Once again, we're gonna post two days worth of events in one blog - it's partly due to procrastination but also because yesterday was pretty uneventful.
We decided that since we had spent 2 days constantly on our feet at Universal and Islands of Adventure, we would have a lie-in and not set an alarm. We woke up naturally at about 10:00am, and leisurely spent the next few hours having breakfast, getting washed and dressed, and generally lounging around in our room. At about 1-2ish, we munched on our Pringles and had a few bite-size chocolates for our dinner, deciding that we should at least go out and do something
during the day as to not waste time in such a nice place. We checked the internet for the nearest shopping mall and worked out that it was about a mile down the road, so we set out to explore.
Pretty much all night - and most of the morning - it had been raining (part of the reason we didn't rush to get up and out), so we didn't dally too much on the way, and eventually ended up entering the mall at about 3ish. We had a
look around, checking out the shops and eateries - noting that they had a cinema within - fairly impressed with its size, however there weren't many decent shops. We noticed that the cinema was showing Paranormal Activity 3, so we had a quick look at the ticket prices - which weren't too bad, about $7 each (about £4) - making note that we could catch a showing at about 6:00pm'ish, before venturing back out through the mall to find somewhere to eat. Craig had a buffalo chicken sub from Subway and Emma had chow mein and orange chicken from a Chinese eaterie, making it back to the cinema with about 20 minutes to spare.
We got our tickets and went inside, we were pointed to screen 2 and made our way into the screen room, picking fairly decent seats (it wasn't particularly busy considering it was a Friday), and waiting for the show to start. We had to sit through the usual 10 minutes worth of adverts and trailers, with the film finally starting a little after 6:10pm. It was actually a really good film, with a few plot twists we hadn't really seen coming. We won't spoil it
for you, just incase you're going to watch it at some point, but we definitely enjoyed it. By the way, when you see people screaming and hiding behind their hands/their partners during the audience reaction advertisements, they blatantly use American people; the entire audience were screaming/laughing/clapping/hollering at every bump/noise/movement/moments of anticipation!!
After it finished, we left the cinema and headed back towards our hotel, stopping at Walgreens to get a couple of bottles of pop and some more Pringles, finally getting back to the hotel at about 7:00-7:30pm. For the rest of the night we pretty much did nothing, watching T.V, playing on the netbook and just generally lazing around. We didn't stay up too late, knowing that we had to wake up early for our day at Discovery Cove.
Today, we were up at around 7am, as there was a free shuttle bus due to depart at 8:35am from our hotel to Seaworld, which is just opposite Discovery Cove. We got washed and dressed, before checking on the internet for the direction that we needed to go to get to Discovery Cove, finding that there was actually a free shuttle bus that Seaworld offered (as they are
both owned by the same company) that would take us straight to Discovery Cove. We didn't have any breakfast in our room as we knew that our day at Discovery Cove included breakfast and lunch, along with complimentary drinks and snacks all day.
We left our room and waited at the bus pick-up point at around 8:30am, with the bus eventually turning up a little late at around 8:45am to take us down International Drive to Seaworld. We picked up a few other people from other hotels on the way down, eventually arriving at the Seaworld car park at around 9:15am. We noticed a bus parked outside a canopy with 'Aquatica/Discovery Cove' written on it, so we asked the driver if it was the bus to Discovery Cove. Unfortunately, it was the bus to Aquatica, however, the driver kindly offered to take us to Discovery Cove anyway as he "didn't have anything better to do" - the weather this morning was pretty dull and rainy so it didn't appear that many people fancied spending a day at Aquatica (a waterpark)!
The bus took us right outside the entrance to Discovery Cove, so we thanked the driver for going
out of his way to take us there, and got off the bus, walking into the main building to check-in. We were directed over to a desk, where a girl got us checked in, reserving our dolphin swim for later in the afternoon at 2:40pm (which was exactly what we wanted as we knew that the weather would clear up by the afternoon). We had our photos taken for our ID cards which we were told to wear all day - and which would also be our tickets to Seaworld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens over the next couple of weeks - and then were free to enter the park.
It was still raining a bit, so we hurried through the outdoor pathways to the restaurant area, where breakfast was being served. We grabbed a tray and made the most of what was being offered - having eggs, bacon, breakfast potatoes, a croissant, a yoghurt and a banana for Craig. We found a table under a canopy and sat down to eat our breakfast feast, which was delicious! We then made our way to the locker area, outside which was a hut where we could pick up our wetsuits to
wear for the day. We were each given a short-sleeved wetsuit, so we went to the changing rooms to put them on over our swimwear. Once we had put our stuff into a locker, we were ready to explore Discovery Cove!
Thankfully, the rain had now stopped, so we had a little look around first to get our bearings, before heading over to the aviary. Here, we were each given a small tub of food that we could hold out to the birds for them to eat from. The aviary was full of dozens of different kinds of tropical birds, both big and small. We walked through the three different "rooms" (basically big areas under netting, full of trees, ropes and other structures for the birds to sit on), with various birds coming to land on our hands to eat the food, with one actually landed on Craig's head at one point, which was quite funny!
After feeding the birds, we made our way towards one of the many entrances to the 'Lazy River'. This is exactly what it sounds like; a huge river running in a circle around about a quarter of the park. It has a
current which gently floats you around, passing through/under various areas of the park such as the aviary, and was reeeaaallly warm and relaxing. We floated around the entire thing one time, before getting out, grabbing some floats and snorkels and doing it all over again! It was a superb way to relax; listening to the tweeting of the birds and the noises of the dolphins as you gently glide through warm water, laying on your back with the sun on your face - except for when your face was in the water with the snorkel and mask of course!
Eventually our skin began to wrinkle, which is pretty much a universally known sign that you've been in the water far too long, so we dragged ourselves out to dry off in the sun - which was starting to really get warm by now. We sat down near the restaurant for a while, and figured it would make sense to eat now - whilst we were near it - which would also give it time to settle before we had to get in the pool with the dolphins. Craig had a burger with fries, picking a chocolate brownie for dessert,
with Emma choosing spaghetti with meatballs with 'the ultimate chocolate cake' for her pudding. We ate our main meals under a parasol, with the gentle sound of the live reggae band behind us playing well known songs by Bob Marley and others on steel pans. Emma then tried her pudding, which she didn't actually like as it had a lot of cherry sauce on it (which was practically invisible to the naked eye!), and Craig started on his brownies (sharing one with Emma). We rested after eating,not wanting to break the golden rule of no eating before swimming, and when we felt ready to move, made our way back towards the pools.
Since it was still too early for our dolphin experience, we decided to go in one of the other pools, filled with rays, fish and coral. We got another set of goggles/snorkels and dipped in. This pool is a lot
cooler than the lazy river as the temperature is controlled to suit the natural habitat of the fish. Immediately we were being greeted by rays left, right and centre, which we sort of expected. What did suprise us, however, was the sheer size of some of the
beasts. Some were easily 6ft long including their tail, and about a foot high from the top of their head to their stomach. Basically, in this pool you are free to swim, dive and snorkel, and are more than welcome to touch, feel and generally interact with everything inside. We took full advantage of this, even snapping some pictures (or at least trying
to) with our underwater camera, which we received free with our Florida tickets. The rays felt just as slippery and slimy as they looked, and we were careful to try to not step on them as they lay on the floor of the pool (although Emma almost did tread on one as she found her feet after snorkelling for a while - quickly bringing her foot back up when she realised that one had moved underneath her!).
Although neither of us had a watch on, we had checked the time before getting into the pool, and after around an hour or so in the pool, we knew that it must be getting fairly close to our dolphin swim. We got out of the pool, got another towel and sat in the sun for a little while,
drying off and relaxing before our dolphin interaction. At around 2:30, we made our way to the 'Starfish Cabana', where we would meet up with our group and our trainer before going to the dolphin lagoons. Once in the cabana, a guy gave us a clipboard with a release form that we were required to sign. Although we signed them first without really reading it, we were quite amused when we did read through it, to see that we were basically signing to say that we would not sue Discovery Cove if ANYTHING were to go wrong, be that in the past, present or future, even if it were due to negligence or fault of their own! Nonetheless, we handed over our signed forms, hoping that nothing would go wrong!
Eventually, one of the trainers arrived at the cabana and gave us a little talk on what we would be doing, followed by a short video on the work that they do with the dolphins at Discovery Cove. We were then split into our groups and went off with our trainers down to the pools where the dolphins were waiting for us. Our trainers introduced themselves and told us
that we would be interacting with "Lester" today - the dominant male dolphin at Discovery Cove, who was 40 years old, father to 24 of the other dolphins at the park, and weighed in at 550lbs! We entered the pool (which was the same temperature as the pool that contained the rays, and so was a little chilly at first!), and Lester came over to greet us! The trainer then moved us around to the "shallow swim" area, where we were lined up and 'formally' introduced to Lester, by instigating a wave using hand signals, which he reciprocated with a wave of his fin! For the next few minutes, the trainer just explained a little bit about dolphins, and Lester specifically, such as the marks (that looked like scratches) on his nose which were actually the result of his 'lady friends' communicating with him, the loss of some teeth as he got a little older, and his unique tail/dorsel fin patterns - apparently the dolphin equivalent of human fingerprints! we were then treated to a display of the noises a dolphin can make; the high-pitched squeaky noise and the 'clicking' sound that most people are familiar with don't actually come
from their mouth/throat, but are actually noises that come from a dolphins blow-hole. They have a muscle that covers the hole, which they have complete control over, that allows them to expand/contract the gap, allowing different amounts of air out at any one time. The trainer explained it as when a balloon is inflated and you pinch the end to allow the air escaping to make a sound as it vibrates, which Lester demonstrated by making a lot of fart noises!
After learning all about dolphins, the trainer asked our group if they were ready to get 'hands-on' with Lester, which of course everybody responded to with a resounding 'YEESSS! :D' She explained that initially we would be simply touching him, getting used to where/how to do it safely (for both us and him). We were told that as she brought him in front of us, that we were to stroke him from just behind his blow-hole, all the way to his dorsel fin. We were very excited (duh!), ready to touch a dolphin for the first time, and did exactly as the trainer had instructed. It turns out dolphins are really quite soft - apparently their skin is
more sensitive than ours - and a little slimey, but not like a gooey, wet type of slime. It's quite hard to explain, although Emma insists it's like a hot dog??? LOL.
The trainer then instructed Lester to turn around and stick his tail in the air, allowing us to feel it. Like his back, it felt smooth, but was much harder. The trainer explained that dolphins have no bones in their tails, and that they are completely made of cartilage. We were then told that we would each be able to give Lester a kiss and a hug while the photographer took photos of us. As we were last in the line, we watched first as each member of our group gave Lester a kiss on his lips and a hug around his back/belly. Eventually, it was our turn and we each approached Lester, held his chin up to give him a big kiss, and put our arms around him as we posed for our pictures. We also each got to feed him a fish a fish for his hard work (which he had been constantly fed during the whole session by the trainer - he
eats around 22lbs of fish a day!). We were then able to get some photos with us both hugging Lester, and each of the other families in our group also had some group photos taken.
We then stopped to watch a couple of the other dolphins perform some jumps in the centre of the pool, and our trainer told us that Lester would be doing a jump a little later on. Another trainer then took us away from our group to the deep end of the pool, telling us that we were the first in our group to get a dolphin ride from Lester. After a few seconds, Lester made his way over to us, and we were each pulled back over to the shallow end, holding onto Lester's dorsal fin and one of his flippers as he pulled us over to the group. The rest of the group then got to get a ride from Lester, with one little girl just getting pulled around the shallow end of the pool, rather than going into the deep end.
It was then Lester's turn to perform his jump, so we were shown the hand signal by the trainer (we
had to wave our finger in a circle in the air like lasso), and Lester shot off under the water, before emerging from the centre of the pool, jumping and spinning in the air at the same time, landing with a huge splash! Unfortunately, our dolphin interaction was coming to an end, so we got a final touch of Lester as he once again swam past us, before waving goodbye to us with his tail. We were lead out of the pool and were told to follow our photographer to a cabana, in which we could view our photos and decide if we wanted to purchase one of the packages available.
We had pretty much already decided that we wanted to buy the photo CD of our dolphin swim (which included all of the photos taken), and also quite wanted to get the DVD, which contained a video of the whole of our dolphin interaction from start to finish. However, it was quite expensive to purchase these separately, and was actually cheaper to get one of the packages, which included five large high quality print-outs of our choice, one smaller print-out, two keyrings, the photo CD, and a photo
frame. We could then add the DVD to the package for a lower price than if purchasing it individually, and it would all cost less than getting the CD and DVD both individually (they basically charge a premium for them if you don't add them on to a package). We chose the photos that we wanted printed, and received an order number to purchase our package when we were due to leave.
Once out of the cabana, we didn't really fancy going back into the water, so we each had a shower before changing into our dry clothes. We then spent the next hour taking some pictures of the park with the digital camera, starting with the dolphin lagoons, then moving onto the pools containing the rays (although we couldn't see any from the edge of the water), before going over to the lazy river/beach area. As we didn't get any pictures earlier, we also went back into the aviary to get some pictures of the birds eating the food from our hands, chatting with a man in there, who we noticed had a West Bromwich Albion tattoo - it turned out he was from Wednesbury - it is
a small world! Once we were done feeding the birds, it was almost time for the park to close, so we headed over to where we could buy/pick up our photos. The girl behind the desk had our CD and DVD ready, and she checked them on the computer to make sure that it had the right photos/video on them. We did have a little giggle with her at a guy in the video standing/posing behind us, with a big beer belly hanging over his speedos! We paid for our package and made our way to the park exit - quite sad to leave the place really, as we had had such a great day!
We walked across the car park and made our way back to International Drive, where we knew that we could catch the I-Ride trolley back to our hotel. We waited about 10 minutes for the trolley to turn up, which then made its way up International Drive, dropping us off right outside the hotel, and pretty much right outside our door! We looked through the photos from today that we had took on the digital camera, but as our netbook doesn't have a disc
drive, we won't be able to view the photos or videos until we get back to the UK! Instead, we have taken pictures of
our pictures so that we can upload them to here for you to see!
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