A Day at Sea World

A great thing about not celebrating Christmas is that we have a day off with absolutely nothing to do in which most other people are otherwise engaged, meaning we can do various things and expect them to be a lot less crowded than usual. Last year we went to Universal Studios as part of their Channukah at Universal event. This year we jumped in the car, drove up to Orlando again, and decided to hit a park I have not been to in 23 years, Sea World!

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Day at Sea World Daniel M Perez’s Day at Sea World photoset

After enjoying my 18 month-old nephew tear through wrapping paper to get to his gifts, my wife, sister, nephew and I piled up into the car headed for Sea World. It was a crappy Christmas morning in Orlando, though; it had been raining virtually nonstop since the day before and the forecast called for heavy rain and possible thunderstorms. Thing is, we had already paid for our tickets, so it was “use ’em or lose ’em,” so use ’em we did.

As I said my last time in Sea World was 23 years ago, when I first came to Orlando (actually, my very first trip outside of Puerto Rico) with my grandparents, in 1984, and try as I might, I could not conjure any single memory from that visit; in many ways, I was visiting Sea World for the first time. The park was comparatively empty–don’t get me wrong, there was quite a lot of people, but nothing like the Summer crowds–and we made a beeline for the Shamu show, Believe, stopping only to watch the bay and teenaged dolphins cavort at the Dolphin Nursery. Believe was an awesome show; seeing these massive, thousand-pound-plus killer whales jump effortlessly out of the water, spinning and twisting and propelling their trainers 10 to 15 feet into the air was simply amazing. What most struck me was the actual bond trainers and whales have. Many of the “orders” are actually requests, with hand signals that tell the whale what next trick to perform, followed by a “please” motion. Some tricks are performed as chains, but in many cases, especially for the really spectacular ones, like jumping out of the water with the trainer, are not undertaken until the whale actually gives its consent by a nod. It upped my respect for the trainers, and the park; they approach training as a partnership, fully respecting the awesomeoness of these creatures.

After the Shamu show we hit the Shark Encounter, where not only did we see some fearsome aquatic dwellers like the lion fish and barracudas, we also saw beautiful underwater creatures like the uniquely majestic leafy sea dragon, in addition, of course, to the stars of the show, the sharks. I can say with all certainty that this was as close as I wish to be to a shark in my life. The acrylic tunnel through which you pass really allows you to get some up-close-and-personal views of the sharks, however; with a little more light, or a better camera, you’d be able to get spectacular shots. After the sharks came the penguins over at Penguin Encounter (which was just funny and soothing), and here we had to wait a while for the heavens opened up and dumped their rain upon Orlando. We eventually bought some ponchos, determined to enjoy our day at the park. After my sister left with my nephew (who was sick already, so no reason to get him wet and risk his cough getting worse) we saw the sea lion comedy show, Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island, and then went on the Journey to Atlantis ride.

They warn you that you will get wet in Atlantis, but nothing could have prepared us for how much. Even wearing our ponchos we got drenched down to the bone marrow; the ride is designed to dip the boat at various points straight into the water, assuring that even if the various hoses spraying water around the track or the 60-foot drop fail to get you wet, you’ll still leave the ride dripping. I tell you, it is absolutely ridiculous how wet we go (not good for me, as I was already sick), but seeing how we were so freakin’ soaked, we went on the ride a second time. By the time we left Atlantis, there was very little of ourselves that was not dripping water, poncho or not.

We tried to ride the Kraken, which had been closed most of the day due to the rains, but we couldn’t. These new types of roller coasters now come with form-fitting bucket seats that simply do not accomodate my ass (not even the modified–wider–seat). My wife did not want to ride the coaster alone, so we had to leave it for another time when I have lost some weight and reduced the size of my ass to something more coaster-friendly.

The rest of the day was spent seeing the rest of the shows (Blue Horizons, the dolphin and whale (and birds) show, and Odyssea, Sea World’s pseudo Cirque du Soleil performance) and visiting the animal areas such as the Dolphin Nursery again (you have to love the young dolphins!), Stingray Lagoon (where we got to pet a lot of stingrays who absolutely loved the attention), Dolphin Cove (where we tried to touch a dolphin but they were having none of it) and Manatee Rescue (where I got to see a manatee quite up close and realize these docile and gentle beasts are freakin’ huge!).

Before leaving we went ahead and upgraded our 1-day passes up to the Sea World Fun Card, a 1-year pass that allows us to return to the park whenever we want, no restrictions and no black-out dates, for only the difference between our discounted Florida-resident ticket and the price of a regular ticket (so for $22 extra we can now enter Sea World whenever we want for all of 2007!), a great deal, especially given how much I loved the park. The thing with Sea World is that, unlike any of the Disney parks, I felt that not only was I entertained, I also learned something. The park has considerable re-visit value, if not for the rides and for the shows, then for the simple pleasure of visiting wonderful aquatic creatures which we’d rarely, if ever, have a chance to see, let alone interact with. I went home that night shivering, wet and sick as a dog, my voice merely a hoarse whisper, but I had a wonderful, amazing time.