Friday, February 1, 2013

Blondie in the Reef

Blondie in the Reef

KJ Waters

I just had the most amazing day at Discovery Cove in Orlando. This is a SeaWorld related water park and has to be one of my favorite places on the planet, after Bermuda and perhaps Scotland. This is not your ordinary water park. Discovery Cove is the place where you can swim with dolphins, sting rays, tropical birds and fish. No lie, get right in there and touch the critters! The fam and I did just that today.

We arrived at the beautifully landscaped park at 7:45 am and headed to the 'free' alfresco buffet breakfast. My daughter likes to call it free, but as much as we paid to get in I've got a different take on that.

Dolphin Experience

Meet Squiggy -- and she didn't even eat me!

After breakfast we arrived for our appointment with our dolphin (never thought I'd write that). We gathered with a group of people and sat through the dolphin orientation. Then, and only then, were we allowed to step into the ice cold dolphin pool for a half an hour of dolphin 101.

We fed the dolphin, pet it, and had our pictures taken kissing it. The size of this gorgeous creature was impressive, much larger up close and personal than when you see it from a distance. I was the only one who scared the bejesus out of the thing when I put my hand on its belly during the photo shoot. Luckily it didn't eat me. Then a real treat -- they let us hang on to the dorsal fin and ride it about 20 yards. My son was fascinated with Squiggy, our dolphin, and all things science. He was not so thrilled about being waist deep in ice water with a 500 pound carnivore. 

Lazy River
After dolphin U we geared up with vest, mask, and snorkel and headed directly to the lazy river. The sandy beach leading up to it squished wonderfully under my feet and the water was deliciously warm. The lazy river is not your typical blue painted cement job either. It is surrounded by Florida's finest -- palm trees, flowering bushes of every possible color, and tons of gorgeous flowers and foliage.

The bed of the river is a mixture of sand and river rocks and the water varies in depth, adding to the real river feel, ranging from 3 feet to over 8 feet deep.

After five minutes of blissful floating down river a waterfall appeared drowning any hope of you loungers keeping your gorgeous locks dry. This waterfall keeps the birds from making an escape out of the aviary. Yes, I said aviary right in the middle of the lazy river. Cool, huh? Beautiful pink spoonbills welcomed us and there were birds aquatic and otherwise chirping and flitting about.

This peacock was our personal greeter for the aviary.
You can stay in the lazy river if you like or you can exit via a stairwell that leads to the rest of the aviary. We did both, having floated along the river for three or four passes. A male peacock was the greeter welcoming us and followed us around once inside.

We passed a station where they gave us a dish of various diced fruits and veggies. The kids enjoyed feeding the birds that landed right on us to eat out of the bowl. There were all sorts of winged critters I'd never seen before along with the usual parrots and parakeets. We didn't even get pooped on, which wouldn't have been too bad since you're in your bathing suit.  A half an hour of birds was plenty and we made our way back to the lazy river for a few more passes.

The Reef
The reef chock-o-block full of fish.
After the air warmed up a bit we made our way over to the reef. This was a truly magical place chock-o-block (to quote Steve Erwin) full of aquatic life. At first glance it looks like the rocky shore line of Monterey, California, minus the palm trees. Standing on shore looking into the water all I could see was a few dark shapes and expected a somewhat tame experience. I stepped into the cold water slipping on my mask and put my face in the water. The sheer beauty of what I saw took my breath away.

A huge fluorescent blue fish darted out of my reach. I looked to my left and saw a deep cavern running through the middle of the reef and in it a dozen or more sting rays of every possible size  floating through the water reminding me of birds in flight. They ranged from 2 to over 10 feet if you don't count the tail as long as me.

I was itching to explore every corner of this watery heaven, however, my children were not so keen. My son did not get the water gene and spent a whopping 5 minutes with the mask and snorkel on feet firmly planted on the ground. Shorty-girl is a water bug but at 4 years old she was not thrilled about a hundred slimy friends in the water with her.

After a torturous half hour of appeasing them, I left them (with an adult, so don't get all huffy) to explore with my underwater camera in tow. I found a shallow area where I could stand and video a coffee table sized sting ray and as it moved towards me I backed up, stepping on another 8 foot ray. Crikey! Scared the daylights out of me but the monster didn't seem to mind. They clip the stingers, like a finger nail, so there is no danger from these gentle creatures. Even with that fact firmly planted in my head Steve's fate was constantly in the back of my mind. It unnerved me to be surrounded by the huge rays, at least at first. Here is the video I took:

Swimming with Rays

There was a glass enclosed section holding a dozen or more sharks of all different shapes and sizes. It was amazing to swim right up to the glass and 'swim' with them. Black tipped, tiger, bull, and nurse, sharks all swam through the blue water just feet away from me. Never appreciated glass so much in my life! 

My family pulled me kicking and screaming out of the reef to get our 'free' hot lunch around 2:00 and then we made it back to the reef and lazy river. The kids were watered out by about 4:00. They played in the sand while I floated neck deep in the warm lagoon and slurped on sweet tea soaking up the watery loveliness.

At 5:30 the park closed. I was devastated. I couldn't believe they were going to kick me out of my new-found heaven. We packed up our gear and headed back to the condo my head full of glorious sun filled blue water splashing dreams. But I will be back! If you are in Orlando don't miss this amazing water park!

Connect With Me

When I'm not working on Stealing Time you can find me on my social media at the links below. I hope to have my novel completed by spring 2013 with book two close behind.