SeaWorld Orlando: Your Guide to the Dazzling World Under the Sea

Killer Whale Show at SeaWorld Orlando
Photo: Orca Show at One Ocean | Jeff Kraus via Flickr

I grew up near SeaWorld and visited every summer as a child. Like kids often do with things familiar, I took it for granted. When I took my kids for the first time a couple years ago, they reminded me of what makes this park so special. Our daughter, timidly, reached out to touch her first stingray and squealed as it slid under her fingertips. All the kids laughed at Clyde and Seamore’s antics, just like I remembered doing as a child. SeaWorld is larger-than-life, educational, and leaves a lasting impression. I appreciated the shows more as an adult than I ever did growing up – especially the humorous dialogue woven into the script of each show.

SeaWorld has a bit slower pace than the other parks in Orlando, and that’s great news for frazzled park goers. The park times the shows well, so there’s no need to rush from one to the next. Seating for each show is stadium style, and there really isn’t a bad seat anywhere. Unlike visiting most theme parks, all those shows mean lots of opportunities to rest – which leads to less tiredness at the end of the day.

Best time to go: During the tourist season from March to August, SeaWorld Orlando is least crowded from Monday to Wednesday when tourists visit the other major theme parks. October and the two weeks after Thanksgiving are also good times to visit, with light crowds and great weather. January and February, which can be cold by Florida standards, sees the lightest crowds, but cold weather also makes getting wet at shows a chilly option.

Find deals on tickets through Undercover Tourist or Visit Orlando. Compare deals to get the best price.

Getting Around SeaWorld Orlando

Dolphin Show at SeaWorld Orlando
Photo: Christian Benseler

Step through the gates at SeaWorld Orlando into a tropical landscape reminiscent of the Florida Keys. Against a backdrop of Caribbean colored snack shops and stores, guests are immersed in a tropical world.

Navigating the park is easy. Essentially, SeaWorld is a two path park. Off to the left are the dolphins, manatees, and roller coasters. The path off to the right leads guests to everything else: sea lions, sharks, Shamu, and most restaurants. Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins sits in the center, like the knot of a bowtie connecting it all together.

Must-See SeaWorld Rides & Attractions

1. One Ocean: Shamu Stadium – This show is the highlight of the SeaWorld experience. Lights, water, giant video screens, and human trainers all play supporting roles to the killer whales who demonstrate their incredible strength and agility. The huge stadium fills quickly, so arrive early for the best seats.

Time Saving Tip: Arrive early and use the time before the show to enjoy a relaxing snack. Interactive messages on the big screens offer entertainment as well.

One Ocean Killer Whale Tricks at SeaWorld Orlando
Photo: Josh Hallett via Flickr

2. Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin – Penguins have a fairly universal appeal, making this a great pick for the whole family. This SeaWorld ride is quite mild and suitable for everyone, though children under 42 inches must be accompanied by someone age 14 or older. Visit early in the day or prepare for long waits with umbrellas to shield you from the sun and cool beverages to beat the heat.

Penguins at SeaWorld Orlando
Photo: Alex Korting via Flickr

3. Manta: Dolphin Theater Area – This roller coaster lets guests soar through the air on their bellies, much like a manta ray. It’s an unforgettable experience, giving guests a sense of freedom as they sail through the air looking down on other park goers and the water below. Like the other park coasters, it’s quite popular, so ride early to avoid long waits.

Manta Roller Coaster: SeaWorld Orlando Ride
Photo: Jeremy Thompson via Flickr

4. Sea Lion High with Clyde and Seamore: Sea Lion and Otter Theater – Packed with silly antics to entertain the youngest of guests and witty humor for the adults, this show is a big hit. The performance features sea lions, otters, walruses, humans and follows the “students” of Sea Lion High as they’re nominated for scholarships to attend Ocean University. Arrive early for the pre-show. For the best viewing, choose either the splash zone (where you will get wet) or the center section near the roof support pillars. Food is allowed in the stadium, so enjoy a meal or snack during the pre-show.

Sea Lion High with Clyde and Seamore: SeaWorld Show
Photo: Rodrigo Vieira

5. TurtleTrek: TurtleTrek Pavilion – Housed inside a 360-degree dome, this exhibit tells the story of Nyah, an endangered sea turtle. It’s 27-minute experience where you get to see turtles and manatees and watch a 3D film on the incredible story of turtle migration and the importance of protecting their natural habitats.

TurtleTrek: SeaWorld Orlando Attraction
Photo: Linda Balon via Flickr

6. Shamu’s Happy Harbor: Shamu Stadium – Located behind Shamu Stadium, the rides in this area are perfect for younger children. A large climbing playground with nets, tunnels, and slides is great for kids of all ages, though the youngest members of your family might need assistance as they go through. A baby care center offers privacy for nursing mothers in air-conditioned comfort, as well as changing tables and family restrooms.

7. Dolphin Cove: Dolphin Theater Area – Dolphin Cove is a 700,000 gallon lagoon, home to Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. You can observe the dolphins through large windows, or pay an additional $7 to feed them and interact up close.

SeaWorld Parades & Festivals

1. Summer Nights – From June 20 to August 9, enjoy extended hours to ride coasters under the stars, watch late-night shows, and marvel at the nightly fireworks display. On weekends, pack in more fun with the “Celebrating America” nighttime concerts.

2. Halloween Spooktacular – Geared for kids 12 and under, this Halloween celebration features face painting, trick or treat, Penelope’s Party Zone with activities, music and games, and more. It runs every weekend in October. Visit the Halloween Spooktacular page for details.

Halloween Spooktacular: SeaWorld Orlando Holiday
Photo: Britt Reints via Flickr

3. Christmas Celebration – The holidays come to life at SeaWorld with free events and activities throughout the park, including “Elmo’s Christmas Wish” show for the younger set and “O Wondrous Night,” a long-standing SeaWorld tradition which tells the Christmas Story through the eyes of 30 live animals. You can make Christmas extra-special by adding on a three-hour family fun tour, which includes a penguin meet ‘n greet, reserved seating at Elmo’s Christmas Wish, front-line access to the Polar Express Experience, and dinner with Santa at his Fireside Feast. Ticket prices vary, so check the website for more information.

Christmas Show at SeaWorld Orlando
Photo: Ricky Brigante via Flickr

Best SeaWorld Restaurants

Dine with Shamu: SeaWorld Dinner Show
Photo: Dine with Shamu | SeaWorld

1. Seafire Inn – This indoor, air-conditioned restaurant offers casual, intercontinental cuisine like fajitas, Cuban sandwiches, and hearty salads. The children’s menu meal comes with chicken tenders or hot dogs served with a beverage, carrots, and fries. Adults can also order beer and wine. This SeaWorld restaurant is included as part of the All-day Dining Deal.

2. Voyager’s Smokehouse – Serving BBQ ribs, chicken, salads, and sandwiches, the menu offers something for every appetite. Kids can choose from chicken tenders, mac-n-cheese, hot dogs, and ribs, accompanied with a drink, carrots, and fries. Desserts, and a variety of beverages including beer, wine and cocktails are also served. This restaurant is part of the SeaWorld All-day Dining Deal, but the adult ribs dinner is excluded.

3. Dine with Shamu – How often can you eat with a whale? This dining experience, which starts at $29, offers that chance. This behind-the-scenes dining experience is hosted by the whales and their trainers. Guests learn about preserving our world’s oceans while enjoying a buffet meal of sustainable, organic foods including seasonal fruits and vegetables, certified sustainable seafood, chicken, pasta, roasted pork loin, fresh baked breads, signature desserts, and a variety of beverages. A children’s buffet is also available. Those with food allergies should notify staff when booking.

4. Sharks Underwater Grill Fine Dining – This award-winning SeaWorld restaurant is geared for those looking for a fine dining experience away from the crowds. Enjoy a multi-course seafood dinner (with a few landlubber options thrown in) while sharks swim by the window at your table. It’s a very memorable dining experience. Advance reservations are suggested.

5. Mango Joe’s – The Caribbean-inspired cuisine at Mango Joe’s offers a light and refreshing meal of mango fruit salad, cold sandwiches, chicken tenders, or classic burgers. The standard children’s menu is also available, as are fresh fruit cups, cookies, other desserts, and beverages. Located near Shamu Stadium, get a meal to go and take it to the stadium to eat while waiting for the show to start. This SeaWorld restaurant is included as part of the All-Day Dining Deal.

SeaWorld Secrets

Sky Tower at SeaWorld Orlando
Photo: Sky Tower | Ricky Romero via Flickr

1. Did you know? – SeaWorld was founded in 1964 in San Diego by a group of UCLA students who wanted to open an underwater restaurant. Their plan expanded into a theme park with dolphins, sea lions, and saltwater aquariums.

2. Pack a waterproof camera – If you plan to sit in the splash zone at any SeaWorld show, have a waterproof camera ready. If you don’t have one and are interested in purchasing one, check out the best waterproof cameras of 2015. Up close seating means a great opportunity for close photos, but save the good camera that can’t get wet for other photo ops.

3. Plan lunch during a show and beat the crowds – With limited showtimes and large theaters, many people in the park will be occupied at once. Avoid the lines and eat while everyone else is at the show.

4. Lines for rides are shorter during shows – Shows pull people out of lines for major rides. Plan to do the popular rides during a show time and wait less.

5. Ride the Sky Tower – For amazing views of the park and surrounding area, as well as a break from the crowds, ride the Sky Tower.

6. Stay late – After a long day, it can be tempting to run out with the throng at the end of Shamu’s final show of the day, but let the crowds rush ahead and enjoy the fountain display on the bay.

7. Take advantage of the child swap program – If kids aren’t tall enough or brave enough for the coasters,  you can use the child swap program. One parent can ride with the brave kids while the other waits. Afterwards, they can swap kids with minimal wait time. No special pass is needed; just inform attraction staff.

8. All-day Meal Deal – If you’re eating at the park for lunch and dinner, the all-day meal deal is a great value. It can also be used between meals for snacks and bottled water. Guests who purchase the all-day meal deal do have to stand in line with other park guests but enjoy unlimited dining at select restaurants.

Photo: Lake Buena Vista Resort

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About Karen Dawkins

Karen Dawkins is the creator of Family Travels on a Budget, a website dedicated to helping fami-lies travel better for less. As she says, “Budget doesn’t mean cheap. It’s smart!” She has also been featured in print and online publications, and podcast. Follow her adventures on Twitter, In-stagram, Facebook and Pinterest.