(Orlando, FL, USA)
The Seas at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center is like diving in a fish bowl.
Now I know Orlando, Florida may not sound like a natural choice for a saltwater diving destination -- it's miles from the beach on either coast, after all -- but you might be surprised to learn that you can dive inside an "inland ocean": The Seas with Nemo & Friends (formerly known as "The Living Seas"), a pavilion within Epcot which is one of the four theme parks at the Walt Disney World Resort.
This forty-five minute dive, part of the DiveQuest program, is especially good for beginning divers and those returning to the depths after a long absence; the water temperature is a pleasant seventy-eight degrees, there's no current to worry about, the visibility goes on forever, and the facility's divers are friendly, knowledgeable, and very helpful.
You don't even have to bring your own gear -- the staff sets everything up for you, so, as soon as you get up to the top of the aquarium following your behind-the-scenes tour and a quick stop in the locker rooms to slip on a shortie wetsuit, you're ready to buckle on your BC and experience the aquarium from the other side of the acrylic.
Some enthusiasts of the sport may scoff at the idea of diving in an aquarium, but The Seas contains a whopping 5.7 million gallons of man-made saltwater, features beautiful (albeit artificial) coral structures and sixty-five different species of marine life -- including sharks, enormous sea turtles, and stingrays -- and, perhaps most entertaining of all, you'll have an admiring audience of tourists to perform for as they watch you from both the pavilion's Observation Deck and the Coral Reef Restaurant.
Diving in what was once the world's largest aquarium is something that not too many people can claim, and it's fun to become "part of the show" at Disney. Just think of how many photo albums you'll be in! At the end of the dive, once you've taken a hot shower and toweled off, you even have the option to purchase a DVD of your adventure filmed by an underwater videographer.
Topside, of course, there's the resort and its theme parks to explore, but admission to Epcot is not included with DiveQuest (you're brought into the park through a side entrance), so you'll need to buy tickets for yourself and your family ahead of time if you want to enjoy the parks.
If you find yourself landlocked in Orlando, definitely look into DiveQuest! Between the perfect conditions, the abundance of sea creatures with which to get up close and personal, and the unique opportunity to show off in front of Epcot's visitors, it's an experience you really can't get anywhere else.
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