This week in our Picture Yourself In Florida series, we go behind the scenes at SeaWorld Orlando, in Florida! We meet the Animal Rescue team and learn how rescued manatees are cared for and released, we take in some of the most magical live shows, shriek with terror as we soar through the sky on marine-inspired roller coasters Manta and Kraken, and peer at sharks and other marine life through glass viewing tunnels.
SeaWorld’s Terrifying Roller Coasters
Somehow I had promised the children I was going to ride ALL of the scariest roller coasters just to prove that I was a Super Brave Mum. I hadn’t banked on terrifying face-down rides like Manta or the 7-looped Kraken!
First up was Manta. I was petrified… hands shaking, tummy fluttering, and repeatedly testing out the harness and asking for my body and legs to be clipped in tighter and tighter until I was completely immobilised in my seat and – in theory – ready to be flipped face down.
I must have been wearing my terror on my face as the girl to my right smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry – it’s just like being in a yoga pose”.
Just like being in a yoga pose, but significantly less relaxing as you shriek and hurtle through the air. As I dangled in the sky with the coaster tick-tick-ticking slowly upwards, I remembered that I was not 10 years old but in fact 40, and that even falling asleep in front of Outlander leaves me with a cricked neck, let alone falling through the air upside down on some insane marine-inspired roller coaster. I found myself shouting that I had changed my mind. I might have enriched my statement with several profanities.
Tick. Tick. Tick…..
Halfway down, I opened my eyes to find myself plummeting towards the ground and then swooping and soaring through the sky, in an experience I can’t compare to any roller coaster I have ever been on. It was exhilarating, and I kept thinking how much I would love to do it all over again.
As luck would have it, apparently with all the shaking, screaming, and hysterical laughter I’m a very entertaining person to have along for the ride on scary roller coasters! So I had the pleasure of going on the ultra-smooth 7-looped Kraken straight after Manta, and then racing up the stairs to ride them again the following day with my friend’s thrill-seeking 11 year old boy. Great fun!
Magical Live Shows and Sea Lion Slapstick!
While we were at SeaWorld we decided to take in as many of the shows as we could, including One Ocean (the Shamu show), behind the scenes with the trainers in Dine With Shamu, then Blue Horizons and the brand new Sea Lion High, starring Clyde and Seamore. The children laughed hysterically all through Sea Lion High – essentially a slapstick comedy starring two Sea Lions, a walrus and the world’s cutest recycling-obsessed otter.
Our favourite show by far was the breathtaking Blue Horizons. We thought it was going to be more along the lines of the Shamu show, except with dolphins… but in fact it’s an exceptionally engaging piece featuring not only dolphins but also brightly coloured tropical birds and world-class acrobats and high divers wearing the most stunning costumes. We were completely transfixed throughout the show and would absolutely recommend you make time to head over to Dolphin Theatre to experience it for yourself. Get there early so you can choose the best seats!
The Shark Encounter exhibit is definitely worth a visit, especially for the walk-through viewing tunnel… but what really captured our attention was the place next door: Sharks Underwater Grill, one of the best restaurants in Orlando.
From the moment you walk in, it feels more like a trendy London bar than a restaurant in a theme park – it’s dark and atmospheric, with glowing fishtanks embedded into the bar counters. The best part is that one whole side of the restaurant is a glass wall separating you from the depths of the shark tank. The effect is stunning and mesmerising – which has the added bonus of keeping the kids occupied watching the sharks and some rather unusual looking fish while you enjoy a lovely meal.
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin
Antarctica is the perfect attraction to save for just after lunchtime on a hot summer’s day in Florida. Inside it’s icy cold, and watching the penguins waddle around and dive into the water is just wonderful. We were also treated with this mini “piece to camera” by little Danger Boy who seems to fancy himself a young David Attenborough or Simon Reeve:
Behind the Scenes with the Animal Rescue and Care team
My whole life I had always thought of SeaWorld as being about entertainment and thrill rides – a marine-themed amusement park. Visiting as a parent, though, suddenly you see things in a different light, with shows, attractions, animal encounters and even thrill rides taking on a whole new “education by stealth” angle.
The children start making up silly rhymes about the different types of penguins, drawing strange comparisons between manatees and hippos, and explaining to their younger siblings why some types of shark can happily doze at the bottom of the reef while others have to keep swimming. In less than 20 minutes they’ve learned more about marine life than I did during my entire science degree.
We were delighted to have the opportunity to take the Behind the Scenes Tour, where the children got to learn how they diagnose and care for marine animals. And no, I don’t mean that they sat through a presentation… we actually got to explore the clinics and laboratories, check out some cool sea turtle x-rays, and even look at blood under the microscope!
As there is a public debate about SeaWorld, I was glad to have had the opportunity to see their conservation and animal care programmes for myself. I was surprised to find that they’ve rescued more than 25,000 animals to date… and even more so to hear that when there is a sighting of an injured animal, the government contacts SeaWorld’s experts to have the animal rescued, cared for and returned to the wild.
One thing I would say is that it’s one thing hearing about it, and another entirely getting to peer in and see the injured manatees being cared for, and to hear about how humans were connected to their injuries through the things we take for granted.
The animal care team radiated warmth and happiness and tremendous passion for what they do, and their enthusiasm was so contagious it’s prompted my daughter to rethink her planned career as a Skateboarding Chemist!
Just seeing how my own children connected with the team and with conservation and animal rescue issues, I wish every family could have the same experience of SeaWorld as we did. Sure, it would take time and quite a lot of investment, but I kept imagining how transformative and powerful it would be if the “Behind the Scenes” areas were reworked into an engaging and accessible learning experience, like visitors have at Busch Gardens.
All in all, we had a fantastic experience, we learned an incredible amount about sea life, and we’d go back again!
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is a leading theme park and entertainment company delivering personal, interactive and educational experiences that blend imagination with nature and enable its customers to celebrate, connect with and care for the natural world we share. Over its more than 50 year history, the Company has built a diversified portfolio of 11 destination and regional theme parks that are grouped in key markets across the United States, many of which showcase its one-of-a-kind collection of approximately 67,000 marine and terrestrial animals.
The Company’s theme parks in Florida include Discovery Cove, a tropical oasis in the heart of Orlando where you can swim with a dolphin; SeaWorld, the world’s most popular marine life park; Busch Gardens, full of wild animals and even wilder rides and Aquatica, SeaWorld’s waterpark.
Disclosure: Compensation was provided by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via Mode Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.