Jun 25, 2010

Review: Sea World San Diego

We went to Sea World in San Diego for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The boys had a great time, and the animal performances are truly amazing. Everyone’s favorite part was the Sea Lions Live show, in which two sea lions and an otter do scenes from popular TV shows. I left wanting a small otter to take home as a pet. The host of that show was the most entertaining part of the day, and before the show began, it was fun trying to identify the TV theme song before he acted it out.

We saw three other shows, Shamu Live, Blue Horizons, and Pets Rule. Predictably, Shamu Live has killer whales – and it just blows my mind that these enormous creatures can lift their bodies out of the water the way they do. Unfortunately, the "story" element of the show – involving some unclear theme of "believe" – detracts, rather than adds, to the enjoyment. And since the story involved a carved wooden whale tail, as we left the stadium, there was someone hawking whale tail necklaces to hit us over the head with the commercialism.

Blue Horizons primarily features dolphins but also has pilot whales and beautiful birds. However, here too, there’s a ridiculous story that just gets in the way of the entertainment. In fact, they needed an emcee to describe the premise before the show started: a "young girl" dreams of interacting with dolphins and birds, and her dreams come true when she meets the dolphin god Delphis and the bird goddess Aurora. The "young" girl looked to be at least 30, so that was disconcerting. Delphis turned out to be a trainer whose gray wetsuit had the outline of a dolphin tail. Aurora and her bird trainers were not-quite-spectacular Cirque de Soleis style performers. There were also high divers looked like they’d reached their pinnacle in college - they were good, but not great, and one of them hit the water face first, causing me to cringe.

You are allowed to enter the stadiums 30 minutes before showtimes, but for the most part, you’re then stuck sitting there with the kids with nothing to do. It’s not that big a deal for adults or older kids, but I recommend being prepared with a distraction with younger kids. We had snacks while waiting, which worked out because of the time between shows.

Speaking of food, we ate lunch at the Calypso Bay Smokehouse, which was about what you’d expect from an amusement park restaurant: marginally edible and overpriced. Exercise caution if you order a large soda, because they don’t provide lids unless you spring for a souvenir cup – I ended up with soda on my plate, though it fortunately landed in an unoccupied compartment.

Although the signs outside the park say no outside food or water, we clearly had bottled water and snacks in our backpacks when they were inspected at the gate and were allowed to bring them in. That helped keep costs down, since of course, everything is outrageously expensive inside the park. I was particularly shocked by the cold soda in reusable plastic bottles that were being sold before the shows for $8.75.

There are a few rides at Sea World, but my boys didn’t meet the height requirement for most of them. For younger kids, the Sesame Street-themed rides in the Sesame Street Bay of Play area are great. Active kids of all ages will enjoy the climbing structure that’s in the same area.

Right now, Sea World has a deal where you get a child’s ticket for just $5 when you buy an adult’s ticket. Regular admission is $69 for ages 10 and up and $59 for ages 3 through 9 (ages 2 and under get in free), so the $5 deal is awesome.

Parking note: We arrived shortly after the park opened and declined the upgrade to VIP parking for an additional $5. After we parked, we were surprised by how close we were to the park (a world of difference from Disneyland), so I think you would want to pay for preferred parking only in very exceptional circumstances.

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