Here are some pointers I picked up along the way. Be sure to let me know if you’d like to add anything to this list!
Sunblock, hats, and water are a must. It’s hot, so make sure you protect your skin from the Florida sun by applying (and re-applying) sunblock. Keep drinking fluids all day to stay hydrated too.
There are no bags allowed on any of the big thrill rides. This means you need to find a locker for your things while you ride, or leave them with a non-rider. The latter is easier if you’re traveling with small kids, because the little ones can’t ride anyways, so whoever stays with the kids gets to keep the bags too! However, if you’re not traveling with non-thrill-riders, I think that it would be annoying to have to get a locker to stow your things each time.
The Quick Queue pass is great. This is a bracelet that lets you by-pass the long lines, very similar to a Disney FastPass. However, they can cost between $15 and $30, and they are only valid on a handful of rides. We also found it tricky to find where the Quick Queue lines are for the rides. Quick tip: stay at a neighboring Marriott or Hilton property, and you can pick up a Quick Queue pass for free at your hotel lobby! (Though passes are limited, we didn’t have any trouble.)
The big thrill rides really are “thrilling”! Even though my daughter (“The Tween”) was tall enough to ride Manta and Kraken, it would have been much too overwhelming for her. So it’s really important know your kids, and their comfort levels on rides. Just because they’re tall enough to ride doesn’t mean that it’s a “good” ride for them.
The ride area for smaller children is a bit separated from the rest of the park. At Disney, the little ones can ride all but a handful of rides. At SeaWorld, they couldn’t do any rides except in Shamu’s Happy Harbor. And since we saved that half of the park for later in the day, the little ones fell asleep in the stroller by the time we got there, so it was lost on them.
Strollers are not allowed in most of the aquarium areas. This is tricky if you have a little one napping in the stroller. Even though many of the aquarium and animal viewing areas are stroller-accessible, you have to park outside and carry your little one. I suppose I can understand this – if the aquarium areas are packed, the last thing you want is strollers blocking more space. But still, it’s not particularly convenient.
When they say, “Arrive at least 45 minutes prior to a show to get a seat”, they’re not kidding. We showed up to One Ocean about 15-20 minutes prior to the 2:30pm show, and we were in the nosebleed section!
Take advantage of the “2nd Visit Free” option. This allows you to return to SeaWorld at no additional charge for an extra day within a week of your first visit. Florida Residents also sometimes have a “Pay for a Day, Play for the rest of the year” option. This allows you to return to do your favorite things or things you missed the first day. Or better yet, you can return to take part in special activities, such as the Marine Mammal Keeper Experience or Beluga Interaction Program (additional fee). Please note that ticket promotions vary, and Sunshine Travel can help you choose the ticket that’s best for you.
I’ve lived in Florida nearly my entire life, and I’ve spent more days than I can count at all of Disney’s wonderful theme parks, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’d never visited SeaWorld before! In order to do some “very important travel research to better serve my clients”, I spent last weekend in a part of Orlando that’s totally new to me…
This ended up being a real family affair, with 3 generations all watching Shamu and others for the first time!
The day was off to an interesting start as The First Grader lost his first tooth ever (and then proceeded to actually lose it at breakfast, but it was finally found on the floor after a few minutes of searching on hands and knees). My daughter, The Tween, complained of a stomachache in the morning, which we just chalked up to nerves when she looked at the sky-high roller coasters…but then it turned out she really had a little stomach bug. But we managed to make the best of the trip, and it was helpful and fun to have The Grandmas along, keeping us at a 1:1 adult-to-kid ratio.
The way I see it, SeaWorld has a nice mix of three main types of attractions: rides, shows, and animal viewings/interactions. Given the heat, my daughter’s illness, naptimes, and the heat (!), we weren’t able to conquer everything we set out to do, but we had a nice day, and some attractions left over to do during another visit.
So let’s talk about my personal favorite: the rides! I love roller coasters and thrill rides. Let me tell you: the SeaWorld roller coasters are a little CRAZY! Even though my daughter (“The Tween”) was just tall enough to ride at 54”, she would have been scared out of her wits. The coasters are fast, tall, and go upside down multiple times. And on Manta, the ride tilts you forward so you are positioned on your stomach for the entire ride of climbs, drops, twists, and turns!
Journey to Atlantis is a water-flume ride that reminded me a bit of Disney’s Splash Mountain with a different theme. There were a few more drops and splashes than Splash Mountain, and it turned out to be The Tween’s most favorite ride in the park. The First Grader went on it twice, but later admitted he didn’t really like it because he got too wet. When I asked him why he wanted to go a second time if he didn’t like it, he replied that he thought Dad would opt for the mysterious $3 Family Dryer machine after the ride! (Which he didn’t!)
Wild Arctic is a simulator ride where it feels like you ride a helicopter into the Arctic on a mission of sorts. All of the adults who went on this felt they got shaken up too much for it to be fun. But the First Grader enjoyed it, and he likened the feel of the simulator to Disney’s Star Tours.
Shamu’s Happy Harbor is the ride area designed for the younger set, but it seemed to be really set apart from the rest of the park. If we only had younger ones, we probably would have spent more of our day there, with water features, playgrounds, and rides. But since we had a mix of kids and adults, we saved that area until we had seen most of the other attractions in the park. By the time we rolled up to Shamu’s Happy Harbor, the little ones had fallen asleep in the stroller.
The shows were entertaining for everyone in our group, even though we were not sitting in the “wet zones”. We were only able to take in 2 shows: One Ocean and Believe. One Ocean highlights whales (Shamu!), and Believe was more of an aerial-acrobatic show mixed with dolphin tricks. The First Grader thought One Ocean was “incredible” and liked how the whales shot up into the air, and how they were able to slide across the stage. The Tween preferred Believe with all of the acrobatics, trapeze artists, and divers. The Parents and The Grandmas enjoyed both, with maybe a bit of an edge going to Believe.
While we didn’t sign up for any official animal feedings or interactions, there were a few places where we could touch some of the animals. The first stop was the Stingrays. According to The Tween, “if you don’t like touching slimy stuff, do NOT touch the stingrays”. The First Grader flat-out refused to even get near the tank! I’ll admit, they were slimier-feeling than I expected, but I was glad to have checked it out.
Next stop was the Dolphins. There were no feedings available at the time we reached their pool, but we were able to walk up and see them coming out of the water. We reached our hands out, but our arms weren’t quite long enough to touch them. It was neat to be so close though. We held The Toddler up to see, and he was ready to jump in the water with the Dolphins, which made the nearby staff member a little nervous.
We also saw the Manatees (no strollers allowed) and the Penguin Encounter (a bit smelly, and also no strollers allowed), which everyone enjoyed. The Parents and The Grandmas thought it was neat how the penguins were swimming underwater, and then literally flew up out of the water to land on the rocks again. The First Grader was more interested in making comparisons to Club Penguin, but at least now he knows that Captain Rockhopper is named for a Rockhopper Penguin.
There were also various aquarium areas (again, no strollers allowed), where you could see rays, fish, seahorses, and more. These were nice ways to get out of the hot sun and see some pretty neat creatures. The only drawback was that you couldn’t always walk through with a stroller.
I know there’s always a debate on keeping animals in captivity and putting on shows around them. Part of me did feel bad that the whales and dolphins were made to do all these “tricks” to the laughter and applause in the audience. But another part of me felt that it can be beneficial for people to see that these animals are smart and worth protecting, and SeaWorld does provide an educational experience in that regard.
Next stop in our fun-filled weekend: a surprise for the kids - a visit to Aquatica!
Many people ignore the importance of travel insurance. After all, once you’ve paid all the money for your vacation, who wants to spend MORE on something you may not ever use?
Well, the answer is simple: you’ve paid a lot of money for your vacation, and in most cases, it’s non-refundable. It only makes sense to protect your investment, and compared to what you pay for your vacation, the cost of insurance is minimal…and oftentimes, priceless!
Let’s take a look at 4 main ways that Travel Insurance can protect you:
1. Trip Cancellation. Suppose you paid thousands for your dream cruise, and then one week before the trip, you become too ill to travel, or your doctor orders important surgery? What if your destination has just faced a terrorist act or a natural disaster, and the trip is no longer feasible? What if your tour company goes out of business? What if a close family member dies just before you’re scheduled to leave, and you need to attend to family matters instead of take a vacation? As long as you cancel for a covered reason (be sure to read your policy carefully – you probably just can’t cancel because of a bad hair day!), the insurance will reimburse you for all non-refundable expenses.
2. Trip Delay. This coverage applies when your trip is delayed by strikes, natural disasters, or even stolen passports. What if you get into a car accident on the way to the airport? What if your airline goes on strike and stops flying temporarily? Suppose a major snowstorm causes your airport to close, and your flight is postponed to the next day. Did you know that your insurance could reimburse you for reasonable overnight accommodations and other traveling expenses until you are able to resume your trip?
3. Medical and Dental Expenses. If you become sick or injured while traveling, your normal health insurance will generally not cover you if you are traveling outside the United States. Some people are also surprised to learn that once you set foot on a cruise ship you are on foreign soil, as most cruise ships are generally registered to other countries. Travel insurance is added peace of mind while you are away, and you can be confident knowing that you’re covered if you get sick or hurt. And most importantly, if something major happens and you need emergency evacuation to a suitable medical facility, the insurance will cover that hefty bill as well.
4. Baggage and Personal Effects. Generally, if your baggage is lost, damaged, or stolen while traveling, insurance will cover you up to a certain amount (again, be sure to check your policy). If your bags are lost or delayed for a certain amount of time, your insurance provider may also reimburse you for the purchase of essential items until your bags catch up with you.
Also be sure to check your policy’s coverage of Pre-Existing conditions. Some policies will not cover any cancellations or delays due to a condition you already have (for example: if you have a heart condition, and then have a heart attack before your trip, you may not be covered). Some policies will cover any pre-existing conditions as long as you purchase the policy within a certain range of your deposit date. The policy I prefer allows you to purchase insurance at the time of final payment, and all pre-existing conditions will be covered.
Insurance policies differ, so be sure to request a copy of the policy you’re considering, and review it carefully. Obviously, there are a lot of “what ifs” to think about. But I can guarantee you that if you don’t have insurance and run into one of these issues while traveling (and they are all surprisingly common), you will be wishing that you had just spent a few extra dollars for the insurance!
So think twice before declining Travel Insurance on your next vacation; it could turn out to be money well spent. Feel free to contact Sunshine Travel with any questions about travel insurance, and we can work together to make sure that you choose a policy that best suits your travel needs.