Pros:Central location, educational, all-inclusive ticket, good family fun.
Cons:Food very expensive, tickets can be deemed pricey.
The Bottom Line: A great family day out with something for kids of all ages.
During our two week vacation to Florida (not a holiday you see, America dontcha know) one of the places I was most excited at the prospect of going too was Seaworld. The idea of meeting sharks, dolphins and killer whales up close and personal excites me so when we decided to go I was giddy with anticipation and it would turn out I was not too be disappointed.
Where is it?
A mere thirty minutes from Orlando, International Airport and only fifteen from our base camp of Disneyworld, Sea World is situated just off the ever long and infamous International Drive. Since most of those planning a visit to Seaworld will probably be going via taxi from a hotel either in Disneyworld or on International Drive itself it is reassuring that it is so close and as such cheap at $30 return even in a hackney style cab.
Stepping through the entrance of Seaworld is a complicated, disorganised business. Used to the organisation and efficiency of Disney we were unprepared fro the fighting in queues to get through the bag checks into the turnstiles. Entrance as a non-US citizen is no breeze either with us expected to provide photo ID and "sign in" on arrival. However, despite this long drawn out process once inside it is well worth the wait.
"Somewhere, beyond the sea"
We are immediately confronted by what seems to be obligatory photographers on entry. A polite but firm no is what is required here as we make our way to the information section and find ourselves a map. Good job too as it looks like we will definitely need one, the place is huge! Having a quick scan we are immediately drawn to the shows in particular what everybody comes to Seaworld for and its centrepiece "The Shamu Adventure". We have 45 minutes until the show starts but make our way leisurely round to the coliseum style structure via a large wooden bridge. This is a particularly long walk but is made more enjoyable by a music led water display which has all the beauty and rhythm of a fireworks display but with none of the noise. As such we all love it from the youngest at two to the oldest at thirty-two.
Inside the coliseum we head directly to the front into the "soak zone". There are three areas to the arena "soak, splash and dry". We are pre-warned throughout the warm up that soaked means soaked but as the typical British family we presume they are exaggerating. What is slightly worrying though is the amount of people with towels, cagoules and hats and the number of "I got soaked by Shamu" towels on sale.
Thirty minutes to go and the kids start to get restless. What I liked about this and indeed all the shows in Seaworld is that the audience was kept entertained even prior to the show. In this particular show there was a number of interactive questions about the killer whales who were about to perform and the addition of a cameraman who zoomed in on unsuspecting audience members picking their nose or spilling their food made this all the more entertaining.
Of course the show is all razzmatazz as Shamu and his whale buddies come out to a cloud of water and booming music. Their trainers then proceed to perform a number of tricks from being launched into the air by the whales to the whales themselves doing somersaults and even surfing along the ground. Watching these huge creatures moving so effortlessly would certainly become the highlight of my Seaworld experience. What I liked about all of this is that although it was undoubtedly entertainment in its purest form it was peppered with educational facts about the whales and their habitats many of which my children can still recall months down the line. Add to this trainer's who truly seemed to have a bond with the whales and I was thoroughly impressed.
However, remember me saying we didn't think we would get truly soaked. How wrong can you be? Trained to flip their massive tails into the water, soaking at least the first ten rows of the audience I was hit by wave after wave of water. The whales seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves and would we do it again? Definitely! It was hilarious although what I would say is that if you are going to make sure it is a sunny day otherwise it will take days to dry off!
We come out drenched but on an adrenaline high and decide we need something a little calmer. We head back over to the bridge and head into the rather quiet looking "Pets Ahoy". We had no idea what to expect from this and were pleasantly surprised as a number of different animals from cats and dogs to birds and ducks performed several tricks and choreographed "play" pieces to a beach front backdrop. My youngest child loved this and I have to admit so did I. Once again I was re-assured by the fact that all the animals on show were rescue centre animals and indeed there was a strong emphasis placed on encouraging people to take in animals and treat them well. Luckily for me we would not fit a dog, cat or duck in the suitcases otherwise my other half would have adopted the lot! After the show there was a nice informal petting session for the kids to get acquainted with the animals which added a personal touch as you got to meet the animals you had just seen perform.
Its midday now and of course we are all peckish so have a look around. Unfortunately, perhaps the only disappointing thing about Seaworld is the lack of variety in the food and it's largely extortionate prices. We resort to a stuffed pretzel and muffin each as the bargain basement alternative and continue full if feeling a little robbed. On with the show in the form of "Clyde & Seymoure take Pirate Island". Expecting to be unimpressed after the astounding Shamu show we were pleasantly surprised by the variation in this show. Indeed variety would seem to be Seaworld's motto. Clyde and Seymoure turns out to be a Laurel and Hardy style adventure with two sea lions taking centre stage and two trainers in pantomime mode as assistants. This event made me laugh more than once with parodies of Titanic and an otter that steals the show on more than one occasion. This show isn't about tricks and feats and instead is ideal family fun that everybody can enjoy.
We get a little lost for a while as to what to do next when my oldest son spots "The Shark Encounter". Obviously my two-year-old did not like the idea of this so my wife and daughter waited outside. Inside a huge glass tunnel confronts us with sharks of all types from Hammerhead to the Great White of "Jaws" fame swimming all around us. Having vague recollections of a Jaws movie in which the shark smashes the glass to get to the spectators I have to admit to being a little nervous,(ok a lot nervous!) although my son was fascinated. What was a little disappointing was that the experience felt a little rushed by the moving walkway we were on throughout. My son had to walk against it several times to read the information littered throughout which became a little irritating to those behind us. On exiting there is a small pool with baby sharks which we are able to feed by purchasing the reasonably priced shark food. It was interesting to see that even at this young age their predatory instincts are intact as they fought for the scraps of meat.
All these shows were no doubt interesting but my children needed to burn off some energy particularly my two year old who had spent large portions of the day in a stroller (which can be hired on entrance). Fortunately, it would appear Seaworld have covered every eventuality. Bypassing the double looping rollercoaster "The Kraken" (do you think I am mad? You are not getting me on that!) we head into "Shamu's Happy Harbour", a huge adventure playground with separate areas for toddlers, pre-teens and teens. This also gave an opportunity for these two knackered parents to have a rest and a coffee while the children tire themselves out on bouncy castles, rope swings and even a miniature water park (once again make sure it's a sunny day!). What is great about this is that unusually for parks of this type it is all included in your entrance fee.
Thoroughly tired out children and parents alike we slowly make our way to the entrance stopping by the Dolphin Nursery to have a look at the babies playing with balls. We are told that even at this age they are capable of playing with bowling balls such is their strength! We have a seat by the toilets of which there are many and watch an impromptu street performance by some artists who reminded me of the "Chuckle Brothers". I loathe it but then my kids naturally think it's hilarious!
Of course no visit to Seaworld would be complete without the appropriate memorabilia/souvenir to remember the occasion by but with their being six of us we were afraid of the possibility of it costing a small fortune. Fortunately, the souvenir shops are the cheapest we encountered during our stay in Florida and we returned home with toy Shamu's, fossilised shark teeth necklaces and even a pearl which my wife picked from her very own oyster none of which was over $15.
Your day over already?
Yes it is, did you know it is now 5 p.m. and we are all thoroughly shattered. We have not done any of the rides, missed the penguins and have not got the stamina to wait until 9 p.m. for the "Shamu Rock's" firework display. If, and no doubt when we return we will plan for two days as it takes at least this long to do the park justice. However, what we did see was amazing and was certainly a highlight of our vacation.
So how much will all this set me back then?
Ah, all depends how you want to do it. If like most people you are intending to go to the other parks Universal Studios, Islands of Adventures, Busch Gardens or Wet N'Wild then you have to get a flexipass. This pass covers your entry to all five parks for a two-week period but is of course expensive. The cheapest price I have found in the UK is at www.keithprowse.com were the 5-park Orlando flexiticket is £139 for an adult £111 for a child aged 3-9 with under 3's going free. Occasionally the travel agent you book your holiday with will beat this price. Individual tickets for Seaworld itself are £34 for an adult £28 for a child. Yes it is expensive but it is so worth it!
Going back then?
Most definitely, in the process of saving and will be going back in 2008, if you are going to Florida do not miss this!
N.B We visited in March 2006 since which attractions may have changed. Apparently Shamu Rocks is no more for a start but has been replaced.
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