Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida, is the area’s most laid-back theme park. You will not find any rides, slides, or characters roaming the grounds. There are no parades or fireworks. But there are also a few other things you won’t find at Discovery Cove either. Crowds, queues, and exhausted children melting down into little balls of frustration are also conspicuously absent. Instead, you will find tropical reefs, bottlenose dolphins, exotic birds, and sandy beaches. It’s not perfect, but this park keeps families entertained while allowing them the opportunity to recharge their batteries in a breathtaking tropical atmosphere during an otherwise fast-paced Orlando, Florida, family vacation. Let’s dig into some of the positives and negatives.

All-Inclusive Day Resort

Discovery Cove is closely associated with Seaworld, Orlando, and although both parks have the same ownership, they are completely separate. Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive day resort and includes free parking, food and beverages, including some basic beer and wine. Your day starts off after check-in with an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. You already paid for it, so you will want to take advantage. I found the menu to be pretty decent with some egg dishes as well as eggs to order, along with the usual accompaniments including bacon, sausage, potatoes, waffles, oatmeal, bagels, etc. The quality of the food is good as long as you temper your expectations. It’s better than a complimentary hotel breakfast by far, but it’s not Sunday brunch, either. 

Lunch had a good selection of proteins including salmon, jerk chicken, and Jamaican Pepper Steak, various sides including actual vegetables, salad, and a section for short-order items. Again, the quality met expectations. 

There are also a few snack stations around the park that offer soft pretzels, chips, pizza, and soft drinks if you want to keep snacking throughout the day.

Now, for the alcohol. This was disappointing. Discovery Cove touts the fact that alcoholic beverages are included with admission. They do note that it is only beer and wine and that a premium upgrade package is available for an additional cost. However, the beer is limited to Bud Light, Yuengling, and a couple of other sad choices. Beer with flavor costs extra. Red and white wine is available, but it’s just not the type of environment that invites wine drinking. Spiked seltzer is an extra cost, as is any type of mixed drink. Given the high cost of admission, we did not get the alcohol upgrade for $45 and I would not recommend it, either. There’s a lot to do and you won’t want to stop and drink that much. If you desire a premium drink, just pay for the one or two you want. 

Discovery Cove is divided up into three sections: The Grand Reef, Dolphin Lagoon, and Serenity Bay. Each section has places to grab a snack or a drink as well as places to lounge around when not exploring. 

Grand Reef

Large Rays at the Grand Reef
Go Pro cameras are allowed during your time at Discovery Cove. I was able to snap this pretty cool image at the Grand Reef.

This is where you can free swim with tropical fish, rays, and even a few small sharks. Water depth ranges from inches to a few holes of about 12 feet or so. But much of the Grand Reef is shallow, allowing younger kids to comfortably stand and get some time up close with the rays, some of which have a several-foot wingspan. Snorkel gear is included, but if your kiddo prefers a full-face snorkel mask, they are allowed so be sure to bring it along. 

There are plenty of rays that will swim past you as you stand or swim. Touching the rays is allowed. 

Dolphin Lagoon

We did not opt for the dolphin swim experience while at Discovery Cove, so I cannot really speak to the quality of the program. We have done this type of dolphin encounter in the past at other locations and although it’s a pretty neat experience, I do appreciate the ethical concerns around dolphin captivity. 

Serenity Bay

Wind Away River

One of the best lazy rivers that I have experienced, Wind-Away River is a great place to float and hang out with family. The water is heated to 80-85 degrees in the winter months, making this tropical river an ideal location to warm up if the air is a bit chilly. Rather than use bulky, inflatable tubes, Wind-Away River has guests float on long, skinny floats similar to pool noodles, but with a bit more floatation. This keeps people from bumping into each other and is much more pleasant. 

Water depth is variable from only a foot or two leading to deeper water that is overhead in some spots, so keep an eye on your kiddos if they are weak swimmers. There are two waterfalls that you must pass under along the way and there is no way to avoid getting your head completely soaked. The reason is that the aviary is between the two waterfalls and the walls of water keep the birds from flying away. 

Adjacent to the lazy river is the Freshwater Oasis, a warm, shallow tropical paradise that includes white sand beaches, lounger chairs, and a bar. There’s also a shallow pool with built-in loungers in the water. We tried to stop and have a drink here, but our wetsuits were too buoyant and we were slipping out of the chairs. I’m sure in the summer it’s pretty great, though. 


Aviary at Discovery Cove
Hand feeding the tropical birds at the aviary

Located within the Serenity Bay section of the theme park is the aviary, housing a wide variety of tropical birds. Guests can feed the birds with small bowls of food, often attracting them to land on your hand. We found that the best technique is to stand with the bowl raised high and the smaller birds will fly over and land on the rim of the bowl. You can access the aviary by land or just after passing under the first waterfall in Wind-Away River. 

Complimentary Animal Encounters

While the most exciting animal encounters are add-ons at an extra cost, there are a few neat experiences included with your admission. 

  • Conservation Kiosk is periodic throughout the day and features small animals such as armadillos, sloths, and exotic birds. A staff member handles the animal and guests are free to ask questions.
  • Marmoset Island is located in the Freshwater Oasis and features marmoset feeding and handling at various times throughout the day. Be sure to check the park app for these enrichment sessions. We were not there during a scheduled session and there were no marmosets to be seen. 
  • If you would like to see playful otters, then head over to the otter habitat in Freshwater Oasis. Again, it’s best to look at the Discovery Cove app to figure out specific times of the enrichment sessions to ensure that you will see plenty of otters. However, with a bit of patience, we did see a few as they scrambled through the habitat on their own accord. But, most were hiding or sleeping out of sight.

Pricing and Value

At first glance, Discovery Cove seems way too expensive, especially compared to other Orlando theme parks. We visited in early January just after schools reopened from Christmas break. The base prices, without add-on experiences, were about as good as they were going to get at roughly $160 per person. However, the price calendar on their website goes as high as $449 per person during the spring break season in March. During summer, it splits the difference at around $250. Multiply that by a family of four and you get…What the $@#&!

However, there is some value to be had here. For an extra $50 per person, you can purchase the Day Resort Plus Two Parks option that grants one day at Discovery Cove plus unlimited access for 14 days to Sea World and Aquatica Water Park. 

Realistically, SeaWorld is a one-day park, as is Aquatica. That equates to $100 per day if we use the average price of $250 plus the $50 add-on fee. That’s not too bad and could be a lot of fun if you are not planning on spending most of your vacation at Walt Disney World. 

It’s an expensive day no matter how you slice the pie, but if you are looking for a unique experience and about as relaxing a day as a theme park can deliver, then it may be enough to justify the cost. 


SeaVenture at Discovery Cove
My wife, Amy, surrounded by tropical fish during our SeaVenture tour.

One of the add-on experiences available at Discovery Cove is the underwater SeaVenture. During this underwater walking tour, you are fitted with a dive helmet that supplies air from the surface and a guide and safety divers lead you in small groups along an underwater path with marine life that includes thousands of tropical fish, rays, and some nurse sharks (these sharks, even though not a threat to humans, are behind a glass wall, so no worries). 

Along the underwater trail, be prepared to have fish peck at your legs. It tickles a bit, but you will get used to it easily. The final section of the tour is the fish-feeding frenzy, where you will be surrounded by tropical fish as they feed inches from your face. It’s pretty cool. 

SeaVenture was a completely immersive experience, and unanimously the highlight of our day at Discovery Cove. Even though the tour is an additional $49 per person, I do think that it’s worth the extra cost. 

Can or Should I Visit Discovery Cove in Colder Weather?

Our family visited Discovery Cove in January and the weather was not ideal. At about 55 degrees and mostly cloudy, it honestly could have been better. Discovery Cove does allow you to reschedule your visit without penalty, however, the weather wasn’t getting any better, so we rolled the dice and went. 

There are plenty of reviews on Trip Advisor saying that they had a great time with weather in the low to mid-50s. While I wished that it was warmer, I am still glad that we went. While it was too cold to just lay around in a lounger under an umbrella, we still stayed all day and were pretty busy the entire time. 

Wet suits are included with your admission. On chilly days, the full-length suits go quickly and we had to suffice with shorty wet suits, but I was glad to have them. While wetsuits keep you warm while in the water, they have the opposite effect when on land, so the short sleeves and legs were welcome as we walked around. 

The place to go and warm up on a colder day is Wind-Away River, which is heated to around 80 degrees. Here, you will warm up quickly. You can access the aviary from the lazy river, but if it’s cold, I suggest waiting until you are finished with water activities for the day, then change into dry clothes and access it from dry land. 

The Grand Reef, Dolphin Lagoon, and SeaVenture areas are maintained at 76 degrees, a bit cooler but still enjoyable when chilly outside. 

Another benefit to visiting on a chilly day is that the crowds are very thin. We had no competition while swimming with the rays, sharks, and hundreds of tropical fish in the Grand Reef. 

That being said, warmer is probably still better. Take advantage of the complimentary rescheduling option and go on the warmer of winter days if your plans allow. 

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