SeaWorld Orlando 2012 Trip Report

This Spring, my family and I took our first major theme park trip of the season. Luckily, we’re only an 8-hour drive from the themeparkopolis of Central Florida. With our kids’ interest in animals and their Dad’s interest in world-class roller coasters, I thought SeaWorld Orlando would make for a fun adventure. Like SeaWorld Parks’ dryer parks, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Tampa, SeaWorld Orlando has the same high bar for theming, park operations, landscaping, and top-notch rides.

Ever Seen a Break Dancing Orca?

SeaWorld Orlando - One Ocean ShowI seldom see the shows at theme parks as roller coasters are my main focus, but since this was a family trip shows were a big part of the experience. I wasn’t dissapointed. The shows were quite entertaining. Seeing those big, 3 ton whales in person is awesome. The biggest tip that learned about seeing shows is that it pays to get to the shows early for good seats. The seats closer to the performance area were marked with warnings to let guests know that they may get wet, but the view would have been worth it in my opinion.

One Ocean is the main show and it showcases Shamu. Or should I say the shamus? In it, several orcas perform a number of synchronized jumps. The trainers remained on the stage giving the orcas treats between stunts. The highlight for me was watching one of them break dancing by spinning on a platform at the front of the arena.

Blue Horizons Show - SeaWorld OrlandoI really enjoyed the cirque du soleil-like Blue Horizons. The show merged birds, dolphins, and a neat-looking false killer whale. The human performers did high dives and performed acrobatic maneuvers on rigs above the water at times. I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a rather large bird that makes a surprising appearance during this show that causes a lot of ooh’s and ahh’s.

Later in the day, when I was off riding some coasters, my wife and kids checked out Shamu Rocks. They seemed to really like it. From the sounds of it, it’s less theatrical and dramatic and just more fun. I also overheard guests saying that they liked the music from Shamu Rocks a lot more than One Ocean.

Animals Everywhere – Some of SeaWorld Orlando’s Exhibits

I love how SeaWorld and sister park Busch Gardens Tampa incorporate animal exhibits throughout the park. There’s not a zoo section or area, the exhibits are fully integrated into experiencing the park. My daughters were a little skittish so my attempt to show them the mantas and seahorses in the manta exhibit was thwarted. I made the mistake of mentioning an octopus that I remembered from my last visit and my oldest was too afraid to go in because she might catch a glimpse of it.

We did see the flamingos and ducks. And, the dolphin nursery was another highlight. Unfortunately, the turtles were acclimating to their new environment in SeaWorld’s new 3D 360 Turtle Trek attraction. Again, my kids weren’t in the most courageous mood, but there are a number of other exhibits where guests can get up close and personal with the marine life.

SeaWorld Orlando’s Roller Coasters

I was with the family the majority of the day checking out the shows, animals, and visiting the kids area. The last hour I had a chance to ride some of the park’s roller coasters. Shamu Express is a small Zierer family coaster in the Shamu’s Happy Harbor area of the park. SeaWorld even themed this pint-sized coaster. The unusually long train has an orca on the front car. My coaster-riding daughter wasn’t feeling brave. So, I tackled the ride solo. It has a surprising bit of force for a smaller coaster.

Manta at SeaWorld - flying roller coaster

Manta is the park’s signature roller coaster. The impressive flying coaster is a top 20 steel coaster for me. It not only boasts the excitement of the face-down flying position and fun loops, but it also features a show-stopping swoop to a pond that triggers a neat splash effect. Manta also has one of the coolest queues around with its large marine life exhibits integrated right into the queue. I was hoping to get a quick ride in, but the line was moving very slow. So, I bailed. I rode Manta several times back when it opened during its media day. Read my review here: Manta at SeaWorld Orlando

Even though it was looking a little rainy and I wasn’t really interested in getting wet, I needed a fresh ride on Journey to Atlantis so that I could write a good review. The water roller coaster is basically a lengthy and highly-themed shoot-the-chute water ride with a short tracked coaster section. It’s an okay ride, but as I said in my review, I wish there was a bit more coaster and a bit less water. I got a little wet from the ride and the rain. Read my full review here: Journey to Atlantis at SeaWorld Orlando

Kraken - SeaWorld OrlandoKraken is a large floorless looping roller coaster that looms over the back of the park. The ride’s teal track is probably one of the first things many see as they approach SeaWorld. It was drizzling and the park was about to close, but I was hoping that I could slip in a quick ride on Kraken. I might have been better off skipping it.

I’m a huge fan of the ride’s designers (Bolliger & Mabillard), as their rides are known for their smoothness, but Kraken was uncharacteristically rough. I wish that I would have asked Bob Mampe about this, but I’m thinking that the roughness had to do with the empty train as there was only one other rider when I rode it. And, I remember a similar experience when I rode Dominator at Geauga Lake.  It was rough when empty and much, much less so when it had more riders. Anyway, it’s a great ride, but I caught it in an unusual state. Read my full review here: Kraken at SeaWorld Orlando

Here’s a recap of the lessons that I learned from our SeaWorld trip:

  • Don’t mention potentially scary animals to daughters.
  • Plan ahead and get to the shows early to get a good seat.
  • If large a looping roller coaster has empty trains, think twice about riding it.
  • Always bring a car remote, so the family’s not stuck walking aimlessly around a large parking lot (in the rain!).

Have you been to SeaWorld Orlando? What’s your take on the park? What’s your favorite show, exhibit, or ride? Got some tips to share? Leave a comment below.

Image 1 via CC Flickr User – Colleen Pence, Image 2 via CC Flickr User – stevendepolo, Image 4 via CC Flickr User – hyku