Welcome to Theme Park Insider! Join the community or log in
Theme Park Insider
Facebook Twitter YouTube Email Newsletter

Sea World's Discovery Cove: A different perspective

Sea World Orlando: This report provides a very different perspective of Sea World's Discovery Cove, as of November 2002, than I think the board's readers would expect from a typical visitor.

From Bruce Lane
Posted April 21, 2005 at 10:33 PM
I had the oppurtunity to explore Sea World’s Discovery Cove in November of 2002. I was fortunate enough to be traveling with my wife and two friends, which served to give me three different perspectives on the park besides my own.

The short summary of the trip is that, although we shared some enjoyable experiences, we all came away from the park with very mixed (and not particularly positive) overall impressions.

I realize that this may shock some of the board’s readers: How could one NOT have a Good Time at any Sea World park, let alone one that offered swim-with-the-dolphins activities?

Believe me, it’s possible. In order to better understand what I’m about to describe, I’ll need to give you some context in the form of three points.

First, this report is a compilation of opinions from everyone in my group. I was chosen as the de facto spokesperson by mutual agreement.

Second, all four of us share a strong interest in animals, marine mammals in particular, to the point where we have all worked with such animals in a professional environment (albeit on a volunteer basis as trainers’ assistants). As such, we all have very strong and near-identical views about the responsibilities of any zoo or oceanarium, including unwritten ones, when it comes to how they present their charges to the public.

Third, I strongly recommend that ANY visitor to any of the Sea World parks, especially those who have come away with a nagging feeling that something is just plain wrong about the place, pick up and read a copy of “Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience” by Susan G. Davis, University of California Press.

Contrary to what some may think on first impression, this book is not in any way a treatise on animal rights or the ethical issues of captive animals. It is, instead, a very detailed breakdown as to why Sea World behaves as they do. Susan Davis is a Professor of Communications as opposed to a zoologist, and it shows in her writing.

That takes care of the preliminaries. Let’s get started on the details.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Discovery Cove is Sea World’s attempt at providing its guests a more “interactive experience” with some of its animals. It is a park that is separate from the main complex, and one that requires a separate admission fee.

This fee is dependent on what time of year you visit, as well as what you’d like to do. It varies from a low of $129 (plus tax) per person, simply for access to the facility during the off-peak season (this price does NOT include a swim-with session for the dolphins), to a high of $459 per person for the ‘Trainer for a Day’ package during the peak season. Details may be had at:
http://www.discoverycove.com/vi_dcpackages_pricing.aspx

The only additional perk to these prices is that they include either 7 or 14 days worth (depending on which package you choose) of unlimited admission to the main Sea World park. The visitor headcount for Discovery Cove is capped at 1,000 people per day. This means get there early if you’re going without an advance reservation.

Besides the dolphin swim sessions, the park features artificial coral reefs, well-stocked with native fish and rays, a float-through river complex complete with white-sand beaches and waterfalls, and the single most magnificent walk-through free-flight aviary it has ever been my pleasure to encounter on the east coast.

The river winds its way through the aviary as well, and there are water-level entrances to it if you don’t feel like going overland. You can literally swim right up to it, and even through it if you don’t mind going under a couple of small waterfalls.

We all opted for the mid-range package at $229 per person. This was billed as including a dolphin swim session. It did, but none of us considered it to have been a good value for the dollar, as I’ll explain a little further on. In fact, I think we would all have asked for a refund, and left early, had it not been for the aviary.

Once you arrive for your visit, you’ll check in at one of several concierge-like workstations in the main reception area. Your picture will be taken, and you will be issued a badge with your photo and imprinted details of which package you bought. You may also, if you wish, tie your credit card number to this pass, and use it instead of your actual card to make purchases within the park. If you bought a dolphin-swim package, you’ll be assigned a time and location for your session, and this information will also be imprinted on your badge.

After you clear check-in, your next step is to select a wetsuit (the park provides them at no extra cost, and you will need them even in Orlando’s heat), and get changed.

There is ample and clean changing room space provided for both genders. If you’re not sure of what size wetsuit to get, let the park staff help you select. They’re very good at it. My wife, for example, is very hard to fit for such, and she had no trouble at all.

Next step: Roam the park! You’re on your own until it’s time to report for your dolphin swim. What I would suggest is that you pin down where it is you’re supposed to go for said swim, and then simply indulge your sense of exploration for a while. The park is not very large, but it is very detailed. Follow your gut and have fun.

THE BIG MOMENT: IN WITH THE DOLPHINS

I really feel the need to give you a heads-up on something. The pre-swim briefing is less about briefing you on the dolphins, and how to conduct yourself around them, than it is about showing you a plasticized “feel-good” video presentation that goes to great lengths to trumpet how great a place Sea World really is.

To put it another way: Certainly pay attention to what the training staff tells you about the animals, but also keep a cynical eye out for shameless self-promotion. I absolutely guarantee you that the pre-briefing will include a lecture on why you should never try to interact with wild dolphins. Sea World, as a whole, demonizes this practice far more than it deserves.

Let me diverge on that topic for a moment. It is indeed against U.S. federal law, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to deliberately harass any wild marine mammal. To any rational mind, the term “harass” in this context brings up images of chasing the critters with boats or jet-skis, trying to hold on to them while they’re swimming, feeding them, or doing other similarly stupid things.

While I absolutely agree with them in saying that one should never, under any conditions, try to feed wild dolphins, I could not disagree more with the idea that you shouldn’t allow direct interaction to take place. Heck, you may not be able to avoid it under some conditions!

You see, dolphins are smart. Very smart. High intelligence breeds curiosity. If you’re swimming out in the ocean, and one or more wild dolphins sees you and gets curious, and then decides to approach you and try to play with you, there’s not Thing One that any government agency can do about it.

The problem is that our government chooses not to recognize this fact. If you’re out in the ocean off, say, the Florida Keys, having a high old time with a couple of dolphins that just happened to show up, you could very easily be cited or arrested by the Florida Marine Patrol for “harassing” the animals.

Is there risk in interacting with wild dolphins? Of course there is! They’re wild animals, not a household pet. If you do something that a dolphin perceives as harmful to them, they will defend themselves, and you could easily get hurt – badly – as a result.

HOWEVER – With that said, dolphins are not generally mean-spirited, as many past wild encounters have clearly demonstrated. Yes, there have been incidents, but from what I’ve read they’ve been universally due to the human involved doing something stupid, like jamming a Popsicle stick into a dolphin’s blowhole.

As a final point: Consider that stories and legends of interaction between humans and dolphins – wild dolphins – go back for thousands of years. Can you think of any logical reason why there would suddenly be a real problem after all that time and all those encounters?

If you want a good example of how successful interaction with wild dolphins can be, just Google for “Monkey Mia, West Australia.” I think the real reason Sea World, and our government, don’t like the idea of people interacting freely with the wild critters is because it would be bad for their business model in the long term.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. You’ll get your lecture, you’ll see the video, and off you’ll go with five other people (group size is limited to six per trainer per session) to meet your assigned trainer and the dolphin involved. The trainer will give you a few moments more briefing, check for questions, and then move you all out into chest-deep water (you’ll be standing on a rock ledge almost the whole time).

The trainer will then introduce you to the dolphin involved. There will follow several minutes of mutual touching, and then some directed behaviors, the nature of which will depend largely on the trainer and dolphin involved. You’ll probably get a brief (but very slow) dorsal-fin tow out of it, perhaps a demonstration of high-speed swimming on the part of the dolphin, etc.

Oh, one thing: You will be under videotaping and still photography during the entire session, so you may want to think twice about doing anything your friends or relatives will razz you for later (this assumes that you choose to purchase a tape copy of your encounter. If you do, be aware that it will be Macrovision copy-protected).

Your total time in water is a little less than 20 minutes, and there is NO free-swim time at all with the animals for anyone. That alone was enough to get my dander up, especially when compared against my recent experience at a far-superior swim-with program in Mexico.

After the “swim” session comes Sea World’s favorite part. You’re compelled to attend a post-swim “briefing” which consists of parking you in front of a computer monitor so that the park can bombard you with advertising for swim-related merchandise. You can purchase photos of your encounter in a number of different formats, including a full video, and the prices are... well, ‘inflated’ is a good starting point.

You will also, for reasons unknown, be offered the opportunity to purchase (of all things) a commemorative snow-globe. This from a park in Florida. Go figure.

DISCOVERY COVE’S SAVING GRACE

Remember earlier on I mentioned an aviary? A magnificent, exquisitely-designed walk-through/swim-through aviary? I think, had we all known what kind of a ripoff the alleged dolphin “swim” encounter was, we would have chosen to pay a lot less and just settled for the aviary and the river swim.

The first thing you’re confronted with when you walk through the enclosure’s entrance is lush greenery, waterfalls, and a broad wooden bridge across the swim-through river. The next thing likely to cross your awareness is at least one staff member pushing around what looks like an ice cream cart. Said staffer will greet you, and invite you to take part in feeding the featherheads.

Once you accept one or two containers of whatever they’re giving the birds that day, you will likely find that you’ve suddenly become a perch for at least twenty-some-odd sun conures. These are a variety of small parrot, brightly colored predominantly in orange with red highlights.

Nearly all the birds in the place have been hand-raised, are hand-tame (at least where food is concerned), and there’s enough variety to satisfy any bird-lover. In fact, the aviary itself is divided into three sections according to the average size of the birds.

The ‘Small’ section holds critters like finches, sparrows, and hummingbirds. The ‘Medium’ area holds the sun conures, fish-eating diving birds (the name of which I don’t recall), gray-plumaged guinea fowl with the most gorgeous metallic-blue iridescent crests you’ve ever seen, and several others which I didn’t get a good look at.

Last but not least, the ‘Large’ section holds crows, at least one toucan, at least one turaco, and other similarly large birds. I had the distinct pleasure of feeding (and getting to hold) the turaco (this is a HEAVY bird!), and also discovering how gentle and timid toucans, for all their intimidating-looking beak, really are.

A word of warning: Feeding the crows (named Russel and Cheryl, of course) is fun, but know that their preferred snack is mealworms. Live mealworms. The staffer on duty will happily hand you such, but I would not recommend letting them do so if you’re the least bit squeamish.

Why? Easy! They’re alive, remember? They squirm like mad! They’ll work their way right out of your hand if you’re not careful. Holding the little buggers didn’t bother me at all (I’ve handled plenty worse), but a couple of teenagers who were watching me where whispering things to each other along the lines of ‘Eww, gross!’

IN SUMMARY...

Discovery Cove makes for a nice visit overall but, honestly, the real winner is their aviary.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend their version of a dolphin swim to anyone, not even people who have never seen a dolphin before in their lives. The sessions are far too heavily polluted with Sea World propaganda and advertising, and are overpriced for what they offer. If you’re going to visit Discovery Cove, go for the aviary and the river swimming. You’ll pay less, and (I think) have a better time.

So you still want to swim with dolphins? An admirable goal, and a fun one. Unfortunately, the best possible swim-with dolphin experiences cannot be found within United States boundaries. Obtaining such will require a trip to at least southeastern Mexico, specifically to two truly amazing nature parks, near the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, called Xcaret and Xel Ha. You can find details on each at these links.

http://www.xcaret.com/
http://www.xelha.com.mx/default.asp?com_id=0&idioma=1

If your budget or time will not allow a run to Mexico, and you still want to do a dolphin swim, you would do very well indeed to visit the Dolphin Research Center in the Keys (Grassy Key), and/or Theater of the Sea just a bit north in Islamorada. Web sites as follows.

http://www.dolphins.org/ (DRC)

http://www.theaterofthesea.com/

Either place will give you a much more honest and, IMO, rewarding experience with the animals than Sea World could ever come up with, and you won’t get blasted with anywhere near the same degree of advertising.

As if that’s not enough, both facilities are natural-seawater, as opposed to the concrete-and-false-coral environment that Sea World provides.

I’m always open for questions. Please feel free to E-mail me if you wish.

Thanks for reading.


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Michael Kostrikin
Posted April 22, 2005 at 10:11 AM
Thank you for your wonderful report.

From Bruce Lane
Posted April 22, 2005 at 9:08 PM
You are entirely welcome. I'm glad you found it informative.

From Mark Hollamon
Posted April 23, 2005 at 4:57 AM
Nice report Bruce. My wife and I had a very sinilar experience with the encounter. We felt it was more of a "photo op" than an encounter. Very little interaction. We left early and received a refund.

From Tonya Gaddy
Posted April 23, 2005 at 8:34 AM
Nicely written, but:

You were saying the different price ranges and yours was about $250, but with the higher price of the well over four-hundred range, don't you think you might have bought the lesser desired "swim" pack with the dolphins? I may be mistanken, but usually in those types of parks, there is indeed different packages to fit a customers time and wallet. What do you think?

From Bruce Lane
Posted April 23, 2005 at 9:17 AM
Tonya wrote...

"Nicely written, but:

You were saying the different price ranges and yours was about $250, but with the higher price of the well over four-hundred range, don't you think you might have bought the lesser desired "swim" pack with the dolphins? I may be mistanken, but usually in those types of parks, there is indeed different packages to fit a customers time and wallet. What do you think?"

Actually, about $229 is what I (and my friends) paid.

I think, Tonya, that the problems I mentioned would still be there. Sea World has shown a consistent habit of trying to sanitize and package Nature into something that fits with their worldview, and sell it to the general public as a commodity.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the "Trainer for a Day" package would consist not of what it TRULY is to be an animal handler, but what Sea World thinks it should be, complete with all the propaganda, advertising, and opportunity to part with still more of your hard-earned $$ that I already mentioned in my report.

Let me put it this way. I would not want to risk $400+ to find out if I'm wrong, especially since it's non-refundable. I would far rather use an amount like that towards one of the week-long 'DolphinLab' camps that the Dolphin Research Center provides. I know I'd get my money's worth with them.

Another way to say it: I don't trust Sea World to do such a package right, and I don't think others should either.

FWIW: I have, in the 'Pending Review' queue, a detailed report on my 2000 trip to the Mexican parks of Xcaret and Xel Ha. Depending on when Robert has a chance to review them, I expect they'll be showing up in the appropriate section in a couple of days.

Thanks for writing.

From Robert Niles
Posted April 23, 2005 at 4:45 PM
They are up now.

From Tonya Gaddy
Posted April 23, 2005 at 11:55 PM
If you knew of a well-designed-dolphin-swim park, then why did you go to SeaWorld? I do agree SeaWorld's attempts to make it's audience "Treasure their Moment" are a bit extreme, but think of every other themepark. Universal and Disney take your photo when you enter the park, isn't that the same as what SeaWorld did with their video and snowglobes. Also, Disney's main symbol is ofcourse Mickey Mouse. All around the park there is "Hidden Mickey's". Isn't that as bad as SeaWorld... if not worse?

From Bruce Lane
Posted April 24, 2005 at 8:38 AM
My friends and I visited for the same reason that I think most people do: Curiosity, and the thought that maybe -- just maybe -- Sea World could do a swim-with-dolphins program right.

We were all wrong, and it cost each of us $229 to find that out. It was a failed experiment (not a total loss because of the aviary -- we all like birds as well as marine mammals), nothing more, nothing less. People lose more than that gambling in Vegas.

FWIW: The whole reason we were in Orlando at that point is not because we were actually 'on vacation,' per se. We were all attending the annual conference of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (http://www.imata.org if you're curious). Sea World was hosting us, in terms of conference activities and facilities, but we wanted a day to ourselves to check out Discovery Cove.

As for the 'Capture the Moment' stuff: No, it's not the same at all, and that's not what I'm really objecting to. You can always back out of "Capture the Moment" if you wish.

What I have a problem with -- what I've always had a problem with -- is that Sea World, as a whole, thinks they can be both a theme park, a place where the primary goal is making a profit at any cost, and an oceanarium, a place where profit needs to take a back seat to taking good care of the animals that they've chosen to be responsible for.

My definition of "care" in this context most definitely includes representing the animals honestly and accurately to the visiting public. After all, how can anyone make informed choices about their future actions, actions that may affect anything from a single animal to the entire planet, based on misinformation? Or perhaps a lack of complete information?

Here's a perfect example. Chance interactions in the wild between humans and dolphins have been going on for MILLENNIA (That's thousands of years), and I have no doubt that they continue to go on in various places all around the world, INCLUDING within U.S. boundaries.

Why, given all this history, does our government suddenly decide that there's a problem and that we need to stop? Why does Sea World demonize the practice? Sure, there's a risk involved, but I think you're at greater risk just walking down the main street of any large city.

What Sea World is telling people, in their laughable pre-swim "briefings" at D-Cove, is, essentially, that wild dolphins are to be feared and that your only "safe" way to interact with the critters is through Sea World.

The Mexican parks said NOTHING about wild interaction at all in their briefings. If encountering wild dolphins is such a horrible thing, and so very dangerous, shouldn't ALL the dolphin-containing parks worldwide be informing people of the "problem?"

Also, if wild interaction were such a dangerous thing, wouldn't there be a lot more stories in the mass media about people getting hurt or killed by the critters? A story like that would make fantastic fodder for any ratings-hungry TV news show.

I'm sorry, but it just doesn't wash. If Sea World can't attract and retain visitor loyalty on its own merits, WITHOUT misleading said visitors about things our species has been doing for the past few thousand years, then maybe they need to do some serious reexamination of their true goals.

I hope that helps to clarify my PoV for you. Thanks for writing.

From Ben Mills
Posted April 24, 2005 at 8:32 AM
No, I think the Hidden Mickeys work because they're not shoved in your face. They aren't promotional tools, they're just cool little things to make the dorks proud when they see them. No one's gonna spend any more money at the parks just because a couple of trash cans formed the famous three circles. It's what the Imagineers do best: creativity for creativity's sake.

Personally, I really enjoyed Discovery Cove. Most points here are valid - it is outrageously expensive, the merchandising is way too in-yer-face - but overall, I think it's a pleasant experience. True, I've never done any other dolphin swims, but the whole place just felt really nice. And I didn't find the actual swim disappointing. I'm not a particular fan of that sort of thing, but I still enjoyed it.

DC basically sets the standard that all water parks should aspire to, minus the slides and prices. And, obviously, the dolphins.

From Bruce Lane
Posted April 24, 2005 at 11:08 AM
Ben Mills writes...

"DC basically sets the standard that all water parks should aspire to, minus the slides and prices. And, obviously, the dolphins..."

(gryn!) You might not be saying that if you'd visited Xel Ha. Now THAT'S a water park!

Anyway, you bring up an interesting thought. What WOULD Discovery Cove be like without the dolphins, and with a consequently lower admission price?

I think it'd be an improvement. They could lengthen the river swim, enlarge the aviary... yeah, I can see it. They sure can't do decent dolphin swims, so may was well do something worthwhile with the space.

(sigh) Neat thought, but I doubt SW will ever do it. They're making too many $$ off gullible folk who probably don't even know about ThemeParkInsider's existence, let alone care enough to read it and analyze what's here.

Keep the peace(es).

From ian fulcher
Posted September 14, 2005 at 2:07 AM
AS A HARD WORKING FAMILY MAN WITH A YOUNG FAMILY AND HAVING JUST RETURNED FROM A FAMILY HOLIDAY TO FLORIDA I HAVE GOT TO DISAGREE WITH MOST OF YOUR STATMENTS ON DISCOVERY COVE.
THE SWIM WITH THE DOLPHIN WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF A FANTASTIC HOLIDAY, I HOLD MY HAND UP AND SAY I'AM NO EXPERT ON ANIMALS AND HAVE ONLY SEEN DOLPHINS PERFORM IN SHOWS, SO TO ACTUALLY SWIM WITH A DOLPHIN WAS AN EXPERIENCE HARD TO PUT INTO WORDS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY, THE PHOTO'S AND DVD THEY SELL TO YOU ARE A MUST BECAUSE FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE THIS IS A ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE.

From Scott Galas
Posted September 16, 2005 at 5:05 AM
I totally disagree with this person's opinion. I have been to Discovery Cove. It was one of the most tranquil, relaxing, wonderful days of my life.
I have never had the opportunity to go to Mexico to their dolphin interaction, but would welcome it.
Everything in that park was set up wonderfully, and easy to follow. The staff was wonderful, friendly and knowledgeable.
As for the dolphin swim: Yes, SeaWorld is going to try to sell some pictures. I don't think there is a park that doesn't? You always have the chance NOT to buy them, I did however. They are proudly displayed in my kitchen where everyone can see them. And I have had some nice, positive feedback on them. People always ask about the experience and I tell them the truth, IT WAS WONDERFUL!
Never have I been able to touch a dolphin, interact with a dolphin, play with a dolphin and swim with a dolphin.
The reef was beautiful, the sting-ray pool was wonderful and the aviary was great!
I will always cherish these memories and hope that many others will be able to experience this as well.
As for the cost, I am a Florida-resident and was able to get a discount and bypass the free days in SeaWorld/Busch Gardens.
I would highly recommend Discover Cove to anyone who wouldn't mind paying a little extra for a day of complete wonder!!

From Bruce Lane
Posted September 17, 2005 at 1:41 AM
To Ian and Scott,

Ian, please check your CAPS LOCK. The days when computer networks only understood upper case are long gone, and typing in ALL CAPS is considered rude on most networks (shouting).

To the both of you: Thanks for sharing your own opinions. It appears, on the surface at least, that we will end up agreeing to disagree.

What I think you're both missing is that, as I've said, Sea World could be doing much better. They insist on trying to package and sell the swim-with experience (indeed, anything relating to the animals) as a commodity, and this tends to give visitors a distorted view of the critters as opposed to an 'honest' encounter.

To put it another way: It is my unwavering view that any park running any sort of interactive program with their dolphins has a serious responsibility to make as truthful and accurate a presentation of them as possible, even if that presentation raises questions from the visitors that the park involved may find uncomfortable. It doesn't do anyone any good to try and present the animals as something they're not (essentially, as D-Cove would have you believe, a rehash of the 'Flipper' illusion) because that won't give people a solid basis on which to form their own perceptions (and possible future choices) regarding the animals and their environment.

Sea World is most definitely NOT making their presentations in a fully truthful manner. They're using their swim-with program mainly as an advertising gimmick and photo-op. They're also doing their level best to convince their visitors (inaccurately) that the Almighty Sea World is the only place on the planet where it's safe and legal to get that close to a dolphin.

As I mentioned in my original report: Humans and dolphins have been interacting with each other, largely in the wild, for thousands of years, long before places like Sea World were even a gleam in humanity's collective eye. Why, after all that time, should Sea World (and our overprotective, big-brotherish government) suddenly become the determining authority on who gets to do what with dolphins?

If Sea World truly cared about being truthful, they would be telling people that it is indeed possible to interact with wild dolphins, to have a great time doing it, and that the risk is not much greater than you'd find in a captive environment. They would offer advice on how to handle a wild encounter -- specifically, advice on do's and dont's, like not trying to feed the wild ones, nor try to chase them around, nor try to enter the water while mating or birthing is going on -- instead of portraying wild dolphins as something to be feared.

They would also emphasize that, though dolphins are not mean-spirited by nature, they can play rough, and that there is still an element of risk in wild encounters. They would not be demonizing said encounters, as they do in their laughable "briefings."

No, I remain convinced that the real reason they're presenting the dolphins in the way that they are is solely because it serves their business model. Any sort of wild interaction opportunities would be a threat to their gate count, and at $200+ per head for their idea of a swim-with experience, that could get substantial.

I'm glad that you both enjoyed yourselves, but I still believe you paid too much for too little hard value. Understand as well that my own standards tend to be quite a bit higher than most of the visiting public, as I have worked with marine mammals in a professional environment, albeit as a volunteer.

Before you convince yourselves that Discovery Cove is the be-all and end-all of swim-with experiences (trust me, it's not, not by a LONG shot), try to get to southern Mexico, as I did, and try the swim-with programs there. We got more free-swim playtime with the animals in Mexico than the TOTAL amount of time Discovery Cove has you in the water, and for less than half D-Cove's price to boot.

If Mexico is too far, at least try to get to the Dolphin Research Center, and/or Theater of the Sea, both of which are in the Keys. You'll get much better bang for your $$ than you ever would at Sea World.

Also, don't forget that book I mentioned in my report ("Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience"). Before you take any of the Sea World parks at face value, I strongly suggest you read said book.

Happy travels.

From ian fulcher
Posted September 17, 2005 at 12:08 PM
DEAR BRUCE,
SORRY IF MY CAPS LOCK BUTTON UPSETS YOU, I'AM FULLY AWARE WHAT COMPUTER NETWORKS CAN AND CAN'T READ, BUT THANKS FOR THE ADVICE.
I'LL APPLAUD WHAT SCOTT SAY'S DISCOVERY COVE IS AN AMMAZING DAY NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN AND I'AM ALREADY SAVING FOR MY NEXT VISIT.

From Bruce Lane
Posted September 18, 2005 at 12:13 AM
Well, then, Ian, enjoy your next visit. I still think the aviary is a better deal than the dolphins, and I still think you'd get far more bang for your $$ by traveling a little farther.

However, if you're happy with what Sea World's propaganda generator churns out, then who am I to try and dissuade you?

Happy travels.

From Donna Blake
Posted March 3, 2006 at 6:50 AM
Hello,

A very interesting review. I am an avid Sea World fan but I understand your point and I actually agree with it. Sea World is probably most people's only chance to ever see the wonder of such awesome creatures and for that alone, I love it. But in agreement with you, it is absolutely way too commercialized.

I also agree about your perspective on interaction in the wild with the dolphins. Unbelievable is all I can say about our government at times.

I was very glad to see your advice on other places to see in Mexico and elsewhere. I hope someday I can actually take advantage of one or more of those places.

Thank you for a great and realistic review!

Donna Blake

From Bruce Lane
Posted June 2, 2006 at 10:27 PM
You're entirely welcome, Donna. I'm glad you found it useful.

As a minor update: I've learned that the admission fees for Discovery Cove have increased pretty dramatically in recent times.

Specifically, the basic day ticket is up to $179 per person during peak season, and $149 off-season. The basic dolphin "swim-with" package has become even less of a decent value for the dollar at $279 peak and $249 off-peak. There are some discounts available, but it's tough to get them.

Happy travels.

From Tom C
Posted July 31, 2006 at 1:53 PM
Bruce and I must have had VERY different experiences at Discovery Cove... When I went to Disovery Cove, yes the video was a little cheesy, I admit, but from what I got out of the presentation is that it is better for the dolphins if we leave them alone, and also an FYI that the law exists. (Before my visit, I was unaware that that law existed.) I'm also pretty sure that the folks at SeaWorld weren't the ones to write that law, so I don't think it's fair to pin that on them.

As far as the swim, it was everything that the reservationist on the phone told us it would be. They told us we would be in a group of about 6-8 people, would get the opportunity to touch and pet the dolphin, give it a kiss, swim out to deeper water to have it pull us across the water.

I admit the part afterward with the photos was a bit much, but I never felt presured to buy anything, if anything they were just telling you what they had avalable. Besides, I asked, and (like most of the photo places in Orlando themeparks) the dolphin photos are not run by SeaWorld, but by a third party.

I also love the fact that it is all inclusive, (with the exception of photos, and merchandice), and that I could have as much beer as I wanted. (Granted, that plays into the whole being owned by AB thing, but still, the beer was included.....)

As far as the snow globe thing, there are many people in this world who collect snow globes (my aunt for one) and Disney even built a whole parade around snow globes, and has quite a collecion for sale as well, so I don't think it is out of place for them to have them available at Discovery Cove.

Overall, I think DC does an amazing job. I think it is worth the extra amount not to have to be in a crowd all day, to be able to actually RELAX at a park. Granted, I would love to have spent more time with the dolphin, but to be honest, after about 20 min or so, I really had that feeling that I pretty much had done everything I had wanted to do with a dolphin.

Is DC the cheapest dolphin encounter? NO. Is it worth it? Yes.

From Bruce Lane
Posted August 1, 2006 at 10:48 PM
Hi, Tom,

I don't believe that we had different experiences. I think, instead, that we have very different PERSPECTIVES.

Before I get into 'discourse mode,' let me say that I'm glad you had a good time. If Discovery Cove produced the kind of experience that you're comfortable with, and you don't really care to see what else might be Out There, or get a more accurate perspective on dolphins (wild and captive), then more power to you.

I still believe DC's dolphin program to be grossly overpriced and undervalued, and I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it to anyone (especially someone who's never so much as seen a dolphin 'in the flesh). My statements in my initial report (and yes, I still stand by every last one) are based on my own experiences in the marine mammal field as a volunteer trainer's assistant, as a 'regular' at Sea World San Diego for several years, as one who literally grew up with the old Marine World/Africa USA park practically in their back yard, and on the fact that (over the last 15 or so years) I've visited just about every oceanarium in the US and at least five outside of it.

I'm NOT saying all this in an effort to brag. I'm saying it to try and help you understand why I presented the kind of report I did. I've seen and experienced the marine mammal field, in intimate (and often very wet) detail, both as a spectator and as one "behind the scenes." A perspective like that is going to, as you might guess, have a pretty strong effect on any report I write about any facility.

Couple that with my own beliefs about dolphins and whales (that, for all our years of research, we've not even scratched the surface), and about how people react to animals in general, and it may give you a better idea of why I think DC's aviary still comes out the clear winner over their laughable excuse for a dolphin "encounter."
Trust me, I've been fortunate enough to have "encounters" with dolphins, at other facilities, that make DC look like they're not even trying!

The frustrating part for me is that I KNOW much of that same experience can be duplicated at existing US-based swim programs (foreign locations already seem to "get it").

Unfortunately, we've got two things in the way of that idea. First, an overprotective government that seems to treat the US population, collectively, like a bunch of rowdy sixth-graders. Secondly, a culture which seems to LIKE being treated that way, likes behaving that way, and that seems to think lawsuits are better than taking personal responsibility for one's own actions and risks.

As for wild contact, I have two big problems with the laws as they're written now (and yes, Sea World DID have a hand in drafting them -- I know this from my sources at NMFS).

The first problem with the current law is that it makes NO allowance whatsoever for the fact that DOLPHINS CAN MAKE THEIR OWN CHOICES. In other words: If you're out swimming in the ocean, and one or more dolphins decides to investigate you and what you're doing, there's not Thing One that you can do about it outside of getting out of the water.

In short: You could be cited or even arrested simply because a dolphin decided to get within fifty or so feet of you, purely out of curiosity! If your boat is a few hundred (or even a few thousand) feet away, there's no way in your wildest dreams that you'll be able to outswim any dolphin. Even an infant can literally run rings around any human swimmer.

The second problem with current law is that it seems to be encouraging the idea that wild dolphins are to be feared. What do people do with things they fear, especially if they're drunk or otherwise intoxicated? Take potshots at the object of their fear, usually. I wonder how many wild dolphins turn up dead, with bullet holes in them, each year?

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I know, right down to my core, that there has GOT to be a better way of doing things. I don't think teaching people to fear wild dolphins is a good thing. Respect, yes, but not fear.

As for the actual MMPA -- If you (or others) are curious about it, you can either look up Title 16, Chapter 31 of the United States Code at your local library, or have a look at the online version at this link. Have a pot of coffee handy -- it makes for pretty dry reading in spots:

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode16/usc_sup_01_16_10_31.html

And, in closing, just to be contrary... ;-)

Is DC the best value for a dolphin encounter? NO FRELLING WAY!

Is it worth it? If you like birds, small land animals, and a relaxing environment, YEPPERS!

In other words: Go for the aviary. Stay for the park itself.

Keep the peace(es).

From Kim Muller
Posted July 16, 2007 at 7:24 PM
First, I think it should be noted that Walt Disney World has a "dolphin interaction" that takes place at an area about the size of my swimming pool. This is extremely expensive, and I have MAJOR issues with the way they handle their live animals, especially those of such high intelligence. Secondly, Discovery Cove offers the same type of experiences that all dolphin interaction places do. The only down I found is that the groups have an additional two people. ALL dolphin interaction places discourage touching them in the wild, and if you've ever seen videos of people being attacked by them, you'd know why. Their dolphins are treated better than most of their employees, and they are hand-picked from the dolphins Sea World owns because they enjoy interacting with people. Some dolphins in the wild don't want anything to do with people, and I'd rather leave them alone and watch from a boat.

If you felt the way you did going into Discovery Cove, why did you go?

From Bruce Lane
Posted July 16, 2007 at 10:22 PM
Read my earlier postings, Kim. In fact, I would encourage you to go back and read the entire thread, as there are some (I think) fascinating points and counterpoints.

In short: My friends and I went there because we could. We had never been there before. It was an experiment. A gamble. A calculated risk. We assumed that Sea World might actually have "done it right" in terms of interactive exhibits.

It cost each of us $200 some-odd to find out we were wrong. However, as I've said in those earlier posts, people lose a lot more than that gambling in Vegas. I think we got off lucky.

Now, to your other points...

First: That comes as a bit of a surprise. I didn't know Disney was doing anything along those lines. I will say that, given my experiences to date, I don't trust them to 'get it right' any more than I trust Sea World.

Question: What, specifically, do you have "major issues" with about their handling of the dolphins? I've met a few of the training staff from Living Seas, and they certainly seem like competent, caring people.

Second (quoting from your message): "Discovery Cove offers the same type of experiences that all dolphin interaction places do..."

I'm sitting here laughing to myself as I read that sentence over again, because it's simply not true! Even within the US, it's not true!! At least two places in the Keys (Dolphins Plus and Dolphin Research Center) offer a far more honest (and, IMO, rewarding) experience than Sea World could possibly imagine (or present).

If you'd been to as many oceanariums as I have, you would know that Discovery Cove is probably the LEAST "interactive" of any swim-with program. I suggest you hunt up and read my trip report on the two Mexican parks, Xcaret and Xel Ha.

Third (again, quoting): "ALL dolphin interaction places discourage touching them in the wild, and if you've ever seen videos of people being attacked by them, you'd know why."

Again, I have questions. First off, your statement that "ALL" places discourage wild interaction is not true. The Mexico parks mentioned NOTHING about it, either positive or negative.

As for these "videos" you mention: Are you referring to those insanely stupid "When Animals Attack" videos? Or something similar? Please provide details, because I find myself questioning the credibility of such right off the top. I would want to know ALL the circumstances before I made any type of judgment call.

My gut reaction is that such videos were probably staged, and the animals involved baited or harassed to the point of fighting back. Dolphins don't just attack people for no reason. It takes lots of energy to attack someone or something, and no critter on the planet blows that much energy without a reason.

Final quote: "Some dolphins in the wild don't want anything to do with people, and I'd rather leave them alone and watch from a boat."

You're absolutely correct. There are some dolphins in the wild that don't want anything to do with people. But this also implies that "some" dolphins in the wild will be very curious about people, and will want to try and be friendly. Those are the ones that my friends and I hope to (someday) encounter, and they're also the types of animals that many people have already been fortunate enough to encounter.

My wife and I have been fortunate enough to be among wild dolphins, from the vantage point of our brother-in-law's boat (he runs a guide and fishing charter service near Pensacola). Did this mean I was going to dive right in and try to get to know them?

NO! Of course not. I'm not that crazy. Cultivating a real relationship with wild dolphins (heck, with just about any wild critters) takes far more time than one usually has available on a vacation. Look at how long it took the population of Monkey Mia (West Australia) to develop what they have (years, from what I read).

I was, as you say, perfectly content to watch from the boat (the youngster was terminally cute). That's how I plan to keep doing it in the future, outside of encountering a known-friendly pod at a place where they're already used to people.

Thanks for your comments.

From Claudine Deshaies
Posted July 17, 2007 at 4:45 PM
Bruce, (yes I see that your orig. post is from 2005) I went to Disc. Cove on the urging of a friend who has been twice before and told me what a "wonderful" place it is.
While I liked it, I did not feel it was worth the money. And in March of 2007, it cost $279 with the dolphin interaction.

My dolphin session was very early, so my friends and I went right to that area, not realizing that if you don't go grab a chair as soon as you enter the park, you don't EVER get one. Our base of operations for the entire day was in the sand, under a tree.

In my dolphin session, there were 4 adults and 4 children. (so much for 6 people) One little girl was so obnoxious that she felt the whole demonstration was being put on for her and managed to keep horning in on other people's time with the dolphin. The trainer did her best to take care of it, but other than throwing her out, it wasn't going to happen. I was happy to see a dolphin up close and did learn some things I didn't know, but I wasn't totally thrilled with the experience. (OK, I wanted the dolphin to swim faster- what's the fun if you don't have a chance of falling off?)

The Aviary: I don't know what happened between 2005 and 2007, but I was not at all impressed. My friend who had been before kept mentioning birds and animals that she had seen before, but weren't there.

I actually liked snorkeling in the Coral Reef the best. I have never seen rays up close in the water before and that experience was great!
I thought they looked a little scary up close, though.

I was under the impression that when you left you could keep the snorkel and mask. As I was leaving, an employee stopped our party and took everyone's masks. Other guests walked by with theirs in their bags and were able to leave. He even chased one man to retreive one and the man just ignored him. I feel like a sucker for holding mine out in the open. For $297 I should be able to keep a mask and snorkel. (Maybe that's just me?)

It was an OK day, but I don't think I'll go again.
One question for you: Have you actually done the dolphin interactions in Mexico? I would like to do another one that involves spending more time with them.
I just assumed that the SeaWorld organization would "do it right" and that maybe other countries wouldn't. (Yes, I'm so used to the US having so many laws for everything that I assume other countries don't- if that makes sense.)

(oh, I see that you have, I really do have to learn to click on "see previous posts" one of these days.)

From Bruce Lane
Posted July 17, 2007 at 7:36 PM
Hi, Claudine,

Thanks for writing. TWO SEVENTY NINE?! (insert horrible gargling noise here).

Gad... I could do the 'Trainer for a Day' at the Mexico parks for less than two hundred, and it'd be a far more worthwhile experience!

Anyway... I'm guessing that, speed-wise, you're referring to DC's laughable excuse for a dorsal tow. I absolutely agree! Trust me, dolphins are capable of far higher speeds than that, even with a human hanging on for dear life. I found this out when I was still a trainer's assistant at Magic Mountain in California (back when they still had a dolphin show).

In fact, I DID fall off the first time, they took off so fast... I managed to hang on the second time, but it took every ounce of upper arm strength I had because both Rocky and Thunder cut loose at full power, and full power for a dolphin is many times what a human can produce.

I'm saddened to hear that the aviary may have gone downhill. It was the saving grace for us. Can you give me a few more details? E-mail me if you want.

As for the masks/snorkles: I wouldn't worry too much. DC doesn't invest in terribly good gear along those lines. If you're serious about wanting a good set, hit up a dive shop and take a look at what ScubaPro has to offer.

As for the Mexican parks: Not only done it, but I'm going back next year (2008) with my lovely lady along for the ride.

Yes, I assumed (foolishly, as it turned out) that Sea World would 'do it right.' Had I only known beforehand, I would simply have opted for the aviary and river swim.

Happy travels.

From Ashley Price
Posted July 28, 2010 at 10:59 PM
As a mom of two excited children (ages 6 & 7), I am concerned about the safety of the Discovery Cove experience. While docile, dolphins weigh around 500lbs and are quite powerful. My children are animal lovers and very gentle. I do not want to be known as the woman who injured a dolphin in order to rescue her child. Animals, even those born in captivity, are still animals and retain instincts. I am a little concerned about the stingrays as well. We are planning to go while in Orlando and use DC as an intro experience. If this goes well, a trip to Mexico could be in the future. I am also concerned about the dolphins' welfare. Do they get a break from all of the kisses, belly rubs, and dorsal tows? Doing that all day, every day would make me a tad cranky...

From Phil B.
Posted July 29, 2010 at 6:35 AM
You need not be worried about the stingrays, as their barbs are trimmed. They do not make it a point to come into close contact with people snorkeling, and most of the time they will be harmlessly gliding through the waters several feet or more away from you. It is a very safe environment to be in. The only thing that might be startling is how big some of them are, which scared my girlfriend a bit at first, but she soon adjusted and really enjoyed the experience once she realize how sublime and gentle these creatures who swim with humans day in and day out really are.

As far as the dolphins, there are several dozens that make their home at the park. None of them are forced into participating in the experience if they do not want to. So there isn't a regular work schedule that they adhere to. They get days off just like we do. Like humans, some are people persons, and some are not. Those that want to be around you and play, and participate will be the only ones you will personally encounter. As an example, there was a dolphin that became fickle in the middle of the experience for the group I was in, so the trainers relieved him of his session and called over another female who was more than happy to participate with us. Overall, it was a fun and unique experience, and a nice introduction to interacting with dolphins. You should be filled more with excitement and anticipation of a fun experience visiting DC for the first time, than fear and worry. I'm sure it will be a great day, and you will have a wonderful time.

From Reid Davenport
Posted February 9, 2011 at 7:49 AM
I strongly disagree with this review of Discovery Cove. Yes I'm sure there are better dolphin swim experiences...but not everyone vacations all over the place to experience them.

My wife and I received DC Dolphin Swim passes as a wedding gift. We went bright and early and LOVED every minute of the place. Say what you will about the "self promoting" but it IS a theme park. While the DVD/Photos were pricey, we couldn't pass up the chance to take home our moments with the dolphins. Personally I don't see why you would want a "free swim" with the dolphin. I'm sure people would be trying to get their attention as well as tiring the dolphin out. I was pleased to hear each dolphin only does 2 shows a day at most.

I also recommend it because all the food/drink (including alcohol) is covered under your pass. It's not cheap eats either. I had a nice lobster salad with a great draft beer for lunch.

The staff is excellent and the whole place was amazing. Now with their expansion I can't wait to go back. Well worth the price of admission.

From Colton McLaughlin
Posted February 9, 2011 at 9:14 PM
I think this whole review was just a person trying to find a way to rant about the government. And that they were angry that the theme park they were at tried to sell them merchandise. All in all, it was a worthless review.

I can't stand it when people don't like things because it wasn't exactly the same as something you did somewhere else. Then, these same people will say how they hate when theme parks have an experience that is exactly the same as something elsewhere. This kind of reminds me of Disney "puritans'" reviews of anything that is good that isn't Disney.

This discussion has been archived, and is not accepting additional responses.

What's it like to work at Disney World?

Working at Disney World

Insider's Pick: Ever wondered what it would be like to work at the Walt Disney World Resort? Stories from a Theme Park Insider offers more than 100 pages of fun, insightful, and even sometimes touching stories from people who've worked at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. It's a great way to get in the mood for your next trip to Orlando, or just to keep the memories of a Disney World visit alive.

Get it! In paperback | For Kindle | For iBooks