This past week my mother came to visit Florida for the first time since our move in order to bask in the glory of the Florida sun. And by bask, I often mean sweat profusely. While here, we planned a very full week. From visiting three Disney Parks to both Universal Theme parks, I had stuffed the week with as much fun as anyone can muster. To top it off, we planned a day at SeaWorld, an Orlando Park which I had yet to visit. While I know I usually chat up Disney Parks here on the blog, my experience at SeaWorld was so fantastic, so absolutely wonderful, that I felt I simply needed to share it. What made our day so special you ask? Read on to fine out!
Living in Orlando certainly has its perks as there is simply a huge amount of entertainment everywhere you look. The sad side effect of this, however, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to be impressed by, well, anything. Every new ride and attraction starts to feel like a small improvement over something else. That’s why, as we entered SeaWorld early in the morning, I didn’t have any high expectations. Sure, I knew it would be a good day, but I didn’t expect to be wowed. Real shock factor is hard to come by after a while.
Right off the bat, something I loved about this park was the idea of educators stationed at the different exhibits. SeaWorld acts as this sort of crossroads between theme park and zoo. Tall roller coasters tower of tanks full of fish and sea dwelling mammals. What’s great about these exhibits is that almost all of them had an educator nearby who would approach you to ask what questions you had about the animals.
This in itself is really cool. Consider that both Animal Kingdom and Epcot tout this idea of learning while in the park, yet how often do you actually leave those parks feeling as though you gained new knowledge. Here, however, I felt I was learning something new around every corner. Beyond the fact that these educators are present is the fact that they seem to really love their job. That’s important! Each educator seemed incredibly excited to talk to us about the exhibit they were assigned to. There was a real feeling of love and kinship to these animals and I often felt bad NOT asking a question, as you could tell that the educators were dying to discuss the animals. It’s a really cool feeling hearing about these critters from people whom you legitimately feel care for their animal friends.
Encounters and Behind the Scenes
We were fortunate enough to get to do both a dolphin encounter and a behind the scenes tour. I can’t stress enough how powerful both of these experiences were. For our dolphin encounter, we got to meet two dolphins and play with them for a bit. This included petting them, dancing with them and then giving them a high five. There’s an appreciation to be had to be so close to these mammals and getting to experience them up close was amazing in every form of the word. Rides and attractions may be fun, but this had the air of an experience I would never forget.
Our behind the scenes tour was even more amazing. Getting to see the backside of the park really gives the impression that this is so much more than a theme park. Animals are being cared for, studied and saved here. This is a place where the needs of the animals are put first and foremost and the amount we have learned from them is vast, but the amount we CAN learn from them is even greater. Our tour guide, Anne, was a plucky woman with a long pony tail who made every aspect of the trip fun and interesting. In particular, I loved that nothing was sugar coated. Knowledge is power at SeaWorld and we got an honest answer to every question we asked. “What happens when the animals die?” “We dissect them to learn everything we possibly can from them. Nothing goes to waste.” Along the way, we also got to pet a small shark, but the real treat was at the end.
After being introduced to a group of penguins and one of their caretakers, we got to pet Newman, an older lady who was keen to sleep while we massaged her back. She felt like wonderfully conditioned hair. It turns out that there’s no great way to tell a male penguin from a female except for a DNA test. Because of this, the penguins are named before a gender is known. Hence, Newman. Being that penguins are my favorite animal, this was pretty darn amazing.
All in all, both of these experiences proved to be more memorable than any ride or night time show and I was very glad we took time out of our day to partake in them.
Due to rain, we didn’t get to go on as many rides as I would have liked, but what we did go on were fantastic. Turtle Trek allows you to experience the life of a turtle, while Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin puts you in a GPS controlled cart as you learn about the amazing life of penguins.
The real thrill of the park, however, are the coasters which are fast and furious. We only got to go on Manta, which makes you feel as though you are flying, but it was ten times more exciting than anything we’d ever ridden at Universal or Disney.
Something I love about the rides is that they all have this same focus on animals that is found in the rest of the park. Sure, Manta is themed after stingrays, but I also love the small aquariums found throughout the queue line. Antarctica opens up its final scene to a plethora of real penguins, ready for you to oogle at. And man did I do some solid oogling. There’s this constant feeling that your stepping into these animals’ worlds and while you might be having a ton of fun, you’re also gaining a deep understanding for the animals as well.
We ate lunch at the Shark’s Grill and it was most definitely worth it. A sit down restaurant, Shark’s Grill places you right outside a huge shark tank, where you can watch the beautiful creatures swim by as you enjoy a fantastic meal.
The menu had plenty of great options from swordfish, to sushi to salads. And everything was absolutely delicious. Many of our dishes combined a great amount of savory and sweet and the tuna was cooked to perfection.
The exhibits are beautiful and rides are amazing, but where SeaWorld really blew us away were its shows. I was extremely impressed by the sheer amount and diversity of these shows. Currently, the show Pop is playing, where you get to see the beautiful artistry of bubbles, and while it may seem silly, we found ourselves gasping and saying “Wow” throughout the entire course of the show.
Of course, there are plenty of shows where you can watch amazing animals do tricks as well. We only got to see the whale show, but it was incredible. Once again, I was entertained, but also found myself gaining a deeper appreciation of the beauty of these animals. I also fully appreciated them splashing the crowd endlessly.
At night, SeaWorld impressed us even further. Starting around 9PM, a DJ run nightclub style event takes place for the whole family. Everyone was out on the dance floor creating memories. I loved that the music and mixing was actually really good, and spread out intermittently between the dancing were really awesome performers who added to the entertainment of the evening.
This all culminated with SeaWorld’s nighttime fireworks show, Ignite. Combining high spouts of water, fireballs and, of course, fireworks, this show was insane! You could feel the heat of the fire, and just when you thought it was as epic as it could get, it would amp up another notch! It certainly has almost every Disney fireworks show beat and puts Universal to shame!
There were so many things I loved about SeaWorld. Not since my first visit to Magic Kingdom at Disney World had I felt the desire to go back to the park the very next day. From adorable animals to amazing rides and shows, SeaWorld had so much to offer. And while Animal Kingdom and Epcot both boast this idea of learning while having fun, SeaWorld is the only park I’ve visited to date that truly masters the concept. Here are some more photos of the fun we had at the park.
As you can tell, I love to make Carl pose for ridiculous photos. All in all, SeaWorld was absolutely awesome and as far as parks go here in Orlando, it has raced to second place on my list, not quite passing Magic Kingdom for me, but tromping everything below it. While this was only our first visit, I certainly can’t wait for it to become the first of many in the very near future!
* Special Thanks to our friend Chris for setting up our trip and showing us around the park!