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Discovery Cove Review of Discovery Cove at SeaWorld Orlando

Discussion in 'United States' started by geomorph, 16 Feb 2010.

  1. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Discovery Cove is a medium-sized aquatic and aviary park with a focus on animal interaction. It is a separate gated attraction adjacent to SeaWorld Orlando and owned and operated by that company. It is set in a beautiful subtropical landscape of exotic trees and plants where palms predominate, with wide man-made white sandy beaches lining the low rocky walls of the waterways; visitor services are located in scattered bright stucco buildings or woodsy shelters with thatch roofs. Its main attractions are a large dolphin lagoon, a large resort pool with a looping lazy river attached, a large and lush walk-through aviary complex, and a large snorkel-through tropical reef environment. The intent of the park is for visitors to spend all day in their bathing suits, swimming and exploring the park as well as relaxing on its beaches; it is an all-inclusive attraction where a limited number of visitors are allowed in each day by reservation only. Snorkel gear, towels, lockers, a souvenir photo, breakfast, lunch, drinks, and snacks are all included. Visitors have the option of standard entry or entry plus a dolphin interaction session in the water. A day here is truly memorable and feels miles away from the theme park madness of many of the other local parks.

    The single entry from the parking lot is the Check-In Lobby, the largest building in the park, with a large thatched peaked roof and a spacious lobby lined with registration desks that features a dolphin pod sculpture suspended from the ceiling. There are no ticket windows and turnstiles here; it feels more like a classy hotel registration, and laminated picture ID cards are made here that visitors wear on lanyards throughout their visit. The ID Cards are used to identify visitors, approve those of legal age to consume alcohol, and as photo identifiers for the photographers scattered around the park who take candid shots of the animal interactions. After check-in, exiting the building reveals a nice view of the park, including the first of several tile wayfinding maps inlaid in rockwork. The printed map that can be obtained is a small card-sized laminated version. Everything is sensibly laminated here! Visitors can also obtain three different sets of species identification cards that are ringed together and attached to plastic wristbands for wearing; these are for the plants, the tropical reef, and the aviary. Plants are the focus of the entry walkway, a twisting route through the most jungle-like part of the park, crossing several wood bridges and stucco-walled bridges over a small waterway, past a riot of bromeliads and palms. Then three visitor services buildings are encountered: one for photo pick-up, one for information (also for checking out prescription masks) and the small store called Tropical Gifts, and one for Laguna Grill, the restaurant that features counter-service and extensive outdoor dining areas on each side. Scattered around the rest of the park are two round thatched shelters that serve as bars and snack stands, three locker shelters, three adjoining wetsuit and snorkel check-out shelters, and three adjoining changing area and restroom buildings.

    The dolphin interaction area is touted as the main attraction and a dolphin and swimmer are featured in the park logo. It is called Dolphin Lagoon and houses an incredible 47 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in its 3 million gallons at 77F! The scenic lagoon varies in depth from 0 to 12 feet and is subdivided into three main lobes, each with its own curving beach entry on one side, while the curving side and back walls of the lagoon are lined with low rocky walls. Each lobe is separated by rocky peninsulas and underwater barriers, and each is named: Sand Dollar, Seahorse, and Starfish. Dolphin interactions last about a half hour and are preceded by an orientation in one of three educational cabanas corresponding to the three lagoon lobes; the assigned cabana location dictates which lobe a visitor will enter. I did not take part in a dolphin interaction, but it appeared that small groups of 4 to 8 were assigned to a single dolphin and trainer and photographer for their interactions, in the shallower parts of the lagoon where people could stand on the bottom. These experiences are done in shifts so that there are not always humans in the lagoon; in fact it was so uncrowded when I visited that most of the time there were no people in the water. Those not paying for a dolphin interaction are welcome to walk right up to the waters edge and view the dolphins; in addition, a wheelchair ramp on one side of the lagoon leads to an open-air underwater window that several dolphins enjoyed frequenting (and splashing over its edge). The back area of the lagoon has several smaller holding pens, separated from each other and the main lagoon by bars that emerge a few feet out of the water, in an odd branch-like design.

    The resort pool (Serenity Bay) and tropical river (Wind-away River) are connected; in fact the pool is simply a wide spot in the 1600-foot long looping river circuit. They are kept at a balmy 86F and are very fun and relaxing. Rather than a formal geometric design with steep-walled sides, the pool has varying depths and a low rocky-walled or beach-lined shore, with a few rocky outcrops in the middle. To one side is a larger long outcrop with several thundering waterfalls; behind these is a stalactite-filled cave with a dark grotto and several openings to the back of the waterfalls and the sky above. The river floats through this cave, and it also varies in depth from 3 to 8 feet along its course; rather than a regular flume shape for similar attractions elsewhere, this lazy river is a highly detailed naturalistic course through various rock or gravel-lined coves and jungle-shaded stretches, dotted with some underwater artifacts such as a rusty cannon or some ancient pots. Also unique to this river is that there are no inner tubes allowed (although noodles are provided if needed) which makes for a more naturalistic experience while swimming or floating or snorkeling through.

    When was the last time you saw a swim-through aviary? Discovery Cove has one! My favorite part of the park is Explorer’s Aviary, and a section of the Wind-away River actually enters it. This is accomplished by a low rocky arch entrance and exit for the river, both of which have curtains of waterfalls all the way across to effectively keep the inhabitants from flying out. A wide stairway leads out of the river onto the aviary pathways so that visitors can swim through and emerge out of the water for a closer look. The aviary also has a few rocky entrances from land, into a series of three walkthrough steel-and-mesh enclosures. The largest is the one that the river enters as well as a dry entrance; a medium sized one also has a dry entrance, and a smaller one is connected to the other two by a rocky masonry passage. The three habitats are lush and feature scenic touches such as a large fallen log and rustic masonry fountain and rocky outcrops and a stream. They are filled with colorful birds, some large and some small, primarily from the worlds tropical regions, fairly evenly represented. This fine aviary complex would be notable as it is, but adding to its memorable quality is the fact that most of the birds can be hand-fed. There are plenty of lorikeet or cockatiel walkthrough aviaries now with feeding at other facilities; this one offers free cups of fruit, nectar, seeds, or even handfuls of worms for the numerous tame inhabitants. I personally fed a wide variety, including very friendly Lady Ross’ and red-crested turaco, white-bellied go-away, sun conure, and black-necked aracari who all landed on my arms. There were several speckled mousebird and guira cuckoo that landed on my shoulders or hands and just wanted to cuddle! Vulturine guineafowl, ocellated turkey, sunbittern, and red-legged sereima were amenable to eating from my cup while they stayed on the ground. Each of the three habitats has a refrigerated cart with the food, staffed by a knowledgeable employee. Two of the habitats have a tawny frogmouth, but I could not convince them to let me feed them their meat! The two laminated identification cards for the three aviary sections list 50 species of birds (not listed on the cards but ones I saw were roseate spoonbill and helmeted guineafowl) and 1 species of mammal: (an * denotes species that I can confirm seeing)

    Abdim’s Stork*
    Beautiful Fruit Dove
    Black-billed Magpie
    Black-naped Fruit Dove
    Black-necked Aracari*
    Bleeding Heart Dove
    Blue Dacnis
    Blue-naped Mousebird
    Budgerigar
    Bush Thicknee
    Chestnut-breasted Malcoha
    Crested Screamer
    Crested Wood Partridge*
    Common Peafowl*
    Great Curassow*
    Green Imperial Pigeon*
    Green-rumped Parrotlet
    Guira Cuckoo*
    Hadada Ibis
    Hammerkop*
    Inca Tern*
    Jambu Fruit Dove
    Lady Amherst’s Pheasant*
    Lady Ross’ Turaco*
    Laughing Kookaburra
    Nicobar Pigeon*
    Ocellated Turkey*
    Pied Imperial Pigeon*
    Purple Gallinule
    Racquet-tailed Roller*
    Red-billed Hornbill
    Red-capped Cardinal
    Red-crested Turaco*
    Red-legged Seriema*
    Reeve’s Muntjac* (she was all alone with all those birds!)
    Reichenow’s Weaver
    Speckled Mousebird*
    Speckled Pigeon
    Sunbittern*
    Sun Conure*
    Tawny Frogmouth*
    Violaceous Euphonia
    Von der Decken’s Hornbill
    Vulturine Guineafowl*
    White-bellied Bustard*
    White-bellied Go-away*
    White-cheeked Turaco
    White-faced Ibis
    White-throated Bee-eater
    Wing-barred Seedeater
    Yellow-billed Hornbill

    Another fantastic attraction is the Tropical Reef. It is a four-habitat complex comprised of 2 million gallons of 77F, most of which is in the main reef habitat itself. The complex is circled by the Wind-away River, and in one stretch the two waterways are adjacent, separated by a rocky wall that has an underwater viewing window about 15 feet long into the main habitat. A much smaller shallow lagoon is the first habitat encountered, for about 20 cownose rays, and visitors can enter it but must keep their feet on the bottom at all times. A rocky outcrop separates this from the main reef; both are entered from several beach entries and are lined by low rocky walls. The main habitat is essentially a naturalistic figure-8 layout for snorkeling, with two small islands in the middle. It is absolutely brimming with tropical fish who cling to its simulated coral shelves and walls, dart about its rocky nooks, and venture into its shallows or 12 foot depths. In addition, rays abound here – not just cownose, but large Southern stingrays and spotted eagle rays that are a joy to swim with and touch. One of the islands is a simulated shipwreck, stranded on a rocky outcrop and emerging from the water; below the surface, three underwater windows set in the ship frame reveal views into a smaller habitat for about 15 great barracuda (this habitat can not be entered by visitors). On one edge of the main habitat is a similar set of two underwater windows that look into a shark lagoon that can not be entered. I spotted about 10 nurse sharks and 3 blacktip reef sharks inside, and there may be others too. For those not expecting these two underwater habitats, they can be alarming, especially since the big fish look even larger with underwater distortion! Unfortunately, there are no surface or dry underwater views of the barracuda and shark habitats, only underwater views while one is submerged. The same can be said for the main reef habitat as far as dry underwater views go, and these would make this fine complex even better. The two laminated identification cards for the four tropical reef habitats list 39 species of fish:

    Atlantic Blue Tang
    Atlantic Porkfish
    Atlantic Spadefish
    Bannerfish
    Bermuda Chub
    Blacktip Reef Shark
    Blue Parrotfish
    Blue-ringed Angelfish
    Bluestriped Grunt
    Common Hogfish
    Cownose Ray
    Crevalle Jack
    Doctorfish
    French Angelfish
    French Grunt
    Great Barracuda
    Guineafowl Puffer
    Indian Ocean Sailfin Tang
    Japanese Wobbegong
    Lookdown
    Midnight Parrotfish
    Moonyfish
    Naso Tang
    Nurse Shark
    Ocean Surgeon
    Panther Grouper
    Powder Blue Tang
    Queen Angelfish
    Queensland Grouper
    Raccoon Butterflyfish
    Rainbow Parrotfish
    Red-lined Butterflyfish
    Red-tail Butterflyfish
    Spotted Eagle Ray
    Southern Stingray
    Striped Mullet
    Threadfin Butterflyfish
    Whitetip Reef Shark
    Yellow Tang

    A smaller attraction is a tent for small animal interactions, where they are brought out from behind-the-scenes for short periods for informal interpretation. The animals vary through the day, I saw a few parrots and an owl but did not spend much time here.

    The great quality of attractions and private feeling of this park make it easy to recommend. In my list of the 36 aquariums I have visited, I rank its aquatic habitats at number 17, mostly due to its limited number of exhibits. In my list of the 47 zoos I have visited, I rank it at number 41, simply because its single zoo part (the aviary), as excellent as it is, does not compare favorably to the wider variety of exhibits at most other zoos. However, in my list of top 15 individual bird exhibits, Explorer’s Aviary is number 8. Tropical Reef (main habitat) is number 15 in my top 25 of individual fish exhibits, and Dolphin Lagoon is number 12 in my top 15 individual aquatic mammals list. Admission is slightly complex, varying with high and low seasons and whether a dolphin interaction is wanted. I visited in a low season, where admission was $99. I believe admission plus a dolphin interaction would have been $179, a price I could not justify. At any time of year, a 14-day admission is included to either SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica (their adjacent waterslide park that has a Commerson’s dolphin exhibit and another tropical reef aquarium, that one viewed from a lazy river), or Busch Gardens Tampa. Since I wanted to go to SeaWorld and its general adult admission is $79, spending $99 for Discovery Cove plus SeaWorld was a much better value. They keep their prices a bit mysterious, often encouraging people to go through the reservation process to find out the whopping pricetag rather than clearly stating it on their website. It is difficult to compare the admission here with other facilities since it is all-inclusive; someone with a hefty appetite (and the lunch food was good) would perceive a better value than others. I probably handed out more bird food in the aviary feedings than I ate! At any rate, I would say that $99 was 30 dollars overpriced for the experience if it was the only park visited. On the other hand, having experienced it, I would regret missing it, knowing how wonderful swimming with the rays and feeding the avian wonders is! I have posted pictures in the SeaWorld Orlando gallery since a separate gallery for Discovery Cove does not exist.
     
  2. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Fantastic, highly detailed review.:)
     
  3. Ituri

    Ituri Well-Known Member

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    Great review Geomorph. I love the attention to detail. Including species lists in reviews is great! (hint, hint @snowleopard)
     
    Last edited: 17 Feb 2010
  4. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Thanks for the compliments! Ituri, remember when I used to write reviews with statements like 'then there was an aviary with a bunch of birds'?
     
  5. Ituri

    Ituri Well-Known Member

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    Haha, always prompted several comments on photos saying, "which species are in here?"
     
  6. kc7gr

    kc7gr Well-Known Member

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    That is one of the BEST reviews I've ever read for Discovery Cove!

    I would like to add some observations of my own. As I've mentioned on other forums, I would not recommend the overpriced/overpromoted dolphin "encounter" to anyone. Even the smallest facility in the Keys will give you better value for the dollar, interaction-wise.

    The aviary was easily my favorite part of the entire park. In fact, I could easily see spending an entire day in there. The highlight of my trip there in 2002 was when I enticed a shy turaco (a Lady Ross, if I'm not mistaken -- brilliant blue overall, with a red splotch on the front?) out for a snack. My wife says the staffer on duty was amazed, because (apparently) this particular bird has a reputation for hiding and, in her words, "doesn't come out for hardly anybody!"

    I think the thing which surprises me most about that species of turaco is how HEAVY they are for their size! This one wasn't much bigger than a Harris hawk I've gotten to know, and the Harris is a fraction of what the turaco's weight must have been.

    Geomorph, question: Which aviary is your number one choice, and where is it?

    Thanks.
     
  7. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    kc7gr, yes those Lady Ross turacos really are heavy! They had several, I fed two of them I think, I wonder if the one you fed is still alive and less shy than it used to be?

    My favorite aviaries are the two largest at San Diego Zoo, I love giant flight exhibits and the hillside locations of both with their rainforest birds are wonderful; I also have to admit that they are the aviaries of my childhood so I have an emotional attachment to them as well!
     
  8. MrsFox

    MrsFox Member

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    Discovery Cove

    Geomorph, thanks for the great review of discovery cove! So helpful in helping me identify the birds I saw last week.
    I have three pictures I am trying to identify...I think one is the Collared Aracari, - can anybody help?
     

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  9. MrsFox

    MrsFox Member

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    unknown birds at Discovery cove

    These are the other two birds I am not sure about. Discovery Cove has a great aviary.
     

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  10. zoogiraffe

    zoogiraffe Well-Known Member

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    The one on the right looks like a Bearded Barbet to me.
     
    Last edited: 6 Apr 2010
  11. MrsFox

    MrsFox Member

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    I think the one on the left might be a Wampoo Fruit Dove?
     
  12. MrsFox

    MrsFox Member

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    Thanks Zoogiraffe - that is definitely the one! I appreciate your help.
     
  13. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    MrsFox, did you get to feed any of the birds? They were incredibly friendly when I was there!
     
  14. srtiels

    srtiels New Member

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    Geomorph...great reveiw. Can you tell me more about the flight where the mousebirds were housed. I have some mousebirds that will be going there soon, and 1 blue-naped female has turned into a people loving bird. And they had told me that if any were tame they would go in a flight where people can go in and handle them.
     
  15. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    srtiels, I think the mousebirds were in the smallest of the 3 aviaries, which is still a nice lush walkthrough one with room enough for flight. A few of the walls are rocky structures with doorway entrances, while the other sides are netting with many plants and trees in front and behind so that it seems hidden. There are plenty of perches and branches for perching, and probably about 15 of the species are mixed together inside, including some of the ground birds, such as the wood partridges. It will be a wonderful home!
     
  16. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Discovery Cove has announced a new expansion that is under construction now and will open in June 2011, to be called The Grand Reef. It will be located at the back of the park, beyond the dolphin lagoons. I have seen reports that it will replace the current wonderful swim-through reef pool, which has been plagued by leaks for years, although SeaWorld does not detail this in its press release. From the press release:

    ORLANDO, Fla. (October 13, 2010) -- Discovery Cove, the ultimate, all-inclusive tropical retreat where guests swim with dolphins, takes immersion to new depths when it opens an all-new area -- The Grand Reef -- in June 2011. The new reef features multiple levels of exploration, from shallow waters to deeper swimming adventures, from white sandy beaches and hammocks swaying in the breeze, to snorkeling among canyons inspired by reefs from around the world. “The Grand Reef takes Discovery Cove’s world-class animal encounters to an all new level -- several, actually,” said Stewart Clark, the park’s vice president. “It’s what our guests expect
    from us, unforgettable connections with the sea and making memories that will last forever. This could only be created by Discovery Cove.”
    Visitors just need to get their feet wet to enjoy The Grand Reef, or they can choose to go deep. They can step into tranquil, shallow waters to discover a below-the-surface world teeming with sea life, or they can snorkel in deeper waters as thousands of exotic fish and graceful rays swim
    around them. Surprises abound. Families can seek discoveries along the water’s edge or cross a bridge to see sharks swimming below. They’ll play hide-and-seek with thousands of beautiful fish, from small colorful wrasses to large spotted eagle rays. Further out in the reef, stunning habitats create the feeling of swimming right alongside venomous lionfish and sharp-toothed reef sharks, each safely behind glass. Guests can take paths and bridges to the reef’s islands and hidden grottos as they delve into the reef from above, around and below. Those looking for an even more exhilarating adventure can take part in The Grand Reef’s innovative experience, SeaVenture, an underwater walking tour. Wearing dive helmets, guests find up-close excitement around every corner, each step yielding a new discovery. They’ll come across lionfish and sharks (safely behind massive panoramic windows), one-on-one touches with unique animals and schools of fish and gentle rays swimming by. SeaVenture is a once-in-a-lifetime, undersea experience available for a nominal fee.

    Follow this link for a fact sheet: http://www.discoverycove.com/AssetManagement/Assets/WIP/DCO/DCO Press/Grand Reef Fact Sheet.pdf
     
  17. BeardsleyZooFan

    BeardsleyZooFan Well-Known Member

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    A new attraction at Discovery Cove this spring is Freshwater Oasis. This is a one-of-a kind experience that will allow visitors to get up close with Asian Small-Clawed Otters and Marmosets.
    Discovery Cove - Fresh Water Oasis
     
  18. BeardsleyZooFan

    BeardsleyZooFan Well-Known Member

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  19. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

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