Visiting Sea World Orlando With the Kids
One of my friends of longest standing (we won't say old), Joyce, is heading here to Florida to visit ME in a couple of weeks.
Okay, so I lied. She's bringing the family and we're just going to gather both families up for an evening while they're enjoying a nice break from her husband's crazy work schedule. (I've mentioned before, but she's married to one of Ed's friends of longest standing-and they've known each other since they were THREE!)
Normally, a trip to central Florida means visiting Mickey and friends, but this time, they're just staying at Mickey's house. They'll be enjoying some of the other fun activities in Disney's back yard. One of them is Sea World.
Once I left the employ of Disney several years ago, my family got Busch Gardens/Sea World/Aquatica Gold Passports, we haven't looked back. The parks are nice and we've been known to venture forth for short day trips. Joyce, on the other hand, has not been to Sea World and was curious about how kid friendly the park might be. If you're wondering, too, you can benefit from what I promised Joyce: a review of the park from a parent's perspective. It made more sense to blog it than to email, anyway! The things we like the best and think shouldn't be missed will be noted with Suzanne Says SEE!
What I like about Sea World is that the park is well shaded, very clean and has very pleasant staff. I especially like how walker friendly it is, now that I use that to navigate theme parks-this means that it is stroller accessible, too. A day at Sea World will provide plenty of entertainment for all ages, interaction with water creatures, good food and a thrill or two for the older set.
When you first enter the park turnstiles, you will find park maps to your right before you come to Guest Relations. Grab one (or more for the kids, if they like to see what's ahead). A park with so many shows requires some planning to see all those you'd like. It would be bad to plan for a 2:00 Blue Horizons Show and then miss a chance to see Believe because you're all the way on the other side of the park! Once you have that map, enter the plaza and find a seat so the adults can look at the timetables for the shows and figure out what the family will see.
Then, look up and wave at the people looking down from Manta, the newest attraction in the park. (I haven't been on it yet, I'm wating for school to start for the crowds to die down). there's a walkway that goes under Manta and brings you to the left of the park. Hey, I'm a lefty, so I end up going to the left.
While the park isn't completely made up of 'areas', you will happen upon Key West, First up is Turtle Point, which has several hundred rescued sea turtles (and more than a few birds hanging around).
Then, if you make a left, you can visit Stingray Lagoon. This is my boy's must see destination every trip, because you can pet the very friendly stingrays. Don't worry, their stingers have been removed. You can buy trays of food to feed the Cownose and common stingrays (put the food in between two fingers sticking up, then put your hand on the bottom of their tank). It's not uncommon to get splashed, but it happens most often when you've got food, because 50 rays will converge on you. (We find it cool, actually) Suzanne Says SEE!
Funny thing here is that a few of the rays have earned names from my kids. Chef Jr is always asking if were gonna see "Big Dude", who dwarfs ever other ray in the area. Their tank is under cover and is a good place to be when the afternoon rain occurs.
If you continue on to your left, you'll find the always crowded Dolphin Cove. At selected times through the day, you can feed the dolphins, but we've never taken the opportunity. Instead, we pass the crowds that line the outdoor waters, hoping to pet these gentle creatures. Instead, there is a underwater viewing area at the other end of the cove that the dolphins will swim by at high speed. It's air conditioned, so it's a nice cool down spot on a hot day. Suzanne Says SEE! (from the underwater viewing area)
When you come out of Dolphin Cove, in front of you will be one of the entrances to the Whale and Dolphin Theatre for Blue Horizon, but for now, continue to your left to the Manatee Rescue. The name is a misnomer, because there is also an Alligator pond at the entrance.
The entrance to the Manatee viewing area is a path that grades downward to a well hidden building. As you enter the building, there is a small theatre to the right that tells about the gentle manatee, why they are endangered and what we can do to help protect the remaining population. Then, as you exit, floor to ceiling glass gives you a front row seat to watching the manatees swim and eat lots of lettuce.
Continuing on, make a left after leaving Manatee Rescue and you'll find a quiet pathway that leads to some thrill rides and another entrance to Blue Horizon. Blue Horizon has great music, fantastic entertainers who dive and do acrobatics and features dolphins, false killer whales and beautiful birds. It entertains little kids through my two and adults alike. Suzanne Says SEE!
Since we're talking about kid friendly attractions, I'm skipping information about Journey to Atlantis (but there's a small aquarium in the gift shop for all ages), Kraken and Manta, which are all found in this section of the park.
If the time works out for you to see Blue Horizon, the next place to go is easily Ed's favorite, the Penguin Encounter. In this nice, chilly building, penguins and puffins make their home. The kids love it! It has a lot of educational information mixed in with views of Rockhoppers, Gentus, Adelies and Macaroni Penguins and the very cute puffins. Suzanne Says SEE!
Behind Penguin Encounter is the Pacific Point Preserve, where many Sea Lions make their home. These guys are smart-if they see you with a food tray, they WILL make lots of noise at you. The only reason why we don't spend a lot of time here is that it is one of the few areas in the park where shade is at a minimum.
Leaving Pacific Point, on your left is the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium, the home of Clyde and Seamore take Pirate Island. The best part of the show happens about 20 minutes before show time. There are several pirate mimes who take turns doing the pre-show. They are much better than the actual show, which I think is purposely full of bad acting. At one point, I was trying to duck out before the show began, how I just watch to see how many times the cast crack themselves up with the blunders.
Those who know the park, I am skipping a section. I'll get back to it later.
Continuing on the pathway to your left, the attraction that terrified Chef so much, he didn't want to visit the first time, now we have to drag him out, Shark Encounter. You enter the darkened building and see many of the oceans predators, like eels, scorpion fish, jelly fish, barracudas and many sharks. There is also a tank that features the fish that looks like a salad and an area with frogs. Outside the attraction, there are tanks where you'll find more sea creatures swimming. Suzanne Says SEE!
The first few times we visited the park, we saw the presentation in the Nautilus theatre and the music reminded us of the Six Flags commercials-the show did not (it was MUCH better). Now, there is a new show, A'lure, the Call of the Ocean. We haven't seen it yet, but the Cirque de Soleil like show is getting good reviews.
What is Anheuser Busch (oops, InBev) known for? The Clydesdales. They reside in the Clydesdale Hamlet. The kids can meet and have their picture taken with one of the giant workhorses.
Leaving the Hamlet, you're lead into the Hospitality House. At one time, you got complimentary beer-now, you just want to detour out the entrance, then make a left to get on the path towards Shamu Stadium.
As a summer visitor, you have two options for seeing Sea World's Mascot, Believe or Shamu Rocks! Both shows are fantastic, but for younger kids, I'd lean towards Believe. My kids love both. You want to arrive at the stadium a half hour before showtime to ensure getting a seat.
If you have a wait before the next show, go across the way to Shamu's Happy Harbor and let the kids run off some steam. There are rope walls to climb, a pirate ship to board, water attractions to splash in, a carousel and a few other rides geared for the little kids. It is a great place for the adults to rest (maybe with a cold beverage) and let the kids have some fun. Suzanne Says SEE!
Next to the Happy Harbor, you'll want to visit Wild Arctic. There is a choice to wait and board the vehicle which takes you on a bumpy 'helicopter' ride to the chilly north or you can take the alternate entrance with a stroller. Honestly, with a little one, skip the ride. Once inside, you'll see Beluga Whales, Polar Bears and Walruses. The theming is pretty neat, too-and school age kids will want to spend a while checking it out. Suzanne Says SEE!
There are several ways to get back to the Waterside area, but we like to walk around Shamu Stadium and take the boardwalk path over the water. Once you cross over to the other side, go to the right and you can take a ride on the Sky Tower. It's like Hershey's Kissing Tower and takes you 400 feet above the park. There is a fee for this, but it's free for Gold and Platinum Passholders, which means I don't know how much they charge!
If there wasn't a fee, I'd tell you this is a must do, but the fee for a family might be pricey.
Also in the Waterside area is the Pets Ahoy show. Sea World's animal trainers visit local shelters and rescue all sorts of animals. Then they are trained to perform in the show. Adults will find this a groan fest, but the kids LOVE this one. See it for the kids, and they'll be happy.
As you head out of the show, bear to your right, as if you're leaving the park and you'll find the Dolphin Nursery. Here's where the dolphin calves and their mamas stay until the little ones are weaned. It fun to watch them frolic and swim around. You'll have to pick up the little ones to give them a good view, but it's a nice, area where the kids seem to just be quiet! Suzanne Says See!
If you're smart and get to the park at park opening, with the plan to stay all day, get the All Day Dining Deal. I cannot stress this one enough, because you get a lot of bang for your buck. Kids 3-9 are 13.95 each (to get kid's meals) and adults are 29.95. It can be purchased at the first restaurant you dine at and you'll get a wrist band.
Each time through a restaurant line and the designated quick service places, you can get up to one entree platter, one side item and one non alcoholic drink. We did this with the kids and got two meals and a snack break and it more than paid for itself.
Which brings me to the food. There are only three places in the park we haven't eaten yet-but give us time. My favorite places are Voyager's Smokehouse and the Spice Mill, but my favorite dish is the Hospitality Beef Stew at the Terrace Cafe. It is this beer braised beef stew served in a sourdough bread bowl. I love it.
I think the thing I like about this park is the amount of shows and opportunities to just stop and soak it all in. I hope you will, too.