Discovery Cove Orlando Review (Part One)

This review of Discovery Cove Orlando takes a deep dive into what it’s like to spend an entire day at the all-inclusive resort-like park.

Until the last year or so, I didn’t know much about Discovery Cove. A friend had visited and told me she thought I would enjoy it.

Unfortunately, there’s not much information available online about the park. From my research, I learned that Discovery Cove was an all-inclusive resort where you paid one fee that included admission, dining, and other basic amenities.

In addition, there are a few upgraded packages you can purchase. We’ll get to those later on in this review.

After reading that part of the experience included swimming with sting rays, I knew of one family member who would particularly enjoy it, my niece.

Then, this summer, things began to come together. I was spending a little over a month in Orlando, and I learned my niece would be in town with her extended family during the same time.

When I found out about our stroke of serendipity, I sent over a text asking if they would like to meet up for a day at Discovery Cove. Yes, everyone was on board.

Then I was asked if I would secure tickets for my niece, nephew, their grandmother, and myself. Of course, I offered.

Since the rest of our group were new Florida residents, they were able to secure tickets to Discovery Cove with a resident discount. However, we were not, so we had to pay full price.

Wow. When I initially researched the park, I had not done my homework on how much tickets cost. Technically, I should use the term “research” loosely.

I’m the first to admit, other than a few basic things, I had no idea what all the park offered or how much it cost. Our tickets were a whopping $274.00 per person with no upgrades.

Of course, we visited in August, which I assume is peak season. Looking ahead to the off-season calendar, prices vary from $149.00 and up per person per day.

Naturally, after purchasing the tickets, I began to worry. What if we didn’t have a good time? What if we chose a bad day?

Everyone would be upset with me if they didn’t feel they got their money’s worth. Instead of doing more research, I buried my head in the sand and hoped for the best.

Our Day at Discovery Cove

Before I knew it, my month in Orlando had flown by, and it was time to prepare to meet my family at Discovery Cove. Little did I know, the park opens daily at 8:00 a.m. and closes at 5:00 p.m.

Discovery Cove suggests guests arrive as early as 7:00 a.m. They prefer that all guests arrive between 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. However, for some special upgraded experiences, you will need to be there by 7:00 a.m.

Those experiences include:

  • Ray Feeding
  • Flamingo Mingle

Guests who sign up for trainer for the day need to check in by 7:45 a.m. You can check arrival time for other experiences here on Discovery’s Cove site.

We arrived at Discovery Cove at approximately 7:50 a.m. Since this experience is similar to an all-inclusive resort, there are no parking charges.

However, there was a relatively long check-in line. But we’re not talking about the same crowd you might find rope-dropping one of the theme parks.

Discovery Cove admits up to 1300 guests per day. This keeps the visitors spread out evenly throughout the park. It never felt congested or like we had to wait to experience anything.

Thankfully, the line moved swiftly. Someone would come to the front of the line every few minutes and call another group forward. This person will escort you to a private check-in desk when it’s your turn.

Finally, it was our turn, and we gave the attendant a printout of our reservation along with our IDs. Adults have to provide identification.

Then the attendant printed ID cards with a park map on the back. These cards came on lanyards that each person had to wear. I thought this was a great idea, and having a park map around our neck was convenient.

Breakfast at Discovery Cove

Unless you have a special early morning experience booked, your priority will be to head to Laguna Grill for breakfast. Since the waterways don’t open until 9:00 a.m., you’ll have time to get a good meal.

Laguna Grill serves breakfast between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. So even if you arrive a little later, you’ll still have time to enjoy breakfast.

For breakfast, you’ll grab a tray and get in line. Breakfast plates are prepared in advance, so you can pick up whichever one you like or order a custom plate.

Since I rarely eat eggs, I had my plate prepared without them. So I got chicken sausages, breakfast potatoes, and French sticks.

My nephew had the same thing, except with scrambled eggs. We also picked up a biscuit, chocolate milk, and yogurt topped with granola.

In addition to these items, there were several other choices, fresh fruit and oatmeal. A choice of juice, soft drinks, and water were also available.

Eventually, I’ll get back over to Discovery Cove for better photos. But since this was an initial visit and a day with family, I only brought my mobile phone. And for most of the day, I left it in the locker.

As for breakfast, all of our food was delicious. Everyone had a full meal, and we were impressed with the quality of the food we received.

Lockers at Discovery Cove

After breakfast, we headed out to find the lockers. By this time, I was getting used to the all-inclusive part.

So far, parking had been a breeze. We walked straight into breakfast without worrying about paying for our meal. And now we needed to find a locker.

Only the week before, I had shelled out $15.00 for a locker at Typhoon Lagoon. At Discovery Cove, lockers are included.

All you have to do is walk up to one of the locker areas and select one that still has a key in the lock. Keys for the lockers are on a necklace you wear around your neck with a lanyard.

From what I could tell, there were three locker areas at Discovery Dove. First, there was a near Serenity Bay, where the lazy river begins.

Additionally, the other lockers were behind Dolphin Lagoon and the Grand Reef. Since Serenity Bay was the closest to Laguna Grill, we opted to get a locker there.

At this point, we need to apply sunscreen. Since we had our own sunscreen, that’s what we used. However, Discovery Cove provides sunscreen.

This is one of the few things I knew in advance. But no one mentioned it when we arrived, so we used our own.

Later in the day, we noticed sunscreen available at the restrooms and near the places you entered the water. So if you forget to bring sunscreen, it is provided.

Wind Away River at Discovery Cove

After storing our items and applying sunscreen, we were ready to hit the water. However, we didn’t have an idea where to start.

In the overall scheme of things, there are only a few attractions at Discovery Cove. With that said, we had plenty to do the entire day and were able to double up and do the things we enjoyed the most after lunch.

Since our lockers were near the start of the Wind Away River, we headed there first. Instead of inner tubes, green pool noodles are provided for the river.

First, we entered a cave where the water averaged 3.5 to 4′ deep. No big deal.

But as we reached the end of the cave, a lifeguard warned guests that the water ahead would get significantly deeper. How deep?

Not far ahead of us, the water depth changed to 8′. Thankfully, we could all swim. However, my nephew is only seven years old, and there’s no way he could have swum a long way without tiring out.

Immediately, I pulled him to the next exit to secure a life jacket. Of course, he wasn’t happy about being the only one in our group to have to wear a life jacket, but I insisted.

And he ended up wearing the life jacket the entire day. Bless him, we didn’t even think to take it off while eating lunch.

Thankfully, he didn’t get grumpy about it until much later in the afternoon. But at that point, he would have been grumpy about anything.

After we secured the life jacket, we hopped back in the winding river where the rest of our group was patiently waiting. We were swiftly approaching a huge waterfall.

You may notice in the photo above that there’s netting above the waterfall. This is where the Explorer’s Aviary begins.

One of the fun things about the Wind Away River is that you can stop at several places to see the exhibits. Since we hadn’t seen the entire river, we decided to continue onward.

But we still had to tackle the waterfall, which was a barrier to the aviary. Trust me, no birds would even attempt to take on that waterfall.

As we got closer, a lifeguard was warning guests to remove all forms of glasses before heading under. There was no turning back. Remember, the water is still deep at this point, so you can’t just run through it quickly.

But it’s worth it. Once you get past the waterfall, you’ll see tropical birds flying overhead.

You’ll pass under another waterfall to get out, like entering the aviary. At that point, you can continue straight or exit to see a few animal exhibits.

Since the kids were eager to see animals, we exited the river. Then after a few steps, we got back in the water at the Freshwater Oasis.

Freshwater Oasis

From what I could tell, there were two things to see in the Freshwater Oasis. Those animals were marmosets and otters.

Marmosets live on an island in the middle of the Freshwater Oasis.

Luckily, we arrived on time for the trainer talk and enrichment session.

She shared a good bit of information about the marmosets.

Then she applied syrup to some of the branches. This excited the marmosets, and we saw several of them come out for a snack.

On the opposite side of the Freshwater Oasis, you could enter a cave area to see the otter exhibit.

We came over here twice during the day. Both times it was a little more crowded than I would have preferred.

Unfortunately, we only got to see the otters from afar. However, a few from our group returned about midday and saw the otters swimming.

After visiting with the marmosets and otters, we returned to the river and followed it back to the start. From there, we decided to check out the rest of Discovery Cove.

A Snack Stop

After looking at the map, we decided to head to The Grand Reef. Along the way, we stumbled upon a snack stand.

Looking back, even without a plan, it feels like we managed to progress through the day naturally. Also, we had no idea that several snack stands were scattered throughout the park.

So when we ran into the snack stand, we decided to grab a quick drink. After seeing all the options, it turned into a full-blown break.

Four kinds of Icees were available: pina colada, wild cherry, lemonade, and banana. There were all kinds of bags of potato chips, Cheez-Its, and plantain chips.

A soda station offered Coca-Cola products.

Pretzels and chocolate chip cookies were fresh from the oven.

You know I had to grab a pretzel.

Here are a few Rice Krispies treats and packs of peanuts.

Even though these were all pretty standard items, we were all impressed. Bypassing the whole part where you stand in line, order, and then pay felt pretty foreign.

Skipping straight to the good part was nice for a change. After our snack, it was time to grab a wet suit, or maybe not?

The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove

After refueling with carbs, we headed to The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove. This part always makes me laugh.

We saw others swimming in the water when we got to the reef. A few people were standing up in various places throughout the water.

On first appearance, it didn’t look deep, or like there was much of anything to it. None of us had bothered to get a wet suit, a mask, or a snorkel.

I waded out in the water a bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of anything. Nearby, a small child pointed toward the water, exclaiming, “A fish, I see a fish!”

The first thought that entered my mind was that this part wouldn’t be much of anything. Ha, ha, boy was I wrong.

So I ventured out a little further and found myself sinking. Suddenly the water was deep, and I couldn’t see much of anything since I didn’t have a mask.

Others around me seemed to be amazed at our surroundings. However, the water was freezing, and I doubted I could get used to it.

Everyone else in our party was hanging out on the beach, except the girls and me. I told them we needed to grab a mask and a snorkel to see better.

They had brought goggles and were excited to explore without a snorkel, so they continued. Meanwhile, I waded back to the shore to find the proper equipment.

Wet suits in all shapes and sizes are available to guests of Discovery Cove. Had I had any sense, I probably would have gotten one of these first thing and used it all day.

However, I elected to wear my swimsuit, and so did most of our group. Ultimately, the water in the reef was extremely cold. But after a few minutes, I got used to it.

In addition, we received scuba diving masks and snorkels. We were told the snorkels were complimentary but to return the masks at the end of the day.

Now that I was geared up, I decided to check out the reef better. I had no idea how far out of my comfort zone I was headed.

When I returned to the water, I immediately spotted a Pufferfish. Oh, I love tropical fish. This is going to be fun, I thought to myself.

As I made my way to the deeper area, I noticed how others were standing up not too far away. It wasn’t until I got my mask situated and took a peek under the water that I realized they were standing on rocks at the edge of a deep ravine.

“Oh s***!” Rare is the day I use a swear word. But it was the first word that popped into my head as my eyes bulged out.

Immediately, I resurfaced, unsure of what to do. This was not my thing.

I was surrounded by thousands of fish, a faux coral reef, and sting rays galore under the surface. Like that very minute, they were all around me. The only reason I couldn’t see them was that I wasn’t looking.

Okay, I reasoned with myself, this is what we came to do. There are plenty of others out there enjoying the reef.

In part two of our review of Discovery Cove Orlando, we’ll continue to explore The Grand Reef, take a trip to first aid, have lunch at Laguna Grill, and then tour the Explorer’s Aviary.

Part Two, Our Day at Discovery Cove