Travel Guide: Orlando - Discovery Cove, Sea World, Aquatica
I've received quite a few questions about our recent trip to Orlando, so I thought I'd post a travel guide sharing what we did and some of my travel tips if you are planning on visiting any of these places. Once we book a trip, I love to research and plan out all of the details. I purposefully over plan so that we never have a shortage of things to do and we don't spend our actual vacation time trying to figure out where to go or what to do next.
Booking the trip:
If you plan on visiting all three attractions, the way you book can actually end up saving you a lot of money. We booked Discovery Cove and in doing so, received free unlimited admission to Sea World and Aquatica for 14 days before and 14 days after our day at Discovery Cove. This was great, because even though we were only in Orlando for 4 days, we were able to go to the Electric Ocean night show/party at Sea World one night and then return the next day to actually experience the whole park. The longer you are in the area, the more bang for your buck you will get out of this deal!
Other alternatives to booking your trip are to purchase Sea World or Aquatica tickets, but you will have to pay to add on Discovery Cove, so I would definitely recommend booking through Discovery Cove and getting the other two parks free.
Once we had our main attractions planned out, I wanted to make sure we had plenty of options for things to do at night. I had free places like Disney Springs, Disney Boardwalk, Universal City Walk, and Lake Eola park in our itinerary. We didn't get to everything because I purposefully plan extra, but we certainly had no shortage of things to do!
Drive to Orlando
Stop at Orlando Wetlands Park
Check in at hotel
Universal City Walk for dinner and night life
We stopped by Orlando Wetlands Park on our way in and we were very pleasantly surprised by this little gem of a place. It's located in a little town called Christmas right outside of Orlando (yes, there were even Christmas decorations around some buildings in town). When we arrived there were only two other cars in the parking lot and it was so quiet and peaceful. We ended up getting our own private tram tour through the park and our tour guides were very knowledgeable and shared lot of really cool information. They even brought along a telescope and took us to an overlook where we could see out across the park and got to see an up close view of an Osprey nest. We saw so many gorgeous birds and even had an alligator walk right in front of us!
After checking into our hotel and getting settled in, we headed to Universal City Walk for dinner and to enjoy the nightlife atmosphere. Parking is free in the evenings and it is completely free to get in. We ate at Margaritaville and enjoyed the tropical atmosphere, then spent the evening wandering around different specialty shops and watching the boats go by. It was a great place to spend an evening and I wish we had more time there!
Tip: make sure to go to Toothsomes and get an out of this world milkshake! They are very unique and you just might die of sugar overload after eating one.
Voodoo Doughnuts is another really unique place for specialty doughnuts that you won't find anywhere else.
Sea World's Electric Ocean night show/party/fireworks
Discovery Cove was the highlight of our trip! Its an all inclusive resort where you can experience up close encounters with dolphins, sting rays, tropical fish, sharks, birds, otters, and marmoset monkeys. Breakfast, lunch, and unlimited snacks and drinks throughout the day are included - and they are sooo good! The resort is divided into a few different sections:
Serenity Bay - gorgeous white sand beach to relax on in front of a waterfall. You can also enter the lazy river from the water here.
Wind Away River - the most peaceful lazy river that takes you through caves, waterfalls, and even through the aviary where tropical birds fly above you.
Explorer's Aviary - you can exit the lazy river and walk up into the aviary and feed/hold the birds
Freshwater Oasis - encounter otters and marmosets as you swim though the crystal clear fresh water. I loved that you could see the otters both above and under the water. It was also really cool how up close we were able to get to the marmosets as we swam up to their island.
Dolphin Lagoon - swim with the dolphins (if your package includes it). If it doesn't, you can still watch them here and even see them from an underwater viewing area.
The Grand Reef - snorkel and swim with sting rays, tropical fish, and sharks. The sharks are behind clear glass, but as you swim over it looks like they are coming right at you! I actually did happen to see one swimming in the reef with us - but I'm guessing it must have been a special type that doesn't bother humans or the other creatures in the reef. This section was my favorite because there's just nothing like swimming right through a school of tropical fish or having four sting rays swim over/under/next to you at once.
Sea Venture - this is an add on experience that we didn't do, but it is definitely a unique experience. It is an underwater walking tour with a weighted helmet - how cool that would be to walk around underwater and stay immersed in the beauty of the coral reef.
The waterways officially open up at 9:00, but get there an hour or so before so that you have time to check in, get your official Discovery Cove ID card made, and enjoy their delicious hot breakfast. After breakfast, we headed over to get a locker and change into our wetsuits. We started with the Wind Away River and Serenity Bay and spent time in each section of the resort, ending with the Grand Reef. After enjoying multiple Pina Colada icees and soft pretzels, we spent more time in each section (I lost count of how many times I did the lazy river). We left right as they were closing and got every minute out of our day! You even get to keep your snorkel as a souvenir.
Tip: You really don't need to pack much for your day at Discovery Cove - they provide animal friendly sunscreen, towels, mask and snorkel, wetsuit, life jackets, pool noodles, and showers fully stocked with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. If you wear glasses, you even have the option to get a prescription mask for when you go snorkeling!
Later that night, we went to Sea World's "Electric Ocean" glow party/fireworks show. It started with a night performance of "One Ocean" - Sea World's killer whale show. It was so vibrant and the whales were so talented! After that, we walked to the next theater over where the glow dance party was already starting as we awaited the firework show. The Electric Ocean fireworks were the most spectacular fireworks show I have ever seen! It combined fireworks with water geysers, lasers, and fire bursts to create the most amazing show.
Tip: If you go to Sea World on the same day that you do Discovery Cove, you park for free! Admission is still free for 14 days, but you do have to pay to park on the other days you visit. Since Discovery Cove closes at 5:00, I would definitely recommend doing something at Sea World that evening.
We spent the entire day at Sea World (from about 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.) and we never ran out of things to do and see! From roller coasters, to exhibits, to shows, to up close animal encounters, they had it all! It was really hot, but sitting in the splash zone at shows was a good way to cool off. You also get soaked on the Journey to Atlantis ride (which I mustered up enough courage to do - and was shaking for a good 20 minutes after. Don't judge! I am definitely not a roller coaster/ fast ride person). We also did Antarctica in the middle of the day to best the heat. The penguin exhibit is not behind glass, so they keep it freezing cold inside to be consistent with the penguin's natural environment. They are walking around on snow and ice right next to you - so cool!
Tip: Bring a jacket to Antartica if you plan on staying more than a few minutes - it really is very cold! Visit when you are dry, but ready for a break from the heat (around mid-day is perfect).
Aquatica was out last stop of the trip and it was perfect on such a hot summer day! My favorite parts were both of the lazy rivers ( there is a slow and a fast one), the wave pool, and watching the Commerson's dolphins swim around. I had never done a waterslide before, so of course I had to try one! I rode Tassie Twister and while I'm glad I did it, I checked the box on my slide experiences and enjoyed the more relaxing side of the park. Stephen, of course, rode as many slides as possible! I have to admit, Aquatica had some of the best and most creative slides!
I hope you found some of this information helpful if you are planning a trip to Orlando or to any of these specific places. One of my favorite parts about going on a trip is planning it out, so I would love to answer any questions you may have! Let me know if you guys would like to see more travel guides - I will get some more in the works if so! I hope everyone is enjoying summer - let me know your travel plans in the comments!