Sunday, May 20, 2012

Discovery Cove (A day in the pools with dolphins, rays, fish, and some awesome birds)

I was born longing to swim with dolphins. In elementary school, I told everyone I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. I didn’t know exactly what they did, but I knew they worked with dolphins and that was enough for me. Mostly ironic considering that I refuse to swim in the ocean for fear of what might touch me in the water.

A few different times, I tried to plan a day at Discovery Cove. I worried about going alone, the price, and being too tired to drive home afterwards. They were all excuses because sometimes I need the fun of dreaming about something for a while. However, I finally went, and it was an amazing experience.

I read a bunch of different reviews about what to expect and various tips and tricks, so I had my water socks ready (so lame, but so glad to have them) and left before 6am to ensure that I was there at 7:30am to get an early dolphin swim time (another excellent suggestion).

Upon arriving, I was amazed walking around. The grounds were so beautiful that I felt whisked away to some foreign land. The beaches were beautiful, everyone was friendly and happy, and it was so exciting to walk on the beach and see dolphins swimming around in the lagoons.


Because all food is included, you’re not allowed to bring anything with you. Being a vegetarian, this freaked me out. I’m not used to having a lot of food choices and knew that a day of swimming would leave me famished. At check-in, they send me to speak to the chef. They were incredibly accommodating, making sure that I had tasty, healthy food to eat. I didn’t end up requesting anything special because their normal menu was already healthy and veggie friendly. Breakfast was good, the snacks were tasty, and lunch was divine. It definitely exceeded my expectations.

Breakfast was especially entertaining. There were a ton of birds hanging out in the dining area, and when people left their trays, they’d swoop down and steal croissants and bread. While I was eating, they landed on the chair across from me and hung out.

Explorer's Aviary

Because my dolphin swim time wasn’t until 10:30, I took my camera to the Explorer's Aviary to shoot some photos before I got into the pools. I’ve never been a big fan of birds (seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie too many times), so I figured that I would quickly visit and be done with it.

I was wrong. I loved the aviary. As soon as I walked in, a trainer handed me a cup of food, and the birds flew down immediately to visit. I’m not sure what I expected, but when the birds landed on my hand, they were so gentile and sweet, their feathers were ridiculously soft and warm against my hand, and they were extremely social and playful. As I took photos, it felt like they were posing for the camera. The birds were divided into three areas based on their size. My favorites were the small birds.

I could have stayed in there for hours. Every time I turned around, I saw a different breed of bird. In one of the areas, there was even a miniature deer. I visited again in the afternoon, but there were a lot more people.

The following are a few of my favorite photos, but I'll post a link to an album with more photos at the bottom of the post.

Dolphin Swim Experience

At 10:30am, I met with my dolphin group in a nearby cabana. After a short film and some instructions, we broke apart into groups of 8 with our trainers into the lagoon.

In the water, we stood as a group while the trainers taught us about dolphins. While they talked, our dolphin Kaylee swam in front of us, allowing us to pet and see her up close. She was incredibly sweet and silly. She got distracted when a helicopter flew over and was always ready for us to throw her fish. In the learning process, we were able to hug and kiss her. Then, we swam out into deeper water and Kaylee towed us back to shore. It was extremely fun and a great learning experience. As long as I had been building it up in my mind, the experience still met all of my expectations.

Afterwards, we were taken to a hut where we could review our photographs. They were a bit expensive, but I was completely elated to have a professional capture those moments for me. I ended up buying photographs and the video of my experience. It was definitely worth the money.

As a side note, everything I read said that you definitely needed a wetsuit in the dolphin lagoon. I tried a wetsuit and about passed out from heat exhaustion. I changed into a vest, and while it was chilly getting into the water at first, I adjusted quickly. I ventured into the Great Reef before the dolphin swim to make sure that I would be ok.  

Grand Reef

I've never snorkeled before, and I was more than a little freaked out about the rays touching me. Once on a date, I had fed rays at the Lowry Park Zoo. They were so determined to get the food, they flew across the pool the second we put our hands in the water. I dared my date to put a fish close to the biggest one in the tank, and when that ray came at him, it splashed us and made him scream like a little girl. Hysterical at the time, but thinking about getting in a giant pool and swimming with them terrified me. I was sure they would sense my fear and zero in on me.  That didn’t happen. Nothing close to that happened.

The pool is partly shallow with deeper pools that hold the coral reefs . Most of the fish are down in the reefs, so it is best to swim out into the deeper areas. It took me awhile to figure out how to breathe with the snorkel because my mask kept flooding with water. I spent a lot of time trying to get comfortable and  hanging over the side, peering into the deep pools and avoiding the rays. 

At one point, a large school of fish swam around me. It was amazing and beautiful. At that point, I pushed past my fear and just swam into the deeper water. It was amazing  and kind of magical to swim (salt water helps you float along easier) and have these colorful schools of fish swim eye-to-eye past me in the water. 

I rested a bit in a shallower part, which I soon realized was a main swim pathway for the rays. There weren’t a lot of people around, so I floated for awhile as they swam around me.  Some of the rays were bigger than me, and as they swam past, I could see their eyes, watch them breath, and laughed at their process for burying themselves in the sand. I learned that they burrow under the sand to keep from getting sun burnt. I could have spent the entire day watching them and have a new found respect for the rays.

Wind-Away River

The Wind-Away River was beautiful as it twisted through caves and waterfalls (into the Explorer's Aviary).  Unfortunately, I picked a time when I was completely exhausted and the river was pretty packed with people. Also, the water was a bit too warm for my tastes. Normally I love to relax in the water, but I couldn't seem to relax.  The day had been so exciting that I had a very difficult time slowing down (left shortly after and went crazy riding just about every ride at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure - more about that in a later post). Next time, I plan on enjoying this part more.

Discovery Cove was an amazing experience for me. It was so nice to go to a place, dump everything in a locker, and be able to experience everything without having to reach for my wallet all day long. I also read that they are adding a Freshwater Oasis with otters and marmosets. I am definitely planning on returning to see that. 

The following photo album includes photos from my entire trip, which includes my visit to Discovery Cove.


Marie said...

Hi there! My name is Marie and I am planning a trip to Discovery Cove in late September. I will be going by myself so its such a relief to know that you did it alone too and had fun. I was going to reconsider going but not after reading your review! :)

Thanks so much!

Marie from Toronto, Canada

Annie Wood said...

Hi Marie!

That's so awesome! Discovery Cove was amazing, and I'm sure that you'll have a wonderful time. It was a little scary going alone, but 5 minutes there and I was completely past those feelings.

I hope that you have a lovely time and thanks so much for taking a moment to leave a comment.