I’m centimetres away from a group of dolphins, close enough to see the way their smiley mouths turn up at the corners and the nuances of their skin colour. I’m standing at the edge of a pool with my husband and children in the observation area of SeaWorld Orlando’s Dolphin Cove and I’m spellbound. Right next to us is a roped-off area containing a line of people who’ve queued to feed the dolphins. By chance we’re standing next to the rope just before feeding time, and it’s absolutely the perfect place to observe these beautiful creatures.
If pushed I’d say this was my highlight of our trip to SeaWorld Orlando, but we had such a wonderful day there that it’s difficult to choose. I visited the park for the first time in May to preview the new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin ride for the FT. I loved my day there but found it odd to be at an amazing theme park while my children were thousands of miles away. I was really looking forward to returning with them, and SeaWorld kindly provided tickets for the four of us when we went to Florida for a family holiday.
One of the first things we do at the park is go on the penguin ride which I’d previewed: it’s now open. My teen loves penguins and says that this attraction is one of her favourite things at SeaWorld. The ride is fun and ends at the chilly, simulated Antarctic environment which is home to hundreds of penguins. It’s fascinating to watch the birds but too cold to stay there for long – I feel sorry for the people who work in there. After a few minutes we move to an area where you can watch the penguins as they swim underwater and where the temperature is comfortable for us.
One of the best things about SeaWorld is that it offers loads of opportunities like this to watch marine creatures from very close up. Besides the penguins and dolphins, our favourite spots include the transparent tunnel with a moving walkway which carries you through a pool of sharks, the shallow lagoon where stingrays swim and the stunning aquarium under the Manta rollercoaster where I took this photo:
The park has some fantastic animal shows. There are seven on the day we visit and we manage to see all of them except Shamu Rocks. It’s the last show of the day and the stadium is full up by the time we amble over to it. My favourite show is Sea Lions Tonite, which parodies the other shows in the park and makes me cry with laughter.
Manta and Kraken are two huge rollercoasters at the park, neither of which the teen and I fancy going on. The youngest and his Dad can’t wait to try them. The youngest is very quiet after these rides, but assures me he enjoyed them. It’s so hot that we’re all happy to be soaked on the Journey to Atlantis water ride. I enjoy going up in the 400-ft high Sky Tower for the views it offers of the area. I had no idea Orlando was so green and leafy despite everything that’s been built there. The youngest is struck by something else. He says: ‘Look at the car park, it’s massive.’ He’s right.
Apart from water and sealed snacks, visitors to SeaWorld aren’t allowed to take food or drink into the park. (This contrasts with the Disney parks, where we took a picnic in a cool bag every day and hired a locker to store it in.) I remember the food as good from my last visit so we decide to try SeaWorld’s all-day dining deal which offers food and drink at six of the park’s restaurants. We enjoy lunch (burritos then fruit) and dinner (burgers then fruit) at the park as well as cold drinks and snacks whenever we need them and this allows us to make the most of our wonderful day there.
Family travel lowdown: Thank you to SeaWorld Orlando for supplying the tickets for our day at the park. For details of tickets and dining deals click here.