Discovery In The Cove

I say I’m not very good at once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I justify spending money to do something by saying, “I’m only going to do it once,” but I am rarely successful in limiting myself to one time if I enjoy an experience.

I proved this point yet again by visiting Discovery Cove, Sea World’s dolphin-centric sister park in Orlando. I visited the park for the first time last year. The experience blew my mind. I had such a great time, I actually wrote two separate blog posts about my playdate with the porpoises. You can catch a rerun of those posts by visiting:

My Date With The Dolphins

School Of Dolphins

Even though my dolphin day at Discovery Cove was beyond my wildest expectations, my initial thought was that I probably wouldn’t do it again. There is a steep discount on the admission for Florida residents. Still, I did suffer a bit of sticker shock when the ticket price showed up on my credit card. The amount just seemed ridiculous for a day at a theme park. On the other hand, the admission gets you a lot for your money and there is a pretty low limited daily entrance to the park. You never feel like you are fighting the marauding hordes for your entertainment or for any of the “free” (well…. let’s say “included in the price of admission”) goodies they hand out with wild abandon (meals, snacks of every ilk, soft drinks, frozen beverages, beer, wine, dolphin safe sunscreen, towels, snorkeling gear, showers, shampoo, conditioner, and other stuff that I’m probably forgetting). Also, the admission price includes unlimited admission for fourteen days to Sea World and the other sister park, Aquatica.

You can probably tell that I am still trying to justify my decision to pay the big bucks and return to the park this year. Since I went ahead and did it, it is probably time to let it go.

Once I made my reservation, I began to wonder if my second trip to Discovery Cove would be as magical as my previous visit. Was it possible to enjoy the experience as much once the serendipity factor no longer applied? I remember that, on my first trip, it seemed like some unexpected, delightful surprise lurked around every corner. Now that I knew the drill, would these encounters fail to enchant me? Also, last time, my Discovery Cove trip came at a particularly difficult and stressful time in my life. In fact, I’d cancelled my original reservation because it was scheduled when my mother’s stroke was still a new and stultifying situation. By the time I actually went, my mother and I had already been through most of our difficult journey together. She had been living in the skilled nursing facility for about five months. We were past the point of believing she was going to improve and not yet at the point where death prepared to pounce. We were both living in a shadow world and trying to light the way for each other. I’m sure the fact that my first trip to Discovery Cove propelled me totally away from Stroke World for one, beautiful, restful day enhanced my first experience.

When I packed up for my recent excursion, I was a little apprehensive. Maybe it was better to live with my perfect memory of my “once in a lifetime” Discovery Cove adventure rather than risk overlaying it with another trip that might not be as wonderful. Then, I considered that I am trying to broaden my horizons by being braver and less anxious. I am trying to embrace the now rather than living in the past or obsessing about the future. I am trying to stop automatically saying “no” to things simply because they make me a little uneasy. So I said “yes” to myself and went to Discovery Cove.

The activities I enjoyed at Discovery Cove were very similar to my prior visit. I swam with the dolphins, snorkeled in the salt water reef, waded past marmosets and otters, fed birds in the aviary, and lounged my way down a lazy river. I spent hours and hours in the water. I ambled aimlessly around the beautiful grounds, sliding my feet through the elegant sand beaches and splashing around the edges of the coves. I ate and drank and read my kindle. I shopped in the little stores. I stayed even longer than I stayed last year. And I enjoyed every moment of it.

On one of my numerous trips down the lazy river, I floated behind a family with two small children. As I passed them, I heard the little girl exclaim, “Mommy, this is the best day ever!” I closed my eyes, listened to the birds chattering around me, snuggled my shoulders deeper under the gently warm water, and felt the sun skip across my face. I smiled and thought to myself, “it sure is.”

That spontaneous reaction started me thinking. Was it the best day ever? How could it be better than my last trip? Was it better than my last trip? Wasn’t it the same experience?

In purely objective terms, I could argue that this visit might not have been quite as good as my first visit. The dolphin assigned to my pod was a bit of a maverick and wasn’t really in the mood to play host to a bunch of strangers that day. Her dolphin ADHD required some patience and creativity. It was a bit chaotic. Also, the sloth I went to visit at the animal encounter kiosk was not able to overcome his slothful DNA and rouse himself from his crate, so there was no small furry animal petting on this visit. Also, I forgot my credit card and worried that I would be unable to purchase merchandise to take home. I also lost my brand new sparkly prescription sunglasses somewhere in the depths of the snorkeling reef.

Still, I had a wonderful time and I am not even going to pretend that I don’t want to go back next year. So, what was different this time that made my visit a new, magical event despite the minor glitches I’ve mentioned?

It is true that the activities were basically the same as last year, but the difference is that I am not the same as last year. I am much further along in my journey to improve my capacity to enjoy life as it comes and embrace new adventures without mourning what they are not. I am more confident. My heart is more open. My brain is calmer. I even embraced the glitches. I didn’t just tolerate them; I leveraged them.

I may not have been able to pet a sloth this time around, but I had a new experience. I held a macaw on my arm. That was pretty cool. Instead of worrying about the scheduling short circuiting while my dolphin played keep away, I enjoyed the extra time in the cool saltwater surrounded by a whole navy of dolphins. When I realized that I had forgotten my credit card, I stopped to strategize about how I could overcome the problem. In the past, I know I would have panicked, mournfully declaring immediate defeat. I would have been all woebegone over my inability to buy stuff. This time, I remained calm and brainstormed some ways I might still be able to charge merchandise. In doing so, I figured out how to use Apple Pay. While the loss of my sunglasses was a little more difficult to push away from my overactive nervous system, I was able to do so. I remembered that these glasses were the same prescription as my old ones, which were in the glove compartment of my car. I didn’t love that I lost the glasses, but it was not a tragedy. As if to reward my determined Zen-ness, someone found my sunglasses and returned them to Lost and Found by the end of the day.

So even though my day’s activities were pretty much the same during both my visits, each visit was a very different experience. Both were the “best day ever” while I was living them. Maybe this most recent visit felt even more like the “best day ever” because I have changed enough to immerse myself more deeply in the present moment.

Nothing is ever exactly the same. The earth keeps turning and the soul keeps growing. I think every experience is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What do you think?  Have you ever done something that seemed very different than a time when you did it before because you were different?  Please tell us about it!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a one-of-a-kind day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!  If you would like a second helping of Terri, I am guest posting on another retirement lifestyle blog this week. If you’d like to read my post, The Dream Is In The Doing,  please visit:

http://retirementandgoodliving.com/the-dream-is-in-the-doing/

 

School Of Dolphins

Yes, I know that dolphins travel in pods, not schools.  However, that doesn’t mean that the dolphins don’t have a thing or two to teach us.  I learned a lot from my day swimming with the dolphins at Discovery Cove.  The dolphin experience especially taught me  several important things about how to best use the time of our lives. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my new merry marine mammal friends.

Make the most of your time.

A few years ago, I nagged a friend of mine to participate in a dolphin encounter in Hawaii.  We didn’t exactly “swim” with the dolphins.  It was more like “wading with the dolphins” because we kind of wimped out and took the encounter option that didn’t involve any deep-water interaction.   I can swim and have been swimming since I was a very little girl.  On the other hand, I was sort of anxious because I didn’t know how competent one needed to be in the water or how far I’d have to swim or how long it would take me to cover the ground I’d need to cover to do the deep-water swim.  My friend and I had a wonderful, soul-lightening time on our “dolphin wading” encounter, but I still couldn’t help but feel that I was missing out on something.

The Discovery Cove experience did include a deep-water swim with the dolphin.  Part of my hesitation in deciding to go was the same anxiety that I wasn’t a good enough swimmer, but I decided to throw caution to the wind.  As I was standing in the water waiting for my turn at the swim, I confess to feeling a bit nervous. I am a self-professed proponent of carefully controlled adventure.  I’d rather have artificial adventure than risk the dangers of the real thing.

I believe that litigation potential is a fairly effective vetting tool to determine if something is reasonably safe.  I figure, if an organization is big enough and has deep enough pockets to get sued in the event of disaster, I’m probably going to come out of whatever adventure simulation they provide in one piece.  Since Discovery Cove has been operating for over fifteen years and has not been felled by ruinous lawsuits, I figured I’d probably be okay.

I did believe our dolphin, Kaolani, was probably not going to attack.   On the other hand, I still did not know what level of swimming competency was going to be required to keep up with the dolphin. All the trainers kept saying that if you had to ask if you’d need a life jacket, you probably shouldn’t be doing the deep-water swim.  They offered a shallow water swim as an alternative.  I kept thinking about it, even when I was out in the water.  No one else was asking for the shallow water swim. I didn’t want to miss anything, especially after self-limiting my earlier dolphin encounter in Hawaii. There was a bitsy little girl in our group whose toes barely reached the bottom of the shallow part of the water.  She opted for the deep-water swim. I decided that, if she could do it, so could I.  As it turned out, I just had to swim about eight feet and tread water for a few minutes.  I held on to Kaolani’s flippers and dolphin-surfed my way back to the shore.  And I didn’t drown.

Once I had my dolphin encounter, I resolved to stop limiting myself.  I stopped worrying about what I looked like or whether I could do something.  It was incredibly freeing.  I did everything the park had to offer.  I felt like a kid again.  But a more self-confident kid than the kid I actually was once upon a time.

Let It Flow.

It may seem almost contradictory to my lesson about making the most of time, but I think it is more of a corollary than a contradiction.  I learned that nothing terribly bad happens if you stop worrying about what an experience is supposed to be like and what you are supposed to do to maximize your time.  Sometimes, it is best to just let a day of exploration unfold as it is going to and react as you want to in the moment.

Before I went to Discovery Cove, I had this huge need to understand how everything worked.  I had so many questions about the minutia of the operation!  Here are some of the queries that ran through my head:

  • How good a swimmer must you be to enjoy the dolphin experience? (just barely competent)
  • Where were the lockers in relation to the activities? (all over the place and you could easily appropriate more than one locker if it was more convenient)
  • Is there a preferred order in which to experience the attractions or maximize your time? (I don’t really think so- I felt like I could do all the attractions without prioritizing) How easy was it to get to the lockers periodically during the day? (phenomenally easy)
  • How did you know when to go to the dolphin encounter? (they gave you the time and location when you checked into the park)
  • How did you get reapplication of sunscreen? (there were stations all over the place)
  • Where were the food stations? (again, all over the place)
  • Since I eat like a four-year-old, what was there to eat? (a wide variety of sweet and savory offerings)
  • Did you need to bring money for incidentals? (not really, although I never feel comfortable leaving the house without some money so I kept $40 in the locker and never took it out)
  • Should I bring a hat? (yes, but know it will get drenched going under the waterfalls interspersed on the lazy river)
  • Were there private showers and dressing areas? (yes)
  • Would the required wetsuit vests fit me? (yes)
  • Would I look awkward or funny doing the experiences? (maybe, but nobody cared)

I could go on and on, but I think I already have.  The Discovery Cove website gave a lot of information, but I found that it was just enough to inspire my brain to craft new questions.

Once I was in the park for half an hour or so, I relaxed considerably and stopped worrying about “doing it right.”  I just meandered and did what I wanted when I wanted.  I did it right, without even trying.

She Who Travels Fastest Travels Alone.

I really wasn’t thinking so much about traveling fast through Discovery Cove, but I do think that I probably traveled better alone.

One of my other hesitations in booking my day at Discovery Cove was that I’d be going by myself because Max doesn’t do water recreation.  The idea of him paying the high admission price to simply trail along behind me, take pictures, and consume all-you-can-eat hot pretzels all day seemed ludicrous.

Before I met Max, I did a lot of things by myself.  After my divorce in 1988, I was single for many years.  I learned very quickly that, if I really wanted to do something or go somewhere, I should do it by myself rather than wait for a time when someone else might join me.  It was nice when I did things with dates or with friends, but I really had no problem having adventures on my own.

After Max and I met, I became very used to having a partner on my experiences.  It was really nice to share our recreation and perspectives.  Once he moved in with me, I almost never did anything fun on my own.  I didn’t mind at all.  He doubled my enjoyment of these activities.  On the other hand, I found I was starting to lose my self-reliance in the fun arena.

When I first made the reservation, a day on my own at Discovery Cove sounded appealing.  I could please only myself and wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs or desires.  As the time approached, however, I started to feel a little bereft about being without Max while I had this new experience.

It turned out that Discovery Cove is a great place to have fun, with or without other people.  I pretty much tuned out everyone else and did exactly what I wanted to do.  To be clear, Max would have been fine paying his money and watching me have a good time.  One of his favorite recreational activities is watching me do stuff he wouldn’t do, like feeding animals in a petting zoo or bouncing around in a swimming pool.  It bothers me, though, to know he is waiting for me.  Since Max doesn’t do water activities, I am sure I would have worried about him being bored while I cavorted in the deep. Without him, I was free to return to a second and third time snorkeling on the reef.  I could lie around doing nothing when I felt like it.  I could eat and drink when it felt like the right time for me.  Also, I could enjoy showing him pictures and telling him all about my day when I got home.

So, dolphins don’t travel in schools.  They are good teachers, though, and I think I am going to try very hard to apply the lessons I learned at Discovery Cove to the rest of my life!

Have you ever learned a valuable life lesson while engaged in some seemingly inconsequential event, like my day with the dolphins?  Please tell us about it.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a great day!

Terri

My Date With The Dolphins

I’ve never been very good at “once in a lifetime” experiences. One year, I booked a special “photo caravan” at a local wild animal park for an extravagant amount of money, believing it would be a “once in a lifetime” adventure.   We ended up going back every year until we moved away from Southern California.  The first time we visited Disney World, I sold it to Max as a “once in a lifetime” trip.  We went back on vacation several times before I retired and ultimately ended up turning our whole “lifetime” on its head by actually moving to within an hour’s drive of this “once in a lifetime” destination.  Now, we go about once a month.   

A few years ago, I cajoled a good friend of mine to go with me on a dolphin encounter at Sea Life Park in Honolulu.  She agreed with my exhortations that it would be a “once in a lifetime” experience.  We had a wonderful time.   

Given my track record and lack of credibility with the whole “once in a lifetime” thing, it should come as no surprise that I recently succumbed to temptation and spent a day at Discovery Cove. 

Discovery Cove is an “all inclusive” day resort owned by Sea World.  It is a reservation-only experience.  They limit the number of people allowed in each day so that crowd-traumatized tourists can experience all the park has to offer without waiting in lines or fighting the masses for towels. To be honest, I think that limited capacity thing can be a pretty big draw for someone who has spent an entire vacation wedged between bodies and strollers waiting in line for the bathroom at Disney or Universal.   

For one not-so-low (actually, a pretty darn high) price, a guest gets access to a lazy river, animal encounters, a simulated ocean snorkeling pool complete with artificial coral reef and assorted very real aquatic creatures, a wading stream that meanders past otters and marmosets,  the most beautiful walk-through and float-through aviaries you have ever seen, and several beaches for relaxing.  The price of admission also includes towels, lounge chairs, lockers, showers, dolphin-friendly sunscreen, all meals, snacks, soft drinks, beer, and wine.  For a slightly higher admission fee, you can also swim with the dolphins- hence the need for dolphin-friendly sunscreen. 

When I lived in Southern California, the Sea World park in San Diego had dolphin encounter opportunities for visitors.  The encounters were limited to just a few people a day and were hugely expensive. Also, the facilities at Sea World are geared for animals being in the water and people being on dry land watching the animals. Their dolphin encounter seemed kind of awkward.  It was sort of like the people swimming with the dolphins were on display as part of the exhibit.  While 8 or 10 people donned wetsuits and waded into a small pool with a dolphin, other fully dressed park visitors stood by the side of the pool to watch.  It just seemed a bit weird to me.  Still, I was one of those passersby watching.  In a way, despite the awkwardness and the logistical issues (like what did you do once the 20-minute dolphin experience was over and you were standing around in a sopping wet bathing suit for the rest of the day?), I was envious.  

When I heard about Discovery Cove, I thought I might take the plunge.  Literally.  Still, I wrestled with the decision for a long time. It just seemed so frivolous and decadent.   It is an expensive proposition.  Finally, I decided to stop telling myself no.  I made my reservation, including my dolphin swim. I spent the entire day indulging myself in Discovery.  And loved every minute of it.   

I arrived early. The staff scheduled me for the first dolphin encounter group of the day.  I went to the breakfast buffet and wandered around the park a little bit until my marine mammal rendezvous.   Then it was dolphin time! We spent some time touching and playing with our dolphin, Kaolani.  Then, it was time for the swim. As I waited for my turn, I became more and more excited.  I watched the other participants in delight, as Kaolani whooshed her way back to us, towing a grinning visitor in her wake.  When it was my chance, I swam out to the trainer in the deeper section of the pool.  I treaded water while watching Kaolani gracefully return from shore to take me on my ride.  I grabbed her dorsal fin and left flipper and let her pull me through the water.  I was dolphin surfing!   It was fabulous.  I felt like I was in a movie. I felt very accomplished and brave and free and sort of primal.  There was something about the buoyancy and weightlessness of the experience that somehow lightened my heart, freeing it from much of the care and worry it has been hording.   

After my dolphin dive, my first thought was that I could easily have done that all day long.  My next thought was dismay because the dolphin encounter, which I expected to be the highlight of the day, was over.  Now what? 

What, indeed.  Actually, a lot of what.  I went to the reef experience next.  Donning snorkel and mask (also included in the price of admission), I went exploring.  I snorkeled with huge schools of silvery fish.  I saw Doryfish the size of dinner plates.  I reached out and touched stealthful rays.  The massiveness of some of the rays amazed me. They were the size of shipwrecked chests of drawers on the bottom of the fake ocean.  I swam up to the glass barrier separating the reef swimming area from the shark enclosure and watched the sharks feed beneath the surface of the water. As fish swelled around me, I couldn’t stop giggling underwater from sheer giddiness.   

Next, I ambled over to the freshwater portion of the park.  I waded down the oasis stream.  I saw otters at play in the same river where I was playing, separated only by a glass partition.  Next, I realized I was wading through a moat surrounding an island of monkeys… marmosets, to be exact.  It was as if I had happened on a cloister of tiny nuns in their black and white habits as they scurried off to sing the Hours.  Next, I picked up an industrial strength pool noodle and floated down the lazy river. As I drifted under waterfalls, I reveled in how much fun it was to feel the water crashing over me.  I floated past exotic, beautiful, and curious birds in the aviaries.  It was so relaxing, I went around a second time.  I was glad I did.  On my second pass through, some trainers appeared randomly on the side of the river with a couple of “animal ambassadors.”  I interrupted my journey, got out of the river, and introduced myself to the anteater and kinkajou.  For those of you who don’t know and don’t want to bother googling, a kinkajou is a small mammal that has the face of a pug puppy, the body of a weasel, and the tail of a monkey.  She was very appealing for a creature made out of God’s spare parts! 

I spent some time at Serenity Bay, the mouth of the lazy river.  I lounged and sunned myself and observed people.  I went back to the reef and snorkeled some more.  I interspersed my trips into the depths with episodes on the shore in a lounge chair, reading and dreaming.  

The service at Discovery Bay was remarkable. The shower, locker, and dressing facilities were practical and easily available all around the park.  There were multiple stations to reapply sunscreen.   There were plenty of lounge chairs located wherever I happened to decide to lounge. The staff was more than helpful.  If you asked someone where something was, he or she not only told you, but walked you over to your destination.  Staff members appeared at random intervals at different places in the park to offer tips on how to get the best interaction with the animals, answer questions about the creatures you were viewing, and share their “animal ambassadors.”  The staff seemed less like theme park workers and more like delightful little surprises for your personal benefit.  Throughout the day, I helped myself to meals, snacks, and drinks from the convenient kiosks distributed throughout the park.   

When I finally decided to go peruse the merchandise in the souvenir shop, I was shocked to notice it was already after 4:00pm. It had been a wonderful day.  What had originally seemed like a shockingly exorbitant price of admission now seemed a terrific value.  It was truly a memorable “once in a lifetime” experience. 

And we all know what that means for me. 

Next week,  I’ll tell you what I learned from my day at Discovery Cove.  In the meantime, what do you think?  Do you have any “once in a lifetime” experiences that turned into regular events?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a swimmingly good day!

Terri 🙂