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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

10 Great Reasons to Visit SeaWorld Orlando

This fall I was given the opportunity to go to SeaWorld in Orlando for free by a great travel site called Trekaroo. (For more on my disclosure policy, please see the tab titled 'Let me disclose to you' at the top of the page.) In exchange for the trip, I promised to do a candid write-up of the 2013 Spooktacular event that we participated in while there. However, I wanted to take it a step further and do a full review here on my blog because I really loved it that much.

Let me start off this post by saying that I have always been one of those people that loves to vacation, but will try to squeeze every last penny out of any destination I go to. If I see two destinations that appear equally fun, but one is cheaper, I will go for the money-saving option about 90% of the time. So I'll be up-front and admit that when I saw the price I would have had to pay for tickets normally ($82 for adults, $74 for children 3 and older) I was a little stunned. After I got home, believe me, it's one of the first things I researched to see how the average person could get that number a little lower. What I found out was that those prices are the 'any-day' tickets. That means you didn't plan ahead and try to get a deal, you walked up to the gate without researching prices, and you went in for a single day. I suppose I can understand that. By comparison, the deals I found when I searched around made the price quite reasonable - like the $92 all year pass, or the $50 weekday ticket (ahhh, much better!). Plus there appears to be an abundance of other ways you can get a discount on the passes, such as certain hotels which offer ticket packages, or deal sites like Expedia.

The ticket price was my main concern - I know my audience is comprised mainly of families who are looking to do things the easier, cheaper, quicker way. Now that I've laid that worry to rest, I have no qualms about telling any of you how fantastic I found the entire trip to be. Here are my top ten favorite things about SeaWorld that make this one of the best family vacation spots I've ever been to!

1. The look of wonder on my child's face.
My son is three, and he's been talking about sea-life since he could speak. His fifth word was 'orca'. I'm pretty sure that as we went into SeaWorld, my son had no idea what was in store for him. Yes, he saw the giant life-sized statue of the killer-whales outside, and he got incredibly excited, but it was nothing compared to the look on his face as he saw a real one jump out of the water for the first time. For this alone, the trip was incredibly worth it, and definitely made it an unforgettable day. If you have kids that haven't seen something as awe-inspiring as a whale up-close, this is something you should put on your 'to-do' list.

2. Nursing Stations.
Dear SeaWorld people: THANK-YOU! For a mom who is nursing, there is nothing better than seeing that there is a nursing station on an amusement park map. For those who haven't found themselves in this predicament before, let me explain a little. Going to an amusement park tends to be a fun, but many times hot and tiring experience. I can't think of a time that I've been to an amusement park and my family hasn't gotten at least a little sweaty. The last thing I want to do while I'm out and about at SeaWorld or any other family fun-spot is rearrange my sweat-dampened shirt while wrangling an equally-sweaty baby, just so that I can cover us both with a chokingly-warm blanket to avoid the leers of a bajillion strangers. Without going into further details, I'll just say nursing a sticky, grumpy, squirmy baby in such a public area is never fun. The nursing station at SeaWorld in Orlando? Air-conditioned and private. Plus they had comfy rockers to sit in, and they even had a sink and baby-changing table - bonuses like that are appreciated by moms more than most people realize. After I was done feeding my little gal, I gave her a quick sponge-bath with some cool water from the sink, and she was as cheerful as ever for the rest of the afternoon.

3. All-day food pass.
Let's face it - Jim Gaffigan has the right of it in his comedy bit when he says that for adults, the fun in vacationing is mostly eating in a new locale. One of the things I love best about going on vacation is trying new foods in new places, and restaurant dining is always a real treat for me because it's a meal that I didn't have to cook (and don't have to clean-up after!). For just $32.99 for adults and $17.99 for kids, the all-day dining pass SeaWorld offers turned out to be a pretty big money-saver. Consider the fact that you're going to want to grab a drink frequently throughout a hot day, and will probably eat at least twice, and the pass will almost certainly end up saving you a few bucks. Now be honest with yourself and know that since you're at an amusement park, and you're on vacation, you'll probably try to snack or eat whenever the mood strikes you - and buying the all-day dining deal is going to save you a lot of cash. As a bonus? On weekdays you can get a second dining deal half off when you pay full price for the first one. (P.S. The food was awesome.)

4. SeaWorld is accommodating.
One thing I noticed repeatedly throughout the park was the great lengths they have gone to for the accommodation of guests who may be in wheelchairs, and they did it in some of the most awesome ways I've ever seen. (Like the order window at a walk-up cafĂ© that by-passed those annoying queue lines and was the perfect height.) Even if you think this reason doesn't apply to you because no one in your family uses a wheel-chair on a regular basis, think again. Research has shown that about 6.8 million people in the US alone break bones every year, and the average person breaks about two bones in their life-time. With those kind of odds, a family is almost guaranteed to have someone in a wheelchair at some point or another. Let's not forget that certain illnesses or advancing age can also play a big part on whether or not a family member needs a wheelchair, and suddenly the idea that an amusement park has made big changes to ensure that everyone has a spectacular time becomes a pretty big deal.

5. You can touch some of the animals.
Okay, so the little kid in me perhaps was a teense over-excited about the fact that there was a manta-ray aquarium that was hands-on. Me and the lil' guy spent quite a while bent over, peering into the water and begging the rays to come over for a pat. Surprisingly the manta-rays seemed friendly and even eager for a quick pet as they swooped by. Several times they would come up quite close to the edge of the tank and 'jump' out a bit at us as if making sure that we would pay attention to them! The manta-ray display wasn't the only place you could get up close and personal with the animals, but it was the only place I saw that you could do it for free. However, if you're looking for a truly one-of-a-kind experience, dolphin feeding isn't very costly (I saw a sign say that it was just $7!) and getting an up-close interaction with them runs in the price range of about $40 to $60 depending on your age. We didn't do the dolphin interaction this time because I want to wait until my son is old enough to remember it - but in a few years, we are definitely doing this!

6. There are rides!
I guess I have to admit that I didn't realize SeaWorld was more than dolphin shows and killer-whales. I was more than a little surprised as I walked past what I thought was an elaborate display, when suddenly a huge ride boat came splashing down a roller-coaster-like incline. There were actually quite a few rides scattered throughout the park, and I thought it was really cool that they offered a 'Wild' or 'Mild' version of their Antarctica ride - even my three-year-old could have fun on this 'big-kid' attraction! They also had an area specifically for children's rides, and I would have loved to take some great pics of my son enjoying these, but he was a bit too frightened to get on any of them alone. Maybe next time!

7. The staff there are so friendly.
I am constantly amazed these days at the attitude of some people in the service industry. I had no problems what-so-ever at SeaWorld though, every single one of the staff was super-friendly and helpful. (Okay, so that could have been partly because I had a giant yellow MEDIA badge on, courtesy of the good people at SeaWorld, but I'm going to go ahead and count this anyhow because they were really spectacular.) First of all, I lost my daughter's water bottle top somewhere between parking my stroller and sitting down for lunch in one of the restaurants, and several of the staff there spent a good while looking around under tables and asking all the counter clerks if anyone had turned it in. It was never found unfortunately, but the effort that they put in to try to find it was incredibly kind, especially since I had merely asked a passing bus-boy if he had seen a bottle top anywhere. He took up the charge on his own and got everyone to help out looking - it was one of the nicest things anyone has done for me service-wise in a long time! Everywhere we went, the staff was quick and knowledgeable about our requests, and they were able to direct us to exactly where we wanted to go. When I went to buy my son some toys in one of the gift shops, the clerk at the counter actually told me where to go in the park to get the best selection of what I was after, then circled it on my map for me! While grabbing a bite to eat at the end of the day, one of the staff that was cleaning up came over and talked with us for a while about how our visit had been, then shared with us some of his favorite experiences when he brings friends to the park. All in all, I couldn't have asked for more pleasant people to interact with!

8. The shows are just right.
By 'just right', I mean that the shows aren't so long that they are going to take up your entire day, but they are full of enough pizzazz to make you satisfied with the amount of tricks, dives, and dances that you did get to see. Plus there are plenty of shows scheduled, which enables you to actually do everything on your list in just a day. One of my biggest peeves when I go to an amusement park is being overwhelmed by everything that there is to do, and feeling like the park has created an overabundance of programming that is impossible to see within a day. It was really important to us to be able to see the animals, see the dolphin and killer-whale shows, and visit the Spooktacular festival that was going on while we were there. I was afraid that seeing the two shows would take up so much time that we would have to scramble through the park to finish the rest of our 'must-do' list, but thankfully SeaWorld had it just right. The shows didn't last more than 20 minutes or so, and they were amazing! Getting in and out of the arenas was a breeze, and there were opportunities afterwards to talk to the trainers for those that wanted to get more details on the show.

9. Bathrooms, they are everywhere.
Do you know that bad dream you have, where you are carrying a ton of stuff, you really have to pee, and no matter how many times you try to get someone else to watch your things so you can go to the bathroom, you just can't find it? That is my live-able nightmare at most amusement parks I go to. And then when I do find a bathroom, it seems like the men's line is non-existent and the women's line is through the door and around the block. Thankfully, SeaWorld has bathroom facilities located all over the park. They were in the restaurants, they were attached to the show buildings, they were beside the souvenir shops and attractions. And the ladies' line? For once, it was as non-existent as the men's line. There were changing tables open and the bathroom stalls were big enough to fit yourself and a three-year-old into without needing to wait for the big stall to open up. There were even family bathrooms, although there was about a 50/50 chance of needing to wait for one at all the stations we stopped at.

10. There is something to see, do, or interact with in every corner of the park.
SeaWorld has really made great use of their space, and they seem to go above and beyond with creative thinking when it comes to making sure their guests have a great time. Where you'd see bushes in a normal amusement park, SeaWorld has flamingos hanging out. Where you'd usually just see a shop front, there are people dancing. Where there would usually be a rope keeping people back from the edge of the water, there is a patio for a romantic evening. And where you'd usually see signs thanking you for visiting the park, well... you might just see this:

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