On our quest to conquer a lot of what Orlando, Florida has to offer, we visited SeaWorld. When I was a child I remember a trip to the former SeaWorld in Ohio. Back then it was primarily shows and displays of various aquatic animals. Today they still have their renowned shows but have expanded their parks to include attractions for us thrill seekers. This is certainly a family adventure that you will want to embark on.
At most modern amusement parks, parking is not free. You can expect the same at SeaWorld. During our visit rates were $14.00 per day. Once you get parked head to the entrance where you immediately notice the uniquely painted lighthouse.
In the tradition of all SeaWorld owned parks that I have been to, it was well maintained and landscaped. Throughout the park you will also find a variety of shops and dining venues. We didn't sample any of the cuisine during our trip so I don't have any input regarding the quality of the food. For you thrill seekers, you should note that that the entire park doesn't open when the park opens. It opens in stages, so don't expect to get there at opening, beat the crowds, and knock out the thrill rides early in the day.
Speaking of thrill rides, the first one you will encounter is Manta. It is the newest addition to SeaWorld that opened in 2009. As you can see from the picture above it is a flying coaster with a good layout. My daughter and I both enjoyed the 'flight' and since I was sitting on the right hand side of the coaster closest to the water I did experience some mist from the water feature that comes near the end of the ride.
I really enjoyed the aquariums that were viewable in the queue line. They added a unique touch. As expected, they were filled with various species of Manta Rays. If you are not planning on riding the coaster you can still view some of the aquariums from a separate viewing area to the left of the ride entrance.
After exiting the ride head across the walkway into Key West at SeaWorld. First in this area you will come to Stingray Lagoon. Here you can get up and close to a tank holding numerous stingrays. You can put your hand in the tank and touch stingrays as they swim past you.
Right next to this is Dolphin Cove. For an extra fee you can see the dolphins up close and feed them. You can still get good views of the dolphins without paying the extra fee. Don't forget to follow the path around the edge of the tank to the underwater viewing area.
After exiting the underwater viewing area you'll come one of the entrances to the Whale and Dolphin Theater where they are currently performing Blue Horizons. It is a fantastic show of artistry blending birds, dolphins, and live performers. Even if you are a thrill seeker like me you will be amiss to not take the time to experience some of the well done shows put on by SeaWorld including this one. You can find the day's show times listed on the back of the park map.
Also nearby is the all new Turtle Trek. Like any new attraction, expect the line for this to be longer than normal for the opening season. Once you get through the first queue line you are taken through two separate holding rooms where you get an underwater view of aquariums holding manatees and sea turtles. Park staff give you some insight into each of the creatures. You are then led into a 3-D dome theater where you experience life through the eyes of a sea turtle. As with most attractions at SeaWorld, my entire family enjoyed this.
Next up is Journey to Atlantis. This was our first water coaster and we had a blast. The themed water ride is well done as it takes you through the the lost city of Atlantis with some great coaster thrills along the way. After going through the big drop you think the ride is over but you round the corner and face another lift hill back into the building and another drop before the ride is over. Due to the hot weather common in Florida during the summer the line for this ride was longer than most. You will get wet but probably not entirely drenched.
Right next door is Kraken. It is a B&M floorless steel coaster named after the legendary and mythical Kraken sea monster. This is a well rounded coaster with 7 inversions, 3 tunnels, and a few good moments of air time. While it didn't make it into my top 10 favorite steel coasters I will certainly look forward to riding it again during my next visit to Sea World. This is a must ride for any coaster enthusiast.
There isn't an easy flow from Kraken to move through the park as it's kind of stuck back at the end of a pathway. Perhaps there will be when Antarctica opens in spring of 2013. Until then you need to head back to Manta. From there you can get a great birds view of the entire park in the two-story air conditioned Sky Tower.
After a great birds-eye view of SeaWorld Orlando, we come across Sea Lion & Otter Stadium. Don't forget to check the show schedule because you won't want to miss the fun and hilarious Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island show. You will follow sea lions, otters and walrus in a swashbuckling adventure. Be prepared to laugh. Don't forget to follow the patch behind the stadium and check out the Pacific Point Preserve. Here you can see more sea lions and harbor seals. Just like the dolphins, you can feed the sea lions and seals at select times for an additional fee.
Next door to the stadium is Shark Encounter. Here you can learn more about sharks and ride the moving walkway underneath the tank while various species of shark swim around you. After experiencing the sharks close up, you may want to rest your feet and watch acrobatics and dance at the Nautilus Theater with A'Lure The Call Of The Ocean.
As you round the the corner in the path the large Shamu Stadium starts appearing in the distance. Here's where you will find the iconic Shamu shows that SeaWorld is well known for. The updated show is One Ocean and well done. Don't ignore the signs that say 'Splash Zone' because you are sure to get wet at one point or another during the show. On busy operating days you will want to arrive early as the stadium can fill up quickly.
Behind Shamu Stadium is Shamu's Happy Harbor. Here you will find a few flat rides, some rides for kids, and a family roller coaster, Shamu Express. You guessed it, the coaster is themed to Shamu.
If you're ready for a simulated helicopter ride,then head over to Wild Arctic. After riding the simulator around the arctic ice cap you exit and can explore some of the sea animals that live there including polar bears, beluga whales, and walruses. If you would rather not ride the simulator you can proceed directly to the viewing areas on foot and skip the simulator.
You've covered most of the park and seen what it has to offer. Before leaving make sure you stop by the Dolphin Nursery. Here is where dolphin moms train their calves and interact with them away from the other larger dolphin populations.
SeaWorld is more than an entertainment venue. The entire organization is committed to conservation and education which is clearly demonstrated at most of their exhibits. Over the years SeaWorld has contributed over $50 million to conservation, wildlife rescue, and environmental stewardship programs around the globe and more than 18,000 animals have been rescued. You can find more information on their programs here.