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Day Five: Discovery Cove

Posted on October 23rd, 2009

Dave!Today I went to Sea World's Discovery Cove with Robyn and Rachel. It was a lot of fun.

Discovery Cove is a different kind of theme park. It's an interactive experience with sea creatures (and birds) that has strict visitor count limits to insure everybody has an opportunity to do all the stuff they have available without being crowded out of anything. Because of this, you can't just "show up" and expect to get a ticket... you have to make a reservation in advance. And while it is quite expensive, it's also all-inclusive, so your food, wet-suit, and snorkel gear are all included (photo/video packages and souvenirs are extra).

Just as you'd expect from the people at Sea World, Discovery Cove is beautifully appointed and immaculately maintained. A lot of thought went into exactly how everything would work, and there is a massive work-staff to make sure visitors are safe and well cared for. The food was all very good, with plenty of choices and some vegetarian options.

The first thing you do is get either a swim vest or wetsuit, snorkel gear, and some special waterproof sun-block that won't hurt the animals (but turns your hair and eyebrows blue-gray so everybody looks like an alien)...

Dave in a Wetsuit

Then you can explore all the different areas for swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing...

Snorkel Cave

My favorite creatures at the park are the graceful and gentle rays, which are happy to glide right by you so you can walk up and pet them...

Ray

Ray

Petting a Ray

Spotted Ray

Spotted Ray

But there are plenty of fish to swim with and look at too...

Blue Fish

The on-site aviary is cool, allowing you to get all up-close and personal with some feathered friends...

Fluffy Bird

Dave with a Bird
Me looking vaguely alien-like with that blue-gray sun-block.

Feeding the Birds

But the biggest "claim-to-fame" activity of Discovery Cove is being able to arrange a personal dolphin visit and swim-along...

Hanging with a Dolphin

Kissing a Dolphin
I won't spoil it for Robyn and Rachel by posting their photos, but I will show them kissing a dolphin so everybody knows that I didn't go around randomly kissing animals at the park... it's part of the program!

Swimming with Dolphins

I am lucky enough to have previously visited Discovery Cove as they were just opening. It was a little more chaotic back then, but now everything has kind of settled down and operates like a well-oiled machine. I do feel that the park gets a little crowded in parts from time to time, but it's never seemed so overwhelming that you can't do something when you want to. And even though it's pretty expensive ($255 with tax), I also think it's a good value for the money given its all-inclusive nature and the unique experiences they offer (even more so when you consider you get unlimited 2-week admission to Sea World included in the package).

The only place where I'm torn is the idea of using living creatures as entertainment. On one hand, Sea World goes to painstaking lengths to ensure the health and safety of their animals, and they are better cared for and live longer than they would be in the wild. Staff is also quick to point out that all performance by the dolphins is strictly voluntary, and if a dolphin didn't feel like doing something they could swim away at any time. Most of the creatures are also bred in captivity, so the life they have is all they know. Others are rescued from situations where they would have died, so Sea World is giving them a new lease on life. On the surface (so to speak) it seems an idyllic life for an animal.

On the other hand, they're not free. Dolphins are highly intelligent, curious, and social creatures who need a much bigger world to live in than some fish tank at Sea World. I hesitate to apply human emotional states to them (hey, who knows?) but it seems difficult to imagine that they could be as "happy" in captivity as they could be in the wild. Sure they could swim away if they wanted to... but just to the other side of the tank. It's not as if they can swim out into the ocean (where they wouldn't be able to care for themselves even if they could). And while performing is optional, all those tasty fish they get for learning tricks and getting kissed by tourists seem to be a hard thing to pass up when there's not much else for them to do.

I can only hope that by being able to visit with these fascinating creatures up-close-and-personal in captivity, people will have more of an interest in preserving them in the wild. Maintaing our human lifestyles takes a massive toll on the environment, and habitats for the animal population are quickly becoming toxic cesspools incapable of sustaining life. If getting people to start caring for wildlife is a consequence of places like Discovery Cove, then maybe the sacrifice animals make by being trapped there is worth it.

In any event, if you can afford the steep price of admission and you're in the Orlando area, Discovery Cove is highly recommended.

   

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