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!