Discovery Cove Orlando has been open since the summer of 2000, but still remains sort of a hidden gem, especially if you have never experienced its wonder. I can remember visiting when I was younger and being so enamored by the beauty of the park and forever changed by the magical encounters with the dolphins. The park expanded in 2011 and added The Grand Reef, which is now one of my absolute favorite areas of any park in Orlando. The best thing about Discovery Cove is that it runs by reservation only and allow about 1,300 guests at a time, so it feels very exclusive. If you have never been, you are certainly missing out on one of the most magical adventures that Orlando has to offer. I am here to give you everything that you need to know for your first time when Visiting Discovery Cove Orlando with Kids.
Where to Stay When Visiting Discovery Cove Orlando
While there is an abundance of places to stay in Orlando, there are a very few that really take resort staying to another level. Our recent experience at the Wyndham Grand in Orlando was nothing short of exceptional! We had one of the best times ever at the Wyndham and the kids have been asking to back again ever sense. We will certainly be sure to visit them again on our next trip to Discovery Cove Orlando. If you would like to know more about our stay at the Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek Orlando, see my detailed Post HERE.
What to bring to Discovery Cove
Photo ID: This is necessary for anyone 18 years and older.
Credit card: If you would like to charge optional in-park services or any souvenir purchases.
Clothing: You will need a comfortable bathing suit and a set of dry clothes and swim diapers or diaper protectors for the littles.
Water Shoes: These are not included at the park, but can really come in handy in several areas.
Jewelry: Anything that cannot be untied or unclasped you can keep on.
Sunscreen: They provide reef-safe sunscreen for you everywhere in the park.
Outside food or drinks: This is not allowed, and not at all necessary. Drinks are included all day and upgraded drink packages are available.
Flotation devices: No noodles, swim fins, sand toys, or any scuba equipment are permitted, as they include everything you need.
Snorkeling Gear: They provide masks, snorkels, and carrying bags in several areas of the park to grab and go.
Checking into Discovery Cove Orlando
Discovery Cove opens at 7:00 a.m. and closes at 5:00 p.m. daily. I would plan to arrive as early as possible to get a start on your fun-filled day. The included breakfast will be ready to serve as soon as you enter the park, so you can fuel up for your first adventure.
Tickets for Discovery Cove
Day Resort Admission (start at $224, Florida Resident $179.20)
With a Day Resort Admission to Discovery Cove Orlando you will get the all-inclusive amenities. plus full access to The Grand Reef, Freshwater Oasis, Explorer’s Aviary and Serenity Bay. There is more than enough to do for an entire day with this admission, but does not include a dolphin encounter.
Signature Dolphin Swim Package (start at $324, Florida Resident $259.20)
This package allows for you to have a one on a lifetime dolphin experience, which I highly recommend! Not only do you get in the water with them, but you get to touch, ride, and interact with them in some pretty cool ways. You also get to enjoy the all-inclusive amenities mentioned above in the Discovery Cove Day Resort Packages. You will not regret upgrading to this package once you experience these amazing creatures up close!
**Note that guests ages 2 and under are free with a full paid adult, but reservations are required.
What is Included with Admission?
Freshly cooked food, unlimited snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and a selection of beer and wine.
You are provided with either a swim vest or a wet suit, a snorkel and mask, lockers and towels.
There are private indoor and outdoor showers available around the park.
Throughout the park, special sunscreen that is safe for all animal habitats is provided for all guests.
All-day self-parking at Discovery Cove is complimentary and the lots are all fairly close to the park entrance.
Each guest will receive a personalized Discovery Cove ID card with a lanyard to keep.
What is Included with the Dolphins Swim Package?
The dolphin swim experience is what Discovery Cove Orlando is all about. It all starts by selecting a specific starting time for your group prior to your visit. Once in the park, the experience all begins with your group meeting near the lagoons for a quick video and instructions on what to expect, as well as rules to follow while in the water with the dolphins. Staff will teach you and your family all about dolphin habits, their behaviors, how they communicate, and other great facts about these amazing creatures. After training, your group will take a short stroll to one of their gorgeous lagoons where you will prepare to meet your dolphin, so exciting! Then, each group member will get a chance to interact with your dolphin (or if you’re lucky maybe two) in a very unique and personal way. After everyone has been introduced and gets to know the dolphin a bit, it’s time to take a ride of a lifetime and get a kiss.
Dining at Discovery Cove Orlando
When we say that Discovery Cove food and beverages are all inclusive, we mean exactly that. From breakfast to lunch, you’ll find a selection of freshly prepared, delicious and healthy choices of snacks, meals, and desserts. The Laguna Grill is their main dining facility that serves buffet-style breakfast that has something for the entire family. Everyone is welcome to go back through the line as many times as they wish until they close to prepare for lunch service . Be sure to try everything and fuel up for all of the days adventures.
At lunch, the Laguna Grill offers a wide range of options, also prepared with fresh ingredients. They will serve a selection of fresh seafood and vegetarian dishes, while also taking into consideration any dietary restrictions that can be accommodated. Everything our family had that day was really good and we certainly got our fill. Of course, to complement the great food, there is also an assortment of great beverages. From gourmet coffee to fresh juices, and a selection of beer and wine for guests who are of drinking age. The frozen drinks are excellent!
This newer area may have been our favorite, next to swimming with the dolphins. At the back of the park, there is a very large lagoon where you can swim and snorkel with thousands of tropical fish, from small colorful angelfish to enormous velvety manta rays. You can experience so many closeup encounters here at the Grand Reef, so if you are squeamish around marine life you may want to sit this one out. My daughters were swimming overtop of sting rays and floating alongside huge fish. There is even an area at the back of the reef where you can swim underwater and up to the glass to view sharks. If you are over swimming or opting out of the snorkeling, there are nice paths and bridges to the reef’s islands and hidden grottos.
Want to capture your own underwater photos and video? I swear by this underwater camera and it is one of my favorite things to bring on vacation with me. Perfect for getting those special moments of your family.
Serenity Bay is the perfect area to relax and soak up some sun. It seems like you are away at a tropical oasis. The water was a very comfortable 85-degrees and was crystal clear. There is white sand to play in for the kids, chairs and tables to sit and enjoy a drink or a snack, and plenty of water to splash in and explore. Such a great place to rest in between activities or spend a good portion of your day, your call.
Wind Away River
Wind Away River is not your average “Lazy River”. This fast-moving river winds past sandy beaches, through tropical rain forest, and past rocky terrain with beautiful waterfalls, and even goes through an underwater cave. The best thing about this river, is that there are so many hidden treasures to explore along the way. From tranquil in water seating to exciting encounters with some of the animals on private islands or tucked inside a cave. There is so much for the whole family to enjoy here. Be sure that anyone under 4 feet puts on a life jacket, as there are several areas that drop drastically to over 8 feet. Such a fun time!
Freshwater Oasis can be entered as a stop along the Wind Away River or from another entrance located near Serenity Bay. This area has so much adventure around every turn. There is a cool area with rocks to play on, more sitting areas in the water, and some up close encounters with playful otters and adorable little marmosets.
Asian Clawed Otters
The Asian small-clawed otters are located in their own hidden enclosure that can only be accessed by swimming into a small cave. The viewing can be done above and below the water, so be sure to bring your mask and snorkel when you head there. A special viewing area also sits right outside the cave and requires small ones to climb up a rock to peer into the den. There are also daily feeding times that are posted around the park and in front of the exhibit.
Marmoset Island is just outside the otter exhibit right in the middle of Freshwater Oasis. The tiny little island is the habitat for the cutest arboreal marmosets. Their island is bamboo forests, rock towers and ropes for them to climb and swing, and lots of trees for them to play and rest. The best time to see the marmosets seemed to be during their schedule feeding times or just before when they start stirring in anticipation. This was one of our favorite activities.
Explorers Aviary was actually closed during our visit and will be undergoing enhancements through mid-April 2022. It is a home to hundreds of colorful birds that will fly above and around you. There will also be an opportunity to meet them up close as they eat fruit from your hand.
Activities for Younger Kids
Beaches and Waterways
Younger kids will love playing in the sand and can do so in pretty much every area of the park. They can also splash in the water at some of the pools and rivers edges while supervised. There are lifeguards all over the place and they are very actively communicating with guests to make sure everyone is staying safe.
Closeups with Animals
At the Conservation Kiosk near the Freshwater Oasis, smaller children have a chance to get up close to animals like armadillos, sloths, birds and other very interesting animals. We had the opportunity to see and learn about the Frogmouth Bird and it was fascinating!
Go to More Parks
Discovery Cove Orlando is part of SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa, which are both awesome parks for little ones. You have the option to add tickets to those parks to your package when purchasing your Discovery Cove admission. Check out more fun things to do at Busch Gardens with kids HERE.
If you forget something, the shops around the park have a selection of swimwear, hats and sunglasses available for purchase. There are also some pretty cool souvenirs to bring home as a reminder of your amazing day at Discovery Cove Orlando.
Upgrades at Discovery Cove Orlando
Cabanas and Day Beds
Private Cabana includes (start at $199):
The cabanas are such a good option for larger families and those with babies. Having a private and shaded spot to relax, change, and enjoy your meals is very nice. Each cabana is tucked away in its own little cove and have curtains that can completely enclose for more privacy.
Mini fridge stocked with complimentary drinks and bottled water
Accommodates 6 to 8 guests comfortably
VIP Cabana Includes (start at $899):
Mini fridge stocked with complimentary Coca-Cola® products and bottled water
Personalized buoy delivery during your signature dolphin swim ($179 value)
Dedicated VIP Cabana Host
Exclusive animal encounter
Reserved seating at Laguna Grill
Guaranteed Dolphin Lagoon view
Accommodates 6 to 8 guests comfortably
Day Beds ($79/ bed):
These very comfortable beds provide a special place to relax if you are not looking for an entire cabana.
Fits up to 2 adults comfortably per Day Bed
For larger parties additional Day Beds can be purchased
Premium Drink Package ($40/ person)
The Premium Drink Package includes some delicious signature cocktails, a full liquor bar, plus a great selection of craft & domestic beers, red and white wine. I absolutely loved this upgrade! Each bartender had their own fun signature drinks and they were very good! You can also order all of this right from the cabana.
Dolphin Trainer for a Day (starts at $199/each):
Includes a private photo session with 2 dolphins.
Exclusive behind-the-scenes experiences at Discovery Cove (subject to availability).
Special meet-and-greets with tropical birds and small mammals.
Visit the Explorer’s Aviary alongside your Discovery Cove trainer as your private guide.
Discovery Cove offers an underwater walking tour. You wear a full CSUBA mask and explore the bottom of the ocean floor.
20-minute underwater walking tour
Experience one-on-one encounters with unique animals, schools of fish and velvety rays
SCUBA certification is not required and all participants must be at least 10 years of age.
Ray Feedings (start at $59/each):
Help feed their amazing Cownose and Southern stingrays and thousands of beautiful tropical fish.
Shark Swim (start at $169/each)
Have an up-close swimming experience with sharks!
Participate in a shark-talk and training session with a Discovery Cove expert
Swim with over 20 sharks, including blacktip reef, nurse, zebra and bonnetheads
Flamingo Mingle (start at $59/each):
This excursion is an early-morning experience to meet and help feed their famous Caribbean flamingos.
Animal Trek (start at $79/each):
Experience a 30-minute private tour with the Discovery Cove Ambassadors to meet some of the park’s birds and smaller mammals. This exciting tour of the behind the scenes also often includes spotting my daughter’s favorite animal, a sloth!
Our Perfect Day Itinerary at Discovery Cove Orlando
8am Start with Breakfast
8:30am Explore the Park
9am Swim in the Grand Reef
9:30am Dolphin swim
10am Self-Serve Snacks and Drinks
11am Relax in Cabana
12pm Snorkel at Grand Reef
1pm Lunch at Laguna Grill
1:30pm Relax on Wind Away River
2pm Otters at Fresh Water Oasis
2:30pm Marmoset Island Feeding
3pm Waterfalls at Serenity Bay
3:30 Self-Serve Snacks and Drinks
4pm Hammock at the Cabana
4:30pm another Swim at Serenity Bay
5pm Park Closed, picked up Photos and said Goodbye
I hope that you enjoyed The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Discovery Cove Orlando and that you too get to experience it soon with your family!
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