Everything You Need to Know About the Most Unique Theme Park in Orlando: Discovery Cove
While Central Florida heavy-hitters like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando typically draw the most attention—and traffic—from travelers passing through the Sunshine State, there’s another little slice of paradise that tops the list of the best theme parks in both the city and the world again and again: Discovery Cove. Part of a trio of SeaWorld parks in the area, along with SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica Orlando, Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive day resort featuring a menagerie of marine animals.
Wanting to swim with bottlenose dolphins or other aquatic creatures? You can do that, and more, at Discovery Cove. Hoping to soak up some sun while on vacation? Discovery Cove’s beaches are the perfect place to make it happen. Looking to escape the craziness of the theme parks for a while? Then make the short drive down I-4 to the blissfully crowd-free oasis that is Discovery Cove Orlando. Oh, and did we mention the unlimited food and beverages that are included with your admission? Again, we say, paradise!
To learn more about the incredible animal encounters, adventurous activities and relaxation opportunities that await you at this aquatic amusement park, read on as we dive into all the details you need to know about Discovery Cove Orlando.
What Is Discovery Cove Orlando?
As we just mentioned, Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive day resort and part of three parks operated by SeaWorld Orlando. Just like an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or on an island somewhere, everything you need to have an amazing time is included in the price of your admission, like access to pristine beaches, refreshing aquatic activities, memorable animal experiences and all the food and drinks (including water and alcoholic beverages!) that you care to enjoy. It’s like a Caribbean cruise minus the seasickness!
Discovery Cove vs. SeaWorld Orlando: What’s the Difference?
Discovery Cove is one of the three parks that make up SeaWorld Orlando, along with the actual SeaWorld theme park and the Aquatica Orlando water park. In fact, you can almost think of it as a combination of the two, with a dash of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park or Busch Gardens thrown in for good measure. Not only does it have waterpark-like attractions like a lazy river and an 85-degree pool with waterfalls and white-sand beaches, but there is also an array of close-up encounters with all manner of marine animals.
That’s right—you don’t just gaze at aquatic creatures from beyond a barrier like you do at SeaWorld or Aquatica Orlando. Discovery Cove lets you plunge right in alongside them for an oceanful of fun! Best of all, unlike the many other theme parks and water parks around Orlando, you won’t find any long lines to wait in or heavy crowds to contend with at Discovery Cove. Yes, really! In stark contrast to the hordes of people you will typically find at other parks throughout Central Florida, Discovery Cove has a maximum park capacity of only 1,300 guests per day. Talk about a tropical paradise!
Visiting Discovery Cove
Sounds pretty amazing, right? If you would like to go to Discovery Cove during your Orlando vacation, here are some things to keep in mind when planning your trip.
Discovery Cove Tickets & How to Book
There are a variety of tickets and packages available for Discovery Cove, with options catered toward a variety of attraction inclusions. The first thing you should know is that the dolphin encounter isn’t included in all Discovery Cove tickets. So, if you would like to join Discovery Cove’s pod of bottlenose dolphins for the day, you will need to upgrade your ticket to a dolphin swim package. However, considering that the difference between the basic day resort package and the dolphin swim package is only around $20 to $50 difference per person, depending on your date of visit, we think that it’s well worth the upgrade.
For those planning to spend several days in Central Florida or area residents, the best deal is, without a doubt, the Discovery Cove Day Resort Package, which includes unlimited admission to Discovery Cove, as well as both of the other SeaWorld parks, for 14 days. Yup, that’s two whole weeks of watery fun! Packages with free parking and admission to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, in addition to all three SeaWorld parks, are also available. Deals and steals!
So, how do you book your day at Discovery Cove? While you can certainly book directly through Discovery Cove’s website, we suggest that you book through us instead. Why? Because thanks to our partnership with authorized ticket seller Undercover Tourist, we can save you up to $200 or more per person. That’s a huge savings that you can use to upgrade your visit to include the popular dolphin interaction and still have a good chunk of change left over.
Then, once you’ve purchased your admission tickets, all you need to do is splash on over to the Discovery Cove website and select “Buy Upgrades” to add-on bonus experiences such as Trainer for a Day and animal feedings or extras like a private cabana and premium drink or photo packages. Just be sure to select the same date of visit both when buying your Discovery Cove tickets and purchasing any upgrades. Just keep in mind that availability is limited for both the theme park and add-on activities, with many experiences having only a few spots each day. So, we recommend that you make advance reservations at least two months ahead of time to ensure space is still available.
Click here to book your Discovery Cove Orlando tickets today!
Located off of International Drive, just across the street from Sea World and not far from I-4, Discovery Cove is only 15 minutes away from both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, resting right near the middle. Complimentary parking is available, meaning that getting to and from the park is convenient, cheap and easy, even for those who are staying at one of the Disney World resorts or Universal Orlando hotels.
Waterways at Discovery Cove are officially open from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, you should plan to arrive between 7 AM and 8:30 AM—the closer to 7 AM, the better. This is because check-in begins promptly at 7:15 AM (or right away at 7 AM for certain add-on experiences like Ray Feeding and Flamingo Mingle). So, you’ll enjoy a wider selection of experience times the earlier you get to the park. You’ll also want to be there early so that you have plenty of time to enjoy the delicious breakfast, which is served from 7:30 to 10:30 AM. Lunch is offered from 11:00 AM to 3:30 PM.
What to Bring or Leave at Home
All set for your Discovery Cove day? Here are some items to pack in your beach bag or leave back at your hotel:
What to Bring
Photo ID for check-in for guests ages 18 and up (driver’s license or passport)
Credit card for optional in-park charges
Family-friendly bathing suit (Swim Diapers are required for un-potty trained children, can be provided if necessary)
A set of dry clothes
Sandals or water shoes
GoPro or other waterproof camera
Entertainment items like books, magazines or a music player with headphones
Completed waivers for guests under 18 years old not visiting with their parent or guardian
What Not to Bring
Jewelry (wedding bands and watches are acceptable)
Outside food or beverages, including alcohol
Flotation devices or beach toys like noodles, flippers, sand buckets or scuba equipment
What’s Included at Discovery Cove: Free Food & Drinks, Up-Close Animal Encounters and Tropical Fish Galore
So, we already mentioned that Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive day resort. But what exactly does all-inclusive mean? What is included in your Discovery Cove admission? Surprisingly, quite a lot! Let’s dive in and take a look.
In addition to the wide variety of aquatic activities and animal encounters, which we’ll take a closer peek at in just a bit, Discovery Cove guests also enjoy access to a variety of complimentary amenities and perks, including:
Spacious lockers to stash your stuff
Changing facilities and showers stocked with body wash, shampoo, conditioner and hair dryers (for the animals’ safety, guests are required to shower before entering any of the animal habitats)
A seemingly endless supply of fresh towels
Snorkeling gear (prescription goggles are available upon request; guests are also welcome to bring their own)
Life vests and wet suits in all sizes (for wet suits, Discovery Cove crew members will estimate your size, so feel free to ask for one that is larger or smaller if necessary; a wet suit is highly recommended for both the dolphin swim and the Grand Reef, as each is kept at only 76 degrees year-round)
Speaking of complimentary dining, let’s dig into this delicious perk a bit more. As anyone who has ever been to theme parks before can attest, mealtime can be one of the biggest expenses, especially for those traveling as a family. Since breakfast, lunch and all-day snacks are included with your Discovery Cove ticket, this is one less thing that you need to worry about and a huge selling point in our book.
Celiacs and other folks with food allergies will also be happy to know that accommodations can be made for your mealtime as well. Simply let an employee know when you check in so that they can arrange a time for you to meet with the chef to discuss your needs. (You can also get ahead of the game and let them know when making your reservation.)
All told, guests can choose between three different dining outlets. Laguna Grill is open for breakfast and lunch and offers the most extensive selection of options. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 10:30 AM and features a buffet of morning favorites like French toast sticks, southwest-stye scrambled eggs, fried chicken and Belgian waffles, breakfast potatoes and more. Lunch, meanwhile, is offered between 11 AM and 3:30 PM and features options like grilled jerk chicken, mojo pulled pork, coconut-crusted salmon and shrimp ceviche. Be sure to save some room for dessert, like lemon poppyseed or carrot cake (or both!).
Opened in 2022, the new Hibiscus Hideaway—open from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM—serves up a more limited spread, such as flatbread pizzas, soft-serve ice cream and Icees, as well as a full-service bar and non-alcoholic drinks. For those wanting to indulge in something boozy, Blue Bamboo Bar is another new offering that also opened in 2022. The food selection is even more limited here, with snack items like chips and soft pretzels. However, there are plenty of beverages to choose from, whether you’re in the mood for soda, water, coffee, tea or something stronger.
This is also a great time to mention that not only are food and non-alcoholic drinks included at Discovery Cove but select boozy beverages, too! However, note that only certain beer and wine selections are covered in your admission. If you are interested in endless specialty drinks like cocktails, craft beer or certain wine offerings, you will need to upgrade to the premium drink package.
Alright, now it’s time for the main event: the many incredible animal experiences and aquatic adventures available to you throughout the day with your park admission. Here are the ways you can make a splash during your Discovery Cove day.
Although the dolphin experience isn’t included in the base ticket for Discovery Cove—you will need to upgrade your admission to the dolphin swim package to enjoy this creature encounter—you can still observe them as they swim and play around their habitat. Try to stop by between 4 and 4:30 PM when they are the most active.
Come face to face with some feathered friends over at the Explorer’s Aviary. Home to hundreds of tropical birds, this free-flight aviary is designed to look like a lush rainforest canopy. Not only are bird identification guides on view throughout (you can also scan a QR code to pull the guide up on your phone), but tiny cups of food are available for guests to hand out to feathered friends for free, making for a super fun experience and an excellent photo op. These exotic birds can be incredibly friendly, especially when holding snacks in your hand. So, don’t be surprised if you wind up with one or two on your arms or even on your head.
Not far from the tropical birds of the free-flight aviary rests the Freshwater Oasis, which features up-close encounters with small mammals like marmosets, adorable tiny primates with puffy white cheeks, and Asian small-clawed otters. As arboreal creatures, the marmosets tend to stay up high in the rainforest canopy above. So, make sure to keep your eyes on the treetops. The otters, meanwhile, can be viewed from both below and above the water, as guests can swim or wade near the adorable animals as they propel themselves throughout the Freshwater Oasis. Animal experts will also bring other small mammals, like sloths and armadillos, out to greet guests at the area’s Conservation Cabana.
The Grand Reef
Have you ever wished that you could snorkel with the tropical fish of the Great Barrier Reef without traveling all the way to Australia? Well, at The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove, you can do just that. Located right next to the Ray Feeding, Swim with Sharks and SeaVenture experiences, The Grand Reef allows guests to swim with thousands of colorful tropical fish and rays, with no scuba certification necessary. All they need to do is don snorkeling gear and explore the coral reef’s hidden grottos.
For those hoping to enjoy a little (or a lot of) relaxation, there’s no better place than the aptly named Serenity Bay. Warmed to a balmy 85 degrees all year round, this zero-entry pool features sandy beaches, rushing waterfalls and caves for exploring, all surrounded by a tropical rainforest landscape. Rows of beach chairs and hammocks hanging between palm trees offer the perfect spot to unwind with a good book. For those hanging out at Serenity Bay in the morning, typically around 9:15 AM, be sure to have your cameras at the ready for when Discovery Cove’s flamboyance of flamingos strolls past on their daily pilgrimage to Laguna Grill from The Grand Reef.
Leave Discovery Cove’s beaches and bathwater-like depths of Serenity Bay behind for a slightly more adventurous yet still utterly relaxing journey down Wind-Away River. The water-filled trails of this crystal-clear tropical river float past a lush landscape, beneath a rainforest canopy filled with exotic birds of the Explorer’s Aviary, through an underwater cave and under cascading waterfalls, all for guests to enjoy at their own pace. Rather than tubes or rafts, noodles are the vehicle of choice, making for a less-lazy-river experience.
Just keep in mind that this tropical river can get quite deep (up to 8 feet in some parts), so we definitely suggest picking up one of the complimentary life jackets for toddlers or others who feel less than confident in deeper water. The bottom can also get rough and rocky, so put on your swim shoes if you have them.
Upgrade Your Discovery Cove Day with Next-Level Add-Ons
You can have an absolutely amazing time at Discovery Cove by just taking advantage of the complimentary activities included with your admission. However, for those who don’t mind splurging a bit for an extra-special experience, many worthwhile upgrades are available—and, considering everything that is included, surprisingly reasonably priced. One way or another, you’re sure to come away with an incredible experience that you won’t soon forget, as well as a greater appreciation for the marine animals that call our planet home.
Dolphin Swim at Dolphin Lagoon
If you can only do one upgraded experience at Discovery Cove, let it be their headlining dolphin encounter at Dolphin Lagoon. To participate in this dolphin experience, you will need to upgrade your ticket to one of the dolphin swim packages. However, as this is roughly only $25 to $50 or so more per person, we think that it is more than worth it for the magical experience of getting up close and personal with these incredible creatures.
You’ll first be introduced in small groups to one of the resident dolphins before learning a bit about them from one of Discovery Cove’s animal care specialists. Then, each person will have their time to shine, posing for photos, getting a peck on the cheek and testing out some of the dolphin’s personality-filled behaviors before enjoying a quick swim alongside them.
Be aware that while the vast majority of the experience is held in shallow water, the actual dolphin swim portion takes place in water up to 12 feet deep. However, for those who aren’t as confident in their swimming abilities, life jackets are able to be worn in the dolphin lagoons.
SeaVenture Underwater Walking Tour – Starts at $59 Per Person
For an experience that you can’t find at any other parks, or really just anywhere else in general, you won’t want to miss SeaVenture. After donning astronaut-like oxygen helmets, this 20 to 25-minute guided underwater walking tour takes participants into the depths of The Grand Reef, where they will come face to face with reef sharks, tropical fish and rays. As you roam the water-filled trails of The Grand Reef, an animal expert will share fun facts about the creatures you see along the way, and you will even get a chance to touch some sea life as you explore. Needless to say, be sure to bring your GoPro along to capture the moment or borrow one of the park’s underwater cameras and purchase your favorite photos once you’ve dried off.
You don’t need a scuba certification for this unique underwater experience. In fact, it’s almost as easy as going for a walk on dry land. Unless you’re claustrophobic, that is—those dive helmets can be a challenge for those who hate tight spaces. Just make sure that you schedule your dive time appropriately, as you can’t fly within four hours of the experience or drink alcohol beforehand. (Only 126 spots daily)
Animal Trek – Starts at $69 Per Person
Wish that you could get a bit closer to the cuddly creatures and furry friends that call Discovery Cove home? Then Animal Trek is for you. Lasting around 30 minutes, this private, behind-the-scenes guided tour led by an animal expert goes off the beaten path and into the lush rainforest landscape for up-close encounters with animals like macaws, otters, sloths, anteaters and armadillos. (Actual animals may vary.) Sadly, Animal Trek starts at the same time as Shark Swim, so you will need to choose which one you’re most interested in. (Only 24 spots daily)
Flamingo Mingle – Starts at $69 Per Person
Greet the morning in a truly vibrant fashion with this colorful animal encounter led by one of the park’s expert aviculturists. After meeting Discovery Cove’s flamboyance of flamingos (believe it or not, that’s the official term for a group of these tropical birds), you’ll help feed a flamingo their morning meal before wading into the cool water of The Grand Reef with your new feathered friends. A photographer will also be on hand to snap photos of the action. (Only 20 spots daily)
Ray Feeding – Starts at $69 Per Person
Slip into a wetsuit and wade into the water to help feed the many tropical fish and rays that call The Grand Reef home in this early morning encounter. Guided by one of the expert aquarists, who will be happy to answer any questions you may have about the animals’ care, this feeding experience puts you in charge of the morning meal for the likes of massive Southern Rays and playful Cownose Rays, as well as tons of fish. Set aside at least an hour and 45 minutes, beginning to end, for the ray feeding experience, of which approximately 30 to 45 minutes will take place in the water. (Only 20 spots daily)
Swim with Sharks – Starts at $169 Per Person
Come face to face with some notorious denizens of the deep in this intimate animal experience. After learning about the toothy creatures during an expert aquarist-led training and Q&A session, pull on a wetsuit and some snorkeling gear and then dive into the shark habitat for an exclusive free swim. During the experience, you’ll encounter reef sharks, nurse sharks, zebra sharks and bonnethead sharks—more than 20 in total. (Only 16 spots daily)
Trainer for a Day – Starts at $199 Per Person
This one is for all of the die-hard animal lovers out there who have ever dreamed of being a marine biologist. For this truly VIP experience (groups are capped at no more than eight people), you’ll enjoy exclusive encounters like fish feeding at The Grand Reef led by an aquarist, a private session with the otters at Freshwater Oasis, a guided tour of the free-flight aviary, meet-and-greets with some of Discovery Cove’s small mammals and tropical birds, a behind-the-scenes tour of Discovery Cove and a second enhanced interaction with the park’s bottlenose dolphins, including a private photo session with two dolphins.
Keep in mind that you must book a dolphin swim package to participate in Trainer for a Day, and it cannot be combined in conjunction with Animal Trek, Ray Feeding or Flamingo Mingle. Flip flops or water shoes are required.
Day Beds & Cabanas – Starts at $79 & $299 Per Day
If you plan on relaxing beachside quite a bit throughout your day, you may want to reserve a place to call your own during your visit. Depending on how many people are in your party, how much you want to spend, and the kind of perks you’re looking for, you can choose between either a comfortable Day Bed, which fits up to two adults, or a luxurious cabana, which can accommodate between 6 and 8 guests.
Cabanas are available in three different price ranges:
Private Cabana – Starting at $299; includes towel service, a snack basket and a mini fridge stocked with soda and water
Elite Cabana – Starting at $599; includes towel service, a snack basket, a mini fridge stocked with soda and water, a personalized buoy delivery during your dolphin swim and a digital photo package
VIP Cabana – Starting at $899; includes towel service, a snack basket, a mini fridge stocked with soda and water, a personalized buoy delivery during your dolphin swim, a digital photo package, a dedicated host, an exclusive animal encounter, reserved seating at Laguna Grill and a guaranteed view of the dolphin lagoons
No matter which cabana you choose, each comes with a table, chairs and chaise lounges, as well as a view overlooking one of the waterways. Even if you don’t book a VIP Cabana, you can still try and request one with a view of the dolphins.
Premium Drink Package – $40 Per Adult
Hoping to imbibe on more than wine and beer during your visit? Treat yourself to the Premium Drink Package, which includes bottomless boozy beverages like signature cocktails, craft beers, upgraded wines and access to a fully stocked bar. Just be sure to drink responsibly!
Photo Packages – Starts at $99
Take the magic of your Discovery Cove day home with you with the help of a photo package. Many animal experiences come with a professional photographer, so you don’t need to worry about constantly having your waterproof camera at the ready. Packages come with a variety of options, including both print and digital. However, the best deal is probably the Discovery Photo Package, which comes with a photo album, eight 6×8 prints and all of the digital images taken during your day for $249. Book in advance to save 10%.
Ultimate VIP Experience – Starts at $1,899 For Up to 8 Guests
For guests who want to see and do it all in style, the Ultimate VIP Experience is for you. Though undeniably pricey at close to $2,000 or more for a group of up to 8 guests, this VIP package ensures that all of your needs are taken care of from beginning to end, from a customized itinerary catered toward your interests by a VIP concierge and valet parking to exclusive animal interactions like a Shark Swim, a tour of The Grand Reef, a flamingo encounter, a guided experience with exotic birds at Explorer’s Aviary and a special animal meet-and-greet upon your arrival. But wait, there’s more. You’ll also get a VIP Cabana, a private photo session, tableside breakfast, upgraded lunch offerings at Laguna Grill, the Premium Drink Package, a free digital photo package and, for those doing a dolphin swim, a personalized buoy delivery. Whew! Talk about feeling like a VIP!
Well, animal lovers and beach bums, that brings our guide to Discovery Cove to an end. Have you ever had the chance to visit Discovery Cove? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how you can save on your park admission with our discount Discovery Cove tickets.