Our last full day in Orlando was an early start. We were all really excited about exploring Discovery Cove, which would have never made our radar without the help of one of the moms from school who tipped us off. This particular park is an all-inclusive day resort that is a man-made lagoon, beach, and salt water pool. We’d be snorkeling and floating, and swimming with sea creatures and otters. Pretty exciting stuff!
Unfortunately, Mama S couldn’t really snap many photos at this particular place, so you’ll have to rely on my descriptions and some images I lifted from the Internet.
The entrance to the place looked like a tropical paradise. The vegetation in Florida is so unlike anything we have here. It was easy to fantasize about the kind of awesome garden we’d have in such a place. Bamboo grew tall, palm trees and cyprus made a lush canopy, and there were brilliantly-coloured blooms to behold everywhere.
After we made our way through a very warm and friendly registration, we had breakfast. The food was cafeteria-style and we quickly realized that it would only serve as fuel for us. It was palatable, but nothing to write about. With full tummies, we moved from the breakfast place to the tropical aviary.
The aviary hosted a beautiful assortment of birds, many of whom were quite used to people feeding them with the little cups of diced fruit and seed available. They had no qualms about landing on your head or arms, and the friendliest birds were about the size of our pigeons and seagulls. It was pretty amusing to watch the kids react in both delight and fear in response to all of their new friends, and we all managed to avoid getting pooped on.
After a little tour through the aviary, we found some lockers and gathered our swimming/snorkeling gear. We were advised to use wet suits because the water in the salt water pool was quite cool (for the creatures that live there) and because all guests had to have a wetsuit or a vest on, but of course nobody makes maternity wet suits. Daddy and I opted for the vests, which were pleasantly stretchy. Wandering around looking for the entrance to the salt water pool in the blazing heat wearing wet suits really made us look forward to that extra cool water.
I’m not the strongest swimmer, and my big belly was definitely making me less buoyant, so I grabbed a life jacket for myself and A. The girls splashed into the water ahead of us, and quickly began shrieking with the cold. Then A stopped in her tracks. There were creatures everywhere! The rays that they stocked the pool with were much, much bigger than what we saw at SeaWorld. In fact, I think once the stingrays get too big for the SeaWorld pool they graduate to Discovery Cove. Some of the rays were about four feet wide. A was a bit terrified I think – both of the deep water, and all of the creatures in the pool. Swimming with the animals is one thing in theory and something quite different in practice. Even I was just a little bit nervous, and had insisted on a mission to find water shoes at the local Walmart lest I step on anything icky or painful. A objected violently (and loudly) to Daddy’s attempts at convincing her to swim with him, but Mama S was able to be the voice of reason. It took nearly half an hour of convincing, while the rest of us snorkeled about, but soon A joined our party secure on Mama’s back.
Snorkeling with a life jacket and a large pregnant belly is possibly the most ungraceful thing I’ve ever attempted. Also, I think everyone else in the pool was getting used to snorkeling because they kept crashing into me. It felt quite crowded in the pool, despite the fact that the park only allows 1,000 people per day. I took my time though, and took lots of breaks. The underwater world is such a marvel. It felt so peaceful and serene, and it was quite humbling to take in all of the colour and beauty that nature yields.
After a bit of solo exploration, we all decided to go on a little adventure together. We snorkeled about the cove, A clinging tightly to Mama S, and we approached an area under a bridge where as I got closer, I could see about 30 sharks hanging around near the sandy bottom. Sharks! I popped my head out of the water and grabbed Daddy, who had arrived at this spot moments before me and was now laughing his head off at me. He took my hand and placed it against the thick and very clear glass wall separating us from them as he continued to laugh. Of course they wouldn’t let people swim with sharks. Holy liability suit! It did scare the bejesus out of me for a moment though.
After we’d had our fill (read children with blue lips) in the saltwater pool, we headed to the fresh water for a tour on the lazy river. My quest was to find the otters that were reputed to be frolicking there. The lazy river was so long, and lovely. The current wasn’t very strong, so I really had to work (even with the use of a floating noodle) to stay with the group at certain points, but the scenery was lovely. The river even wound through the aviary, and we still escaped the poop. No otters were discovered on our lazy river experience, but we were directed to a separate lagoon by a handsome lifeguard. I was disappointed to find that they too were kept behind glass. I had real fantasies of petting them and playing with them, but maybe they are more vicious than they look. The otters, not the lifeguards. I’m also not sure I can safely describe them as ‘frolicking’. They seemed a little listless to me, perhaps because they were sad that the humans were kept behind glass.
Lunch time was next. Again, the food was mostly fuel, certainly not our greatest culinary experience. The kids picked away, but didn’t eat much because the lure of the water was too great. After lunch, we returned to the salt water, but hit the opposite side of the pool. I really love snorkeling, and these man-made experiences are all I get because I have a bit of a phobia about swimming in the ocean. Please don’t tell my kids. We got to enjoy the stingray feeding, which had us surrounded by stingrays. They are so gentle and beautiful. The park staff told me about how difficult it is for them to keep people from hurting the animals in their excitement/fear and the marine park guilt started to creep in again. I saw at least two grown men new to the pool scream like old ladies at the sight of the first big ray, and honestly there wasn’t any preparation at all for guests about what to expect in the pool or how to behave. I found that a bit irresponsible. They did offer these fun laminated cards with samples of all of the marine life and their names which unfortunately we discovered as we were leaving the pool for the last time. It would have made for a fun family treasure hunt.
We planned to return to the lazy river, but learned that it was closed due to nearby lightning. A very ominous mass of cloud cover was rolling in fast, and I predicted a typhoon. We attempted the aviary instead, but the birds were all taking cover, so I insisted we leave and get changed. It was only an hour before the park close anyway. My childhood fear of thunderstorms kicked in suddenly. I’m not sure if it was because we were all soaking wet and surrounded by water, but I suddenly started to feel panicky about the approaching storm. All of the park staff were on high alert too, insisting people take cover. That didn’t help. I had to be reminded by the other parents to relax, which was embarrassing. I hate when I lose my cool. Fortunately we were quickly changed and enjoying the warm showers in the massive changing room. We ducked out of the park as quickly as we could (despite the staff telling us that we should remain where we were) and we avoided the rain altogether.
The kids were pooped. They made it clear that they were disappointed about leaving, but once they were in the air conditioned car, I could see how flaked they were. I think we all were pretty tired, but not in the “I’m too damned sticky and hot” way. Our end-of-day tired was from lots of physical activity, which naturally led us to find a souvenir shop paired with a Baskin Robbins. The girls took their time picking out their final souvenirs and finally settled on a small stuffy each, and some shark tooth necklaces. They were even thoughtful enough to pick a necklace for each of their best friends. Then we ice-creamed.
Back at the hotel, the adults were too tired and too water logged to consider more swimming, and the rain had finally arrived. We filled the jacuzzi tub in the master suite for the girls and let them have a soak while we ordered dinner to our room. Mama S and I set up the table on our screened patio, and we enjoyed our last supper in Florida watching the rain dance across the pond outside our room.
The next morning, we’d wake up early to get in a couple of hours in the pool before check out time, and then we’d head to the airport. Stay tuned for the final vacation wrap up.