Saturday, March 12, 2011

Travel Tips and Tricks: Navigating Sea World With Young Kids!

Ahhhhh, Sea World.
I grew up going there all the time, and my dream for the longest time was to be a Shamu trainer at Sea World when I grew up. Sometimes I still wish I had done that! We took Kirsten to Sea World San Diego in January, and had a wonderful day there! Here is my guide to help the less-experienced navigate Sea World with young children. (Even if you're experienced, it always helps to read new ideas and tips!)

~1~Make sure you have a FULL day planned. This is not the park to go just for a half day. You will need the entire day to experience everything. Since we went in the off-season, the park closed at 5 pm. Weigh your options when you decide whether to go during the off-season or the busy season. The benefit of the off-season is, of course, fewer crowds. But in the summer and over the holidays the park is open until 10 pm! There's just something much more magical about seeing the Shamu show all lit up at night! More theatrical!

~2~ This kind of goes without saying, but make sure you take your camera with a fully-charged battery and be prepared for some really awesome action shots during the shows!

~3~ I don't say this for every theme park, but definitely for this one. . . Bring your own lunch and snacks! The food they sell there is very over-priced and not at all tasty.

~4~ Good thing to note: Sea World is very BRIGHT. There aren't many trees to provide shade, and all the show seating areas seem to sit fully in the direct sunlight. Even if it's a cool day, dress in layers so you can take your sweatshirts off when you find yourselves baking in the direct sun. Take sunglasses and hats! You'll thank me!
(See how bright that sun is? Yeah. . . not so great for photos)

~5~ When you first get into the park (or even beforehand, since they post the show schedules online), figure out which show times you want to attend and plan your route for the day. There are so many fun viewing areas and petting areas that you'll be able to stop and see between the shows. If you have the time, go see everything, but here are a few of my MUST-see exhibits:

*Forbidden Reef- Pet the friendly and surprisingly cute manta rays that swim all around the huge pool. It only takes a few minutes and it's lots of fun!
*Shark Encounter- You get to ride a moving walkway underneath a tunnel full of sharks!
*Wild Arctic- Awesome underwater viewing areas for beluga whales, narwhales, and polar bears, plus a fun motion-simulator ride! And my 3 year-old was tall enough to ride it!
*Rocky Point Preserve- Pet and feed the dolphins! You do have to pay for fish to feed the dolphins, and keep a sharp eye out for seagulls who love to appear out of nowhere and steal the fish!
(With dolphins so friendly, they smile right at you!)
*Penguin Encounter- SO cute! Plus it's extremely air-conditioned, so a nice place to take a break from the heat if it's a hot day.

*Oh, and don't miss the otter tank! These little guys are just TOO adorable!
~6~ If your kids are not the type who can sit through shows that are 20-30 minutes long, they (and you) might not have too much fun at Sea World, since the shows are such a major part of the park. This is why we decided to only take our 3 year-old who loves to sit through shows, and left our 21 month-old (who does NOT) with her grandparents. Of course, you may not have that same option that we did, but it's something worth noting!

~7~ Don't get to the shows too late, or you will not find seats! The shows will either fill up or you'll have to sit WAY over on the side. It works well to have one parent go in early to save some seats while the other parent takes the kids to see some animals.

~8~ If you do take young kids who might have a hard time sitting still, definitely be prepared with LOTS of snacks and drinks. My favorite trick: Suckers! You could buy them in the park for $5 each or buy them at a party store before you come for 15 cents, and having a few of these tucked into the bag was a lifesaver for keeping Kirsten happy while waiting for the shows to start!

~9~ Really, go see ALL the shows! Do not miss any, they are all so fabulous! Kirsten's favorites were the Sea Lion show (tons of funny antics and the trainers are very kid-oriented and play to the crowd!) and the Pets Rule show.

~10~ I'm not making any promises, but I've found that if you sit on the very back row of the "Splash Zone" you'll have an awesome view and will usually be either completely dry or just a tiny bit sprinkled with water. This is especially true for the sea lion show!

~11~ The brand new show right now is the Dolphin show, and it was really beautiful! They introduced cirque du soleil-style acrobats into the show, and it's very cool to see it all together with the dolphins. One of my favorites of the day!

~12~ It's nice to end your day at Sea World with the last Shamu show. It's just the perfect ending to a great day at the park! And if you go when they have their evening hours, make sure you watch the Shamu show after dark!

~13~ They've changed their shows quite a bit since the unfortunate incident with the trainer being killed. The trainers don't get in the water during the Shamu show anymore, and they no longer choose a child from the audience to stand next to Shamu and feed and pet him. A little sad! But still a great show.

~14~ Don't miss the rides! When I was little Sea World didn't have ANY rides, and now they have three!
*Shipwreck Rapids is great, but only if you want to get wet! Because you WILL, and possibly very soaked. Perfect for a hot day though!
*Wild Arctic has the fun motion simulator! Kirsten loved it!
*Journey To Atlantis roller coaster was closed when we went there, but I've been on it in the past. I love a good roller coaster!

~15~ If you have Sesame Street fans (and I do!), they will probably want to stay the entire day in the Sesame Street Bay of Play. This is SUCH a fun play area for kids! They have tons of space for kids to run and play and climb, a giant sand box with dump trucks and other toys, and a few fun rides for kids (Elmo's Flying Fish was the biggest hit, we rode that one three times!)

~16~ If your kids like the Sesame Street characters, check the schedule for the times the characters will be available for photo opps. They let you use your own cameras! Kirsten was THRILLED to death to meet Elmo and Cookie Monster. She still talks about it and tells me, "I touched Cookie Monster's eyes!" (Because she did, she poked his googly eyes!!!)

My friend snapped these photos of Kirsten and her daughter with Elmo and Cookie!

~17~ Take a stroller! Or you can rent one there. Even kids who aren't normally stroller riders will get tired of walking around Sea World all day. It's not a huge park, but it's plenty big for small legs!

~18~ You aren't allowed to bring strollers into the shows with you because they don't have the space for them in the aisles, so they provide large stroller "parking lots" outside the entrances to the shows. Take your valuables with you, and if you have a fancy stroller you might want to consider renting one for the day. You can rent singles or doubles.

~19~ The stuffed animal souvenirs they sell of all the animals really are cute! It's a fun idea to let your child choose one to take home with her. When I was little I had a Sea World stuffed animal collection, and every time I went I chose another animal to add. I still have them somewhere!

~20~ If you can, go with friends or family in a group! There's even more people to save seats at the shows, and it's a whole lot of fun!

Any great tips or tricks that I missed? Please leave me a comment and share!


  1. You got some really nice photos from this trip! Awesome!
    Can't wait to take my little one(s) to Sea World one day! Thanks for the tips!

    Also, I've always heard to buy your park passes before getting to the gate because they're usually cheaper elsewhere. I've mostly heard this for Disneyland - is this true for Sea World too?

  2. I'm surprised that Natalie wasn't in the photo with Elmo. Perhaps her obsession didn't start until after this trip?

    Those are some pretty amazing photos that was taken at the park.

  3. Oh I so wish I'd had read your review before we went to Sea World because you are SO right! The food isn't tasty at all. We did Dining With Shamu (cost $100!!!) and even that was not very good as compared with Goofy's Kitchen (also close to $100 for our fam), which was FABULOUS and worth EVERY penny! And I totally agree about the no shade thing, that really bugged me that you'd sit forever to watch really awesome shows and get totally FRIED in the process. Why can't they put up a canopy or something???

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