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An Insider's guide to guided tours and animal interactions at SeaWorld Orlando

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Published: October 13, 2010 at 11:39 AM

Two weeks ago, we looked at the VIP and backstage tours at Walt Disney World. Today, we head up Interstate 4 a bit and to look at what special tours SeaWorld Orlando has to offer. Again, these are extra options, available as an additional charge on top of your regular park admission.

Beluga Interaction at SeaWorld
That's me in the water a couple summers ago, when I participated in SeaWorld San Diego's beluga interaction program.

Behind-the-Scenes Tour
A look at how SeaWorld's animal experts care for the park's animals, including tours of animal care facilities and a few opportunities to touch and interact with the animals. 90 minutes. $30 adults, $20 children.

Dolphins Up-Close Tour
A walking tour of the Whale and Dolphin Stadium, home of the Blue Horizons show, including a training session where you can touch a dolphin. 60 minutes. $50 adults, $40 children.

Penguins Up-Close Tour
Go behind the scenes at the Penguin Encounter attraction, meet an animal care expert and see a puffin up-close. 60 minutes. $40 adults, $30 children.

Sea Lions Up-Close Tour
You'll have reserved seats for the Clyde and Seamore show, followed by a photo shoot with the show's animal stars. Then, you'll head over to Pacific Point Preserve to feed the sea lions and harbor seals there. 90 minutes. $40 adults, $30 children.

SeaWorld's Family Fun Tour
This tour includes visits to several SeaWorld attractions, including feeding opportunities with dolphins and sea lions, as well as the chance to touch a penguin. You'll also have reserved seating at Believe and front-of-line access and a light meal at the Shamu's Happy Harbor children's play area, where you'll also meet the Shamu character. 4 hours. $65 adults, $50 children.

SeaWorld VIP Tour
A guided tour of the park, including front-of-line access to Manta, Kraken and Journey to Atlantis, as well as reserved seating at Believe, Blue Horizons and Clyde and Seamore. Animal feeding is included as well as lunch for you, too. 7 hours. $100 adults, $75 children.

Private Elite VIP Tour
This custom tour provides front-of-line access to rides and reserved seating at shows, in addition to animal feeding opportunities and dining at the park's table service Sharks Underwater Grill. Basically, you've got a private tour guide for your group, who'll take you where you want. Up to 7 hours. $275 per person, two person minimum.

In addition to the above, SeaWorld offers two seasonal tour options:

SeaWorld's VIP Christmas Celebration
This guided tour starts after 2 pm and includes front-of-line access to Manta and Polar Express, dolphin and sea lion feedings, as well as reserved seating at the Shamu Christmas show, Clyde and Seamore and the Winter Wonderland on Ice show. Dinner at Sharks Underwater Grill is also on the agenda. 7 hours. $125 adults, $100 children.

Family Fun Tour at Christmas
The Christmas version of the park's Family Fun Tour includes dolphin and sea lion feedings, an up-close penguin encounter, reserved seating at one of the park's shows, a light meal and front-of-line access to Polar Express. Oh, and a visit with Santa. 4 hours. $65 adults, $50 children

For more detail about these tours, or to book any of them online, follow the links from SeaWorld's tours page. Note that SeaWorld's passport members get 10 percent off the price of park tours, and that SeaWorld defines "children" as visitors between ages three and nine.

If you're looking for a more intense encounter with the park's animals, SeaWorld also offers three premium animal interaction programs:

Beluga Interaction
You'll put on a park-provided wetsuit then get in the water with the beluga whales at the Wild Arctic exhibit for a guided encounter under the director of SeaWorld's animal trainers. You'll be standing on a ledge in the water, so diving skills are not necessary. (Bring your swimsuit to wear under the wetsuit.) $199 with photo package, $149 without. Ages 10 and older only.

Marine Mammal Keeper Experience
You'll spend much of the day with SeaWorld's animal care experts, learning about the care of dolphins, sea lions and beluga whales, while getting close to the animals yourself. You must arrive at 6:30 am. $339, which includes 7 consecutive days' admission to SeaWorld, lunch on the day of your encounter, a T-shirt and a DVD about animal care careers. Ages 13 and up only.

Sharks Deep Dive
Climb into a shark cage for a trip into the tank at the park's Shark Encounter. You'll be wearing a special helmet with an air supply, so SCUBA certification is not required. The wetsuit is also provides, though you'll need to bring a swimsuit to wear underneath. 90 minutes. $149 (includes T-shirt). Ages 10 and up only.

Visit SeaWorld's animal interactions page for links to important program details and requirements, as well as to book online. Space is very limited for these programs, so advance reservations are a must.

Have you been on any of SeaWorld's tours or animal interaction programs? If so, please share your experience and advice about them, in the comments.

Readers' Opinions

From 71.208.129.18 on October 13, 2010 at 12:03 PM
How long does the Beluga tour last? I'm going in May, and this seems really neat! My fiancee is against sea world, mainly the idea of whales and dolphins being kept in captivity and this would be a good way to show how well they're taken care of. Also, is there a tour that gives you front of the line access AND gives you the beluga experience?
From 204.110.112.2 on October 13, 2010 at 12:05 PM
My GF and I participated on the Beluga Whale Interaction Program. Overall, it was a great experience. I would get the photo package as they great quality pictures of your interaction. As you are aware, you will get wet so I would suggest not wearing glasses. Also, I would do this later in the day or if possible, the last thing you do. After walking around the whole day, it was nice to get in this cool atmosphere and then take a nice, warm shower at the end of the experience and leave feeling refreshed.
From Vickie Boyd on October 13, 2010 at 12:13 PM
We took the VIP tour a couple of weeks ago. It made sense because we have Platinum passes and this was our big trip for the year. It was AMAZING!

As it is with every type of tour like this, the guide is the main issue. We were lucky enough to have a guide who was from NC, so we had lots of things to talk about as we walked to our next part of the tour. She was very knowledgeable about everything and even had her favorites, which she didn't push on us, but mentioned in passing.

We were able to decide what we wanted to do most on the tour, which we chose the feedings (dolphins, seals/sea lions & rays) and getting to meet and pet a penguin. We also got to ride Manta and Kracken, bypassing the lines. Because we had time between feeding the dolphins and seeing the Pet's Ahoy! show, she took us back to the rescue/rehab area. That was so cool. We got to see the baby manatee they had just rescued the week before.

If you have the money available, I highly suggest taking these tours. They are highly educational and a lot of fun. And getting to do things you might not be able to do otherwise is great.

From 153.9.81.135 on October 15, 2010 at 10:28 AM
I've done the VIP tour and it was great. As mentioned above, the backstage stuff was a lot of fun.

I want to do the beluga whale thing, but now that they are adding to discovery cove, I'll go back there first.

From Mary Ann Nowak on October 16, 2010 at 7:36 AM
Back in 2004, My daughter was in college trying to decide whether to pursue a career as a marine mammal keeper, or a zookeeper. We enrolled her in the marine mammal keeper experience for a day program. She spent the day shadowing the marine mammal keepers and it was a way for her to see what they do day-to-day. It was well worth the money to help her see that career option up close and personal.

Ultimately she decided to complete her degree in animal science and is now an elephant keeper at Zoo Miami. The pictures that were available for purchase after her day with the program are priceless memories!

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