Day 20: Finding Dory! | Back To The Magic 2013

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[Today’s photographs can be found on my Flickr and the whole collection of days can be found here.]


Discovery Cove (Non-Swim) + Dinner at Olive Garden
September 2nd, 2013

I know I’ve taken ages to write this day of my trip report – but I hope to get the final day and then our travel home day done and written ASAP so that it is all written up and I can concentrate on my next pre-trip report – The Pumpkins Dine Around Disney 2014!

Right, back to today’s report, our second to last full day in Orlando, and a chilled out day at Discovery Cove, non-swim this time. If you read my previous trip report you’ll know that we didn’t have quite the day that we had anticipated. We left feeling a little bit jaded from our first experience at a place that so many people rave about. But I wanted to give Discovery Cove (DC) another chance to shine in our eyes, these are my thoughts the second time around!

We were up and out early for our visit back to DC – we were not swimming with the dolphins this time (although, that’s quite a loose term in my opinion of the experience) but wanted to make full use of all the facilities that a day at DC offers – breakfast, lunch, and unlimited drinks and snacks; a limited amount of visitors to the park (around 1000 it is said), the aviary (which we didn’t see last time) the Grand Reef (my favourite spot first time around) and just a chance to have a relaxing day after all the hustle and bustle of theme parks.

As always, my trip reports are very photo heavy!!

On arrival – around 8am, there was already a line forming, so we joined it. The checking in process was a little bit slow, but we soon had our photos taken for our ID badges that you wear around your neck through the day and after explaining to the check-in person that we had been before, moved into the park to bag a spot for the day.

We had our [free] photograph taken as we walked in, and were guided towards the lockers at Serenity Bay that I didn’t want to be using, as they’re the furthest from the Grand Reef! So I politely said we were going to the other area near North Beach, and we strode off in that direction. We made that mistake first time, wasn’t going to be making it again!

Last time we also paid a deposit for prescription goggles, but since Steve doesn’t get on with snorkelling, and since I forgot my prescription, I just used the regular ones instead. Fortunately I can see fairly well so it didn’t really make too much of a difference to me!

We got fitted for our wetsuits – or rather, jackets. For those plus-sizers wondering, I got a 4XL this time around rather than a 3XL that I had last time. You must wear these when you are in the water. The reason, I was told on our first visit, was so that lifeguards can tell it’s a human in the water and not a ray! So safety first peeps! And please, if you are worried about your size, don’t worry! They are pretty good at judging what size you need, and in fact, she handed me a 3XL first, but it was going to be a bit of a tight squeeze to wear it zipped up without it riding up so I asked for the next size.

We deposited some of our bits in a locker, threw towels down on some loungers and headed off towards breakfast. On our first visit our dolphin swim was really at the wrong time and it had a bit of a knock on effect, (please do feel free to read that day!) so we wanted to make the most of brekkie this time!

Even though the food at DC is a buffet, the main food is plated up already for you to grab as you walk along the counter. You can ask though for different things if you don’t like what is plated up. From my photos it looks like we took one of everything to try out!

There was eggs, bacon, ham, hash browns, waffles, French toast sticks, cereal, fruit, juice, coffee…and it was nice to see a plentiful buffet rather than the dregs which was what it felt like the first time!

After breakfast, we sat down for a bit to let it go down, before going directly to the Grand Reef, which, by the way is FREEZING! So brace yourselves! Me personally, I just dive right in and deal with the cold, but both Steve and Liam are wimps and inched in, bit by bit!

Whilst I’ve started writing this, hubs found the prices that we paid for 2013. It was £110 each – but it was for the Ultimate ticket which includes 14 days entry to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica. To buy these tickets separately they were £86 each, which means essentially it was £24 per person to go to DC which this time around is a bargain! It is helped that we went in September when the prices dropped by a fair bit! In 2011, during a high season bracket it was £ 117 to go to DC! So that already made me happier knowing that ^_^

Anyways, on with this report. Since we spent a good while swimming in the Grand Reef with all the wonderful rays and fish, I’m going to just share the photos that I took. It’s such a shame that Steve can’t get the hang of snorkelling as he really is missing out on such a beautiful underwater experience. I could quite frankly spend my whole day at DC and not go anywhere else other than the Grand Reef – LOVE it!

If the thought of swimming with all these sea creatures freaks you out, then the Grand Reef isn’t for you! But look how magical it all looks – I just floated happily along, spotting the different fish, itching to dive right down into the deeper parts of the water!

You can pick up guides to the different types of fish too which is pretty cool as it helps you identify which fish is which.


The coral is all plastic (real corral would cut you to shreds!) but it looks so pretty under the water!

Just a few more underwater shots from the Grand Reef – I did so much better taking photographs underwater than our first trip in 2011, so I’m so happy to be sharing them! Liam was a lot more confident in the water with his snorkel too, so he was able to swim about in the reef and go fish spotting with me for longer.

As I said earlier, the water in the Grand Reef is freezing, and whilst you get used to it (at least, I do!) it’s nice to switch over to the Wind-Away River on the other side of the park which is lovely and warm!

You do get pulled gently along in the water, but there aren’t any innertubes to sit in or hang on to. Some parts also get quite deep, so make sure that you’re a good swimmer, or wear a lifevest that you can find all around the park.

As far as snorkelling goes, it’s pretty boring under the water – some pebbles and along the way a couple of (stone?) features, but I do wish they’d put a few more things down there! Liam loves this part of the park though, I think because it is fresh water (Grand Reef is salty – plays havoc with your hair!) and it’s warm too.

You can reach the Explorers Aviary from Wind-Away River, and since we didn’t get a chance to visit last time, we made sure we stopped off to look at (and feed) the birds.

Just like in the Grand Reef, you can pick up cards to help you to identify the birds, and it’s just amazing how many different birds there are to be seen! You can also feed them and they fly around freely, so if you’ve got a bird phobia, it’s best to stay out of this area!

There was this gorgeous red parrot sitting on a perch – I really do love these birds, they’re so vibrant and pretty!

Discovery Cove really is a beautiful place. I do think that it is on the pricey side, but for a tranquil day out, our second visit was so much nicer than our first. I loved not feeling rushed, like we did on our first visit. I loved just lazily swimming around, watching the fish, rays and birds, seeing the lovely foliage and flowers and walking along the white sandy beach areas.

After hanging out in the aviary for a while, we dipped back into the river to finish the circuit. Here’s the stone statues I said about earlier:

We also saw the otters – but not the marmosets!

By now it was lunchtime, so we headed to Laguna Grill to grab a bite to eat. Here’s a selection of the food that we had – the pulled pork, chicken teriyaki, Caesar salad, fries, mac ‘n’ cheese and carrot cake. It was all nice food, and glad that we didn’t feel like we had the slim pickings of the end of service like in 2011.

After lunch we had a bit of a wander and hung out on the beach for a bit, watching guests have their dolphin interactions, before going back into the Grand Reef!

Back on with the photos from my afternoon swim with the fishes. I hung around the end of the reef where they do the Sea Venture – that is an extra fee, and I would really love to do that one day.

Just look how happy the fish in the top left pane looks!

By now, Liam was cold in the water, so he asked if he could go back on his own to Wind-Away River, telling him to be careful and to come and check back in with us after he’d done a couple of circuits, we waved him off – a sign of him growing up, wanting to do things on his own!

I continued swimming with the fishes, and Steve looked on from above the water – I’m still sad that he can’t snorkel!

By late afternoon it started raining…hard…and we were told to leave the water and the beach as well, which meant that it was a serious storm heading in this direction. It still amazes me how the weather can change so quickly in Florida!

They had closed the snack kiosk as well, so we couldn’t grab a drink or anything. I forget to mention earlier that the slushies are lush! So, as it was looking likely that things wouldn’t re-open for a while, and since it was near to the end of the day, we decided to get changed and head home to have a proper shower.

On the way out, we picked up our photo that was taken at the beginning of the day (it’s free) and there was a bit of a wait, so Liam and I hung out in the gift shop whilst Steve lined up to collect it.

Waving goodbye to Discovery Cove, we drove home with some great cloud formations overhead – just love the clouds in Orlando!

Once back home we showered off the sea salt and sand, and got ready to go out in the evening to Olive Garden. Clearly we hadn’t eaten enough that day! But by this time we were hungry again, and since we didn’t have anything to snack on in the villa, it was decided we’d go out.

Olive Garden was on our list of restaurants to try out, so we drove to the one near Rolling Oaks on the 192, which is a short drive from the villa community – Tuscan Hills – that we were staying at.

The restaurant was pretty busy, so we had a little wait for a table, but eventually were seated. After looking through the menu, Steve decided to have ravioli, I had the ‘Tour of Italy’ which was a trio of lasagna, chicken parmigiana, and fettuccine alfredo. Liam had a pizza. We also had some breadsticks and salad.

I had seen an advert on the TV for Olive Garden and an unlimited pasta special, which I couldn’t find on the menu, but right at the end, I found a flyer for it on the table…Liam was most disappointed!

The food was nice, but as it was really busy, we felt rushed and there were a couple of really noisy kids at a nearby table that the parents didn’t want to do anything about which was mildly annoying. We decided to take a slice of pumpkin cheesecake (seasonal) to go and paid our bill of $61.67.

Have to say, that we didn’t miss the dolphin interaction at all – it was lovely the first time we did it, but there was enough to keep us occupied, albeit, relaxingly occupied, for the day.

If you can go off season and combine your ticket to take in SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica, it is great value for money. High season, I don’t think as much. But that’s just me!

I know that people LOVE Discovery Cove, and don’t get me wrong, it is a lovely place, but I still don’t think it’s worth the high price for just the one day. I only have to compare the £25 per person we paid this time to the £117 per person last time! I know we did the dolphin swim first time, but taking that into account, it’s still a pricey! Especially if there are a few of you going.

I would go again, for the Grand Reef alone, but I think in a few years, Liam would be super bored here all day. Hubs wasn’t too bothered about going this time, but when I worked out the cost against the other tickets included, it seemed worth it for us to go. We’ll see what happens in the future as far as DC is concerned!

And so ends one of our final days in Orlando…tomorrow we couldn’t decide which Disney park to go to – so we went to ALL the parks!


Read about the previous day: Day 19: The Amber Nectar – Universal Studios + Islands of Adventure + Margaritaville

Read about the next day: Day 21: Four Corners of the World – Hollywood Studios + Animal Kingdom + Epcot + Magic Kingdom + Dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse « Coming Soon!

Read ALL the days! Back to the Magic Trip Report Index 2013