Certain spots at Discovery Cove are so secluded and tranquil, it’s as if you’ve got the entire place to yourself. For instance, as I trotted through the nature trail near the entrance, the only sounds I heard were birds chirping and my sister’s gushing about how much this place rocks. Instead of being surrounded by people, we were welcomed by the sweet smell of jasmine and ginger plants and shaded by gigantic stalks of bamboo.
Discovery Cove, you must understand, only allows 1,000 guests per day and none of them were on the nature trail. It was with this sense of isolation that we wandered over to the new SeaVenture attraction and scooted our way down a ladder into 70-degree water. As I did so, a 70-pound helmet, which was connected to an air supply, was lowered onto my shoulders. Picture what a snork looks like — you know, those cartoon characters with snorkels attached to their heads — and you’re not far off.
Soon enough I was 15 feet underwater trotting along the sea floor with ease. I came eye to eye first with my sister, who was doing some sort of Irish jig, and next with a swarm of sharks. There were nurse sharks, zebra sharks, Australian leopard sharks, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks. And all in one place! It wasn’t scary at all, however; I was staring them down through an eight-foot-tall, 21-foot-long panoramic window.
It was serene to the nth degree. The only noise I could hear, in fact, was the steady stream of bubbles coming out of my helmet as I lumbered along; it’s kind of like walking on the moon, I suppose, but surrounded by fish.
Our group of six followed along a rope while our instructors pointed out the marine life. I turned to my left to spot a Magna Doodle (another flash from the past) with the word “sardines” scribbled on it, as in: “Look! there are thousands of those shiny suckers gliding right past your wetsuit.”
Next up: another panoramic window housing venomous lionfish, exotic eels and the occasional grouper. And then came some interaction: we each held a pokey, little sea urchin and posed for photos.
Not long after that, I began spotting eagle rays, some with a wing span of five feet. Their smiley mouths and utterly graceful movements had me enamored. (Later in the day I learned that Discovery Cove has one of the few – and most successful – eagle ray breeding programs in the world.)
At the end of our walk, the woman in front of us was handed a capsule (think palm-sized, tylenol-shaped container) that, once opened, flooded the water with fish food.
My sister anxiously grabbed the Magna Doodle, and questioned: “Can we feed the eagle rays?”
“No, they are not used to being fed yet,” the instructor replied. Not surprising, since this underwater walking tour just debuted in mid June. No bother, though, we were content just being near the massive rays; now, if I could just get the Snork theme song out of my head, I’d be ecstatic.
6000 Discovery Cove Way, Orlando
Scuba certification is not required. The program is about an hour long for groups of up to six people per excursion. The cost is $59 per participant. Seasonal rates for Discovery Cove’s Dolphin Swim Day Resort Package start at $199 (rates for Day Resort Package without dolphin swim experience and guests ages 3-5 start at $129). Prices vary seasonally. For reservations or more information, visit DiscoveryCove.com or call 1-877-434-7268.