The most expensive park in town (prices shift by the season) is an all-inclusive experience. Only around 1,000 people a day are admitted, guaranteeing this faux tropical idyll is not marred by a single queue. You can stop reading now if you don’t want to get jealous—this is strictly a place for special occasions (or people spending strong foreign cash). Admission lanyards include breakfast, equipment rental, sunscreen, beer if you’re of age, and unlimited lunch—a good one, too, such as fresh grilled tilapia (a fish that drew the short straw at SeaWorld, I guess). Discovery Cove, in fact, is more or less a free-range playground. When you arrive, first thing in the morning, you’re greeted under a vaulted atrium more redolent of a five-star island resort than a theme park. Coffee is poured, and once you’re checked in you’re set loose to do as you wish.
Wade from perfect white sand into Serenity Bay, feed fresh fruit to the houseguests at the Explorer’s Aviary for tropical birds, snorkel with barbless rays over the trenches of The Grand Reef, swim to habitats for marmoset monkeys and otters in the Freshwater Oasis, or float with a pool noodle down the slow-floating Wind-Away River, which passes through waterfalls into the aviary, preventing the birds from escaping. Many guests elect to simply kick back on a lounger (there are plenty) on incredibly silky sand (imported, of course) at the natural-looking pool. Other than that, you read a book and relax.
Since everyone wears free wetsuits or vests, there isn’t much call for body shame or sunburned shoulders.
When it’s your turn—if you’ve paid extra—guests older than 5 can head to the Dolphin Lagoon, where in small groups of about eight you wade into the chilly water and meet one of the pod. Like children, dolphins have distinct personalities and must be carefully paired to people the trainers think they’ll enjoy being with—many visitors don’t realize that a dolphin can easily kill you, but many of these dolphins are docile, having dwelled at SeaWorld for decades. Here, the mostly hand-reared animals peer at you with a logician’s eye while your trainer shows you basic hand signals. The climax of the 30-minute interaction is the moment when you grasp two of the creature’s fins and it swims, you in tow, for about 30 feet. Naturally, a photographer is on hand for it all, so if you want images or video, you’ll pay for that, too, pushing a day to $400.
A second add-on experience, SeaVenture ($59, minimum age 10), places an air helmet on your head and brings you underwater to walk along the floor of The Grand Reef. Really, though, a day here is beyond divine.
6000 Discovery Cove Way, Orlando. 877/557-7404. www.discoverycove.com. $169–$249, including free admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica for 2 weeks, plus $60–$150 for 30-min. dolphin interaction. Daily 8am–5:30pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.