As I pull the metal space helmet over my head and lower myself slowly into the water, I’m not entirely certain I won’t panic while walking along the bottom of the lagoon as colourful tropical fish zip past my viewing window. But walking under water while breathing freely in a controlled environment is possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and controlled it is. In fact, it’s manufactured. This is Sea Venture – the latest ocean-themed activity at the man-made tropical world of Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida.
Discovery Cove is SeaWorld’s sister property and the Mercedes Benz of family theme parks. It’s a crafted landscaped of tropical trees, tiki bars, winding rivers, white sand beaches and coral reefs (without the sharp edges of the real thing). The Grand Reef is a multi-million dollar construction project that recreates all the beauty and wonder of a natural sea reef complete with varying water depths, waterfalls and underwater shark tank. It’s open for snorkeling or just wading into the water while rubbery stingray and other fish dart around your ankles.
This is a resort experience miles away from the frantic crowds and line ups at other attractions. Only 1000 people a day are allowed in. It’s not cheap but does include everything: breakfast buffet on arrival, lunch, snacks and drinks throughout the day, wet suits, lockers, lifejackets and (a big surprise) prescription snorkeling masks if you need them. The signature dolphin experience (for kids six and older) and Sea Venture cost extra, but one or the other added to your day is worthwhile.
The park is open from 8 am to 5 pm and the time goes fast, especially when you spend it floating face down viewing dense schools of fish, or floating lazily down the freshwater river past the Plexiglas home of playful otters. Or lay on the white beach within close proximity of bottle-nose dolphins working with trainers and a semi-circle of people petting, kissing and even cuddling the charming creatures. End the day with a walk around the aviary and watch weird exotic birds eat seeds from your hands. Then grab a last ice-cream bar or bag of chips on your way out, because this is only concession stand in the city where you won’t need your wallet. Entrance to SeaWorld is included. (www.discoverycove.ca)
published in Mom and Caregiver, Jan. 2013