With most theme parks reopen from the COVID shutdown, everyone is getting used to new social distancing and mask mandates. The big name parks are always in the spotlight when it comes to showcasing their new safety requirements and how they’re handled, but one park that often gets overlooked is SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove. We were invited to the park to see how they’ve changed their experiences to better suit the times.
We arrived not too long after opening and had our temperature checked in a white tent in the parking lot. The lobby was almost empty, and we didn’t really come across any crowds until later in the afternoon. Discovery Cove has always operated at a reduced capacity, and is doing even more so right not to make sure the physical distancing is possible throughout the park.
SeaWorld provided us with general admission, a cabana and the dolphin experience. Additionally all guests are currently provided with complimentary Discovery Cove gaiter masks to wear while getting food, and checking in for other experiences. My boyfriend and I decided we wanted to do their SeaVenture as well, so we paid and added that on for ourselves.
After checking in, our cabana host led us to our private cabana and showed us where to pick up our wet suits for the day. While in the water at the park, all guests must wear either a vest or wetsuit, and believe me, you’ll want a wetsuit to keep you warm in some of the colder waters, such as the Grand Reef.
While traversing the park there are many scenic overlooks and animal encounters which are now marked with social distancing markers on the ground.
There’s also a recording that plays every so often, explaining that face masks and gaiters are forbidden when in the water. This was a very strange thing to hear when other parks play a similar one saying that they’re mandatory at all times.
Since we had a private cabana, we were able to seclude ourselves from the rest of the park-goers, however guests who don’t spurge for a private cabana will have to find their own spot amongst the many lounge chairs. Most of the chairs are pretty well distanced from each other, but our host told us that as much as they try and properly clean them off, it’d usually be best to get there right after opening and claim a spot early since they can’t guarantee someone else hadn’t used the spot before you except for right at opening.
For the dolphin experience, we were able to get nearly the full experience, with the exclusion of the dolphin tug. This is where your group’s dolphin would pull you across the enclosure and back. This has been replaced by extra petting time. The other family in our group was six feet from us and we wore our gaiters the entire time, except for when instructed to remove them for photos.
One of the only two times we encountered issues with distancing during the day was while getting lunch. (Food and drinks are included with every visit.) Their food service line is not designed for distancing, and even with stickers on the ground, many guests in line were way too close to other guests not in their party. Some guests even got a bit angry when we wouldn’t move forward into the crowded space. One man without his mask on properly literally barked and then laughed at us for not moving forward in line, calling us something along the lines of “believers” in the pandemic.
The second issue was less of a problem, but still notable. While waiting with the other parties in our SeaVenture group, none of them had their masks on, and while they were technically supposed to be six feet from us, they wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t have stepped back into the bushes.
This waiting period lasted about 5-10 minutes until we descended underwater and were greeted with a very nice diver holding a sign that said “Welcome to the Covid-Free Zone!” Unfortunately my boyfriend had some stomach trouble at that exact moment and we had to bail out of the experience early. The staff was very helpful and understanding and we were easily able to get the experience refunded. They even let us have the photo from the beginning of the dive, even though total we were only under a few minutes.
Overall the experience felt pretty safe, and as is the norm with all the theme parks right now, it’s really up to the guests to follow the guidelines and keep it safe for everyone else. Whenever we were in the water, we only ever got within six feet of another party for a moment before realizing and swimming away, which was always in the lazy river when the current pushed us just a bit too close.
Water parks and experiences are always going to a bit more risky since masks aren’t going to be on when you’re getting wet, but as long as everyone is aware of their surroundings and follows the guidelines, and sometimes even takes extra precautions, everyone should be safe.
Discovery Cove still has the same tropical relaxation getaway vibe it always has, and if you’re planning on a day’s getaway, this might be just the place you’re looking for. For more information and to book your visit, head to discoverycove.com.
Here’s a look at Discovery Cove on an episode of The Attractions Show from 2012: