I’ve never really given paradise a thought but if I was to sit and think about what paradise could actually be then I think me and my family experienced something close to that that during our day at Discovery Cove, it was an experience unlike no other, a family day out like never before which was so near to perfect from start to finish. And what wasn’t perfect about it? Well, the fact the day just had to come to an end of course.
Walking into the foyer which could easily be mistaken for some grand 5* luxury hotel, you just know that from this first impression that you are in for a treat. We were greeted by several smiling faces who pointed us in the direction of a desk where we met more welcoming faces. The lady here was to check us in, give us all the information we needed for our day ahead and give us our Discovery Cove lanyards. We showed our passports to prove we were over 18 which would allow us to drink alcohol if we wanted too and we were then given our dolphin experience times.
This was all done in such a calming manner and it wasn’t like entering your usual theme park where before you’ve barely entered the place, you’re in a queue which is then a common recurrence throughout that day. Well at Discovery Cove queues are a rare sight, the only queues we experienced were at lunch, but then this was not a long queue and gave us enough time to decide what we want, but more about lunch later on in our Discovery Cove review.
We headed out towards paradise the park taking in the view with awe and amazement until we came to a desk, this is where we were given the choice of being guided to our Cabana there and then or head straight to breakfast which is the option we went for as we were hungry by this point, having left first thing to arrive early.
One of the best things about Discovery Cove is that it’s a fully inclusive day out, from the moment you enter the door, you do not have to worry about spending a single cent. Absolutely everything is taken care of from the moment you pay for your tickets until you leave the door. Of course, there are extras like the gift shop, and other purchases depending on the package you booked or any add ons you may like to do on the day.
Our breakfast set the standards for the rest of the day, the choice was plentiful, there was everything you could need to start your day right, from fresh fruit to pastry delights. The kids didn’t know where to start, I certainly did and went for the scrambled egg, sausages, hash brown potatoes and french toast sticks with freshly squeezed Florida orange juice. Those french toast sticks though, I have been having reoccurring dreams about them ever since that day – They may just be in my top ten reasons why I want to return to Discovery Cove.
Dylan was content with cheerios and chocolate milk, when you’re travelling with a child with a limited diet it’s always nerve-racking to go somewhere new, especially for the whole day but we needed. The other two were just as satisfied with their breakfasts, choosing to have a bit of everything. Breakfast is served from 7:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m which gives you scope to have breakfast in your own time.
After breakfast, we headed back to that desk area where we then met our cabana attendant for the day, we went with her to grab our wetsuits and masks & snorkels, she also showed us to the shop where we exchanged Oli’s glasses for a prescription mask.
We were then led to our private cabana for the day where it’s safe to say the excitement kicked in straight away, as soon as the whole family saw the sign with our surname on that was declaring that this cabana was reserved for us. Then we lifted the rope and was greeted with the most amazing view of the Wind-Away River, we were still taking in this view when we saw what was around us, the kids were running from chair to table, to the sand to the fridge, they were so happy with themselves and we soon made ourselves at home for the day.
There were so many benefits to having our own cabana for the day. Firstly we had reserved seating, though we discovered from walking around, there was plenty of seating all over Discovery Cove, but having a cabana meant these seats truly felt like ours for the day. (You can see our video tour here.) There was also our own locker with plenty of room for all the stuff we came with, this was on the same stand as our own mini-fridge. The mini-fridge was probably one of most favourite aspects to the cabana, there were plenty of chilled drink options to keep us going throughout the day and it also meant we didn’t have to go to one of the snack & drink kiosks as our cabana attendant kept it well stocked for us.
That was another plus side to having a cabana, we had someone who looked after us, genuinely made us feel like VIPs which went hand in hand with our day in paradise. When we could back after a swim, we would eat, drink and throw off our suits only to put them back on again, of course, we would leave a wake of destruction after ourselves yet when we came back, it was like we were stepping into a new cabana again and again with fresh towels. She would often pop by and see if we needed anything.
On the table next to the Animal-friendly sun lotion was a chest full of snacks, back at the snack kiosks there were a few more snack options like pretzels but this small chest had a great selection of snacks for our family and it was something our cabana attendant kept well stocked for us and when she realised that Dylan had a particular liking for the rice krispy treat bars, she made sure he had plenty of these and quickly became his new best friend.
There is a specially formulated sunscreen safe for all the animal habitats which is provided around the whole park, including in the bathrooms. We had our supply in our cabana which we made sure to keep regularly topped up on throughout the day. We were more than happy to use this cream because we knew it was animal-friendly, plus it saved us using our own – we all know how pricey sunscreen can be to purchase.
One of the questions I saw discussed in many online groups was on the topic of the wetsuits. Those not knowing if they could fit into one or wanting to wear their swimming costumes instead, well this is our take on those wetsuits.
The man had a little wobble himself when he realised he would have to wear one of these but I reassured that I had read there were a variety of sizes ranging from the small to the even bigger sizes and I wasn’t wrong with wrong I read. He easily found a suit to fit him and he found it to be rather comfortable, in his own words – he didn’t know what he was worried about. We all happily choose to wear our wetsuits over all our swimming costumes.
Just before we headed to our dolphin swim one of the trainers pointed out how the kid’s swimsuits were too big and got us fitted into new ones, looking back at the photos I can now see how they are dangling off them. Don’t be afraid to go back and swap your suit over if you find yours to be too big or small. I for one appreciated wearing the wetsuit when entering the dolphin water plus I also think they look super cool!
Our family snaps from the waterproof camera pictured below sum up exactly what we made of our time spent in the water throughout the day, from those moments where we were sat down in it to enjoy refreshments to when we were bobbling along the tropical lazy river. We would definitely recommend packing a waterproof camera or one of those waterproof phone bags, there are so many amazing moments which can be caught in the water, just don’t make the mistake I did and make sure it’s fully charged so it lasts the whole day oops.
I honestly do not know where to begin with our dolphin swim experience, it was everything I had imagined and beyond. Whilst we were being booked in for our dolphin swim we were told that we were being split into two groups, this was because Charlotte is only 5 and the minimum age for the dolphin swim is 6 so this meant either me or the man could stay with her as the rest did the swim.
When it was time for our slot, we headed towards the dolphin lagoon where we were then taken to a hut with a seating area where we had to fill out some waivers and listened to a short orientation session (10 minutes) led by Discovery Cove’s expert dolphin trainers to discuss safety and have the opportunity to ask any questions we may have. This is where we first met the dolphin trainer, Gina who was leading our group. We introduced Dylan and explained how he has autism and is non-verbal with limited understanding of instructions. We talked for a while about what would be happening and how we could make this work for us and then it was time for us to go for our swim.
I and Dylan were up for our dolphin experience first, so the man stayed on land watching us along with Oli and Charlotte. Dylan was quite content to go into the water, which we knew would be the case, this child is a water baby and he loves being in it. We stood in the water with the rest of our group, and when our dolphin came along, was Dylan interested? Not one single bit. He was all about the water, he just wanted to splash around and have fun and you know what? We did not push him. They let him just play happily in the water behind us, Gina suggested we try at the end when there wasn’t a group of people around.
This goes to show you how unpredictable Autism can be, I was 100% convinced that Dylan would love the idea of being able to interact with a real-life dolphin. I was actually taken back when I realised he wasn’t keen at all. All throughout our visit to Discovery Cove they did not know that we were there off the back of a press visit, that we had gone along to see how suitable it would be for a family with an Autistic child. They did not know that I could potentially be someone to shout about how amazing or even how terrible they were when it came to my special additional needs child’s Discovery Cove experience. Discovery Cove became a Certified Autism Center in February 2019 so obviously, we went with the expectation that his needs would be met and we weren’t disappointed.
With Dylan playing happily behind me, my dolphin interaction experience continued and I was able to learn and watch as the trainers talked us through the life of a dolphin and dolphin habits, behaviours, their incredible communication abilities, and the relationships they build on a daily basis with these incredible animals. I then had the amazing opportunity to swim with our dolphin, this is where you get a dorsal fin tow back to the group. It was a magical moment which I will certainly treasure for a lifetime.
It was then Daddy and Oli’s turn to in the water for their dolphin swim, Oli chose to go in more shallow water for his dolphin swim as he’s not a confident swimmer whereas us adults went for the deeper water. It was after they had finished up with their experience that Gina came back to us and bought the whole family into the water, Charlotte was allowed to come in the water for the photo which was lovely because she was too young for the dolphin experience but got to enjoy the delights of posing and interacting with our dolphin. We also tried to introduce Dylan to the dolphin again, Gina was gentle and patient with her approach, it warms my heart to watch people interact with Dylan in a way which doesn’t treat him any differently to another kid yet at the time understands that he does indeed have different needs to other kids. Dylan still wasn’t interested, but this was OK because he had the most wonderful time playing around in the water, he was smiling and he was happy.
I couldn’t be more pleased with our photos from the professional photographer who was in the water with us capturing our experience, he caught all the right moments including our dolphin swim. Yeah, it’s ok asking someone on the shore to take photos, but would they really get these results? The back of the head photos the man got of me is nothing compared to these clear, high quality and close up shots. We were so excited to be handed the disc with all these stunning priceless images, they already adorn our walls at home.
When we returned from our dolphin swim we came back to find some goodies in our cabana – the cutest kind of goodies, fresh from being with a dolphin in the water, the kids received their own cuddly dolphin to treasure. It was the perfect way to wind down from the excitement of our dolphin swim and discuss what we had just amazingly experienced as a family.
By this point in the day, we had certainly worked up an appetite and headed back to the restaurant to grab lunch (available from 11:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) Just like breakfast, there were plenty of options available, we choose an assortment of dishes between us and we can happily say that with everything we tried from the menu, we gave it the thumbs up.
The kids were very much content with their hot dog & pasta and meatballs, these are a couple of their favourite dishes so that’s always a winner in our eyes when the kids are fed and happy, you know how hard it can be to please kids at times when it comes to food. The BBQ Pulled Pork burger that I had was delicious, complimented well by being placed in a brioche bun and teamed up with french fries. The dessert options were just as plentiful with the chocolate cake being a firm family favourite.
It will be worth me noting that from what I’ve heard in Discovery Cove conversation groups online is that they are fantastic at catering for all dietary requirements. We got to experience this ourselves with Dylan, we mentioned to one of the team who was floating around clearing that there was nothing on the menu that Dylan would eat, now we were fully covered by the fact there were crisp and other snacks from the kiosks and in our cabana but we asked if possible if we could get some more cereal and chocolate milk which he had at breakfast for him which was no issue at all. Anywhere that can make mealtime with a child with a special diet more of a breeze, has my forever gratitude.
From our cabana we had the most fantastic view, it was lovely to look on as we enjoyed some private time in our cabana. During this time our attendant asked if we would like any alcoholic beverages, the husband chose to have a beer cooler and she also restocked our snacks and other cold drinks for her, she was so attentive to us as a family and we went without nothing during our time with her.
She also showed the kids that at the bottom of our storage, below the fridge were a few buckets and spades, the kids enjoyed some time out the water, building various creations in the sand as we watched on, it could not get any more relaxing from this. We also had a snack kiosk nearby where we were able to get some ice creams which was a lovely late afternoon treat and the perfect way for the kids to cool down.
Heading to the Grand Reef was an exciting prospect, we were going to swim and snorkel with thousands of tropical fish throughout a stunning coral reef habitat. This was all included in our visit just like so much around with no extra costs involved with this part of the park. It was time for Oli to put to use the prescription glasses he got earlier on in the day. We stood as rays and other fish swam around us, it was ‘very cool’ according to Oli and for me, it was certainly a unique experience, one that I have never and I doubt will ever do again, until that day we return to Discovery Cove.
Charlotte came away from our day with a love for snorkelling, she never went to the grand reef with us but took them into the water and realised she could put her face under and see in the water, yet breathe, it was enjoyable for us to see her experiencing this as a first, the snorkel has now become her new favourite bath time accessory.
We ended our day floating around with our woggles and simply enjoying the lazy river, I’ll leave our smiles to do the talking because after all, a smile can say a thousand words.
Discovery Cove was the ultimate oasis, as a family, we cannot recommend it enough to those visiting Florida or even using it as the sole reason to get on a plane and head to the sunshine state. For us it broke up our Florida getaway, we were running from theme park to theme park and was racking up the walking miles. In amongst the chaos was this paradise, this day of utter bliss where our every need was catered for, everywhere we turned there was something to entertain the whole family. There were no screams from the kids about wanting some pricey snack or drink and in turn, we as parents weren’t screaming in despair as it was all included in that initial ticket price.
As an autism family, a day out wherever we go and whatever we do can be the most stressful task. We can’t go to the cinema as a family because Dylan wouldn’t stay still, we can’t take the kids to soft play together because the environment is too noisy for him, these are the kind of reoccurring issues we come across with many potential family activities. So somewhere where we can go as a family and not have to worry for us is simply paradise alone, knowing that the staff around us are trained to assist us having a fun day as well as supplying a quiet room which we never had to utilise because of what a calm open environment Discovery Cove is.
We walked away from our day at Discovery Cove having realised that you can indeed have a family day out together which can be stress-free from the get-go, one full of new experiences and a thousand new memories to cherish for a lifetime. It wasn’t just another day, it was another world.
Discovery Cove limits attendance to about 1,300 guests per day so if you are planning on visiting during the summer or near a holiday, you should book your reservation at least two months prior to your intended visit to ensure availability as these dates book up quickly. Find out more and book your day in paradise here: https://discoverycove.com/orlando/pricing/
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