After six years of planning and more than a year of construction, Discovery Cove at SeaWorld Orlando today grand opened its first-ever expansion, the Grand Reef. The new reef sits in a previously unused space of the exclusive water park and plenty of new opportunities for exploration and up-close encounters with sea life.
At a cool but comfortable temperature of 77 degrees, the Grand Reef’s salty waters are home to a variety of sea creatures, including rays, tropical fish, eels, and even sharks. The aquatic life is similar to that found in Discovery Cove’s old reef, now closed to make way for a future unannounced fresh water attraction. But the key differences in the Grand Reef lie in its size and accessibility.
To discover more about the creation of the new Grand Reef at Discovery Cove, I spoke with Vice President Stewart Clark and Director of Zoological Operations Reid Miller. Then I took a swim through the Grand Reef myself and brought along the video camera:
The former often-crowded reef has been replaced by this new 2.5 acre area, holding close to a million gallons of water. Approximately 10,000 animals swim with guests, who have the option of wading through shallow waters, venturing into deeper areas, crossing bridges and platforms, or just lounging on nearby sandy beaches. While swimming, guests can explore at any pace, with Discovery Cove providing a mask and snorkel for the best viewing experience.
Throughout the Grand Reef, guests will spot an abundance of colorful man-made coral. These coral sections are inflatable and can float to the surface for easy maintenance and cleaning. There are 90 pieces of the colorful coral in four different sizes found throughout the area, making for eye-catching visuals as guests swim by.
Because the Grand Reef is so much larger than the former reef, the population of sea life isn’t always as apparent. Guests visiting the old reef would find themselves inundated with fish and other sea creatures throughout a swim. The Grand Reef offers more room to spread out for guests – and for the animals as well. There are plenty to see, but it does require a bit more hunting to see it all.
While rays and fish swim freely among guests, some animals are separated by large glass enclosures. Sharks, naturally, swim close but not in the same waters as guests. Likewise, eels and lionfish – both new to Discovery Cove with the opening of the Grand Reef – have their own habitats. While the sharks are easy to spot both from above and within the water, the eels and lionfish prove to be a bit more difficult to find, clinging to shaded areas or hiding in holes.
The Grand Reef also features a new experience called SeaVenture, an underwater walking tour. Wearing dive helmets, guests are conga-line through a preset course, spotting lionfish, sharks, and other animals up-close along the way. SeaVenture is currently in a soft opening phase and should open to guests, for an extra fee, later this month.
Beyond SeaVenture and a handful of private cabanas, the rest of the Grand Reef, including its lagoon, bridges, snack bar, lounge chairs, and beaches, are included in the cost of a day’s visit to Discovery Cove. And if you don’t know much about the unique Orlando park, you can learn more in our recent Discovery Cove wrap-up article and at DiscoveryCove.com.
The Grand Reef adds more space to an already spacious park, with limited guests allowed in every day. Though likely popular while it’s new, the Grand Reef will ultimately become another area in which guests can freely explore sea life while enjoying swimming and relaxing at their own pace, which is what Discovery Cove is all about.
And guests will enjoy this first-ever expansion to Discovery Cove as the newest attraction – until the next one opens in 2012. Keep checking back to Inside the Magic for that announcement, when SeaWorld is ready to make it.
More photos from the new Grand Reef at Discovery Cove: