SeaWorld Orlando is one of the big four Orlando theme parks, but for those who have never been, it’s a bit different than the character focused Walt Disney World, Universal or LEGOLAND parks.
To get the most out of a theme park experience, it helps to know a few secrets; those tidbits that veterans have discovered over time, but first timers breeze by without a second glance.
40+ Secrets for an Amazing SeaWorld Orlando Vacation
After visiting SeaWorld Orlando a few times, our family has found that our favorite activities weren’t the show-stoppers on the brochure cover or the rollicking roller coasters (although we did find Manta to be a thrilling few seconds)
Instead, upon our return from Sea World Orlando, we found ourselves regaling friends and family about these activities and tips for visiting SeaWorld Orlando.
Free Souvenirs. One of my son’s favorite things to do at SeaWorld is collect trading cards, which essentially are free souvenirs. Find a Sea World education representative, they are located at all the animal locations, and either ask them a question, or give them some information about the exhibit in exchange for a free card.
Knowledgeable Teachers. It was wonderful to my normally shy son coming up with thoughtful questions or scouring the signs to make sure he had the right answer to get a card. Sea World staff are incredible thoughtful with the kids, and encourage the shy ones to speak out.
Limited Edition Cards. Depending on when you go, you can get limited edition cards for specific special events, or general cards about the various animals at Sea World. It’s a great way to remember your trip, and learn a little something too.
Award Winning Restaurants: Sharks Underwater Grill is a sit down restaurant inside the park where you can watch sharks and other sea creatures while you eat, giving guests a different view of the oceans.
Sharks Underwater Grill has been recognized amongst the best of the best restaurants in Orlando. It received the 2013 Silver Spoon Award from Orlando Life Magazine and Outstanding ratings in the Zagat 2014 Orlando restaurant survey.
Our mahi-mahi was good, I’m not sure about award winning, but the polenta was creamy and flavorful (and the tiramisu shot for dessert was scrumptious, even for someone who doesn’t like mocha flavored desserts).
If you want to eat at Sharks Underwater Grill, be sure to make a reservation. Sharks takes priority seating requests in person starting at 10 am, so stop by early to guarantee your seat.
Behind the Scenes Tours at SeaWorld Orlando
Day in the Life of a Trainer. For anyone looking to get up close and personal with the animals at Sea World Orlando, the behind the scenes and animal interaction tours are a must. These special tours allow guests to go behind theme park walls and experience Sea World from a trainer’s perspective.
The behind-the-scenes tour times aren’t listed in the park map, so book online before you go, or stop by the tour desk right inside the front gate as you come in. These experiences are a special ticket, but add a lot to your day, so if it’s in your budget, it’s worth it to plan at least one.
Penguin Pets: When I was little, I wanted a monkey. After petting the Emperor penguin; I’ve changed my mind, I want a penguin. He was as soft as a puppy and just as cute. Our experience was part of the Penguins Up Close Tour and the highlight of an educational adventure where you’ll see how the penguin keepers track and care for these arctic creatures. Beware, it is COLD in this exhibit, so you might want to pack a sweatshirt.
Dolphin Rescue. On a regular Sea World behind-the-scenes tour began with a look at the Sea World Orlando animal rescue area. We learned that SeaWorld rescues approximately 20,000 animals a year, including 523 sea turtles. We took a look at the trucks used to transport dolphins and other large animals and I felt like I was prepping for a scene in Dolphin Tales or Free Willy.
Touch a Shark. The next stop on our behind-the-scenes tour included a lesson on sharks, and we were able to touch a small shark. It’s skin is smooth when you run your fingers down his back, but feels like sandpaper when you go back up.
Unexpected Surprises. We then boarded a bus and took a ride to the other end of the park where we were treated to an unexpected walrus viewing. Walrus’ aren’t normally on the tour, but this IS backstage, so you never know what you’ll see. Garfield the walrus was one of the largest and strangest animals I’ve ever seen. I still can’t get over how BIG he was.
No Guarantees. Our Garfield sighting was on our way to the polar bear den. Unfortunately we didn’t see a polar bear. There are no guarantees on the tour. However, we did get to meet and touch Edward, a Magellanic Penguin. These penguins live in warm areas along the Equator all the way south to frigid Antarctica.
Conservation Donation with Every Ticket. Most Sea World Orlando behind-the-scenes tours last approximately 90 minutes. There is a bit of walking, but for longer jaunts you take an open-air bus. Theme park admission is required for the tours and is not included in the tour price. However, 10 percent of tour admissions are donated to the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund to support conservation projects around the world.
SeaWorld Orlando Rescue
SeaWorld Rescue. The Sea World Animal Rescue team works with state, local and federal agencies to rehabilitate to help animals that are orphaned, ill, injured or in need of expert care.
See the Manatee. During a separate behind-the-scenes tour we caught a glimpse of rescued manatees. On our visit, there was a baby manatee feeding. It was adorable to watch this infant who was abandoned and would surely have died, wrapping its little flippers around the bottle, just like a human baby.
Those manatees that cannot return to the sea for whatever reason, find a home in the Turtle Trek exhibit where guest can glimpse these gentle giants either from above or below the water level.
Rescued Manatee. The main causes of death for manatee are human related, such as habitat destruction, and ship strikes. I followed up on the manatee calf we saw during our visit.
Thecalf was recused on July 21 in Port St. John, FL. We saw her in mid-August when she was about a month old and caretakers were feeding her a special formula every three hours around the clock. The rescue team was unsure if the calf would survive. She was brought in at only 48 pounds.
At nine weeks-old, she was responding well to treatment and almost ready to start eating solid foods, which for a manatee is mostly lettuce. She weighed 71 pounds and caretakers were more optimistic, although she still received round-the-clock care, including regular bottle feedings until she’s ready for solid foods. I never hear if she is back into the wild, but the chances were good.
Animal Rescue Staff. The dedication by SeaWorld staff to the baby manatee was mirrored by penguin caretakers. During our up close penguin tour, caretakers talked about breeding practices, but also mentioned in the course of conversation, spending several days around the clock with the animals during a recent hurricane.
Sea World Orlando Rides
For a complete list of Sea World rides, visit the Sea World Orlando website, but here are some of the big ones and some of our favorites, as well as some tips to keep in mind.
Roller Coasters at SeaWorld Orlando. Manta and Kracken are the two big roller coasters. You must be 54” tall to ride these and they’re serious about that height. Not only are kids measured on a stick, if it’s close, they’ll make you stand under a swinging rod. If the rod can swing at all, you’re not tall enough for the ride. It may be just as well. Kracken goes upside down seven times and Manta was described to me as so many twists and turns you don’t know where you are at the end.
Virtual Reality. Sea World Orlando will be bringing the virtual reality experience to the park. In 2017 they will add VR to the Kraken. In addition to the multiple inversions, Kracken rises 149 feet, hitting 65 mph. Unlike the VR roller coasters we’ve done at Six Flags Over Georgia, Kracken is developing a custom system so you can just pull your lap bar down and put on your googles. Hopefully that will help with the load times.
Visit Atlantis. Another popular thrill ride is Atlantis. This combination roller coaster, log flume is down every January for maintenance – which was a bummer since we went in January. However, if you go any other time, choose your seat wisely, if you sit in the front eat, you will get drenched.
Grab a locker. If you are carrying a purse or backpack, bring some change with you. You may not carry anything on these rides and must use the one-time lockers outside the queue area.
For the Little Ones. If your children are too small, or timid to ride the big coasters (nothing wrong with that), then head to Shamu’s Happy Harbour. Even the adults had a great time climbing the gianormous climbing net.
Character Visits. Sea World Orlando does have some fun characters, although not as well known as other Orlando area theme parks. If you want to see these folks, catch them from 9 am – noon near the front gate.
SeaWorld Orlando Rides to the Animals
Visit the Wild Arctic. There are a few continuous running shows with an attraction/ride included. Wild Arctic has a simulator ride at the beginning, very similar to Star Tours at Hollywood Studios. You can opt to bypass the simulator part and head straight to the well themed polar research station where you’ll see arctic animals like polar bears and walrus.
Take a Turtle Trek. Turtle Trek begins with a 3D, 360-degree theater presentation before heading into the tank areas. Make sure to hit Turtle Trek before or during the Dolphin show at the Horizon Theater. Lines at this attraction are significantly longer right after the Dolphin show, as the Horizon Theatre lets out right in front of the Turtle Trek entrance.
Antarctic: Empire of the Penguin: This simulator ride takes you through the Antarctic as a penguin named Puck. It’s a cute ride, but the real fun begins when you reach the south pole and the plethora of real penguins. If you plan to spend any time in here, bring a sweater, it can get a bit chilly. This is a great place to come in the middle of the day when it’s super hot in the Orlando heat.
Feed the Animals at SeaWorld Orlando. At Sea World, you can feed the dolphins, rays and sea lions, so bring a little extra cash. Watch out for the birds that hover over the feeding areas. They are quite aggressive and if you aren’t careful, you could be feeding birds rather than sea life.
SeaWorld Orlando Shows
SeaWorld Shows. SeaWorld Orlando has always been known for animal shows. To make sure you see everything, get a show schedule online before you enter the park and determine when you’ll go to each show, then plan the rest of your day around them. You can download a Sea World map here.
Arrive Early. To get the best seat for the Sea World Orlando shows, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the show begins to get a seat in the theatre, on busy days 45 minutes. The most crowded shows are mid-day, so visit early or late for smaller crowds.
One Ocean. For now, Sea World Orlando still has the One Ocean killer whale show featuring their long time mascot Shamu. They did announce in 2016 they will be ending the killer whale shows at their various SeaWorld locations. The orca shows will end at SeaWorld San Diego in 2017, and in SeaWorld San Antonio and Sea World Orlando by 2019.
Clyde and Seamore’s Sea Lion High. My children’s favorite show at Sea World Orlando was Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island. It was funny, silly and we all liked the sea lions and walrus. That show has since changed to Sea Lion High, but from watching the videos, it’s just as fun and funny.
The Blue Horizon Dolphin Show. This show incorporates acrobatics and high diving, which made it quite interesting and fun, but still no contest for the slapstick humor of Clyde and Seamore. (my boys love the Three Stooges for goodness sake)
The Splash Zone. Most shows have a splash zone in the first few rows. If you don’t want to get wet, sit up higher in the stadium.
Good To Know about SeaWorld Orlando
Bathrooms for Little Ones: This has nothing to do with the animals at Sea World, but when you are traveling with a small person who isn’t far out of diapers, having a potty their size is a huge advantage and worth talking about. At Sea World there are kid sized bathrooms in the Shamu Happy Harbor section of the park.
Food Allergy Assistance: For those with food allergies, I noticed gluten and allergy free snacks at the quick service restaurants. In addition, you can speak with a chef at any of the restaurants during non-peak hours, let him know about your allergies and a special meal can be prepared.
A guest can also download “Chef Cards” in advance of their trip and hand them to a chef before the preparation of the meal. Note that not all restaurants or food service counters will be able to accommodate your specific allergen free meal, so it’s best to do some research before you arrive and talk with chefs early in your visit.
Sea World Orlando Hours. Although Sea World is open year round, SeaWorld Orlando hours can change by the season so be sure to check the website to plan your day. You can also find out the shows times, which you’ll want to work in so you don’t miss anything.
SeaWorld Orlando tickets. SeaWorld Florida has a couple different ticket options and Sea World ticket prices vary. It’s best to go ahead and get your tickets before you get to the park, that way you’ll save time waiting in ticket lines. To find SeaWorld discount tickets, I suggest visiting this page on Mousesavers.com.
Hotels Near SeaWorld Orlando Florida
There are tons of hotels near SeaWorld Orlando, but here are the hotels that have partnered with the theme park.
Hilton Grand Vacations Orlando. This Hilton vacation club has fully-furnished studios and family suites and is located across the street from Sea World.
Doubletree by Hilton Orlando. The Doubletree Hotel is within walking distance to SeaWorld and Aquatica Orlando. They have a full service spa and mini-golf course.
Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld. This hotel is across the street from Sea World and has a water park, plus full service spa and six dining options.
Residence Inn Orlando. This hotel has family sized suites and free hot breakfast.
For more hotels near Sea World Orlando, visit the website at www.seaworld.com.
Sea World Family of Theme Parks
In addition to main Sea World Orlando theme park, Sea World has Sea World Aquatica, an Orlando water park, Discovery Cove and Busch Gardens Tampa
SeaWorld Aquatica. If you get tired of watching all the animals in the water and want to hit the pool yourself, try SeaWorld Aquatica, the SeaWorld water park. This is probably one of the lesser known water parks in Florida. We had a lazy day riding the water slides. We did add some thrill to the day by trying Ihu’s Breakaway Fall, where the floor literally drops from under you sending you careening through the twisting slides.
Discovery Cove. I have never been here but hear fabulous things about the animal encounters.
Busch Gardens Tampa. My son and I had a tremendous time at Busch Gardens Tampa. It’s the mammal version of SeaWorld Orlando. My two favorite experiences were feeding the giraffes, and the overly friendly flamingo that kept tapping my son on the head. You can get a free shuttle (free with a Busch Gardens paid admission ticket) from most Orlando area hotels.
Why we will continue to visit Sea World
I know some folks will object to my spending any time at SeaWorld. I visited SeaWorld Orlando on a press trip when the Blackfish controversy was hitting a high note. Blackfish is a documentary on the death of Sea World orca trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, and argues that the whales should not be held in captivity.
Our group of invited press had many discussions about what we were seeing vs. what critics were saying. My friend, and fellow blogger Gina Vercesi did a fantastic job summing it up. Her article titled Confessions of a SeaWorld Skeptic also links to outside press about the controversy so readers can make their own informed conclusions. I was also very proud of the article by fellow blogger Carter Gaddis of Dadscribe. His post focus on the dedicated trainer Dawn Brancheau who died, something that is somewhat lost in the Blackfish documentary.
Hard Conversations. I don’t feel qualified to make a judgment on whether Orcas or any animal should be kept in captivity. I think SeaWorld’s announcement that they are expanding the habitat for these animals is a positive step.
Zoos and Aquariums have changed a lot since I was a kid and I think those changes are for the better. Did they do it out of concern, or pressure, I don’t know. I do know through my interactions with animal trainers, including the trainers and guides at Sea World, that they truly care about their charges and believe in what they are doing.
I know that seeing animals like the manatee baby up close gives me and my children a better connection to the animals than a video, and engages us in wanting to care for them.
I also know for many animals, their natural habitat is shrinking or disappearing, but that’s a whole other issue.
Teachable Moments. Truth be told, I’m not sad the Shamu show is going away at SeaWorld, It won’t impact my visiting. My son and I enjoyed collecting the educational cards and exploring SeaWorld’s lesser known secrets, including the behind the scenes tour where we were lucky enough to see the manatee baby.
I hope our experience at SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and other zoos and aquariums will inspire my sons to respect the world and it’s inhabitants. To understand that their actions have consequences, sometimes consequences they don’t realize.
I hope it will encourage them to take care of our environment and each other. The Dawn Brancheau Foundation, which honors her life, is working to foster some of those same principles.
My son and I attended a press trip to SeaWorld Orlando (as is common in the travel industry). The opinions expressed here are my own.