Discovery Cove introduced its new Grand Reef to the public on Friday. The new area allows guests to the SeaWorld Orlando resort to snorkel among thousands of fish from around the world and have a close (if glass enclosed) encounter with sharks.
Stewart Clark, vice president of Discovery Cove, said research and planning for Grand Reef had included gathering the opinions of former (and potential) Discovery Cove guests as well as staff members.
One result was making the area multi-level, so that even non-swimming folks and people who stay in shallow water could see the sharks, he said.
“We wanted places that people could go in the shallow water, places people could go in the deep water, and places that people could experience both together,” Clark said.
Near the sharks, the glass pane is angled, not flat. “It is actually slanted so far that the sharks are swimming underneath it, and you don’t notice the glass as you’re swimming up to it,” Clark said.
Fish were introduced slowly to Grand Reef over the past few months, and they now number about 6,000 there.
“We’ll eventually get to 10,000 fish in the next month or so,” Clark says.
Discovery Cove Director of Zoological Operations Reid Miller said "Our Grand Reef is a unique opportunity for our guests to explore and interact with thousands of tropical animals,"
The reef is filled with almost 1 million gallons of 77-degree saltwater and thousands of tropical fish and dozens of rays that create a whirlpool of color inside the reef's grottos and crevices.
The reef also contains sharks and eels, but they're safely behind glass in a separate area. Swimmers can gaze through windows to view them. There are zebra, nurse, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks.
Some lucky parkgoers also got the chance to participate in the soft opening of SeaVenture, an underwater walking tour where guests can wear dive helmets to set foot on the reef floor. Those who take the adventure come face to face with sharks through a giant window and they can also touch starfish and sea urchins.
Although the helmet weighs 70 pound, Clark says, the water makes everything bouyant.
“When you take a step, it’s like you’re walking on the moon,” he says.
SeaVenture should become available to the public in “the next couple of weeks,” Clark says
Admission to Discovery Cove with the Dolphin Swim Experience costs $199. The price drops to $129 without the Dolphin Swim Experience and for guests between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. The SeaVenture costs an additional $59.
While the prices are higher than other local theme parks, there is no charge for food, drink or lockers inside Discovery Cove. The only restaurant inside the park, Laguna Grill, offers breakfast and lunch.
If you are planning to visit Discovery Cove you will be provided with towels at the park. Guests are also required to wear a swim vest or wet suit, which is provided. The restrooms also include showers and are stocked with shampoo, body wash and even hair dryers.