Transformational Experience at SeaVenture in Discovery Cove

Think theme parks can’t offer transformational experiences? Then you haven’t tried SeaVenture at Discovery Cove.  For those not familiar, Discovery Cove is an Orlando theme park owned and operated by, but separate from, SeaWorld [click here for an in-depth review of Discovery Cove].  I recently experienced SeaVenture with a group of college students during a recent visit to Discovery Cove.  However, the students weren’t all that keen on visiting a SeaWorld owned park in the first place; that was a transformation of another kind.  Continue reading for more about a transformational experience at SeaVenture in Discovery Cove.

SeaVenture Discovery Cove

SeaWorld’s opening the most attractions in their 50-year history at every park across the country, but they still have an image problem.  When volunteering in Orlando volunteering with a group of college students, they balked at visiting SeaWorld.  Bri Foss (one of the students) commented, “my thoughts on SeaWorld were iffy, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.” Because they were on an alternative break service trip to Give Kids The World Village, they decided to check out Discovery Cove, the theme park most focused on education and conservation.

SeaVenture Discovery Cove

Brian Morrow, Vice President of Theme Park Design Experience, described Discovery Cove as all about learning.  “The over-arching message is conservation,” Morrow explained, “come and learn all-day long, have experiences that matter, and come away transformed.”  Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive experience with snorkeling, rays and other marine animal interactive experiences, relaxing beaches and a winding river to swim & snorkel through, with a float through aviary.

SeaVenture Discovery Cove

Swimming with dolphins is the signature experience of Discovery Cove.  The hour spent with dolphins is totally focused on learning about the animals.  Your time with the dolphin includes an in-depth Q&A session with the trainer, close-up demonstration of behaviors, and a brief time with the dolphin “swim” (really more of a tow).

SeaVenture Discovery Cove

One may be less-familiar with SeaVenture, an add-on Discovery Cove experience that was equally transformative. Samantha Norway (another student in the group) described SeaVenture as, “scuba-diving without the training. It was really cool to learn about underwater life with an underwater tour!”

SeaVenture Discovery Cove

After donning the SeaVenture diving helmet and climbing down a ladder, the college group slowly trekked underwater across the Grand Reef floor.  Guides led them face-to-face with multiple species of sharks (on the other side of an 8-foot-tall, 21-foot long panoramic window). They held sea urchins and starfish while learning more about the animals.  At the end of the trek, the group found themselves smack in the middle of a fishy feeding frenzy.

SeaVenture Discovery CoveSeaVenture Discovery CoveSeaVenture Discovery Cove

Regarding the experience, Chris Cummins said, “I did not know much about SeaVenture going into it. I loved walking underwater, weightless, next to many aquatic creatures, and wish the tour lasted longer.”

SeaVenture Discovery Cove

All that being said, SeaVenture was not for everyone.  One of the students was claustrophobic, didn’t like the enclosure of the helmet, and came back up soon after descending the ladder.  That’s OK, Discovery Cove provided a safe environment for the student to stretch herself, and find out SeaVenture wasn’t for her.  Another student, said she suffers from chronic severe anxiety.  Upon learning about SeaVenture, she was nervous, but determined to try.  After her successful walk along the bottom of the reef, she emerged beaming from ear-to-ear, transformed from the accomplishment and her personal breakthrough during the underwater adventure.

Rising Tide Conservation

A portion of SeaVenture’s proceeds go to Rising Tide Conservation, dedicated to reducing the impact of wild fish collection on fish populations and the coral reefs.  After the SeaVenture experience, Denise Swider, assistant curator for SeaWorld’s aquarium department, met with the group of college students and explained Discovery Cove’s collaboration with Rising Tide Conservation.  The organization was founded in 2009 by SeaWorld to breed fish to return to the wild.  Swider explained, “if you purchase a fish for your freshwater tank, they are 90% captive-raised, but salt water fish are mostly wild caught.” Collection of the wild salt water fish could deplete populations and harm the coral reefs.  Now its own independent organization, Rising Tide Conservation collects and donates eggs as well as fish.  Over 500 fish alone in Discovery Cove’s Grand Reef are from Rising Tide Conservation, and research funded in part by Rising Tide Conservation achieved the first-ever breeding of both yellow and blue tangs.  Meaning we’ll be “Finding Dory” in the oceans for a long time to come.  Five percent of all SeaVenture sales at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove goes to Rising Tide Conservation, and SeaWorld has raised $70k since 2016 that goes directly back to the conservation organization.

SeaVenture Discovery Cove

The students appreciated having more time with Denise Swider to learn about SeaWorld’s work with Rising Tide Conservation. “After we met and learned more about Discovery Cove’s conservation efforts, it made me feel better about supporting SeaWorld,” added Chris Cummins.  However, not every student was transformed after experiencing Discovery Cove.  Bri Foss noted, “Discovery Cove was beautiful, the workers very helpful and friendly, but I still don’t agree with keeping animals in captivity.”  In the end, that’s all SeaWorld is looking for, they want people to come visit, learn what SeaWorld is all about for themselves, and reach their own conclusions.

SeaVenture Discovery Cove

DISCLOSURE: Adventures by Daddy was hosted by Discovery Cove and the group received complimentary admission to the park including the dolphin swim and SeaVenture.  However, all opinions are those of the author. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on instagramtwitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.