Peanut Adventures, Issue 18 (Sea World special May offerings)
*I have received no compensation of any kind from Sea World for this post, I just genuinely think Sea World is awesome, that they do important work, and that their current offerings are 100% worth your time.*
We spent Mother's Day at Sea World, and we're going to go back.
Going to Sea World is incredibly affordable right now. Single day passes are not only less expensive than other Orlando parks, but if you buy even a single day pass, you are eligible to upgrade that pass to a Fun Card which means you get the rest of the year free. They run tons of specials and discounts on their tickets, there's also the preschooler ticket which allows you to get a free annual pass for any kids aged 5 and under. They also have a payment program where you can get an Annual Pass for less than $15 a month, which includes parking and access to a lot of AP perks (that are actually pretty good, unlike other parks *cough*).
Let's not mince words: Sea World is hurting. In the wake of BlackFish, attendance has been down. Regardless of if you do or don't agree with the Orca program, that really is just the tiniest fraction of what Sea World does. Their animal rescue and rehabilitation program is massive and IMPORTANT, and admission to the parks plays a huge role in that program's sustainability.
Sea World is doing a special program they are calling "Inside Look" for weekends though May 20th (yes, this weekend is the last one, but I'm hoping they will bring this back) to help draw attention to the rescue and rehabilitation work that Sea World does for a variety of animals. When you get to the park, you can get a little passport (not unlike Flower & Garden/ Food & Wine) that outlines the locations and times around the park where you can learn more about the program and stamp your passport (if you fill out all the stamps, you get a free Pin). At any of these 11 locations, you can attend open sessions with animal care workers to hear more about the care and rehabilitation of a particular type of animal (dolphins, penguins, manatees, etc.).
We were able to attend the Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation session at Turtle Trek. In addition to hearing about the program, we got to watch the morning feeding of Sea World's sea turtle residents.
All of the sea turtles that live at Sea World are rescues and have injuries of some sort. None of those injuries by themselves would necessarily mean that they become permanent residents; once turtles are rehabbed, government officials come through and make the call of whether the turtle is returned to the ocean.
One of the turtles, "Grandma," is missing a large portion of her jaw. An animal caretaker must don a wetsuit and go into the water to help Grandma chew her food at every feeding.
We also checked out a Backstage area that's open during the "Inside Look" weekends to see part of the rescue and rehabilitation area. These tanks are temporary housing for manatees.
In addition to the "Inside Look", Sea World is offering special activities for kids on the weekends. There's Elmo Rocks, a new Sesame Street show offered in the Seaport Theater, as well as a Sesame Street character breakfast, Character Dance Party, and special shows on some weekends like "Shopkins Live."
But, perhaps the absolute coolest thing being offered on weekends in May (through the 20th)? All of Sea Worlds special "Up Close" add on tours are BOGO. The only catch is that you have to make the purchase once you're already inside the park.
The tours offer a variety of types of animal interactions, range in length from 30 minutes to 7 hours, and the majority range in price between $20-$85 (the 7 hour tour is more, obviously) before the BOGO discount.
Honestly these tours are an amazing value even before the discount. With the discount? It's practically a steal.
We did the Dolphins Up-Close tour with friends previously. You get to spend around 30 minutes at the Dolphin Nursery with a trainer interacting with dolphins and learning about behavior training.
For Mother's Day I decided to opt for the Penguins Up-Close tour. Something to keep in mind before doing one of these tours is to consider where they will take place; the penguin tour is inside the Antarctica exhibit where it's 32 degrees (bring a jacket!). We had no issues reserving a tour for the same day in park (there were 2 times to choose from).
Our group of less than 10 met at Pacific Point Preserve (where the sea lions are). D loves Pacific Point, since we usually feed the sea lions. That was when we told her what we were doing, that she was going to get to meet a penguin. She promptly flipped out. We were escorted to the rear entrance of the Antarctica building to meet our host caregiver and learn about the facility first.
You get to see the facilities where the animals and their food is looked after. We were taught about the different species of Penguins and which are currently housed at Sea World Orlando. You also get to learn about the coding/tagging system that Sea World uses to track their birds.
Also the "kitchen" where all the fish is prepped and hundreds of pounds of fish are served every day. Feeding is done by a variety of means, including trays that are scattered about the enclosures for the penguins to graze on, as well as periodic feedings where buckets of fish are dumped into the water for the penguins to retrieve.
But the coolest part of the tour comes at the end. You're escorted to a special rear entrance to the Antarctica exhibit, where a small concrete area is fenced off from the rest of the animals' enclosure (you can see the unloading area for the penguin ride from this area). Penguin interactions are dependent on who is giving the tour and the moods of the penguins on that particular day. These penguins are not trained; they don't work on a food reward system where they come pose for photos in exchange for treats. The penguin that comes over has a relationship with that handler and ENJOYS human interaction; the reward for the penguin is getting to have attention.
Our handler headed out into the enclosure and found a King penguin she was familiar with and gently guided him back to our enclosure. (Make note of that little penguin by the gate, you'll be hearing more about her later).
Once the gate was opened, that cute little Rock Hopper penguin tried to sneak in for cuddles, too. Our handler had to gently eject the stowaway.
Each family in the group got to go up and meet Whopper, the King penguin. You could ask questions, pet, they take pictures for you with your phone or camera (they don't provide a photographer, but some tours do).
Once everyone had their turn with Whopper, our handler opened the gate to let him back out into the enclosure. The little Rock Hopper was waiting, and she charged back into the enclosure. Our handler shrugged and decided let her stay in with us. At 5 months old, she'd only just recently acquired her swimming feathers and is as yet unnamed.
We crouched down, she charged under my skirt and let everybody lavish affection on her. Stole the heart right out of my chest.
The whole experience was so special and memorable. I can't recommend these tours enough, and this deal going through May is untouchable.
Go to Sea World, y'all, it's fun AND educational.