Wind-Away River at Discovery Cove
Wind-Away River at Discovery Cove via Facebook

Make a Splash With These Discovery Cove Tips & Tricks

Looking for the perfect antidote to days spent fighting the crowds and waiting in long lines at the likes of Walt Disney World or Universal? It doesn’t get much better than Discovery Cove Orlando. Sandwiched in between the both of them just off of the tourist haven that is International Drive, right next door to the other two SeaWorld parks, Discovery Cove offers rest and relaxation, unique animal experiences, blissfully small crowds and all the food and drinks you care to enjoy, all set in a lush tropical paradise.

Sounds pretty incredible, right? Well, best of all, almost everything is included in the cost of your admission. So, who should go to Discovery Cove? And if you do decide to visit, how can you make the most of your time there? Read on as we dive into all of the tips and tricks that you need to know to maximize your day at Discovery Cove and answer some frequently asked questions.

Snorkeling at The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove
Snorkeling at The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove via Facebook

Escape the Craziness of the Theme Parks with a Day at Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove isn’t your average theme park. Unlike popular spots around Central Florida like Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World and even its sister park, SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove swaps out attractions like roller coasters, dark rides and parades for aquatic attractions and creature encounters. Consider it a combination of a water park, a zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and SeaWorld. What’s more, as an all-inclusive day resort, many of these activities and even dining are included in the cost of your ticket.

Yup, you heard us right! Starting at around $150 per person ($180 if you want to do the dolphin swim experience), guests can go snorkeling with tropical fish in a coral reef, get up close and personal with adorable marine mammals in an otter habitat, feed exotic birds in a free-flight aviary, float down a lazy river, have an unforgettable dolphin encounter, eat themselves silly and so much more, all without spending anything extra. That is unless you want to, of course. Which, let’s be honest, you probably will. Having said that, you can still have an absolutely amazing time only taking advantage of what’s included in your Discovery Cove ticket.

But wait, there’s more! Some Discovery Cove packages even come with access to other SeaWorld parks in Central Florida, including both the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks and the Aquatica water park. And not just for one or two days, but a full two weeks! That’s 14 days of fun, all for one convenient price. That’s a huge savings and an incredible deal for SeaWorld Orlando fans who live in the area or those who are going to be visiting for a good chunk of time.

If you still aren’t sure if Discovery Cove is right for you and your crew, check out our comprehensive guide that is filled with all the details you need to know. Otherwise, if you’re ready to find out how you can make the most of your day at Discovery Cove, keep reading as we answer all of your most pressing questions and give you some helpful hints to make sure you maximize your time in the park.

Discovery Cove
Discovery Cove via Facebook

Discovery Cove Orlando FAQs

Wondering how much time you should plan for at Discovery Cove or what you should pack for your visit? Or maybe you just want to know if the dolphin swim or even just Discovery Cove in general are worth it. (Spoiler alert: They are!) Whatever you’re curious about, we’ve got the answers.

What’s the difference between Discovery Cove and SeaWorld Orlando?

First things first: Exactly what is the difference between SeaWorld and Discovery Cove, and why should you go to Discovery Cove over the other more famous park? Although they both fall under the umbrella of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment (Busch Gardens fits in that category, too), and they are somewhat similar in terms of the theming and focus, both parks offer very different experiences. Simply put, while SeaWorld gives guests plenty of opportunities to see all sorts of marine life from afar, Discovery Cove allows you to actually get in the water with these fascinating creatures. (To be fair, SeaWorld lets you do this as well, but to a much lesser extent.)

In other words, you can snorkel with tropical fish at The Grand Reef, mingle with otters at the Freshwater Oasis, make a new dolphin friend, and feed a bird sitting in the palm of your hand. Or, if you’d rather just relax, you can float down the Wind-Away River, get some sun in one of the many lounge chairs dotted around the park’s white sand beaches, splash around in Serenity Bay or eat yourself silly at Laguna Grill. It’s all up to you! And since Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive day resort, a lot of it is already covered with your park admission, including food and even alcoholic beverages.

Blue Bamboo Bar at Discovery Cove
Blue Bamboo Bar at Discovery Cove via Facebook

How many days do you need at Discovery Cove Orlando?

Unlike other parks around Orlando, Discovery Cove is relatively small when it comes to both size and scope. Along with the many animal encounters available here, Discovery Cove is all about relaxation and unplugging from the world for a while. On top of that, it’s also a lot less busy. In fact, the maximum capacity for the park is only 1,300 guests per day, meaning you won’t have to worry about the typical crowds and long lines that you will find at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando or even SeaWorld.

Taking all of this into consideration, you really only need to spend one full day to take advantage of everything that’s included with your ticket. However, if you do want to upgrade your visit with multiple other activities like Shark Swim, Flamingo Mingle, Animal Trek or Trainer for a Day, then you may want to do an extra day or, at the very least, plan a return visit. Otherwise, you risk not being able to slow things down and just soak up the incredible experience.

What age is best for visiting Discovery Cove?

Similar to Walt Disney World, which is known for being incredibly family-friendly, Discovery Cove offers something for guests of all ages and energy levels. In fact, thanks to its perfect blend of both adventure and relaxation, it really is an ideal vacation destination for a multi-generational trip. It really is fun for the whole family! That said, there are some age requirements that you’ll need to keep in mind for those visiting with children. Although kids of all ages are welcome to enjoy The Grand Reef, Explorer’s Aviary, Serenity Bay and Wind-Away River (life jackets are available for extra support), they must be at least 6 years old to take part in the Dolphin Swim, Animal Trek, Flamingo Mingle, Ray Feeding or Trainer for a Day and at least 10 years old to do the Shark Swim and the SeaVenture underwater walking tour. However, with the exception of Dolphin Lagoon, all of the complimentary activities at Discovery Cove are great for guests young and old.

Father and daughter playing with dolphin
Dolphin Swim at Discovery Cove via Facebook

Can Discovery Cove accommodate people with disabilities?

Absolutely! Whether guests can maneuver themselves with the help of a personal assistant or all on their own with limited assistance, Discovery Cove does everything it can to make sure those with disabilities have a wonderful experience. Not only are beach-ready wheelchairs with supersized wheels available but many wading areas throughout the park, as well as Dolphin Lagoon, are built to be inclusive for guests with mobility challenges, with built-in handrails and special structures that make it easier for them to get in the water.

Discovery Cove is also a Certified Autism Center with certified staff members who have been specially trained in partnership with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) in areas like sensory awareness, emotional awareness, motor skills and more. In addition, they provide an IBCCES Sensory Guide and also offer a dedicated Quiet Space as a reprieve from sensory stimulation along with Discovery Cove’s general serene environment overall.

What comes with your Discovery Cove admission?

As an all-inclusive park, visiting Discovery Cove Orlando comes with its fair share of complimentary perks, including an array of amenities and experiences.

Sloth at Animal Trek at Discovery Cove
Sloth at Animal Trek at Discovery Cove via Facebook

Included Amenities

  • Lockers
  • Changing facilities
  • Showers with shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hair dryers
  • Fresh towels
  • Animal-safe sunscreen
  • Swim diapers
  • Snorkel gear, including some prescription goggles
  • Life jackets and wet suits in a wide variety of sizes
  • Unlimited food and drinks
  • Self-parking

Included Experiences

  • Dolphin experience in Dolphin Lagoon (for those with Discovery Cove’s Signature Dolphin Swim Package only)
  • Feeding the birds in Explorer’s Aviary
  • Up-close encounters with Asian small-clawed otters and marmosets in Freshwater Oasis
  • Snorkeling with tropical fish in The Grand Reef
  • Swimming and relaxing poolside at Serenity Bay
  • Exploring Wind-Away River, the park’s lazy river
Serenity Bay at Discovery Cove
Serenity Bay at Discovery Cove via Facebook

What should you bring to Discovery Cove?

So, since a lot of what you’ll need for your Discovery Cove day is provided for you with your admission, what sorts of things should you bring with you? As we already mentioned, towels and snorkel gear are already available at the park. However, you’re certainly welcome to bring your own from home if you prefer, especially for those who would rather not risk getting a pair of prescription goggles from the resort. You want to be able to see all of the beautiful tropical fish in The Grand Reef, after all!

You’re also free to bring your own deodorant. Because, although you will be required to shower before getting in any of the lagoons to protect the health of the marine life, you’re definitely going to want it once it’s time to leave. (Orlando is hot, ya’ll!) And whatever you do, don’t forget your phone, camera or other recording device. While you can’t bring them with you during the Shark Swim, Flamingo Mingle or into Dolphin Lagoon, you are welcome to take them everywhere else so that you can capture each and every moment.

Sharks at Discovery Cove
Sharks at Discovery Cove via Facebook

What to Take to Discovery Cove

  • Photo ID for guests ages 18 and older (passport or driver’s license)
  • Credit card for charging unincluded alcoholic beverages or items at the gift shops
  • Swimsuit or trunks
  • Swim diapers
  • A change of clothes
  • Water shoes/socks or sandals (footwear is required for those doing the Discovery Cove Trainer for a Day)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Waterproof camera, waterproof phone case/bag or GoPro
  • Things to keep you entertained beachside, like something to read or headphones for music

What to Leave at Home or Your Hotel Room

  • Jewelry (except for watches and wedding bands)
  • Outside food or drinks
  • Sand toys
  • Scuba equipment, flippers or flotation devices like pool noodles
Snorkeling at The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove 1
Snorkeling at The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove via Facebook

What should you wear to Discovery Cove? Do you have to wear a bathing suit?

If you are going to be swimming, then yes, you will need to wear a bathing suit at Discovery Cove. (Of course, if all you’re planning on doing is relaxing on the beach by Serenity Bay or making some feathered friends in Explorer’s Aviary, then you’re welcome to skip the suit.) You will also want to keep in mind that Discovery Cove will provide you with either a zip-up swim vest or a wet suit—both short and full-length options are available—of your choosing that you must wear whenever you are in the water. (You will keep your swimsuit on underneath.) Since the water for both Dolphin Lagoon and The Grand Reef is slightly cooler (between 76 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius), you may want to opt for the full-length wetsuit so you don’t get chilly.

Do you have to swim at Discovery Cove?

Of course not! Although, swimming can be a very large part of the Discovery Cove experience if you want to be. Having said that, most of the aquatic activities can be enjoyed by simply wading in the water, as the majority of them are only one foot deep or less at their shallowest point, the only exception being Wind-Away River. (Life jackets are also provided for those who would like to explore the water further and deeper but don’t feel comfortable in their swimming abilities.) Of course, aside from that, you’re also free to hang out as much as you’d like in the Explorer’s Aviary, enjoy some much-deserved relaxation time from a lounge chair or hammock on one of the sandy beaches or simply eat and drink to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content at Laguna Grill or one of the other dining outlets in the resort.

What happens in the event of bad weather?

One thing you will need to consider when planning your visit to Discovery Cove is the weather, especially when you’re looking at traveling during hurricane season. Fortunately, should Orlando, Tampa or your hometown come in the track of a named hurricane or tropical storm, you can either reschedule your Discovery Cove reservation for another date or cancel it altogether for a refund if you booked on any of the SeaWorld Parks websites or through either SeaWorld Vacations or Busch Gardens Vacations.

Discovery Cove at Sunset
Discovery Cove at Sunset via Facebook

Is going to Discovery Cove worth it?

We won’t lie. Discovery Cove isn’t the cheapest option when it comes to Orlando theme parks. However (and that’s a big “however”), what Discovery Cove has going for it that the other parks lack is the fact that it is all-inclusive. From the activities available to breakfast, lunch and even select alcoholic beverages, a huge chunk of what is offered at Discovery Cove is covered with your resort admission. Considering how much dining at places like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando can cost—on top of the considerable amount you’re already spending on tickets, no less—we think that is a huge selling point.

Of course, once you add in the many included amenities like snorkeling gear and sunscreen, as well as experiences like swimming and animal encounters (not to mention the more intimate setting with no long lines to contend with), we think the uniqueness of it all and the overall hospitality provided at Discovery Cove makes the high cost of admission worth it, especially if you are able to maximize the various complimentary aspects. There truly is nothing else like it in Central Florida. Best of all, although you certainly can pay more to upgrade your visit with other perks like one of the private cabanas, a behind-the-scenes tour, the premium drink package or animal experiences like feeding southern stingrays or swimming with blacktip reef and nurse sharks, you definitely don’t need to to have a good time.

Is the Discovery Cove dolphin swim worth it?

For those who might find tickets to Discovery Cove already a stretch for their travel budget, the thought of adding on the Dolphin Swim experience on top of it all may be too much for their bank accounts to bear. That said, depending on the timing of your trip (i.e., busy periods versus the off-season), adding on the Dolphin Swim Package can increase your overall ticket price by as little as $25 or so per person, and that’s including tax. Only $25 to swim with a dolphin! We don’t know about you, but that seems like a steal to us.

Keep in mind that while the experience itself is roughly 30 minutes from beginning to end, you won’t be swimming with your new dolphin friend the entire time. Much of the activity is dedicated to seeing them interact with the dolphin trainer and learning about their various behaviors. Even so, we still think that swimming with dolphins at Discovery Cove is worth it if you have space for it in your budget.

Dolphin Swim at Discovery Cove
Discovery Cove by d4rr3ll is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Discovery Cove Tips & Tricks: How to Make the Most of Your Visit

Discovery Cove isn’t known for being one of the more wallet-friendly resorts in Central Florida. (Although what theme park really is?) That said, if you’re planning to visit, you’re going to want to do everything you can to maximize the cost of admission and squeeze every last drop of fun out of your experience. With that in mind, here are some tips and tricks to help you make the most of your trip to Discovery Cove Orlando.

Visit During the Off-Season for Cheaper Tickets

As with other parks, Walt Disney World included, ticket prices for Discovery Cove can vary dramatically depending on when you decide to visit, with rates increasing during times of high demand. For example, going during busier periods, like over spring break and summer, will result in a higher price tag, while visiting during the slower, cooler months can net you huge savings. So, if you have flexibility in your schedule, you can save yourself $100 or more per person by scheduling your trip during the low season.

Book Your Admission and Upgraded Experiences in Advance

Bearing in mind that access to Discovery Cove Orlando is limited to only 1,300 visitors per day, it’s incredibly important that you book your reservation early so that you don’t accidentally miss out. This is even more true for optional upgraded experiences that have extremely limited availability. For example, the SeaVenture underwater walking tour has 126 spots daily (the most of any activity upgrades). Others like Flamingo Mingle, an early-morning experience where you get to feed the park’s famous Caribbean flamingos, and the Discovery Cove aquarist-led Ray Feeding are capped at only 20 people per day, while only 16 guests can be a dolphin trainer for the day.

Flamingos at Discovery Cove
Flamingos at Discovery Cove via Facebook

Arrive Bright and Early

The easiest way to make the most of your day at Discovery Cove is by maximizing your time in the resort, and that means getting there right away in the morning and staying until closing time. Although that might sound overwhelming, the time commitment for the park is actually much less than places like Disney World or Universal. In general, Discovery Cove is open from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. However, the actual experiences and waterways don’t actually open up until 9:00 AM.

That said, you’re still going to want to arrive at Discovery Cove as close to 7 AM as possible. Not only will this allow you plenty of time to check in, but it will also give you first dibs when it comes to choosing times for the various activities. This is particularly important for experiences like the Dolphin Swim, as scheduling an early-morning slot means getting to hang out with the marine mammals when they are fresh and ready to take on the day. Don’t worry—once you’ve planned out your day, you’ll then be able to fuel up for all of your upcoming adventures on a bottomless buffet breakfast at Laguna Grill. (As a bonus, you will also avoid the extreme traffic that can build up along Central Florida Parkway and I-Drive during the summertime when folks head to the Aquatica water park in droves to beat the heat.)

Lather Up with Sunscreen

Speaking of Florida’s famously hot and humid weather, you’ll also want to make sure that you protect yourself (and the animals!) with Discovery Cove’s provided sunscreen. Rather than bringing your own (and risk harming all the creatures that call Discovery Cove home in the process), just use the sunscreen that is included with your resort admission instead. Not only will you save a few bucks and some room in your beach bag, but you’ll also respect the marine animals that live there in the process. Just be sure to take it easy when slathering it on, as it is a whole lot thicker than regular sunscreen and can result in a pasty face if you aren’t careful.

Rays and Tropical Fish in The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove
Rays and Tropical Fish in The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove via Facebook

Don’t Forget the H20

Similarly, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Although you’re going to be swimming on and off throughout the day, you won’t be absorbing water through osmosis. So, be sure to pick up a water bottle from one of the food and drink outlets around the park. After all, the last thing you’re going to want is to overheat and no longer be able to participate.

Capture the Moment at The Grand Reef with a GoPro or Waterproof Camera

Another great way to take advantage of everything Discovery Cove Orlando has to offer is to commemorate it with a whole bunch of photos. That way, you’ll be able to pull them out or scroll through them and relive the experience again and again (and brag to all of your friends). Cameras and cell phones (provided that they’re in a water-resistant case or bag, of course) are welcome everywhere except Dolphin Lagoon, Shark Swim and Flamingo Mingle. So, don’t miss the opportunity to snap a shot of the beautiful tropical fish in the under-the-sea world of The Grand Reef or of the otters in Freshwater Oasis in their natural habitat.

Cap Your Day at Two Headliner Activities

Although it might be tempting, resist the urge to bite off more than you can chew. That means capping your day at only two special experiences, including the dolphin encounter. Otherwise, you run the risk of not having enough time to fully enjoy included experiences like The Grand Reef, Serenity Bay, and the lazy river, just to name a few.

Feeding a Sun Conure, also known as a Sun Parakeet at Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida
Feeding a Sun Conure, also known as a Sun Parakeet at Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida by by eric from USA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Check Out the Explorer’s Aviary First Thing in the Morning If You’re a Bird Lover

If you’re an avid bird watcher or you’re simply looking for a memorable animal experience you can’t get elsewhere, then you’re definitely going to want to shake your tail feather and fly on over to Explorer’s Aviary right away in the morning. After all, it’s the early bird that gets the worm. Seriously, those gorgeous tropical birds are hungry in the morning, and they will flock right to you if you have a bowl of food in your hands waiting for them, meaning that you’ll be able to score some awesome up-close interactions and excellent photos.

Take Advantage of the Complimentary Dining and Drinks

As we hinted at earlier, food is often one of the biggest expenses you’ll encounter when visiting a theme park. Happily, that isn’t the case at Discovery Cove since food and select beverages are included. So, feel free to sample the buffet of delicious dishes and drinks that are on offer and get your money’s worth.

Make a Splash on Wind-Away River Before 4 PM

If you want to explore the entire Wind-Away River, then make sure you begin your journey by 4 PM at the latest, as the rear section of the lazy river closes to guests at 4:30 PM. If you wait it out, you might not make it to the backstretch before they shut it down for the day. Consider this your warning!

Respect the Animals and Their Caretakers

Of all our Discovery Cove Orlando tips and tricks, this one is the easiest. Be kind, both to the animals and the people who care for them. It’s that simple. These amazing creatures are probably the reason why you’re even at Discovery Cove to begin with. So, respect their space, be compassionate and listen to the instructions of the people who know them best. Thank you for coming to our TED Talk!

Wind-Away River at Discovery Cove
Wind-Away River at Discovery Cove via Facebook

Well, beach bums and animal lovers, that brings our guide to Discovery Cove to an end. Have you ever had the opportunity to visit this incredible resort? Do you think it’s worth the cost? Let us know your thoughts and any tips you might have in the comments! Then, learn how you can save on your visit with our discount Discovery Cove tickets.