This post was written by Jennifer of Experimental Mommy in partnership with The Moms, Sea World and Discovery Cove. Travel expenses were provided. All opinions remain 100% mine.
I have decided Orlando, Florida is my happy place. It’s always warm and sunny, the people are friendly, and there is always something to do. It is also the site of our famous stay in the Cinderella Castle a few years ago, and I truly thought that could never be topped, until now.
I am ashamed to say that I have visited Orlando no less than a dozen times and never visited the hidden gems of SeaWorld and Discovery Cove. So, when my daughter and I were asked to attend The MOMS and SeaWorld’s “Word of Mom” Weekend I jumped at the chance. I thought we’d simply have fun, see some sights, and enjoy ourselves. Little did I know, we would leave having learned lessons that will stick with us for a lifetime.
After a quick (and early) flight we got all checked in to the SpringHill Suites and rested a bit before heading to Discovery Cove to start getting acquainted with our expert panel accompanying us for the weekend. Although I was familiar enough with SeaWorld, I never knew Discovery Cove existed so we were anxious to see what it was all about. Y’all…it’s gorgeous…white sandy beaches, beautiful landscaping, and complete relaxation. Visitors truly feel like they are on a tropical island. The best part about Discovery Cove is that it’s all-inclusive. Anything you can think of is there for you: towels, animal safe sunscreen, snorkels, masks, lockers, wetsuits and swim vests are all included, in addition to life jackets should you need one.
Which leads me to….THE WETSUIT. Confession: I hate to be in cold water. I can stay in my bathtub for hours (and sometimes do, let’s be honest) but won’t spend ten minutes in a pool if it’s even slightly chilly. So, I opted for the wetsuit in the hopes of staying warmer. The very sweet attendant handing them out tells me, “Here you go. It should feel tight, like a sausage.” Yeah. He wasn’t kidding. Think industrial-strength Spanx for your whole body. But I squeezed in, channeled my inner Jimmy Dean, and off we went. After all, black is slimming, right?
We were led to The Grand Reef where we heard about the efforts of Rising Tide Conservation. Started by SeaWorld, Rising Tide Conservation promotes efforts to breed and raise marine tropical fish in aquaculture facilities in lieu of collecting them in the wild. The mission of Rising Tide is to protect coral reefs and promoting sustainable aquaculture. Coral reefs face continually growing threats, including ocean acidification, warming ocean temperatures, coral bleaching, pollution, and over-exploitation. All of these threats cause harm to the delicate balance of the reef and can potentially destroy them. With the recent release of movies like Finding Dory, there will surely be an uptick in families looking to acquire a “Dory” (blue tang) for their home just like the trend in clownfish after the release of Finding Nemo. About 98% of marine aquarium fish are harvested from the wild because reliable protocols for the aquaculture of marine fish have not been developed and shared throughout the industry. Rising Tide is hoping to change that. A recent exciting achievement was celebrated in October of 2015 with the announcement of a breakthrough in yellow tang breeding. This was due, in part, to the efforts of Rising Tide Conservation and Discovery Cove. Fish eggs that otherwise wouldn’t hatch are collected and sent to partner laboratories in the program to be used for breeding research. In addition, the park purchases fish that have been raised by these efforts rather than collect them from natural reefs.
To that effort, our mission in The Grand Reef was egg collection. Thousands of fish make their home in The Grand Reef, including angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasses, tangs, hogfish, and filefish. The Grand Reef is also home to some of the most beautiful (and friendliest) stingrays I’ve ever seen. Egg collection was easy, and simply involved swimming out and placing nets over the filters. It was just a small piece of the puzzle, but my daughter felt good knowing she had contributed to something that was essentially going to do a lot of good. After the egg collection, we spent some time just taking in the beauty of the reef. It was indescribable…colorful fish everywhere you looked, and my daughter was brave enough to pet a few stingrays too.
After a good night’s sleep we got up early and headed out to learn more about how to help the efforts of Rising Tide Conservation. While my daughter enjoyed meeting a sloth and some other furry creatures (including one that licked her in the ear), I got to hear our panel of experts tell us more about how simple changes can help the amazing efforts of Rising Tide. Here are some suggestions:
- Visit your local accredited zoo or aquarium. Ask about their conservation work and educate your family.
- Support conservation programs like Discovery Cove’s Rising Tide.
- If you are looking to start a home aquarium, remember a few tips:
- Research the fish you are interested in caring for and how they interact with other fish.
- Opt for an aquacultured fish first, instead of one collected from the reefs.
- Saltwater aquariums can be tricky for beginners, so consider a freshwater aquarium instead.
- For the well-being of your fish and other wildlife and their habitats, never release fish into the wild.
- Take part in activities like Discovery Cove’s SeaVenture program – guests who participate in the SeaVenture program at Discovery Cove also directly help support Rising Tide Conservation, as the park donates five percent of every program purchased.
Once our panel concluded it was time to head back to Discovery Cove. I, for one, couldn’t wait to put a wetsuit back on (kidding) but what we really couldn’t wait for was our chance to swim with dolphins. Our group won the dolphin Lotto and were treated to some time with Reef, a one-year-old bottlenose dolphin who is seriously the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, besides myself in that wetsuit of course. Our dolphin trainer Kelly was so knowledgeable and helpful while she taught us all about Reef and her life at Discovery Cove. After getting acquainted with Reef (my daughter says she felt like a “freshly shaved leg” and I almost died laughing) we got the chance to give her some smooches and see how smart she really is. At Discovery Cove, Reef has 24 hour vet care available, eats restaurant-grade sushi, and receives lots of love and attention from her competent trainers. My daughter and I had the best time learning about these amazing creatures and how intelligent they are. As a result of the experience, my daughter changed her future career path from veterinarian to marine biologist. I was extremely grateful for both this incredible opportunity and for all the knowledge we both gained from the experience.
The rest of our day was spent exploring Discovery Cove and all it has to offer. We swam face to face with sharks (don’t worry, they were behind glass), fed all varieties of birds (one thanked me profusely by pooping on my phone), observed otters that were the cutest things ever (and pouted when we couldn’t bring one home), and soaked up the sun on the pristine beaches. Your entry fee to Discovery Cove also includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks throughout the day and I am here to tell you we enjoyed every bite. One of the best parts about Discovery Cove is the limited number of guests per day, making it smooth and easy rather than crowded and stressful.
After a fun day, we headed back to SpringHill Suites and enjoyed a quiet night going through all of the photos captured by the Discovery Cove photographers on PhotoKey. Seeing all the pictures of our dolphin experience was awesome, and we were able to share them with family and friends who were excited to hear all about our day at Discovery Cove. It was truly a day we will never forget.
COMING SOON: Our day at SeaWorld!