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and Team / Co
Jul 22, 2013
Arlington, VA
We've been to Discovery Cove three times over the past few years (2009, 2010, 2012), and in that time the park has expanded significantly.  My impressions below are based off of all of the trips; sort of a composite.

In case y'all don't know, Discovery Cove is Sea World's "all-inclusive" day resort, built around a controlled dolphin swim.  Platinum Pass members do NOT get in free, but there are usually special ticket offers during specific months each year, and we do get discounts in the gift shop and on photos.  Your ticket includes breakfast, lunch, snacks, multiple types of beer, hard and soft drinks, showers, changing rooms, towels, soap/shampoo, access to most of the attractions, sunscreen, snorkeling equipment, lockers, parking, and unlimited admission to another Sea World park for 14 days surrounding your visit.

The only things you need to bring with you are a swimsuit, water socks/shoes, a cover-up, flip-flops, and a change of clothes.  I also bring an underwater camera, my brush, and other toiletries (for when I change at the end of the day).  You can only use the sunscreen they provide, because it is specially designed for the health of the animals.  They give you some at the beginning of the day, and you can buy more in the gift shops.

Included attractions: 
- The Grand Reef (includes a ray wading area, snorkeling, and a shark tank);
- The Freshwater Oasis (a wading area with seating and animals);
- The aviary (a huge, multi-room area, where you can feed tropical birds);
- Serenity Bay (a beach, waterfall, and wading area); and
- The Wind-away River (a lazy river, designed for snorkeling; no floats).

Up-charge attractions:
- Dolphin Swim...sort of (technically you can go to DC for less money without doing the Dolphin Swim, but at least one person in your party has to pay for a Dolphin Swim);
- SeaVenture (walk along in the bottom of the reef);
- Special Occasion packages;
- Cabana rental; and
- Photo packages

We always get a cabana; I really enjoy having the private space.  We also always seem to get a birthday package.  The special occasions packages seem to include different benefits and "gifts" every time we go back.  Anyway, because of these extras, I can't report on how hard it is to find a good space or book an early dolphin swim.  I do know that because they limit the number of people in the park each day to 1300, it is supposed to be relatively easy to claim a good lounge chair.  I believe the dolphin swim times are first come/first served, based on your arrival at check-in, so you should get there early.  They start check-in before the park opens, and there is usually a line at least half an hour in advance of the opening.

So, just walking through our day...We usually try to arrive at least half an hour before check-in starts.  Check-in is in a lobby area.  They find your reservation; assign you a time for your dolphin swim; and take a picture for your badge.  Once you have your badge, you walk out the back of the lobby and follow a winding, tropical path.  The path is lush with plants, and there are hidden speakers playing music and tropical animal sounds.  Along the path you encounter the inevitable paparazzi demanding a group photo.  At this point I can't give you a good description, because this is where our attendant picks us up and escorts us to our cabana.  Based on observation, however, you pick up your snorkeling equipment, find a locker, and grab a chair.

Our cabana attendant took us over to get our gear, which included snorkel, mask, and either a wet-suit or swim vest.  You are required to have at least the vest on when you are in the water.  He then gave us a tour of the resort and took us to our cabana.  Sometimes the attendant gets our breakfast and lunch, and sometimes we were on our own.

With the exception of the dolphin swim, SeaVenture, and breakfast/lunch times you are free to wander around and do whatever you want.  So, I will just cover all of the major areas in no particular order.  We tend to drift from one attraction to another with no apparent rhyme or reason.  My husband particularly likes the Grand Reef, however.

The Grand Reef: As I said this is my husband's favorite area.  Because of all of the marine animals, the water is chillier than elsewhere.  There is now an integrated wading area, where you can touch the rays.  Last time we were there, several of the rays swam up and bumped me.  It was pretty cool.  The ray pool is carefully supervised to protect the animals.  Farther out you can snorkel in a fairly large and very well stocked reef.  The rays in that area are huge and there are tons of fish.  You can also look at sharks through a glass wall.  Over the course of the day we spent several hours snorkeling.  Not surprisingly, the reef is the least crowded at the beginning and end of the day. The best time to snorkel in the reef is in the morning, because in the afternoon it can become overcast, making it hard to see and making it feel colder.



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Geeze Nic, way to make me feel bad since I'm not going :( Now I really have to make a point to go. Maybe I can find a friend who would love to go with me? Hmmm . . .

But really, I love your report Nic! You've made it sound just as amazing as I thought it would be. It's also nice to see trip pictures instead of stock promotional images used on their website or what not. I really want to go because it just sounds so awesome, swimming with dolphins and deep sea diving plus all the food and drinks included! Like I had mentioned elsewhere when I was planning a trip, my only fear was I am a terrible swimmer, although I have found that thanks to the life vests at WCUSA, I can enjoy water better. Would you say that their life vests are similar to those of WCUSA? And could I use it when swimming with the dolphins and snorkeling? Also, should I want to be adventurous would I be able to try with just a wetsuit later on?

I am still looking at making a trip down, hopefully I can.
I know!  Just writing up the report makes me want to go back soon!  I'll have to start working on Tony...

I'm not sure I can confidently answer your questions.  The wetsuit and swim vests do add buoyancy, and so they might be enough to help you in the water.  I'm pretty sure I remember floatation vests like the ones at WCUSA, but I think you can only use them in the fresh water areas, which would exclude both the dolphin cove and the reef.  I'm pretty sure you can use them in the river and Serenity Bay.  But I could wrong; I've never used them.

I totally agree about the pictures, BTW.  I didn't find the stock photos very helpful either.  I'm glad you liked my pics!  I tried to find the ones that would show the park the best.
They just had a monthly promo posted for October $99 including the dolphin swim on select days. I was already planning to visit Sea World and BGT Nov 4-8 so I just made a reservation for Oct 31. Unfortunately my daughter won't be able to go (booked the experience for 2) but trying to find a second person who wants to go to Discovery cove. Very excited!
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