Orlando and theme parks are practically synonymous. But for families looking for a more upscale version of the classic Florida family vacation, Discovery Cove, an all-inclusive day resort open to just 1,300 guests a day, offers two new experiences that raise the level of exclusivity for a select number of guests.
The Ray Feeding experience, available every Wednesday through Sunday morning to 10 guests, begins at 7 a.m. at the Grand Reef, before any other guests arrive. Under the supervision of an experienced guide, guests kneel in the water along the shoreline to learn about the rays’ feeding habits, after which they don special gloves and walk into deeper water to hand-feed the park’s collection of rays. Highlights include learning the names of each ray, many of which display unique personalities, followed by a guided snorkel tour of the reef. The program is open to guests ages 6 and older and comes with an additional fee of $50 per participant.
Families who want to ramp up the face-your-fear factor can sign up for the Shark Swim, which gives participants an up-close-and-personal look at these marine predators in a safe setting. The way it works is two groups of six can swim and snorkel freely among five species: Pacific blacktip, reef white tip, nurse, zebra and spotted wobbegong. Interactions are scheduled for 11:15 and 11:45 a.m., and the two groups alternately participate in a shark training session and then get in the action by entering the habitat.
Wearing a full wetsuit, special booties, mask, snorkel and life vest to maintain buoyancy and limit splashing, families can swim right above the sharks and, in some cases, face-to-face with them. Then the groups switch positions and enjoy the other half of the experience. Aquarists are on hand at all times to talk about the sharks’ anatomy, dispel misconceptions about the animals and explain about the dangers of shark finning and overfishing. The goal of the program is to erase fears while instilling a healthy respect and appreciation for all types of sharks.
The Shark Swim experience is available to guests ages 10 and older, and is priced at $85 per person. For every package purchased, Discovery Cove donates 5 percent of the proceeds to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which supports shark conservation and research.
Meanwhile, other activities at Discovery Cove include dolphin encounters, hand feeding tropical birds, snorkeling and helmet diving in the lagoons and reefs.
A day’s admission includes breakfast and lunch, unlimited beverages and snacks, lockers, animal-safe sunscreen, snorkel gear and parking.
In addition, guests receive unlimited admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica for 14 consecutive days around their Discovery Cove reservation. In 2018, the starting rate for a one-day resort pass to Discovery Cove is $170.
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