We had both been to Sea World in Orlando, and expected pretty much the same park minus Kraken and Journey to Atlantis (coming soon). We entered the park when it opened, and head straight for the scheduling center to see if there were any interesting behind the scenes tours, something we really enjoyed at the Florida park. Aside from the trainer for a day program, there weren’t any programs that interested us, so we went to the passport members’ center,something I think every park should have, located by the hospitality house. The passport center not only processes passes, but offers special perks for passholders including show reservations and frequent visitor rewards. We made show reservations for the entire day, but later found out they really weren’t necessary because the park was not very crowded, but probably would have been very handy had we visited on a Saturday or during the summer.
The way the reservation system works is that you place your name on a list, and the staff at each show is given the list of reserved seats for each show, and blocks out rows in the theater for pre-reserved guests. The frequent visitor rewards machines I thought were a very clever idea, and those who frequent minor-league baseball will understand the value of these machines. Basically, you walk up to this ATM-style machine that will scan your passport, and it will dispense coupons on every visit. The system keeps track of the number of days you scan you passport at the machine and dispenses more valuable coupons as you rack up visits. Our coupons were nothing special (20 percent off merchandise, and I think a free popcorn with drink purchase), but they get better the more you visit.
After scheduling our day, we began touring the park, and found it was very similar to the Florida park. Wild Arctic is exactly the same, except for some subtle differences in the animal displays. I found it interesting that the polar bear exhibit was open to the outside from the top. The Penguin Encounter and Manatee exhibit were also identical to the Florida park. The Shark Encounter was similar to the way Orlando’s shark exhibit used to be, only smaller. Shipwreck Rapids was closed for maintenance, and probably would haven't been much fun to ride considering the weather. We chose not to watch Haunted Lighthouse because it is identical to BGW’s 4-D movie.
What is different in this park are the shows. Our first show was the Dolphin Show which was very well done, with some very interesting sing-along pre-show entertainment. The Dolphin Discovery area behind the pavilion is where the trainer-for-a-day program is located. It looked to be a lot of fun, but was too costly and time consuming for our limited visit. The Pets Rule show is a must-see, and employs some amazing pets that are definitely well taken care of. Fools With Tools staring Clyde and Seamore was a fun show, and is much like the show are Six Flags Worlds of Adventure (formerly Sea World Ohio), but Clyde and Seamore’s Escape from Pirate Island at Sea World Orlando was a lot better. The Shamu show is the ultimate marine mammal show. I still am amazed by the cooperation between the trainers and animals, especially animals that are some of the fiercest predators in the sea. Throw in a trip to Beer School and a walk through the assorted aquariums, and our day was complete around 4:00 PM.
Sea World San Diego isn’t going to blow anyone away, but as we found, it is a great family destination, and very welcoming of passport members, even from other Busch parks. Coming next time... a quick trip up I-5 to Anaheim for 3½ days at the Disneyland Resort.