When we visit SeaWorld on our own, we are much more relaxed than when we tour with friends and family, and our focus is on wandering around enjoying the atmosphere. We may have a light lunch at the bar in Sharks Underwater Grill, we always take in Blue Horizons, and we get as much pleasure out of watching other guests experience the attractions as we do when we take part. Our touring expertise really comes into play when we visit with others, especially if they are first-timers—and you can imagine the amount of company you have when you live in Orlando and have a couple of extra bedrooms!
Arrival time at the park depends entirely on the ages of our visitors. We aim to arrive close to opening if there are children in the group, or after 10am if we’re visiting with our parents. Teenagers are a wild card, so we show up early if they’re keen to get on the coasters, or we arrive later if they need a lie-in, and in that case we take advantage of the quieter last few hours before park closing to experience the coasters after dark.
The first order of the day is to book a dining time at Sharks Underwater Grill, if we choose to eat there. Bookings are only taken on the day of your visit, so it’s important to book up before 10am, as reservations go quickly. Although it may feel odd to eat seafood while watching their brethren swimming around the massive aquarium while you dine, the food at Sharks is excellent. Grilled Salmon is always a good choice, but we like to try the Seasonal Catch, which is usually something a bit special. If you feel too guilty, try the Braised Short Rib Ravioli appetiser or the Pork Osso Bucco. Superb!
TOURING TIP: Food portions in Orlando can be huge, but there is absolutely no problem if you choose to split a meal. Just be sure to tip as if you had purchased two entrees, especially as your server is likely to split the meal for you and bring it out on two plates.
When we have thrill ride aficionados in the group we check the stand-by time for Manta after we’ve made any bookings, queuing up if the wait is less than 20 minutes. If not, it’s straight to Kraken and Journey to Atlantis, taking advantage of most guests’ tendency to visit each attraction as they come upon them. It’s generally quieter at the back of the park for the first hour or so of the day, so it is often worth saving Wild Arctic and Manta for the evening, after most guests have already done them. Any shows we want to see are fitted in around the thrill rides.
If a more sedate start is on the cards, we first check for the next showing of A’Lure: Call of the Ocean and the fabulous Blue Horizons, saving Pets Ahoy, Shark Encounter, and Turtle Trek for the hottest part of the day. Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island slots into any open time, and for us it’s a must-not-miss show, if for no other reason than the hilarious mime pre-show. If you promise not to tell anyone, we’ll admit we sometimes pop in just for the mime when we’re on our own.
TOURING TIP: If shows are important to you (and they should be!) pick up a times guide when you enter the park and take note of the start times for each show. Make a rough plan around show times to ensure you don’t miss anything that may start late or end early.
If there are dolphin-lovers in the group, we make sure they visit Dolphin Cove for the first available feeding time, as the dolphins are more receptive first thing in the morning than they are as the day goes on. Early arrival is far less important at Pacific Point Preserve; the seals and sea lions seem to be hungry all day, so we fit the area in during any free time we have between shows and rides. Regardless of who we are touring with, an important part of our SeaWorld day is speaking with the animal trainers, so we make time for this as the opportunities arise.
TOURING TIP: The birds at Pacific Point Preserve are clever, so pay attention to your timing when you toss a fish to the seals and sea lions or you may end up feeding the herons instead. And please, never feed the other wildlife in the parks. Ducks are cute when they’re begging for your popcorn, but they become extremely aggressive toward new ducklings, who they learn to see as competition. It’s a terrible thing to witness—and an unnatural behaviour—so don’t set up that situation by giving in to their begging.
If we are with friends and we haven’t made a Sharks Underwater Grill booking for lunch or dinner, our favourite quick service locations are Expedition Cafe—just across from Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin—which has a decent selection of Asian, Italian, and American dishes, in keeping with the idea that you’re visiting Antarctica with people from all over the world, whose tastes are being catered for, and the Spice Mill[, for its variety and the fabulous lagoon-side outdoor seating. Simon is partial to the Homemade Low Fat Vegetarian Chili and the Tavern Burger, while Susan generally opts for the Chicken Caesar Salad or the Chicken Flatbread.
TOURING TIP: Try the South Pole Chill, a custom-created Coca-Cola Freestyle soda made just for SeaWorld’s Antarctica. Even better? Purchase a reusable Cup That Cares, and get 99¢ refills throughout the day. There are two Cup That Cares options: a standard refillable cup with scenes from SeaWorld on it, and a penguin-shaped Create A Cup That Cares, with loads of accessories you can add to personalise it. $1 of the purchase price goes toward SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, helping animals around the world.
We like to see One Ocean in the evening, with the backdrop of a beautiful sunset and fading daylight. Then, as the day winds to a close, we stroll through the shops at the Waterfront, making the Dolphin Nursery our last stop. Seeing the mothers and babies frolic together reminds us what SeaWorld is all about: making emotional connections to the animals under our care, and taking that commitment to them into the world. As animal expert Jack Hannah says: “You’re inspired to save what you love,” and that sense of inspiration is what makes a day at SeaWorld so memorable.