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A Day at Discovery Cove | Kestrel's Aerie

A Day at Discovery Cove | Kestrel's Aerie

A Day at Discovery Cove

Alie and her dolphin

Last Thursday, Mrs. Kestrel and I flew down to Tampa, where we’ll be through October 4. We’re here to celebrate our granddaughter Alison’s seventh birthday on Wednesday, and to help move Alie’s playroom upstairs, and convert the current playroom into a nursery. Originally, we had planned a to be in Tampa a week, followed by a week of “real” vacation further down Florida’s Gulf Coast. Those plans were modified with the Mother’s Day announcement that we were expecting another grandchild around Christmas.

So, we flew down on Thursday, spent Friday pretty much goofing off (Alie was in school, of course, and Eric was working), then on Saturday, packed swimsuits and sunglasses and headed to SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove, in Orlando.

It’s a pretty great place, a saltwater lagoon dug into the land near Orlando. We all thought the layout was outstanding, although a few people we overheard didn’t feel the same.There are different packages available, depending on whether or not you want to interact with dolphins, and whether you want the use of a private cabana for the day. Since this was a special event for Alie’s birthday, she and her dad added the dolphin swim, and we also got a cabana. The cabana had a locker and refrigerator, which was kept stocked with plenty of beverages—soft drinks, juice, and beer—and snacks (chips, cookies, trail mix, granola bars) throughout the day by Camilo, who was very personable, and provided outstanding service. While not everyone may want to pay the extra cost for the cabana, it worked out well for our family. The locker was huge, and gave us plenty of room for bags and backpacks, hats, purses, what-have-you.

In fact, one of the hallmarks of our day-long visit was the universal five-star service throughout the resort, from check-in, through greeters who showed us to our cabana and gave us an overview of the resort, to the dolphin trainers, as well as lifeguards and service staff. Everyone we met made a point of helping to make our day a very special one.

Regardless of the package you get, one price covers everything for the day: parking, drinks—including (pretty much unlimited) beer and cocktails, snacks, meals (both breakfast and lunch are served, cafeteria-style, with plenty of shaded outdoor seating), Panama Jack sunblock, Crabtree & Evelyn bath products in the showers, all the towels you need, wetsuits or wetsuit vests (required if you go in the water) . . . in other words, everything except your bathing suit and sunglasses (and if you need to, you can purchase those on site, at fairly reasonable prices). They also provide a mask and snorkel—and you get to keep the snorkel!

Eric and Alie got to interact with a dolphin about an hour after we arrived (which gave us just enough time to get the lay of the land, and put our stuff in the cabana). Diane, Janet, and I were able to observe from a nearby vantage point, and we got plenty of pictures and video. The dolphin interaction starts with a short introductory briefing and video: all told, about 15 minutes. Even those of us who weren’t going in the water with the dolphins were welcome to attend. Then, a short walk took us to the dolphin bays. Each group was about ten people, with a trainer and still and video photographers.1

Alie with Dixie the dolphin. Her dad is on the far right.

The trainer introduced the dolphin and provided some information about the dolphin pods living at Discovery Cove. Participants were able to pet and, of course, kiss the dolphin. They also got a short swim with the dolphin, which Eric described as “fast!”

Eric and Diane had purchased a birthday package for Alie, so the last event of their interaction was for Dixie (the dolphin) to bring Alie a small buoy with “Happy 7th Birthday, Alison!” printed on it in permanent marker. However, Dixie decided that rather than give up the buoy to Alison, she wanted to play with it. After a few minutes, though (and, fortunately, just as their time was up), the dolphin found something else to entertain her, and Alie got her buoy, as well as a pretty cool bag of swag, including a stuffed toy dolphin, a tee-shirt, and a waterproof camera.

By then it was around 11:30, so we decided to have lunch. There was quite a nice selection, including coconut chicken curry, pulled pork sandwiches, hamburgers, salads, fresh fruit, and pretty tasty desserts. (I recommend the carrot cake, although the cheesecake was pretty good, too.)

After lunch, we donned our provided wetsuit vests, masks, and snorkels, and explored the lagoon and reef. We petted rays, and swam among thousands of tropical fish. There were quite a few more fish, in a much smaller area, than we’d seen while snorkeling in Hawai’i. 2

Alie, of course, had a blast taking underwater pictures with her camera. After about 45 minutes, we decided to take a break and rest a bit in the cabana. We then ambled over to the Lazy River, which is a freshwater river that flows through the aviary, and is a nice easy float trip (using buoyant “noodles”) that lasts between twenty and thirty minutes. We then explored the aviary on foot, and Alie had birds eating out of her hand…literally! Of course, we hadn’t brought cameras with us. Oh, well.

After another short stay in the cabana (and a margarita, or maybe two), we headed back into the lagoon. This second time we went snorkeling, Alie suddenly turned into a fish! Even her dad, who has done a couple triathlons, had trouble keeping up with her sudden changes in direction. We’d gotten a floatation vest for her, in addition to the wetsuit vest, so she was able to swim without tiring at all.

We finally got out of the water about 5:15 (the water is emptied of people at 5:30), and showered and changed. We picked up pizzas on the way home, and pretty much collapsed after a very full, very fun day. If you’re planning a vacation to central Florida, I highly recommend a day at Discovery Cove.

  1. You have the opportunity to purchase stills and video afterwards, and friends or family who are not in the water are free to take all the photos or videos they want. Cameras are not permitted in the water with the dolphins, as they can be even smaller than some of the fish the dolphins are fed.
  2. We also know now that before we go to Maui in January, we’ll be buying a couple of those vests—they really improve your buoyancy, and make swimming for an hour or more considerably less exhausting.
 

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