The Washington Times - July 4, 2008, 10:33PM

One Perfect Day


Discovery Cove,  Orlando,  Florida… “This was pretty much a perfect day,” said Rob Braddick of South Ayrshire, Scotland, as he toweled off, face glistening with the last of the days sun.

Mr. Braddick, his wife, brother, Jack and sister-in-law Jessie were at the end of a day at Discovery Cove, Orlando , Florida.

They had enjoyed a perfect, land-locked island get-a-way on a bright blue-skied day filled with white sand beaches, friendly dolphins and peering into undersea worlds vies-a-vie the snorkeling mask. 

And relaxing.

Jessie Braddick, South Ayrshire, Scotland shares a kiss with Dexter, an Atlantic Bottle Nosed Dolphin (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)

For many the goal of visiting Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida is a once in a lifetime chance to interact with their Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins. 

Which is a truly remarkable experience.  

Even though this encounter was our third such experience, the pre-day conversation was all about what we knew, thought, expected from our day at Discovery Cove. There was the palatable anticipation of being able to be safely “this close” to one of the most exciting, intelligent  and  clever mammals on Earth.

Before you enter the water, and while they have your undivided attention, Discovery Cove trainers take full advantage of the opportunity to make sure you take home a bit of information on the Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphin and the need to step up your efforts to protect their environment.

This takes place in a grass-roofed gazebo and it is here that you meet a trainer, such as 29-year-old Gina Riley.
Gina Riley, animal trainer at Discovery Cove (Photo courtesy Discovery Cove)
Gina is a senior animal trainer with Discovery Cove in Orlando working with the dolphins and facilitating the guest’s interactions with them.  Her tasks at Discovery Cove also have her working the small mammals that include a two-toed sloth and tamandua, a member of the anteater family.

As with most trainers at Discovery Cove, Gina has always had a love for animals and began her career as an educator in Sea World Orlando’s education department.  She earned a degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology form the University of New Hampshire.

For those who are here to listen to the environmental message and learn, having access to young, dynamic people, such as Gina, who are so ready and willing to share their knowledge is priceless.

“I think when people come in, it is for a once in a lifetime experience, an amazing experience,” said Ms. Riley  “We try to show them, before they get into the water, the amazing world they are going to enter.  That these animals in the wild are always in danger due to environmental concerns – from pollution to man’s encroachments on their environments.”

A film and briefing on the animals, how to touch them, or not – stay away from the eyes and blowhole, for example and it is to the cove to meet your dolphin. 

Your group, or pod of eight or so people, is not alone in the water. There are other groups situated in the man-made inlets enjoying their experience.  Behaviorists are there, watching the animals and photographers stand waist deep, ready to capture your awe.

During our encounter, Dexter the Dolphin comes up to the group, swimming by for a first meet and great. The animal presents itself to the guests so that you can see their softer hued pinkish underbelly, feel the strength in the dorsal fin, inspect their teeth as he presents a wide opened smile.

All the while your trainer is sharing with you facts and information.  Why is the belly so light and the top so dark?  It is camouflage:  a predator looking up sees the white of the sky, looking down the dark of the sea bottom.

“The animals are all invited to come out and interact with the guest,” said Ms. Riley.  “If they don’t want to, they don’t have to, we will ask another one to come out instead.  But, they usually enjoy working with the guests.”

Jessie Braddick swims in with Dexter (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)


The crowning moment, the moment you will never forget, comes when you are singularly invited to the deeper water where Dexter waits to give you a tow back to your group. This is a first hand chance to see and feel just how magnificent and strong these animals are. 

And to hopefully go back home with a desire to change your life, and the world, for the environmental better.

Visitors are encouraged to make Dolphin interaction reservations in advance;   once your are in the park there is little chance to make a last minute decision to join in on one.   There are two different options  — the Trainer For A Day package ($468-$488) or the Dolphin Swim package ($269-$289).

While your dolphin encounter is truly fabulous, it is only a brief part of your very full day at Discovery Cove.

The Ray Pool, Discovery Cove (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)
Contrasting to the strength and power of the dolphins is the sublime underwater flight of the rays at Ray Lagoon.  Here, in easy to wade waters cownose rays and southern rays swim around the legs of visitors, often brushing their soft bodies against people and, when feeding times comes around, clustering around in search of a treat.

The Ray Lagoon sits next to the Resort Pool, a shallow water environment that connects  to the Tropical River.  The Tropical River waterway runs around the greater part of Discovery Cove past beaches, remarkable foliage and rocky lagoons. A fast moving waterfall takes swimmers into the Aviary, a free-flight environment that houses more than 250 exotic birds from thirty different species.

Within the Aviary the birds will come down to perch on shoulders and eat from your palm allowing for incredible interactions and memories.  The staff is on hand, to ensure that the birds are not harmed and to answer the many questions, from young and older alike, that come up.

A true highlight of Discovery Cove is the ability to snorkel in the man-made Coral Reef where swimmers can watch schools of tropical fish and rays.  Safely housed behind clear acrylic partitions within the sides of a “sunken ship,” those that kick down and venture under the water can come within inches of barracuda and sharks

For mom, one of Discovery Cove’s greatest gifts may be the gift to relax.  The environment has numerous helpful employees and lifeguards are stationed frequently around all water features.  The park is only open to paid guests and as children cannot walk out, non-paying guests cannot walk in.

This gives parents, and the children, a bit more freedom to run about, swim or find a chair under a cabaña for a bit of afternoon relaxation.  Which makes Discovery Cove the perfect destination for a perfect day!

Jacquie Kubin is editor and writer for Donne Tempo Magazine and a huge fan of the water and white sand beaches.