Monday, May 14, 2012

Turn 29 and Ride a Dolphin

For serious!  As you know, I spent the first day of my 29th year enjoying a birthday gift experience, which just happened to be swimming with dolphins.  More specifically, I swam with them, rode one, and kissed another!   [Disclaimer: This is a long one.   Grab a snack or at least your favorite beverage before settling in]

First of all, to call Discovery Cove a theme park is a complete disservice.  It is a beautiful oasis of tropical plants and animal life.  The park is owned by SeaWorld, so you can imagine that the focus is on interacting with marine animals.   As you might imagine, the dolphin swim is the highlight, but Discovery Cove also includes the opportunity to interact with - and feed! - exotic birds (NOTE: My sister would run screaming for the hills), tropical fish, stingrays, and some other critters as well.

Let me give you a little snapshot so you can try to include it in your next trip to the Sunshine State.  To start off, DC is different in that admission is all-inclusive.  It includes unlimited food and drink.  Breakfast is ready when you get there, and it's not just toast and coffee.   Hot breakfast fit for a king (including eggs, yuck) and then of course tons of food options for lunch, but the snack bars all around the park are included too.  Even the beer!  And frozen rum drinks!  Oh my gosh!!!!

In addition to the smorgasbord, you are provided with a snorkel/mask, wet suit, neoprene vest, and unlimited towels.  You also get a decent sized locker to stow your stuff.  DC itself is amazing, but they sweeten the deal by including admission to SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica, and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay within a 14 day window.   (This may not be as amazing if you are vacationing here for a long weekend.   But for those of us living here... that window is just lovely)

And one more tidbit that makes DC unique: advance reservations are required, and the park limits capacity to 1000 guests each day.  This results in a top notch, boutiquey experience.   It kind of feels like you are at the spa.  But with animals in salt water.  Truly, the bathroom facilities are quite spa like, with their Crabtree and Evelyn products scattered about.

Alright, my commercial for Discovery Cove has ceased.  I mentioned the dolphin swim is the highlight,  and it's where we ended up first.  When you arrive in the morning, you are assigned a dolphin swim time.  Ours happened to be the first of the morning.  Nothing like starting the day with a bang!  You also pose for a 'complimentary' photo; ours is below.  Not bad for 8am and no hair and makeup if you ask me.

The main attraction and highlight of DC is the dolphin swim.  You're in the water for about 30 minutes, which as you may guess, goes by in a flash and doesn't feel near long enough.  Michael and I are posing with Cindy, the oldest dolphin at the park (she is in her mid-40s).  We also each got to ride her!   Cindy is  a champ and did all the work.  All I did was hold on to her dorsal (top) fin and left pectoral flipper and let her tow me to shore.  It was a blast.

After everyone in our small group of 8 enjoyed a ride with Cindy, we got to meet Hurley.   Hurley is just a baby; he's 2 years old and too small to ride.   He is still learning his tricks, but was able to show us several moves, including spinning, making various sounds, waves, and my favorite, splashing us in the face with his tail fluke.   In addition to these talents, Hurley was quite the social butterfly.   He posed with everyone, and even let us all kiss him.   I got to kiss him twice- I don't really know why, but I did not complain!  We got along splendidly.

By the time we had to say goodbye to Hurley, it was only 10 am and our day had just begun.   We made stops at SeaVenture which is sort of hard to explain, truly.  It's described as an underwater walking tour.   Which it is.... but there's a little more to it.  Basically, participants wear ridiculous looking helmets in order to be able to breathe while going into deep water (without needing SCUBA equipment or training).  The helmet is weighted so that you stay on the bottom of the pool and are able to walk among various fish and stingrays.   SCUBA certified divers go with you, and they let you hold sea urchins and sea slugs, and also release a bunch of fish food in front of your face, so that fish come swimming around you from all sides.  I kind of felt like I was walking on the moon, but underwater with fish.   Does that make sense?  It's cool. Trust me.

After the dolphin swim and pretending to be Neil Armstrong under water we were ready for dry land.  Lucky for us the aviary was near by.  Unlike the more typical bird walk throughs, DC's is designed for interaction.   Upon entering, you have the opportunity to pick up a cup of fruit and nuts so that the birds will come and eat from your hands.  I am thinking that my sister, who has a known fear of birds, would opt out of this experience.  It seems I am in the opposite camp.   The first few minutes we were in the building, three different birds landed on me and Michael called me Snow White.  That's ok; she's cute.

This is Chandler, a Guira Cuckoo
There are many Guiras flying around named Monica, Ross, Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe.  The second generation includes Gunther, Janice, Carol, etc.  You get the picture

Michael claimed to be 'scared' of the Great Curassow, but they got along just fine.  

This Green Aracari landed on me out of nowhere and scared me big time.  He's quite large 

The Lady Amherst's Pheasant had the most gorgeous feathers, and was apparently quite hungry

This guy had no interest in the food provided in the dishes; instead he went for Michael's big toe- repeatedly!   There are no injuries to report.

The brightly colored Eastern Rosella stood out in this tree.   I bet he gets a lot of treats

We each had our very own Speckled Mousebird to feed.   These little guys are quite social and for some reason loved us.   They sat on our arms for several minutes and chattered away

My bird was, appropriately, picky with her food.   She sat on my hand and sorted through each piece of fruit, chattering when a piece was not to her liking.  She was hysterical

The Trumpeter Hornbill likes grapes; I fed him some

See?  The Great Curassow is back for more snacks!

This guy was such an attention hog.  They have a girl peacock in here so the 2 males will strut around with their feathers displayed.   It is quite impressive.

We spent the remainder of our day at the Great Reef, snorkeling among schools of fish, reef sharks, eels (which I did not see) and sting & eagle rays.  At one point we came upon a huge school of fish- there were hundreds and hundreds of them- all swimming almost directly in front of us.  It's amazing to see only fish to your left and right, and to be swimming in the with them instead of watching though an aquarium.   Our final stop was the  Wind-away river, which is the perfect place to relax.  The river winds all around the park and feels like a tropical river with rocks on the bottom of the floor, various plants and waterfalls scattered throughout.  The river actually winds through the aviary, and offers another way of experiencing the birds.

Let me tell you, after all this frolicking, we were tired.  Thankfully, all that lay in store for me that evening was ice cream cake and presents..... yahoo!   I was quite popular this year and received many cards,  multiple boxes in the mail, and even birthday cookies and balloons from one of my colleagues.  When you're a little kid birthday presents sort of seem like part of the deal.  But when you are a grown up and people remember you with a card or a box or even a song on your voicemail, you feel pretty good.   I am a lucky girl!


Hannah said...

This looks awesome--I want to go sometime! (Also, Al isn't the only one who's terrified of birds. Can you picture Ash with a Green Aracari landing on her?)

Jules said...

I cannot! Ash has several phobias, though. What if a Green Aracari landed on Ash while she was standing on a subway grate about to walk into a revolving door?