Florida – September 2008

Day 16 – Orlando – Seaworld

Tuesday 7th October

We left the house early enough to get to the Golden Coral in time this morning to enjoy a hearty breakfast. Our theme park of choice for today was to be Sea World – the one remaining major Orlando theme park that we’ve yet to conquer. The weather today was to be hot but there was also the threat of scattered thunderstorms – par for the course for central Florida, which, after all, is known as lightning alley.

When we got to the car park entrance at Sea World, we thought we’d give the preferred parking a go at an additional $3 on top of the normal $12. In the event, all this really did for us was to get us into a slightly closer parking area. Not really worth the money but I suppose we could have been much farther away which would have meant a long walk to and from the turnstiles.

Despite the dodgy weather predictions, the sun was absolutely baking by mid-morning and I was already getting a bit apprehensive about how this was going to affect the kids (not to mention us) throughout the day.

As is the case with pretty much all the other theme parks here in Orlando, we’ve visited Sea World a number of times already so we decided we’d cut a path through the park to take in only those things that we thought the kids would enjoy. This meant bypassing all the roller coasters, which the kids were too short for anyway. First up was the Ray feeding pool. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to buy any food, as the Rays were coming right up to us repeatedly anyway. The kids had already seen something similar at the Jacksonville zoo but this was a slightly larger pool and with more rays. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

We finished at the Ray feeding pool just in time to catch the Dolphin feeding, which in particular had been looking forward to. At $7 for a tray of just 3 fish, it wasn’t cheap but we’d already resolved to give it a go before we entered the park. We paid for three trays (one for each family member over the age of three) and were directed to join the queue of people waiting to go through to the waters edge. With the sun beating down quite aggressively, it was an uncomfortable ten-minute wait and it was becoming progressively difficult to keep the kids entertained.

When our group was finally led through, we held back a bit to ensure that we were in the group that was situated around that section of the wall which gave us the best photography angles. This turned out to be a good move and we got some truly fantastic shots – Sandy of me and Jennifer and me of Sandy and Joey. The kids really enjoyed the experience and it was worth the expense in the end (particularly as we ended up getting four trays of fish instead of just the three that we actually paid for). Instead of feeding the Dolphins straight away, I first concentrated on photographing Sandy and Joey. When it was our turn to feed them, all the people around us had used up all their fish and Jennifer and I got a lot of attention from the dolphins since we were the only ones left with any. It worked our really well.

There were also official photographers dotted around taking photos of the tourist dangling their fish in front of the dolphins. They would hand out tickets with bar codes on them so that people could later view their photos and choose which ones to buy. We were handed a handful of these tickets but when we checked, they all turned out to be of people nearby us but none of us ourselves. In the end, we didn’t bother since we already had some really great shots with our own cameras. We left the dolphin pool with a great sense of achievement in that we got some lovely photos and the kids loved the experience.

Next up along our chosen path was the penguin encounter building, where we were paraded in front of a long glass, viewing screen behind which several dozen penguins of various species were waddling around or swimming. It’s a very nice viewing experience but I remember thinking that I much preferred to see the penguins in the wild like we did in New Zealand.

A little farther up the street, we passed some comedic street entertainers that kept us riveted for about fifteen minutes. Many of the theme parks have these incidental street entertainers dotted around the place and it’s usually a nice little diversion.

We had made our way over to the Wild Arctic attraction. Sadly, Joey was too short to ride the simulated motion ride so we took the walking entrance to the enclosures with the Polar Bears, Walruses and Beluga Whales. Again, I couldn’t help but think it would have been better to see these majestic animals in their natural habitats. I suppose these places are the closest thing that most people we ever get to these animals.

We passed through the Wild Arctic attraction quite quickly since it was nearly time for the Shamu show to begin. By the time we got there, the amphitheatre was nearly full so we took a pew at the very top over to the far left. The height gave us a great vantage from which to exercise the zoom lenses on our cameras. The show also gave us a chance to put the rapid-fire capability of our cameras to the test. This turned out to be a real success as it meant that we could rapidly take a dozen photos in quick succession of the whales jumping out of the water from which to chose the very best photos to keep.

After the Shamu show, the heat of the sun was really starting to hit home so we took the kids over to the play area for an hours or so. Joey was being very difficult and unruly all morning. The combination of this, the heat and probably the prolonged stress of the past week and a half led us to decide to draw a close to our day at Sea World. We were never going to spend a full day here anyway and I was also getting a little irritated with the fact that a lot of the things to do inside the park required additionally payment. Orlando theme parks are nothing if not very efficient money extracting machines and it has to be said that Sea World holds no bars in this regard.

We took the obligatory shots of the kids playing atop the Shamu statue before setting off towards the park exit and the car park.

Before leaving the house this morning, I called the Disney Lost & Found department in the hope that my mobile phone might have been handed in and, sure enough, it had and was waiting for us. After leaving Sea World, we went back to the Disney resort area to collect the phone. It was interesting getting to drive into areas of the Disney resort area that you would not normally see as a tourist by car. The Lost & Found building, once we eventually found it, is located in the kennel club which is just yards from the Magic Kingdom entrance turnstiles. We’d walked past it and gave it no mind when we visited the Magic Kingdom the other day. To get here ordinarily, we’d have to drive into the massive car park, catch a tram to the transportation centre and then either the boat or monorail to the park entrance.

With my phone finally back in my possession, we set off towards Downtown Disney, where the plan was to grab a bite to eat and peruse all the shops there. We got as far as the car park and sat in the car for nearly half an hour waiting for the rain, which had finally arrived and was bucketing down something fierce, to subside. It never really did ease up so we decided to give up on the idea and we set off back home again for a home-cooked meal and an early bed instead.