As the father of a three and a half year-old who lives near the Interstate 5 SeaWorld Drive exit, I spend my fair share of time at the most popular tourist attraction in San Diego. We go in the early evening and take advantage of tired tourists who are usually on their way out, or we hit the park right when it opens, before it gets crazy. This isn’t a comprehensive guide to the park, it’s just a few tips from a dad who knows his way around The House That Shamu Built.
There is a lot to see and do for the preschool set at SeaWorld. Shows are the big draw, but the interactive exhibits are the ones that my son enjoys the most. There’s not much better than watching his face light up when he touches a stingray or hearing him squeel with delight when he gets to feed the seals or sea lions.
Yesterday we checked out the new Turtle Reef exhibit. It’s similar to the sharks or the penguins, in that it is a one-way exhibit with lots of opportunities to look at the main attraction. What this means to you is – get there when the crowds are small. Take advantage of the lunch hour or anytime while the big shows are in session. My son decided that the entire exhibit looked like the school scene from Finding Nemo. He pointed out the different characters but was a little confused as to why the teacher wasn’t at school (There are no stingrays in the Turtle Reef Exhibit)! There is also a new ride associated with Turtle Reef, but he took one look at the speed and spinning and said “No Way, Dad!”
Bay of Play
One of the most important parts of any preschoolers visit at Sea World is the Sesame Street Bay of Play. Centrally located, the Bay of Play features kid-friendly rides, a giant cargo-net playhouse and a mini-splash zone. A few tips:
1. The park opens at 10 a.m. but the Bay doesn’t open until 11 a.m. Take advantage of this and hit a show or a few exhibits before it opens.
2. The cargo net can be a little intimidating for the smaller kids. Be prepared to climb with them and give them a little boost at the top!
3. If your kids like the water zone, you will want to bring a change of clothes. Don’t bother trying to change them in and out of bathing suits, just let them rock and roll and have a fresh set of clothes at the end.
4. Like any other amusement park, there are height requirements. If there is any question about your kid reaching a certain height (40″ 42″ 48″), make sure they are wearing the biggest shoes possible. There’s nothing worse than thinking that your kid is tall enough, only to have the ride supervisors deny them entry!
There is a new Shamu show called One Ocean. We haven’t seen it yet, but we are hoping it’s a lot more entertaining then the old show. My son was about three when we first saw the Shamu show, and according to him “It’s boring, Can we go see the dolphins?!”
My son’s favorite show is Blue Horizons, which features Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, Pilot Whales, and a team of divers and aerialist similar to what you might see at Cirque du Soleil. He’s seen the show at least a dozen times and wants to go back every time we go to the park. If you sit in the “Soak Zone”, you will get wet! – Be Prepared. If you see us there, don’t bother coming over to say hello. He doesn’t want to be interrupted, there’s a lot to concentrate on when you’re three!
Food and Beverage
The official SeaWorld policy is that you are not allowed to bring food into the park. Officially, I follow the rules, but unofficially, I’ve been known to bring a couple of emergency supplies. You never know when you might be stuck in a line with a cranky, hungry kid who just needs a fruit leather or a juice box to tide him over. We rarely purchase food, with the exception of the occasional pretzel or bucket of popcorn, but my refillable 99¢ drink cup definitely gets a workout.
If you are a local, there’s no better deal on SeaWorld admission than purchasing your Silver Pass from Costco. The silver pass includes parking, saving you $16 every time you visit. If your kids are older than two, they will need their own admission pass. If you are purchasing your passes for the first time, here’s a tip: Buy a Silver Pass for the kid, and a Fun Card for the adults. This money-saving tip only makes sense if you are always planning on bringing the kids, and aren’t planning on coming for any of the member-only special events. Be aware, there are also some Fun Card black-out dates. See here for more information
Even if your kids don’t need it, having a stroller at SeaWorld isn’t a bad idea. It helps when we want to get from one side of the park to the other. My shoulders can only handle so much! You can use a stroller to store extra sets of clothes, a towel or maybe a lightweight jacket for the evenings.
SeaWorld has fireworks almost everyday during the summer. Usually, the fireworks are at 9:50 p.m. which is well past my little guy’s bedtime. Occasionally, the show is moved to 8:50 p.m. The 2011 Fourth of July show will be at 9:30 p.m. We can see them from the backyard, so you won’t catch me fighting the crowds.
Despite the tourists, and the kids out of school for summer, San Diego Dads can have a great time with their families at Sea World. It just takes a little planning, a little patience, and a whole lot of sunscreen.
Let me know if you have any additional tips to share about SeaWorld San Diego!