It has been quite cold here in Florida ever since we arrived, so when the temperatures finally began to go up, we jumped in the car and headed to SeaWorld. It was a full day, and although it was a bit on the expensive side, we had a wonderful time.
The last time we were in Florida, Shamu got the shaft. We simply ran out of time and put him on the back burner for our next trip. Five years later our next trip finally arrived and I was ready for all SeaWorld and Shamu had to offer, which ended up being a lot.
I went into SeaWorld with the same pre-conceived notions I went into Disney World with the first time. I figured it was overhyped and overpriced and only small children could really get their socks blown off in amazement. Small children are beside themselves for sure, but there are elements to it that can amaze anyone, regardless of age. The 12 000 pound killer whale comes to mind.
There’s not nearly enough time to explain everything in detail, so a bulleted list of highlights and lowlights seems in order:
• Believe – the killer whale show. We ended up going to this twice because it was so impressive. The first time we went the whales weren’t cooperating as well so we didn’t get to see as many tricks, but the second time was amazing. Sure, there were corny parts that made us cringe, but nothing is cooler than a 12 000 pound killer whale jumping onto a platform 10 feet from you. Make sure you arrive around 20 minutes prior to the show to ensure front seats. Be warned – soak zone means soak zone. If you have one (and we won’t judge you if you do), take a poncho. If you don’t have one, they sell them on site for $8 each.
• Shark’s Underwater Grill – one of my biggest pet peeves is when unique dining experiences serve less than stellar food. Thankfully, this was not the case with Shark’s Underwater Grill. Though pricey by our standards ($30 a plate) you could go cheaper by not going hungry and just ordering an appetizer or dessert. Though the menu selection is limited and full of seafood options, I ordered a melt in your mouth filet mignon with vegetables and weird fried things on the side I couldn’t identify. Make sure you reserve your spot as soon as you arrive at the park to ensure a spot. I would also recommend not going to see the shark underwater viewing tunnel beforehand, as this could prove to be anticlimactic.
• Blue Horizons – the dolphin show. I wasn’t sure if this show would be as good as Shamu, but it was, only for different reasons. This show seemed to go at a faster pace compared to Shamu. The dolphins seemed like they were strung out on sugar and were jumping left, right and centre. This show also had more of a theatrical component with people dressed in flashy costumes swinging from trapezes and diving into the water. At a couple points in the show even swarms of parrots flew overhead.
• Manatee reserve – Maybe it’s because we saw these guys last, but I found the manatees rather boring. They were nothing more than super inflated looking masses of pudgy blubber. If you didn’t know any better you’d think they were dead or not notice them at all for the lack of life they possess.
• Paddle boats – we spotted the pink flamingo-shaped paddle boats from Shamu stadium and thought it might be a fun thing to do, until we found out you have to pay $6 each for half an hour. Is $6 really that much money for a little fun? No. I rejected the paddle boats on principle. There’s no way paddle boats should be an extra charge after you have already spent $78 each to get into the park. End rant.
• Penguins – though penguins are one of my favorite animals, I felt bad for these ones. It was neat to see them up close, but there seemed to be a lot of them in a small space. I’m sure they’re fine, minus the headless one (see Flickr pictures).
I had a blast at SeaWorld. It was a comfortably full day. I walked away feeling like I had seen and experienced everything I wanted to, though there were some things I didn’t do like the insane roller coasters. If you had to decide between Disney and SeaWorld, in my opinion the better choice would be Disney, but SeaWorld is a close second.
Before this week, I hadn’t been to SeaWorld since I was young. I kept telling Susan she was going to love it, but I was actually a little concerned that I was remembering it through the eyes of a child and it would end up being boring now that I’m older. Thankfully my fears were unfounded as we both had a great time.
We didn’t get there as soon as the gates opened, but we were still there quite early. For about the first hour, it seemed like we were the only ones there. It was great! Even when the crowds descended upon SeaWorld, it wasn’t that bad. The park closes at 6pm in January, and since we were having dinner inside the park, we were there until closing. Around 5pm the crowds vanished again. So we got a good two hours of SeaWorld all to ourselves.
The times I’ve been to Disney in the past, I ended up feeling like my legs and feet were on fire and were screaming for mercy by the end of each day. SeaWorld is just the right amount of walking for me. My feet were good and tired by the end of the day, but I wasn’t in agony or anything.
Here are my top 3 things we did as SeaWorld in no particular order:
1. Believe – This show was amazing. We saw it twice and I’m really glad we went back the second time. I was amazed at both the sheer size and power of the killer whales, as well as the seemingly obvious relationship the trainers/performers have with the whales. The people in the show look like they genuinely love interacting with these animals every day.
2. Stingrays – There was a shallow pool near the entrance of the park where they had a good amount of small stingrays. They would swim in circles around the pool, and people were allowed to buy food and feed them. I was shocked at how responsive they were to people feeding them. I always assumed stingrays were sort of lifeless, just floating along in the water, never really reacting to anything. These stingrays went absolutely nuts for food. They would slap their fins against the side of the pool, and some of them would nearly jump out of the water. Though we didn’t buy any food to feed them with, I was able to put my hand in the water and touch them. They feel exactly how you would expect stingrays to feel. Take a fish, flatten it out and make it more rigid, and you know what a stingray feels like.
3. Underwater Viewing of Shamu – Without a doubt my favorite experience at SeaWorld was being able to watch the killer whale they call Shamu through the huge glass walls on the side of his massive swimming area. When we first walked up, Susan was standing in front of the glass, staring into the wall of blue, slightly cloudy water, trying to see Shamu. All of a sudden he came swimming by from left to right, nearly giving Susan a heart attack. This was one of those experiences where no camera could capture the immense scale of this animal. It was incredible to be able to see him swim within inches of us, and he did circles around his tank (tank seems like an inadequate word since it was so huge) several times so we got lots of opportunities to take pictures and look closely at him. I loved being able to barely make him out as he swam to the far end of the tank, then he would slowly get darker and more detailed as he swam directly toward us. We also got to watch from below as he interacted with a trainer. He would get about ¾ of the way out of the water so that we could only see his tail, and then all 12,000 pounds of him would come crashing back down into the water. I could have stayed there for hours watching him swim around.
SeaWorld wasn’t cheap at $78 a person, although you can save $10 per ticket by ordering online. That said, I walked away at the end of the day feeling I got my money’s worth. Every experience we had was fun, from the shows, to the underwater viewings, right down to the food at the restaurant.
Here is one final tip for anyone going to a large theme park. When you get out of your car, look around for land marks, or signs that will help you find your car at the end of a long day. This is especially helpful when you have a rental car that you picked up that day, and can’t quite remember what it looks like. Trust us, this is important.
As usual, make sure you click on one of the pictures in this post so that you can see the rest of them in our Flickr set.