I don’t know how, but I managed to convince my husband to spend 9 nights in Orlando in January 2018. My selling points included: it’s the slowest time of the year, it’s the coolest time of the year (even though it was still 80 degrees and humid two days), and we can swim with manatees! Well, we didn’t quite make it to swim with manatees, but we were able to see a few by adding a last-minute trip to SeaWorld Orlando to the itinerary. There was no way I would touch my beautifully crafted WDW touring plans so we substituted a second day at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure with a day at SeaWorld. Our trip to SeaWorld was actually a nice relaxing way to start our theme park extravaganza. (8 days of theme parks in a row is no joke!) Thanks to Undercover Tourist, we managed to score SeaWorld tickets for a little less than the gate price and walked right in when we arrived.
Fun Fact: I love roller coasters, but they do not love me. I’ve suffered from motion sickness since I was a kid. I found out when I rode the rickety wooden roller coaster Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. I can ride most Disneyland coasters if I take Dramamine in advance, but I could never bring myself to try California Screamin’, may it rest in peace. Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain are about as extreme as I can get which is probably why I love Disneyland so much! I have recently been prescribed the motion sickness patch thanks to my cruise to Ensenada and my cruise to the Caribbean. It works wonders! But it’s hard to find so I save them for when I really need them. All of this means roller coasters were not on the agenda for our day at SeaWorld. Instead, we took our time exploring the wonderful animals housed around the park.
Our first stop was the dolphin nursery. We happened to pass by just as the trainers came out to feed the dolphins. Declan loved viewing the dolphins up close. They even put on a show by dancing and doing tricks. (We were standing next to a trainer and didn’t realize it!) He especially loved it when they pretended to be sharks by weaving through the water with their dorsal fin in the air.
One Ocean at Shamu Stadium
We arrived at Shamu Stadium just in time to catch the One Ocean show. We were careful to select seats that were not in the area labeled “splash zone.” They don’t put those signs up for nothing. Halfway through the show the orcas’ start intentionally splashing those areas of the audience. The stampede of humans up the steps is pretty hilarious. From the dry section, we enjoyed watching the orcas jump and splash. We hope to see some in the wild when we visit Seattle and the San Juan Islands in the summer.
Wild Arctic Habitat
Next, we made our way to the Wild Arctic habitat which houses walruses, beluga whales, and seals. There is a Wild Arctic ride that simulates a helicopter landing on an iceberg, but we opted for the walk-on experience instead. Declan was too little for the helicopter and I had not taken any Dramamine. Instead, we watched the same video from the helicopter ride but from a stationary seat. Then we walked into the habitat.
From the minute we arrived at SeaWorld, Declan asked “go see Walrus?” He was a two-year-old on a mission! When we actually found them, he was less than impressed, but that is the fickle nature of a toddler. To be fair, they have a number of cool play areas for kids inside the Wild Arctic habitat so he was more interested in crawling through tunnels and playing with snow.
Lunch at Mango Joe’s
After the Wild Arctic habitat, we ate lunch at nearby Mango Joe’s. Declan ate Easy Mac that we brought in his thermos while Reese and I ate Joe’s Steak Philly sandwiches. They were surprisingly good with the traditional cheese whiz topping. After lunch, we made our way around Shamu Stadium to the underwater viewing area. Instead of orcas, there were pilot whales in the exhibit at the time.
Sharks and Manta Rays outside Sharks Underwater Grill
Next, we stopped to see the large pools of mantas, stingrays, sharks, and giant fish outside the Sharks Underwater Grill. Somehow, we missed the shark tunnel to the left of the restaurant. But the pools we did see were really cool. My favorite animal was the giant leopard ray. They do a shark feeding in this area throughout the day, but we missed it too.
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin Habitat
Eventually, we wandered into the penguin area called Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. There is also a ride, but we skipped it and went straight into the habitat. The line for the habitat was much shorter. The habitat is kept at 32 degrees Fahrenheit so prepare accordingly. We just walked in with our regular clothes. It was fine, but we got a lot of dirty looks for taking our toddler in without a jacket. (He was also fine.) The habitat is full of five different species of penguins. It was one of the best penguin viewing areas I’ve ever seen. Once you’ve had your fill of the cold, you see more penguins through several underwater viewing areas on your way out of the exhibit.
Sea Turtles, Manatees and Alligators outside Turtle Trek
As we wound our way around the park, we discovered the Jewels of the Sea aquarium was closed. Instead, we went over to see the sea turtles, manatees, and alligators. You can see them underwater as you enter the Turtle Trek theatre and above water outside the exit. We skipped the Turtle Trek movie as it may be considered too intense for younger viewers. The store outside Turtle Trek had a giant stuffed turtle that Declan wanted to take home with us, but we distracted him with some Dippin’ Dots. (The turtle was easily 3 times his size!)
Final Thoughts on SeaWorld Orlando
It turns out we actually missed a number of other animal experiences like the shark tunnel, the manta aquarium, the pacific point preserve where the sea lions live, and stingray lagoon. Although, skipping stingray lagoon was intentional. Declan is still too young to reach the stingrays, and we have plenty of opportunities to do so closer to home at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. There also weren’t any dolphins in Dolphin Cove when we passed by, but we saw plenty at the Dolphin Nursery.
Even though we got a late start to the park since we were all suffering the effects of jet lag, we still had a wonderful time. It was a Saturday, but the park is so large that it never seemed crowded, and we got to see a large portion of the exhibits without waiting in long lines. In hindsight, it probably would have been a nice way to break up our visits to the WDW parks, but like I said, I wasn’t going to mess with my WDW plans. They are too complicated.
If you’re interested in visiting SeaWorld Orlando, check out Undercover Tourist for discounted park tickets. You can even purchase some of the specialty experiences like front of the line passes for less than you’ll pay at the park. Plus, you can skip the crowds at the ticket windows.