Young boy feeding bird at Discovery Cove aviary - image by Dani Meyering
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12 Incredible Ways to Interact with Animals at Discovery Cove

For anyone who is fascinated by animals, there is one place to go in Orlando that feels like a dream come true. Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive paradise. Everything you need for an incredible day with your family is included in your tickets – food, drinks, sunscreen, snorkel equipment, towels, and more are all part of the regular admission. And, there are multiple ways to interact with the fascinating animals at Discovery Cove.

In this parent’s guide, I’ll start with the ways to see animals included in your reservation. Then I’ll explain the upgrades available to enhance your experience. There are even some new ways to get up close with sharks, flamingos, and more.

Animal Experiences Included in Discovery Cove Admission

  • Rays and fish at Grand Reef
  • Feed birds in Explorer’s Aviary
  • See otters and marmosets while in Freshwater Oasis
  • View flamingos at All-New Flamingo Point
  • Animal Enrichment Presentations throughout the park (check schedule)
  • Signature Dolphin Swim (not included in day pass admission)

Grand Reef

The Grand Reef is at the back of Discovery Cove and is where my family spends the majority of our time when we visit. Adorable cow-nosed rays gracefully glide through the water and you’re right there with them!

snorkeling with rays and fish in Grand Reef at Discovery Cove
Grand Reef at Discovery Cove image by Dani Meyering

Beautiful bright-colored fish swerve and swirl around you as you snorkel. The Grand Reef has a lagoon as well as a short loop that leads over to a separate shark habitat. Seperated by glass you can view these sharks from the Reef.

Or, you can book an upgrade to go in the water with the sharks. More on that later.

Flamingo Point

Located at the very back corner of the park, next to Grand Reef, is an all-new area for flamingos. You’ll get to see these colorful birds up close at Flamingo Point. A windy path allows you to view these social creatures in unique ways.

Parenting pro-tip: Hang out near Flamingo Point around 9:00 a.m. and you’ll get to see the birds paraded from the backstage area into the park to Flamingo Point. And be sure to stop here before 4:00 p.m. when their “shift” ends and they are brought back to the care area for the evening.

Flamingos arriving to Flamingo Point at Discovery Cove
Flamingos arriving to Flamingo Point image by Dani Meyering

Feeding of the flamingos is not allowed, but you can book the Flamingo Mingle experience to do so in a special area of the habitat. And you can feed tropical birds at Explorer’s Aviary – included in admission.

Explorer’s Aviary

Parenting pro-tip: Go to the aviary first! Once the aviary opens for the day, be among the first guests inside – that’s when the birds are hungry. You’ll be more likely to have birds land on you to nibble from the cup of food you’ll be given.

Young boy trying to feed rosette spoonbill at Discovery Cove aviary
Rosette spoonbill at Discovery Cove aviary image by Dani Meyering

There are three separate areas within Explorer’s Aviary so be sure to go through each room. It can be confusing, but it’s worth the effort. There are different species of birds in each section – and some are more eager for human interaction than others.

Animal Enrichment Presentations

Throughout the day you can view special Animal Enrichment Presentations. These are informal moments in which animals are provided with enrichment opportunities or feedings. In some cases there is an Ambassador there to share information about the animals and answer questions.

In our case, we went to the 3:45 p.m. enrichment presentation of the freshwater otters. We rushed to get there only to realize this particular presentation was merely enhancements added to the otters’ habitat, without the presence of an Ambassador to share info. It is still a neat area – just not as interactive as we imagined.

Freshwater Otters at Discovery Cove during animal enrichment presentation
Freshwater Otters during animal enrichment presentation image by Dani Meyering

We saw a sign for a “surprise animal” enrichment encounter in the afternoon at the Island Animal Encounters spot, next to Serenity Bay (the swimming area near the Wind-Away River). To our delight, a precious sloth and an Ambassador came out for a wonderful encounter.

The presentation times are in the Discovery Cove app. Or you can find the schedule in a few signs throughout the park. Take a photo and set an alarm on your phone so you don’t miss the ones you wish to see.

Discovery Cove Animal Enrichment Presentations Schedule and map on a sign in the park
Animal Enrichment Presentations Schedule image by Dani Meyering

Signature Dolphin Swim

I’ve been to Discovery Cove three times and have yet to book the Signature Dolphin Swim package, I just do the day pass admission.

I prefer to spend the day swimming around the multiple areas in the park, and on special occasions, I’ll splurge for a reserved cabana. I’ve heard good things about the Dolphin Swim, although the time spent actually swimming with the dolphins is relatively short.

Important note: personal devices and jewelry are NOT allowed during Signature Dolphin Swim for the safety of the dolphins.

Discovery Cove Upgrades for Animal Interactions

  • SeaVenture
  • Animal Trek
  • Flamingo Mingle
  • Shark Snorkel
  • Shark Interaction
  • Ray Feeding

Spots are limited for each of these upgrades at Discovery Cove. The Ray Feeding has only 20 spots per day. For those that prefer land-based activities, rather than swimming, the Animal Trek is a great upgrade option, but there are only 24 spots per day. And there are only certain timeslots available each day for each experience.

The two newest upgrades for animal interactions at Discovery Cove are the Flamingo Mingle and the Shark Snorkel. Both are absolutely awesome!

Important note: personal devices and jewelry are NOT allowed during any aquatic animal experiences that are upgrades. This is for the safety of the animals.

Flamingo Mingle

You’ve probably never experienced something like the Flamingo Mingle before. And it costs the least of all the add-on animal encounters. Starting at $59 this experience enables a small group of guests to enter a small sandy area where a handful of flamingos roam. 5% of the sales of this experience go towards Audubon Florida.

I had the pleasure of being one of the first guests to participate in this experience as part of a hosted media event. Everyone giggled and gasped as the pretty pink flamingos made their way around us.

Flamingos and guests during Flamingo Mingle at Discovery Cove
Flamingo Mingle at Discovery Cove image by Discovery Cove staff

Sitting on the sand, we positioned ourselves to be ready for anything. With small metal bowls placed on the ground, the Discovery Cove animal experts provided flamingo chow and water. Within seconds the flamingos begin taking turns visiting each participant, scooping up the food. I giggled as the occasional splatter and splash of the meal landed on my skin.

As the pretty birds got more comfortable with us a few lucky participants ended up receiving their own grooming session courtesy of the flamingos. The folks at Discovery Cove described it as a reverse petting zoo – and it’s true. Guests are not meant to reach out and touch the birds, but a bird may touch and preen a guest if they decide to do so.

During this encounter, an expert shared some amazing facts about flamingos with us. The entire experience is about 30 minutes.

Shark Snorkel

If you happened to be of the generations that experienced snorkeling with sharks at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon then you’re going to love this brand new Shark Snorkel at Discovery Cove.

Dani Meyering smiling during Shark Snorkel at Discovery Cove
Shark Snorkel at Discovery Cove image by Discovery Cove staff

Previously the only way guests could get in the water with the sharks at Discovery Cove was through the Shark Interaction which starts at $169. The Shark Interaction is a lengthier experience and allows you to feed the sharks.

The new Shark Snorkel experience is about 30 minutes and it allows you to float peacefully with a variety of shark species as Discovery Cove experts tell you about these incredible creatures. The price starts at $79 which is a great value considering how special this experience is for everyone.

Important note: A full-length wetsuit is required – which is available at the same places as the short sleeve wet suits.

Dani Meyering floating over a shark during Shark Snorkel at Discovery Cove
Shark Snorkel at Discovery Cove image by Discovery Cove staff

During a hosted media event I tested out this experience. I loved how tranquil it felt to be in a secluded part of the Grand Reef, separate from everyone else. And learning about the different species of shark is truly fascinating.

NEW Ultimate Animal Experience

Discovery Cove has just announced the launch of the all-new Ultimate Animal Experience, allowing guests the chance to spend a half-day alongside a Discovery Cove Zoological Expert and get up close and personal with a variety of animals.

Developed as an add-on to the Signature Dolphin Experience, this intimate and exclusive experience starts at $249 per person, and includes:

  • Private, guided snorkel session prior to park opening in The Grand Reef, a one-million-gallon saltwater habitat home to thousands of tropical fish and rays.
  • Enhanced second dolphin interaction (in addition to the Signature Dolphin Experience) with two dolphins, including a private photo session.
  • Meet-and-greets with tropical birds and small mammals.
  • Behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about the world-class animal welfare practices and animal care facilities at Discovery Cove.
  • Personal, guided tour of the Explorer’s Aviary with opportunities to hand-feed hundreds of exotic birds.
  • Private otter enrichment session in the Freshwater Oasis, an exclusive experience not offered through any other program at Discovery Cove.
Enhanced second dolphin interaction as part of Ultimate Animal Experience at Discovery Cove
Ultimate Animal Experience at Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove info

Cost: A day resort pass starts at $199.20. There are Florida resident discounts and when you bundle your visit with trip to Aquatica or SeaWorld. Check the website for daily or seasonal deals. 

Hours: 8 am – 5 pm. Check-in begins at 7:15 am
Address: 6000 Discovery Cove Way
Orlando, FL 32821

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Dani Meyering
Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani is a proud Orlando native. She loves sharing her hometown with others from the theme parks to Florida's natural beauty. With over 15 years of experience, Dani is thrilled to serve as our Managing Editor at Orlando Date Night Guide, Orlando Parenting, as well as Tampa Bay Date Night Guide.