Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Our Experience Visiting SeaWorld Orlando!

Disclosure: Our family received two free one day admission passes in exchange for our opinion about our experience.

 Brandon and I enjoyed the day together at SeaWorld. Before leaving for Florida, we thoroughly examined SeaWorld's website. We wanted to map out our day so that we could make sure to see everything that we really wanted to since it was just one day there. Obviously, it is almost impossible to see everything in just one day! I have to admit that I was disappointed to see that there was no rides at all that my almost three year old could ride, despite being 36" tall. Most theme parks have at least a couple of things for the very young to ride. It was because of this that my husband decided to take Daniella for her own Date with Daddy that day and I spent the day with just Brandon at SeaWorld. Granted, there a a lot of exhibits and SeaWorld offers a Parent Swap where Michael could have waited with Daniella while Brandon and I went on a ride and then he would have not had to wait in line before going on himself after we got off. But Daniella is at an age where she wants to do everything her brother does. Therefore, we made the best decision for our family. This is one of the trials of the age gap that we have.

We were forewarned that the NEW Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin exhibit would be packed and it was recommended that if we wanted to go on it, that we either go first thing or last thing. Knowing that we would not stay long past dinner time, we headed there first, as soon as the park opened. We were first in line!

It was dark inside so the picture I tried to take of the penguin on the screen did not turn out very well. 

We did the "Mild" version (there is also a "Wild" version). It was fun to see the lifecycle, dangers, daily life, etc. of a penguin. After, there was a HUGE exhibit of live penguins!!!! They were just as curious about us as we were about them. two penguins came right up to the glass to check us out.I was a little upset there because Daniella loves penguins and would have loved seeing them. They have over 200 penguins. There was educational information available to learn about the various penguin species. (Brandon is learning about zoology for science in our homeschool this year so it was great to incorporate some learning!) It was so cold in this ride that the staff wore parkas! And it smelled so life like - the smell of fish was in the air!

After going to Antarctica, we went to Journey of Atlantis. I would not recommend this ride for young children. It was dark and a little spooky with Medusa. The two log flume style drops were extreme! So much fun and we got drenched (which was AWESOME with how stinking hot it was in late July). After coming out of the ride we wandered through the attached gift shop and the Jewels of the Sea Aquarium. It was super cool to walk on the aquariums, have fish above us and all around us in every direction! I again tried to get some pictures but it was dark in there.

Parents of young children will be excited to find what I did when I used the restroom (I have NEVER seen this ANYWHERE before)

A changing station with an ATTACHED sink, soap dispenser and paper towels!

Next we went to Turtle Trek, passing the alligator exhibit on the way. This was super educational about the lifecycle of a turtle. Plus it stressed cleaning up behind yourself when at the beach. In fact, environmental friendliness was exhibited throughout the park to my extreme pleasure. They didn't even use straws and cup lids in their restaurants for fear of them endangering their animals. There was a huge aquarium in the waiting area in Turtle Trek with a very knowledgeable staff member who very willingly answered any questions anyone asked.

This barracuda is seriously almost as big as Brandon!

See the two huge sea turtles?!

After leaving Turtle Trek, the first restaurants opened. (I do wish that more restaurants that participate in their Dining Deal opened earlier!) We noticed before leaving from home that SeaWorld has strict policies on bringing outside food into their park. We did feel this was a bit much. We have always brought picnic lunches with us to every other park we have visited before with no issues ever. The only thing that I could think of was that it was for the animals' safety. Because of this, we felt pressured to buy SeaWorld's All-Day Dining Deal. It is very inclusive. Compared to buying individual items separately, it certainly ended up being a better deal. However, we paid $50+ for two people to eat. Granted, it was all you can eat and we certainly used it well. (Their cheeseburgers at the Spice Mill aren't very good in my opinion, but everything else tasted great. I loved how much fresh fruit they had available - including with the kids' meals!)

After eating, we went to our first show at the Shamu Stadium called One Ocean. The maps stressed to get to shows at least 45 minutes early as seats filled quickly. We got there about 50 minutes early and had plenty of seats to choose from. While waiting, there was a short video about the special medical doctors and equipment that they have on hand to care for the animals. We chose to sit about halfway down in the "Soak Zone"  - where they make it very clear that you will get soaked. Like I said, it was a super hot day so we were excited at the chance to get soaked! The show was AMAZING!

We absolutely love the show. You could see how much the animals loved and trusted their trainers. It was a HUGE pool with even more space behind the stage for the whales to swim.

However, we were very sadly discouraged that we did not get so much as a drop of water splashed on us! :(
It amazed us that we were but maybe a dozen rows up and we didn't get ANY water on us! The families in the first handful of rows walked away drenched from head to foot but we didn't get a drop!

After we watched Shamu, we headed over to Shark Encounter. WOW! So cool to walk "amongst" the sharks. You stand on a moving conveyor belt and go through a huge shark aquarium. There are signs showing what animals are in the aquarium. Several sharks were seen. It was cool to see the underside of them and how their mouth looked from underneath!

Next stop, we went to the Seaport Theater (a nice, air conditioned place to get out of the sun!) to watch Pets Ahoy! Again, we arrived 45 minutes early like the map encouraged. We got great seats for an excellent show. All of the animals featured in this show are rescue animals from local shelters, including a pot bellied pig! I could not believe how well trained they were. Their handlers took very good care of them and you could tell that the animals really enjoyed being with them. They even spoke at one point about the importance of selecting pets from animal shelters. Good for you, SeaWorld! 

At this point, we were hungry again so we grabbed some dinner with our Dining Deal wristbands at Seaport Pizza. Delicious! Again, plenty of fresh fruit.

Again dinner, we headed over to Wild Arctic. This was one of our favorite parts of the day! We went on a simulated helicopter ride (There was a Mild and Wild version here too). After the helicopter "landed", we were in the wild! All around us was some seriously cold ice glaciers! We got to see beluga whales (so beautiful!) and hear their "calls" as well as meet one of their polar bears (they have two). Unfortunately, he slept through our visit, so I doubt he remembers us as much as we remember him. A staff member was there and gave us lots of information about their polar bears. She also had a model that depicted the size of a polar bear's paw. She encouraged us to put our own hands up against it to see the difference in size. My hand, being larger than Brandon's, still only fit amongst TWO claws! It was humongous! But it was also a great lesson for Brandon for his zoology  learning. We also saw a walrus! 

At this point, our day was winding down so we crossed the bridge behind Shamu's Stadium to head towards the front of the park. What a mistake in the heat of the day! It is very wide open and it was SO hot. I bet in the fall, it would have a beautiful breeze. But boy, did we wish we had hats on that day! The sun was just brutal. 

At the other side of the bridge,we took a wrong turn and found a hidden water spray area which was just what we needed to cool off. Then we went on the Sky Tower. What a great way to end the day - up in the sky and pointing out everything we had done that day. It, too, was nicely air conditioned.

On our way out of the park, we stopped to see some of the smaller exhibits. We saw the Pelican Preserve and the Dolphin Nursery. It was a nice way to end our wonderful day!

Overall, we had an incredible day that laid a fabulous foundation for Brandon's zoology unit. We have already referenced back to several things learned that day. One hint to you now that we experienced it - their gift shops are incredible. But we bought things early in the day and then had to carry them with us for the rest of the a brown paper bag! SeaWorld - you have soak zones - please use waterproof bags for your gift shop items! :) Or put them in your diaper bag or backpack. We didn't bring any bags in with us.

We cannot WAIT to go back. Especially once Daniella is a little older. Their kid area, Shamu's Happy Harbor, looked like so much fun! 

SeaWorld has an app, too. I downloaded it to my Android, but all it did was continually Force Stop. I uninstalled  and reinstalled several times before leaving for Florida. I tried everything but nothing worked. Finally I gave up. From what I could tell of on the main page after clicking on Orlando, it gave the same general information that you would find on the map anyway (show time, restroom locations, etc.)

Where can you find SeaWorld Orlando online?

Upcoming events at SeaWorld Orlando – Jack Hanna, Spooktacular, Christmas