Don’t drown in the crowds at Sea World
Like the average theme park vacationer, you’re taking a trip to Orlando to visit Disney and/or Universal Studios. And, if you have some time, you’ll go to Sea World – after all, it just can’t be as busy as Disney or Universal.
More wrong you could not be. Sea World doesn’t run endless commercial buys in prime time network spots, so the perception is the park isn’t crowded. I have to admit, before my wife and I became annual Passport Members to Busch Gardens/Sea World – it had been many years since I visited the ocean park – I held the same view.
But in 2004, we visited Sea World for the first time in nearly ten years: utter shock.
Gone were the dowdy water-ski uniforms park employees used to wear; gone were the zany water ski shows and stuck-in-time themes. The park was updated and new, the park themes and attractions were, well, more attractive. And most surprising were the seas of visitors – crowds at every attraction and restaurant.
In fact, my wife and I visited Orlando during Christmas break in 2005 and it was at Sea World we found the longest lines.
Even in the “off season”, the park draws thousands of guests and one who’s not visited before or in many years would no doubt ask why – the answer is simple: the park has come into its own via entertainment performances that wow viewers over and again.
Unlike Disney’s animatronics and Universal’s cinematic connections, Sea World has live entertainment shows that feature spectacular animal performances. The park also offers animal encounters and rides. But the entertainment shows account for the biggest and busiest three shows at the park:
1) Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island
2) Believe (featuring Shamu)
3) Pets Ahoy!
Firstly, the shows are very entertaining and it’s a delight to see them again. Secondly, the shows aren’t cheesy or too long. And lastly, there are different components to each show that play to both adults and children.
For instance, Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island features sea lions and an otter in a story line with their trainers. About ten minutes before the show begins, a mime entertains the crowd in the stands by pranking unsuspecting guests (repeat visitors know this and arrive early for a good seat).
Speaking of repeat guests, this park is rife with them because of the value – pay for a one day admission and that becomes a limited annual pass. Or for just under $20 a month, guests can purchase a gold pass which allows unlimited access to both Busch Gardens and Sea World; featuring free parking at both parks, plus a 10% discount on all purchases inside the parks.
Such a bargain ensures pass holders will visit often to get the most out of their monthly rate. Since my wife and I live in the Tampa Bay area, we visit Busch Gardens about once a month and Sea World three to four times a year in neighboring Orlando (what would otherwise cost over $80 per visit instead costs under $15 per visit by frequenting both parks).
Which brings us to the title of the piece: the crowds are large no matter the season and the three shows mentioned above fill very quickly. With this being an ever present fact, here are some tips on how to stay ahead of the crowds:
· Arrive to every show early. By early, I mean about 45 minutes. (This is especially true for Pets Ahoy as it is in the Seaport Theater and seating is more limited then in the other venues.
· Arrive to the park itself at or soon after the gates open. Sea World does have trams, but the convenience of having your own vehicle nearby when you exit is valuable.
· The best seating in all for all of the live shows is in the center, just a row or two behind the “splash zone”. (Observe there are splash zones at some shows and if you don’t want to be soaked in fifty-something-degree water, you don’t want to be in the splash zone.)
· Fall and winter are northern resident migratory seasons, traffic becomes heavier and lines at the parks longer.
· Grab your meal to go and get your seat early for the next show. You may have to wait up to an hour in peak seasons just to get your food and if you’ve not already secured a table, be prepared to add up to another 20 to 30 minutes before you even sit.
· Allow up to fifteen minutes getting from one show to another or one attraction to another.
· Plan your day to visit in a circular direction, starting either from Turtle Point or Shamu Stadium and allow for about an hour and a half for each show (including early arrival, walking and actual show time).
· Stake out and secure a spot to see the nightly laser light show at least one hour before show time. The Waterfront is going to be one of the best viewing areas, but it’s usually full up to two hours before show time.
As with all theme parks, expect to spend the entire day visiting and don’t expect to see every attraction and show. If you budget your time wisely, you can see and take in the most popular attractions and shows over one full day.
By Owen Edward