A few weeks ago, I had my retreat day with the dolphins. Some of you who have been following along with my adventures for a few years know of my experiences at Discovery Cove, a limited entry day resort in Orlando. The admission price includes zillions of amenities-  food, drink, dolphin-friendly sunscreen, nice showers with toiletries, snorkeling with sting rays, floating on a lazy river, random animal encounters, lounging on luxurious beaches, wading past otters and monkeys, and swimming with dolphins. They sell no more than 1400 tickets a day, so the park never feels crowded and you always feel like a special guest. After much debating with myself, I finally decided to go as a “once in a lifetime” experience several years ago. The thing is that I am absolutely terrible at “once in a lifetime” experiences. Typically, I enjoy them beyond even my unrealistically high expectations. Experiences that I deem “once in a lifetime” never disappoint me. I usually end up making “once in a lifetime” a “regular thing.” In the case of Discovery Cove, I quickly upgraded my “once in a lifetime” to “annually.” I shelled out the rather massive bankroll necessary to gain admittance for several years running.  Besides being ridiculously fun and relaxing, I found that my dolphin day each year actually helped me grow spiritually. I am not kidding when I use the term “retreat day with the dolphins.” I go alone and leave the outside world outside the parking lot. I spend a substantial portion of these retreat days soul-searching, praying, strategizing with myself, and planning what spiritual improvement actions I will implement.

Although I always wrestle with myself when booking my dolphin retreat because of the price tag, I have NEVER been disappointed in my day at Discovery Cove. I am rarely so contented, relaxed, and hopeful as I am while I am floating along the river, reaching out to touch a sting ray while I snorkel, and giggling when my own personal outboard dolphin engine propels me towards the shore. Each time I go, I leave absolutely convinced that it was worth every dime. Last year, however, the price of admission went up substantially. It stuck in my throat, and I could not gulp it down. I kept telling myself that it was not like I had never experienced the park. I had experienced everything multiple times- even in the midst of the pandemic. How could I justify paying so much for the experience?  For the first time in six years, I did not go. And I grieved. I really, really hated not going. Luckily, last November, the park had a Black Friday special which discounted the tickets to approximately the same (high) cost as I had paid in prior years. I jumped all over that deal. I booked my May dolphin retreat day in November.

As soon as I got to the park, the euphoric feeling I remember feeling every other time I’d been there flooded over my psyche. Everything was the same, but different. Every experience is actually a “once in a lifetime” experience because no two experiences are ever exactly the same. The fact that I’d been to Discovery Cove numerous times before did nothing to diminish my joy in my 2023 experience. Also, what if it was the same experience? What would make me want to deny myself the pleasure that I had every reason to expect the day would bring me? Yes, it is expensive, but all I have to do is clean out my closet to see that I frequently spend money frivolously on stuff that brings me way less satisfaction than a day with the dolphins does. I could create a rather mountainous pile of clothes that never really fit right or that don’t reflect my current taste or have no purpose in my wardrobe given that I am a retired woman living in Florida. What I spent on that pile of clothes would far exceed the price of a day with the dolphins.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  I do not think it is just me. I balk at spending money or taking time or exerting energy on things that have the power to energize and enrich me. I tell myself I “should” not spend the money or that I “should” stop wasting time or that I “should” invest my energy on more profitable pursuits. A friend of mine once told me that I needed to stop “shoulding” all over myself. All of us have to live within some level of parameter, of course. We all have limited resources. The truth is, though, that there are likely many more possibilities than we believe we have. We probably needlessly deny ourselves much more than is good for us. We make choices about how to spend those limited resources. Would I rather buy 14 items of clothing that will never quite make me feel beautiful or spend a day feeling beautifully peaceful at Discovery Cove? Would I rather clean the kitchen for the second time this week or would I rather dance to upbeat music videos for 20 minutes? Would I rather get a part-time job making a few hundred dollars a month or would I rather write a blog that makes no money but gives me no end of satisfaction?  I think these “would I rather” questions are much more productive than the “should” questions.  

Most of the time, when people talk about living in “denial,” it means that they are hiding from the crueler realities of life. For my purposes in this blog post, I think of people living in “denial” refers to people who are needlessly denying the pleasure they could get from life if they could just open their eyes to what the potential positive realities are.

I always learn something from a day at Discovery Cove. This trip was no different.

What is something that you are denying yourself that you could make happen?  What keeps you from pursuing it? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Have an abundant day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Sounds Of Discovery

Awhile back, I made my annual pilgrimage to Discovery Cove in Orlando.  Those of you who have been journeying along with me over the past several years know that I originally visited this dolphin adventuring, sting ray swimming, lazy river flowing day resort as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I enjoyed it so much and found it so reinvigorating, I began going every year as a kind of Terri Time retreat.  I go by myself.  I use the time alone to ponder, pray, and play.  Each time I go, I learn something different. 

This trip, my attention focused on the sounds.  I often closed my eyes and let my mind wander around the world of the audio.  I heard the music of the birds.  I heard the slap of water shoes traveling along pathways.  I heard flamingos gossiping and cackling.  I heard tin drums.  I heard people laughing.  I heard the ropes of hammocks creaking as they swayed.  I heard dolphins squeaking.  I heard the fins of sting rays skim through the surface of the water. 

I think some people are more “in tune” with the audial than others.  I have musical friends who I think have long found whole universes in melodies. They say people who are blind discern more information from their sense of hearing.  I have read monks and nuns who live in relative silence can appreciate sounds that most of us never hear. When there is no talking, it is probably easier to hear what God is whispering.   

Since I was alone during my Dolphin Day retreat, I was not talking to anyone much.  I listened and spoke with the dolphin trainer who was facilitating my dolphin interaction.  I talked with a few servers.  In general, though, my day was filled with my quiet.  I wanted to discover what there was to hear besides words.  It was very peaceful. 

I discovered you can hear wind rustling through plants.  It sounds like wrapping a present.  I discovered you can hear pebbles crunch under people’s feet.  It sounds like eating popcorn. I discovered you can hear wet sand squish between your toes.  It sounds like rubbing two pieces of corduroy together.  I discovered you can hear happiness.  It sounds like laughter.  I discovered you can hear God.  He sounds like sunshine feels.

I did not completely forsake words.  As I was floating gently along a lazy river with my eyes closed, I focused on the exclamations of the people around me.  I wanted to learn what they were discovering.  One little boy was clearly exalting in his day of discovery.  As he floated near, I heard him cry, “Mom, Mom…. I see a gecko!”

In the midst of swimming with sting rays, playing with dolphins, and parading with flamingoes, this little boy decided his big discovery for the day was a gecko. This probably was not the kind of discovery Mom had in mind when she plunked down several hundreds of dollars for a day at Discovery Cove.  If it were, I could make millions selling day passes to my backyard.  But good for him!  Discovering joy sounds different for each of us. 

Have a joyful day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

What sounds bring you joy and why?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at

Days Of The Dolphins

I finally got to take my retreat day at Discovery Cove.  It was wonderful. 

Some of you may recall my visits to Discovery Cove in earlier years.  If  you would like to refresh your memories, you can read my accounts at , , , and .

As you can see by the plethora of blog pieces I have written to memorialize my days of the dolphins, I cannot get enough of the experience.  Once I got over the silly “once in a lifetime experience” orientation, I looked forward to my Dolphin Day each year.  Each year, the experience far exceeded my unreasonably high expectations.  The most interesting thing is that, each year, the experience has been uniquely wonderful.  You would think that, by now, my annual trip to Discovery Cove would have fallen comfortably into a pleasure niche… a fun day, to be sure, but not exactly novel and surprising.   Truth be told, the activities in which I engage during each visit are pretty much the same. The reality, however, is that the way I experience each visit has been very different.  I seem to get what I need at the particular time each time I go.

The first time I went to Discovery Cove, the experience was very much about novelty and luxury.  My first trip occurred during the time I was accompanying my mother on her end of life journey.  Time blurred during that period in my life.  Days and nights ran together.  Everything in my life was pretty much about loving my mother and living for her. There was nothing novel about my life.  In fact, part of the burden was the aching, heavy, oppressive sameness of each day.  As anyone who has ever been inside a skilled nursing facility knows, there is no luxury involved.  While I did not reside in the skilled nursing facility, I lived there. My life was with my mother.  My life was institutional grey and every facet of it was functional, not luxurious.  The day at Discovery Code gave me sunlight and saltwater and service and specialness.  It delighted me and lit some joy in my depleted soul.

The second time I went to Discovery Cove, I was learning to embrace life.  I struggled with letting go of practicality.  It seemed frivolous to spend money on an encore of my “once in a lifetime” experience.  As soon as I settled happily into my day, though, I realized that there should be nothing “once in a lifetime” about enjoying each moment.  Having memories to savor and having dreams to pursue are important, wonderful facets of a full life.  Having those memories and those dreams does not diminish the magic of the now.  I spent a wonderful day, practicing my living in the now skills.  The fact that I had been to the cove before did not take the dew of my dolphin rose.  That time, I heard a child proclaim, “this is the best day ever.”  Suddenly, I understood that each day can be the best day ever, if we fully experience the present.  As illogical as it sounds, maybe we don’t get just one best day ever.  Maybe God blesses us with many best days ever, if we are open to His grace.

The third trip to Discovery Cove focused me on the beauty and sheer artistry of nature.  I focused much more outwardly than during my prior visits.  Instead of exploring my own mind… as fascinating as that was… I explored the sights, sounds, textures, scents, and tastes I experienced.  I purposely let my mind be still and soak in the experience.  I savored the fruit of my senses and remembered that God was the artist of the breathtaking canvas of the world.  On this experience, I realized that my day at the cove was actually a spiritual retreat for me. 

This last visit was different because Discovery Cove made significant adjustments due to COVID-19 protocols.  I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as prior visits.  In fact, I probably would not have gone except that I had a quarantine-postponed paid reservation that was speeding headlong towards an expiration date. 

To my surprise, I enjoyed my COVID-curtailed day at Discovery Cove very much.  I was interested to see how the employees adjusted to retain as much magic as they could while offering only encounters that could be handled with physical distancing.  Typically, one of the highlights of the day is “swimming with a dolphin.”  That entailed swimming out to deep water and holding on to a dolphin’s flipper while she towed you back to the shore.  I knew that there was not going to be any dolphin surfing on my recent trip.  However, what I did not know is that the keepers would offer alternative experiences.  I got to train a dolphin, dance with her, and giggle as she sang with me.  It wasn’t quite as exciting as riding a dolphin wakeboard, but it was so much fun.  Because I had been shut away from the world for so long, it was a very sweet treat to be outside in the sun and water for a day.  I truly appreciated the sensual jubilee that my day with the dolphins provided.  Because Discovery Cove is always a limited admission park, it never feels crowded.  On this last trip, the sense of being almost alone on a tropical island was even more pronounced.  There were few visitors and we were all staying well clear of us each other. 

Yes, this past trip represented a different kind of experience.  Of all my trips, there were the fewest experiences available.  However, in some ways, this last, “limited” trip was the best of all worlds.  As I reveled in the luxury and novelty in my first trip, my last trip represented the luxury of liberation from quarantine… freedom from the world within my four walls.  As I reveled in the opportunity to embrace life and live in the moment without worrying about the past or future during my second trip, my last trip reminded me that an experience that is different from what I expect is not necessarily a “less than” experience.  As I reveled in the infusion of senses emanating from God’s natural world and spent some quality time with my Maker on my third trip, my last trip gave me silence and solitude to continue those divine conversations. 

Discoveries are delightful!

Do you have an experience or activity that continues to surprise and enrich you, even after doing it multiple times?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a Discovery Day!

Terri/Dorry 😊


You may remember my “once in a lifetime” trip to Discovery Cove two years ago.  If not, you can read about it at and  You might also remember my second trip to Discovery Cove last year, when I returned to make sure it was as wonderful as I thought it was.  You can read about that trip at

I just made a third “once in a lifetime” visit.  It is time to stop kidding myself.  It is time to start calling it what it is…. My annual retreat to Dolphinland.

Some people go to monasteries or retreat houses for their yearly spiritual sojourns.  Not me.  I say there is nothing wrong with going to Discovery Cove to take spiritual inventory and commune with God.  I think God was definitely there. 

I spent a wonderful day frolicking with the dolphins, swimming with the rays, winding my way down a lazy river, wading past otters and marmosets, and examining the vibrant feathers of numerous bird species.  I also cuddled with a kinkajou, who stuck her arm in her mouth while I was petting her, much as a human baby might suck her thumb.  I faced my fear of rodents with long, scaly tails, when I interacted with a young three-legged possum named Ricky.  I also ate a lot of rice crispy treats and soft, hot pretzels.  I relaxed, rested, warmed my bones in the sun, listened to God, and prayed.  Maybe the most important thing I did was just observe.

The animals at Discovery Cove are real.  Of course, Discovery Coves busses them in from various places around the world.  Orlando is not even remotely close to a sea or a rain forest, so most of the animals I visited are not to be found in nature anywhere in the greater metropolitan area.  Ricky, the three-legged possum, was the exception.  He was a three-legged possum precisely because he was run over by a car in a local populated area.  My other new animal friends, however, were strangers in a strange land in Orlando.  That doesn’t make them any less real.  The plant life in Discovery Cove is also largely imported, but it is beautiful and lush and abundantly real. 

Spending the day at Discovery Cove forces me to forget the world I know intimately and enter the natural world the Busch Entertainment Company has built in the shadow of the Central Florida roller coasters.  The act of observing this manufactured natural world with all my senses frees my soul in a way that is as real as the surroundings.  Maybe this Discovery Cove natural world is assembled by human beings and maybe those same human beings are manipulating my soul to feel free in a way that isn’t quite organic.  I don’t really care.  Experiencing that world, losing myself in it, and imprinting it on my memory is very, very valuable.  And human beings may have assembled this magical self-contained world, but God created the components. 

So I refuel and retool- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually- during my dolphin retreat.  Something actually changes about the way I see the world.  I began to notice things that I never saw before because I was so incredibly present.  I was living in the moment and observing the moment and analyzing the moment instead of just getting through the moment and going on to the next one. 

For instance, after taking a last lap through the snorkeling reef, I settled myself on a quiet island in the middle of the reef.  I snuggled down into a rope hammock and closed my eyes.  I could smell the scent of jasmine.  I could taste the salt water on my lips.  I could hear breezes rustling the palm fronds, punctuating the impossible quiet of a theme park in Orlando. It was more than pleasant; it was healing.  I opened my eyes and noticed a cloud shaped just like the face of the kinkajou I snuggled earlier in the day.  I watched, fascinated, as the shape flattened and distorted and slipped away.  I also noticed colors.  If you had asked me to describe leaves before my retreat of observation and discovery, I would have told you that they are green.  When I looked around from my vantage point in the hammock, I saw many, many colors of leaves- greens and yellows and reds and fuchsias and pale pinks and oranges.  Also, did you ever realize that the sky is not sky blue?  In fact, the sky is not blue at all.  It is most definitely blueS.  I saw a swath of sky that melded sections the color of stone-washed denim and the color of Wedgewood and the color of lapis lazuli and the color of robins’ eggs. 

Maybe, in addition to enriching my body and soul, my dolphin retreat developed my senses, too.  Maybe my discoveries about color and perspective mean that I had a moment of artistic inspiration.  Maybe I was seeing the world through the eyes of an artist.  And God is a pretty amazing artist. 

How about you?  Where do you go for your spiritual retreats?  Where do you find God and do you think it is weird that I find him in a central Florida amusement park?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at

Have an artistic day discovering God and yourself!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Me dolphin surfing with Thelma!

kisses for Thelma

Dolphin delight!
petting a kinkajou

So many colors of leaves!

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  

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:

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:


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 

Have a great day!


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

Have a swimmingly good day!

Terri 🙂