly gentle. For this reason, guests can float with them and touch their velvety skin without fear of being stung.
Meandering throughout most of the park is the Tropical River. Here, too, colorful fish swim just below the water’s surface, and guests are free to explore the terrain along the river’s banks, which shift from tropical rainforest to sandy beach. At points, the river gives way to plunging waterfalls and rocky lagoons, and even an underwater cave. Through the snorkel mask, guests can gaze upon sunken underwater ruins and hidden grottos, all populated by a variety of underwater creatures.
After swimming beneath a breathtaking waterfall in the Tropical River, guests come upon a giant, free-flight aviary. Over 200 birds from 30 exotic species reside within this sanctuary. Guests can feed, touch, and gaze upon the birds as they fly back and forth across this very naturalistic setting. Amidst the tropical foliage, lorries seek out nectar from blooming, brilliant flowers and graceful cranes walk delicately through the grasses. Although the storks, frogmouths, and laughing thrushes might try to raise a racket, the colorful parrots and lorikeets remain unperturbed in this serene place.
With all this plus a freshly prepared meal, personalized service, use of beach umbrellas and hammocks, access to freshwater pools, lockers, and parking included in the price, it is easy to see why most families spend upwards of eight hours in this theme-park oasis. But as an added bonus for those who want even more marine adventures in days to come, a seven-day pass to nearby SeaWorld Orlando is also thrown in as just one more reward for paying an all-inclusive price.