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Robert Niles
Editor

Plan your day at SeaWorld Orlando

Published: July 3, 2013 at 4:26 PM

SeaWorld Orlando offers a substantially different experience than the other Orlando-area theme parks. At SeaWorld, the park's focus is on live animals, not television and movie characters (though you might find Sesame Street characters in the park from time to time). But the bigger difference between SeaWorld and the other area parks might be SeaWorld's emphasis on live shows in huge theaters over the ride-based attractions that command the majority of visitors' attention at Disney and Universal.

SeaWorld Orlando entrance

What to do before you go

Most people who visit SeaWorld Orlando do so as part of a visit to the Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Resorts (or both!) SeaWorld Orlando is located between those two resorts, south of Universal Orlando and north of Walt Disney World. If you're attending a convention, SeaWorld's located just across the 528 Beachline Expressway from the Orange County Convention Center.

Unlike Disney and Universal, SeaWorld offers just one theme park in Orlando, but it also offers a popular water park, Aquatica, in addition to Discovery Cove, a smaller, more-exclusive animal encounter park where visitors can swim with dolphins, among other activities.

If you're considering staying near SeaWorld to take advantage of its central location, SeaWorld has partnered with seven "official" hotels around its property, and offers a package of benefits to visitors who book through its website into those hotels. The benefits include early access to the park on selected days, free use of SeaWorld's "Quick Queue" front-of-the-line pass, and free transportation not just to the SeaWorld parks but also to the Universal Orlando parks.

Having front-of-line not as valuable here as it is at Universal, so keep that in mind as you weigh the value of various hotels' benefits. Buying the "Quick Queue Unlimited" option here costs just $19-$29 a day, though, so it might be a nice add-on if you can't make it into the park at opening to avoid the long lines for the park's newest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. Quick Queue also allows you to skip the lines at the park's five other rides, plus the TurtleTrek movie, though not for the kiddie rides in the Shamu's Happy Harbor area. (But you have an option for that — just keep reading.)

If you're visiting SeaWorld along with Universal Orlando, consider the Orlando Flex Ticket, which allows unlimited admission to SeaWorld, Aquatica and the Universal Orlando parks for 14 consecutive days. The "Flex Ticket Plus" throws in admission to SeaWorld's sister park Busch Gardens in Tampa. You can price the Flex Tickets, along with other multi-day and one-day ticket options, on SeaWorld's website. Note that SeaWorld offers a $10 discount on one-day tickets bought in advance via its website.

If you live near another SeaWorld-owned theme park, Platinum Annual Passes provide unlimited admission to 10 of the company's theme and water parks around the United States (though not to Discovery Cove). If you are interested in Discovery Cove, its all-inclusive packages — which start at $229 per person — also include 14 consecutive days of admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica as part of that price, so that can be another way to get SeaWorld tickets.

Going to Discovery Cove isn't the only way to get close to the animals, though. SeaWorld offers a variety of animal encounters, as well as VIP tours. We tried the Beluga Whale Interaction at sister park SeaWorld San Diego a few years back, if you'd like to read a first-hand account of such experiences. Prices start at $29 for behind-the-scenes tours up to $100+ for in-water animal encounters, depending upon season.

Parents with young children might consider the Family Fun Tour, starting at $59 for kids and $79 for adults. It includes front-of-line access to the Shamu Happy Harbor kiddie rides, as well as an animal feeding, reserved seating at the killer whale show, and meet-and-greet with the park's Shamu walk-around character (not the live whale — FWIW, none of the park's killer whales are actually named "Shamu").

Finally, if you'd like a table-service meal while visiting the park, Theme Park Insider readers recommend SeaWorld's Sharks Underwater Grill, where, as the name implies, you can dine with an underwater view of the park's shark aquarium. You can book a free priority seating time via SeaWorld's website. The park also offers Dine With Shamu, a buffet served waterside at the park's killer whale facility, where trainers offer a short presentation with the whales during your meal.

When you get to SeaWorld Orlando

Check SeaWorld's website in advance of your visit not just to find the park's opening time on the day you'd like to visit, but also to check the day's show schedule.

With the park's emphasis on popular live shows, you'll build your day around those show times, rather than just making your way from one continuously loading ride to another, as you would for the bulk of your time at Disney or Universal. You'll also find a list of the day's show times on back of the large paper park maps you can pick up when you enter SeaWorld. Plan to arrive at each theater 10-30 minutes before show time, depending upon how busy the park seems, to ensure your choice of seats together.

SeaWorld does have rides, though, and they're best to get done first thing in the morning. At mid-day, you'll find the park's longest lines at its newest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, despite the ride's poor ratings from many visitors. It's a short dark ride followed by a visit to the park's penguin habitat, and visitors' enjoyment of the attraction seems inverse to how long they waited for it. The penguin habitat is kept at 30 degrees, so the longer you can stand the cold, the more you'll enjoy getting see dozens of penguins, up close, with no glass between you and them.

If you don't have a Quick Queue pass, and you want to see Antarctica, start your day there. Otherwise, start with the top attractions recommended by Theme Park Insider readers:

Note that you will get soaking wet on Journey to Atlantis, so you might skip that ride on particular cool or overcast winter days.

Once you've done the park's top rides, move on to the shows. Our readers' top recommended shows at SeaWorld are:

Killer whale show

If you're visiting during the summer months, our readers also recommend the Sea Lions Tonight! show, which plays only on summer evenings. There's also a Shamu Rocks show, followed by fireworks, in the summer months.

When you enter a SeaWorld theater and see some of the seats designated as a "splash zone" — SeaWorld's not kidding. You run a strong chance of getting soaked if you sit in the Splash Zone, and might get wet if you sit too near it. For some visitors, especially on hot summer days, that's part of the fun of SeaWorld. And if not, well, consider yourself warned.

If you've got kids and want to blow off some steam in Shamu's Happy Harbor, plan to do that before or after seeing the One Ocean show, as its theater is next to the Happy Harbor, and a long walk away from everything else in the park.

Just wander and enjoy the animal exhibits and other shows in between your desired showtimes for the rest of the day. Even at its busiest, this isn't a park where you spend an enormous amount of time waiting. But it does offer many opportunities for unique moments, from touching bat rays to feeding dolphins or seals. It's SeaWorld. Go with the flow.

Feeding a dolphin

Where to eat

SeaWorld used to be owned by a food and beverage company (Anheuser Busch), so even the counter-service food here tends to be pretty good, though the park no longer offers the free beer tastings it did back in the Busch days. You'll do well with pretty much any food selection in the park, if you didn't book a table service meal in advance. If you're really hungry, SeaWorld sells an All-Day-Dining Deal, $32.99 for adults and $17.99 for children 3-9, that allows you to get two courses every time through the line at its restaurants, with as many passes through the line as you can to make. You can buy that option in advance via the website, or at a booth near the front gate when you enter.

What's next at SeaWorld Orlando?

With the park's largest-ever capital expansion. Antarctica, just opened, nothing new's on the horizon for SeaWorld Orlando just yet.

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