When you think of Orlando, what comes to mind? If you answered, “Theme Parks,” you are not alone. With four Disney parks, two Universal parks and SeaWorld, it’s easy to think of Orlando as the theme park capital of the world. If you’ve ever visited all seven theme parks, you know how stressful of a trip it can be.

Over Thanksgiving, my in-law’s took my husband and I, my sister-in-law, her boyfriend, and my brother-in-law to Orlando for a week of family fun. In addition to the seven theme parks, we made reservations to visit SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove, an all-inclusive day resort featuring incredible animal encounters. The biggest selling point? Only 1,000 reservations could be made per day.

Prior to Discovery Cove, the family visited SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The crowds at SeaWorld were manageable, but once we walked into Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, we knew we had met our match. No amount of butterbeer can make up for hour-long ride waits, shoulder-to-shoulder pathways and the unmistakable cry of an angry child.

With approximately 50,000 steps under our belt, we pulled into Discovery Cove. Much to our surprise, there was no line to park, let alone attendants asking for $20 per car. We walked straight up to a tiki hut-style building, and we’re greeted immediately. I felt as though we had been transported to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.

After getting our day passes and petting the resident sloth, we got a tour of the facilities followed by breakfast. Our dolphin encounter time was set for 11:30am, so we had plenty of time to explore the oasis in front of us. All we had to do was get our wetsuits…

If you have any curve on your body – hips, butt, chest – do not under any circumstance pick up a wet suit. It was about 65 degrees to start the day at Discovery Cove, so I felt a wet suit would be a better option than throwing a fitted life jacket over my one-piece. Hint: It was not. After the 15 minute struggle to get the wetsuit onto my body, I stepped out of the bathroom with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to discover we had them on backwards. I am not exaggerating when I say it took all three of us to peel my wetsuit back off.

Once dressed for the day, we grabbed our snorkels and headed off into the saltwater reef pool. This incredible coral reef includes fish of all shapes and sizes, along with a few sting rays who are not afraid to swim right up next to you. The view is incredible.

For our dolphin encounter, our group of seven was paired up with another couple and two trainers who took us out into the middle pool to meet our dolphin, LaToya. At any given time, there are nearly 50 dolphins in the encounter, each separated into one of three family groups, designed to mimic the same type of relationships they’d experience in the ocean. Each person petted, treated, and even rode with LaToya across the water, while photographers and videographers captured every moment (for a pretty penny – but also completely worth it).

Following our dolphin encounter, we ate lunch, laid around the beach and wandered through the lazy river, which, if you don’t prepare with a buoy, is not so lazy (spanning over a mile). Looking back, it was everyone’s favorite part of the trip (including this Disney-loving princess!)

Each all-inclusive package (starting at $229/person) includes unlimited access to SeaWorld for 14 days, breakfast and lunch, a 30-minute dolphin experience, and parking. Compared with ticket prices for the other Orlando options, the price is well worth the relaxation.

Have you heard of Discovery Cove? What is your favorite part of an Orlando vacation? Let me know! 

 

Ashley Parks

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