Day Four: We Experience SeaWorld

Our vacation time idea of an early start basically meant letting the kids sleep until they woke up on their own. Thanks to a much later bed time, this was also usually when I woke up on my own. I wish every day were like this. On the morning of day four, by the time we were ready to eat, we realized our restaurant was about to stop serving breakfast so we ordered food to our room. Powered with French Toast and breakfast wraps, we set out to explore SeaWorld.

Our SeaWorld admission was included in the price we paid for our tickets to a place called Discovery Cove (more on that later) so we decided to take advantage. I remembered enjoying SeaWorld as a kid, so I assumed our kids would also have a good time there. The entire idea of SeaWorld raised some controversy among the adults. I think we all agree that it seems inherently wrong to keep whales and dolphins and other majestic creatures of the sea trapped in captivity, but when else would we ever have an opportunity to see these creatures up close? SeaWorld has raised the bar really high for North American aquariums, and they are very committed to saving and rehabilitating marine life, and to being very environmentally responsible (or so they say). I mean, they had no lids or straws available anywhere for their disposable cups, and that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

By day four we’d become smart, savvy travelers so our first stop was to the stroller rental place, where we picked up a double stroller for the girls. It was scorching hot with not as much cloud cover as the first few days, so both girls were quick to jump into the stroller to relax. We pulled out a map and a show schedule and tried to make a plan for the day. Our first stop was the Manta, a huge roller coaster that swoops and swirls and tries to simulate the movement of a manta ray, including a nice splash in the pond for the riders. Both girls were too short to ride, so that was that. We popped into our first aquarium and oohed and ahhed over some beautifully coloured fish, octopi, seahorses, etc.

Our path took us to the shark aquarium next. I still get shivers standing on the moving sidewalk and gliding through the shark tube. I had already seen the Jaws films by the time we went to SeaWorld in my childhood and that classic scene will be forever burned into my brain. The girls were absolutely not interested in feeding the sharks. This might be because I told them that it had only been a year or so since the shark tank cracked open. I think they were happy to get the hell out of there unscathed.

The first show available to us was the Orca show called one world. We hiked across the park to the stadium, where we got our seats nice and early. A insisted on sitting in the ‘Splash Zone’ so Mama S joined her. H sat with us higher up because she’s not fond of getting wet unless she’s in a bathing suit. The set was quite elaborate, with huge multi-media projector screens. Even in the shade I was still sweating like a maniac (I later came to realize that at seven months pregnant, this is just what my body does now.) and I was beginning to question whether or not I should head to the Splash Zone myself when the show began. SeaWorld started out with a huge tribute to the armed forces, and asked all of the military families in the audience to stand. People cheered and they flashed the families up on the big screen, then they launched into the show proper. It was called ‘One World’ and the very loose concept was that we are all part of one big world that we need to protect, particularly the creatures of the sea. We watched this message while trained orcas launched their massive bodies into leaps and twirls for our amusement. Just that morning, I had read an article about how one of the Orcas killed a trainer in 2010 during a behind-the-scenes tour. The trainer had been with SeaWorld for 20 years. Seeing the whales for the first time brought tears to my eyes, but it was hard to really surrender to the entertainment like I did as a kid because I really felt confused about my position on the whole idea of SeaWorld. The kids were delighted and amazed, of course, and A and Mama S got significantly soaked with whaley salt water.

After the show ice cream was required. Ice cream at these places is never really ice cream. It’s always that weird soft-serve stuff, but I didn’t care in that moment. I just wanted something cold. The kids opted for a slushy, and my childhood passion for slushies was re-kindled. We stood and consumed our treats while watching a red squirrel sit on a man’s shoe and eat his cone, then flop into a carb coma under the shade of his chair. I think the kids thought it was another of the trained SeaWorld animals. Perhaps it was?

We hit the kids’ zone next. All of us rode the carousel, where I opted for the stationary seat after realizing that there was no way to possibly climb up onto one of the moving creatures in my condition. Also, I was worried that with my size, I would look like a whale mounting a cartoon whale. A quick glance around at the other patrons assured me that this was more common than I thought, and most of the other guests didn’t have pregnancy as an excuse.

When we arrived at SeaWorld we were minutes inside the gates and H already started asking how long we were staying. This might have been due to the huge orca mascot greeting all the guests at the entrance, but now by this point, she wanted to know if we were leaving soon. It was so, so hot and the small amounts of shade didn’t help much. After the carousel, we headed to this huge net climbing structure for the kids. Mama S and I sat on a bench in front of a misting fan. By day four I’d given up on ever having good hair in Florida. Each day I’d try to do something nice, and by noon I’d look like Hermione Grainger. Daddy went up to let the girls know where we were and ended up staying to play. He’s inexhaustible it seems! After a spell we were reunited and the kids wanted to ride the children’s roller coaster. No coasters for me, so I sat and held our bags.

Most of the rides in the kid area were totally boring to Hannah, so we carried on to the next show, which was a seal show about pirates, naturally. Another trek across the park in the blazing heat to get there. At this point, I was also starting to feel a bit flaked.  The pre-show for the seals was this AMAZING mime dressed like a pirate. His schtick was ushering in the crowd and then making fun of people behind their backs to delight the audience. He was great. I could have watched him all day. He made me think of some of the amazing improv performers I worked with back in my Renaissance Festival days. The show itself was a disaster. The lead actor seemed like a jerk, the two seals got in a huge fight and the biggest one chased away the smaller one, who refused to return, and none of the actors seemed equipped with enough comedy to handle the upset in the flow of the show. I never imagined I’d morph into theatre critic mode at SeaWorld, but there I was in the audience thinking I could do it better.  Again, the kids laughed their heads off. What do I know?

Post-seal show marks the point where I wanted to go home. Hannah also wanted to go back to the hotel. I wore a dress to Disney on day two and for the first time ever, my thighs began to chafe. Sexy. I was really starting to feel the burn again, and the shorts I’d packed were too small. My feet and ankles were throbbing and swollen, plus the baby decided to rest all his weight on my bladder so I felt like I had to pee for the entire day. Thank god these theme parks keep their bathrooms pristine. I was quickly dissolving into a whiny, cranky mess.

The majority decided that we should definitely take in the new Turtle Trek adventure in 3D before we left. They sold me on the idea of a seat in an air-conditioned theatre. What they didn’t count on was the 45 minute wait outside, standing in line behind the most obnoxious pre-teen girl on the continent in the sweltering heat. I actually wanted to cry, and really tried my hardest to hold it together to keep the kids’ experience positive.  A kept stomping on my toes in her game of swinging on the metal bars that kept us corralled. At least it was an opportunity to practice my deep breathing.

Finally we got inside where we had to wait some more. This time the wait was in a dark, air conditioned room with an aquarium filled with manatees and sea turtles. The manatees floated, suspended in the water, huge and unmoving. I was so very envious of them. If I were on display in an aquarium, I would have looked exactly the same. I ended up lowering myself miserably to the carpeted floor, only to have the doors open to let us in to our seats. Fortunately I was hoisted up by Daddy.  In to the theatre we shuffled with the crowd, only to realize that there WERE. NO. SEATS. We stood, leaning against bars, under a big dome of a projection screen. Apparently it was the height of 3D technology, with the movie unfolding all around us. We got to experience a journey from hatching to returning to the beach to lay eggs from the perspective of a sea turtle. I’m sure it was great, but I was so completely and totally over SeaWorld by then and my feet were swelled up like puffer fish.

Finally we were released from captivity and we headed for the exit of the park. I was starting to feel like a whistling kettle that nobody had removed from the element. I’m not a very subtle person either. H was near tears too, so at least I had an ally. Even Daddy I’m sure was aching and tired. SeaWorld is not designed well for a very pregnant lady, tired kids and a one-legged man. Mama S never complains. Ever. On our way to the exit, we encountered the sting ray pool where there were throngs of people feeding the rays and petting them. We didn’t stop to feed, with the promise that the next day we’d return and feed the dolphins and sting rays, but we did get to pet a few. Their stingers are removed, of course. Our children are wonderful and gentle and respectful with animals, but there were so many parents I wanted to slap for letting their kids just go wild, unsupervised. Poor creatures in the pool. I wondered how many injuries they suffered at the hands of idiots. They were so beautiful to watch, and kind of silly too. It seemed like they were splashing people on purpose. They feel exactly like wet portobello mushrooms.  This was easily the highlight of the kids’ day.

Back at the hotel we laid in the a/c for half an hour and got changed into our “swim costumes” as Daddy calls them. We ate a quick dinner and then spent the rest of the evening in the blessed relief of the pool enjoying our second wind. Once in the water, H never wants to get out. I think she would have been happy to have spent another entire day at the pool, but SeaWorld did inspire some pretty awesome dolphin play.

Day Five is SeaWorld part two. Stay tuned to learn an amazing thing about dolphins!