This Ain’t Your Mama’s Sea World

My love story with Sea World San Antonio began in 1988, the year the park opened.  I was in the 3rd grade about to go into 4th (exactly Dude’s age).  My grandmother bought my brother and I season passes for those first few years the park was open and the rest is history.  There were no rollercoasters, splash play areas, or water parks back in those days.  No ma’am…it was just me and the animals (marine mammals to be exact).  I will skip over the early years where I aspired to be a marine biologist or a marine mammal trainer (true story) and tell you many oceans sailed by before I ventured back to Sea World. A couple of years ago my best friend, Danielle, started coming in from Houston to bring my godchildren (ages 4 and 3) to Sea World and I started to hear how great it was again (of course I didn’t actually suffer through going to Sea World with them – I would just meet them at La Fogata for margaritas afterwards).  Sea World was so far away, so expensive, so hot. Then this summer I decided to sign up Dudette for a week of Sea World Camp (I had gone to a week long summer educational camp at Sea World in elementary school and wanted to live vicariously through her, which I did by the way – more on that below) and saw for myself that this is most definitely not your mama’s Sea World from 1988.   And so my love was rekindled….

Sea World (the main park)

 Sea World still has Shamu, the penguins, and the sea lions.  Shamu is still spectacular, the penguins still stink like fish but offer a chilly escape from the blazing sun, and the sea lion show is still hilarious (hey a walrus reading the newspaper never gets old!).  But it has become so. much. more. than what it was 25 years ago when I started going: rollercoasters, kids’ play areas, Aquatica, animal encounters, and fantastic summer camps. The park has become savvy in keeping up with other world class theme parks around the country (the ones in Orlando in particular come to mind):  they offer Quick Queue passes (think FastPass at Disney or Express Pass at Universal Studios) and Free Package Pickup from gift shops (I first saw this at Legoland Orlando).  They have a Facebook page (hint: like their page and find out about great deals you wouldn’t otherwise know), a Blog (hear first when new babies are born), a free iPhone App with a ton of useful info, and you can text Aquatica to confirm if they are open in case weather is an issue. The park is also now catering to the more cost-conscious visitor, which necessarily includes us locals!

I had no idea they now allowed coolers inside!

They also have all day dining deals  and reasonable water bottle prices (gone are the days where they knew they had you captive in a 100 degree Texas concrete jungle and charged you an arm and a leg for a bottle of water because they could).  A bottle of water costs $2.89 (hey it is still cheaper than at the airport where they really do have you captive), but you can easily bring your own now.    Another noticeable change is that beer is now sold all over the park and not just in one tiny corner like it was in years past (no judging please!) They revamped some of the shows, added Sesame Street Bay of Play for little ones (which you’ve already discovered as a great feature if you’ve been there in the last couple of years), and added a couple of pretty good rides for older kids (39” & 48” requirements, plus an awesome one for us taller thrill seekers at 54”).

Dudette is a pint-sized thrill seeker and absolutely loves the Steel Eel!

Overall, Sea World is new and improved (to me at least!).  So much so that I bought our family Annual Passes to both Sea World and Aquatica.  Think that’s too steep for your budget, especially at the end of summer?  Think again…an Annual Pass allows you to visit both parks for one full calendar year (and not just the current season).  Not only will you get to enjoy the parks for the rest of this summer, but the park is open weekends almost year round, you can see their Holiday Shows, and visit the parks well into next summer too.  Surprisingly, they have an EZPay Option for these passes that allows you to pay out the cost over the 12 months with no added fees or interest.  I couldn’t believe it.  This makes great sense for us locals.  Visiting the park twice just about covers the price of the passes.   For us, we have started looking at Sea World (and Aquatica) as a great option for a weekend activity that doesn’t have to take up the entire day.  Visit for a few hours in the morning or for a few hours in the evening.

Aquatica

The entrance is actually right inside of Sea World near its main entrance (no shuttles or trams necessary).

Aquatica really is great.  It is clean, not overly big or spread out, and has good-sized lockers and changing rooms. If you have slightly older kids like we do (who are strong swimmers and love waterslides and waterparks), then this place will keep them occupied and they will have a blast.  I sought out Danielle’s advice on the under 5 crowd and got the same rave reviews. Together, we came up with some useful tips for moms heading to Aquatica, regardless of your kids’ ages:

Tips for all moms:

  •   Sting ray feeding is a must! ($5 per tray of 3 fish- continuous feeding throughout the day)

My goddaughter, Reese (age 3), feeding the stingrays

  • Get there early to beat the heat and the lines (park can reach capacity mid-afternoon)
  • Personally I would skip the sand lounging area unless you are interested in carrying it home with you
  • Come prepared: either print your own map or, better yet, download the free App since park maps can be scarce on peak days (applies to Sea World too)
  • Save $$$: Pack a small cooler with waters, juice (leave straws at home), and snacks or sandwiches
  • The park remain opens on weekends through September

Tips especially for moms of little ones:

  • Quality life jackets are in abundance- they are everywhere and there are plenty (same with lifeguards)

These nice lifejackets are available (free) all over the waterpark

  • Stingray Falls slide is a must! (36” height requirement)
  • Head to the small pool in back made especially for little ones with small slides nearby

Great pool area for little ones away from the crowds

  • Check out the height requirements right away near the Aquatica ticket counter or once inside – there isn’t clear signage at the entrance to each ride and we saw many parents having to walk their kids back down after having waited in a long line- no fun!

Avoid tears by checking what they can actually ride when you first get there

  • Lazy River on peak days may be too hectic for your little ones (and for you)- we noticed too few tubes for the number of people swimming and the current is strong enough that you won’t be comfortable with little ones floating off into the sea of bodies-  there are better places in the park for pint sized swimmers
  • The wave pool is way cool for older kids, but you may want to skip this too once the waves get going…the biggest waves I’ve seen in a wave pool! Yikes!
  • They even offer swim lessons!

Summer Camps!

Yes, there is still time…

This summer we were looking for something different for a one week summer day camp for Dudette.  She is an animal lover and really loves learning about all things animal.  Sea World Camp immediately came to mind from my own fond memories of my time at Sea World day camp when I was in elementary school. I just assumed it would be similar to my experience with a lot of classroom time and some cool chats with the trainers.  Boy was I wrong!  This is a full on day camp experience where the kids get to see shows, do crafts, have hands-on experiences with animals, ride rides, sing camp songs, and even sleepover on Friday night! The Ocean Quest camps run Monday-Thursday 8:30-3:30 (all summer long), with an option to add a Friday day session called “Let’s Get Wet!”  The weeklong camp includes Friday evening for the families to come eat dinner with their camper and enjoy Summer Night Shows together with the group and….. it concludes with a sleepover  in the Penguin Encounter or the Shark Exhibit! (this is why there is no day camp on Fridays) Way cool!

These camp sessions are for campers ages 5-12 (they are grouped by age) and parents have the option of spending the night on Friday with their camper. Sea World Camp is organized, well-run, and keeps the kids entertained.  They will come home exhausted each day from walking around in the Texas heat (they take hydration seriously and provide a water bottle that is kept filled up), but super excited the next morning.  Dudette is NOT a morning person and I’ve never seen her so chipper at 7:00 am.  They provide 2 t-shirts for each camper (we’ve done the camps where the t-shirt is required 5 days in a row, but they only give you one…and we’ve got 2 households to deal with on top of it, so  I really appreciated the 2 shirts!) and the required water bottle.

The counselors are professional, but enthusiastic and super great with the kids. Pick up and drop off is surprisingly easy and efficient (parking pass provided and you pull up to the front curb to park- easy peasy…can’t say the same for the carpool line at school!)

Next time you are at the park keep your eye out for these yellow Camp t-shirts and the camp issued water bottle!

Dudette touched a stingray and a shark (!!), rode a “big kid” rollercoaster, fed sea lions, made some new friends, and to top it all off we got to spend Friday night with her and  THE PENGUINS! Very cool (and fishy smelling)! Sleeping with the sharks is also an option on some weeks (just check the schedule).

Break out your sleeping bags!

Sleeping with these guys was pretty darn cool (yes. it was literally “cool” too!)

It’s not too late for this summer…

(keep reading for some great news)

There are actually two sessions left for Sea World Camp this summer (weeks of August 12 & 19) if you are looking for something to occupy your kids as summer closes (are they driving you crazy yet?!).  They’ve got spaces left for all age groups too.  The last week of camp (August 19) does not have a sleepover and is replaced by a Let’s Get Wet session on Friday instead. Really looking forward to a sleepover, though? No worries.  Sea World has stand alone sleepovers not only throughout the summer but into the school year too.  There is a Howl-o-Scream sleepover (October 5 &26) and a Christmas sleepover (December 7).  So if summer camp is not in the cards for you this summer (put it on your list for next summer!), then be sure to look into the upcoming sleepovers.

The Education Department at Sea World is offering one free Ocean Quest camp session to one of our readers for this summer! The winner can choose either of the remaining August 12 or 19 sessions (keep in mind no sleepover the week of the 19th) and the lucky camper can be any age between 5 -12. Can’t make the next 2 weeks work for your animal enthusiast?  No problem!  Sea World is also giving away a holiday sleepover (your choice of Halloween or Christmas) to one of our readers.  I’m so excited to share our great camp experience with two of our readers!  Enter each giveaway below for your chance to win!  The winners will be announced this Friday.

So…how does our family feel about Sea World these days???

The cover to Dudette’s Sea World journal made during camp

Disclaimer:  I have not received any compensation for my opinions, this post, or my shining endorsements of the Sea World Camp.  I paid full price for Dudette’s camp session and our Annual Passes and I’m very glad I did! I contacted the Education Department to find out if there was availability left for this summer so I could pass that info on in this post and they generously offered to give away the camp session and sleepover!

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15 Responses to This Ain’t Your Mama’s Sea World

  1. hcd August 9, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    I know it is a year later but my kids are going this summer and we never got a what to bring email or anything. So do they need to bring lunches, swimsuits, etc? They go Monday and we have no idea!

    • Bridget
      Bridget August 10, 2014 at 11:35 am #

      @hcd- sorry for the late response! I tried responding yesterday, but our site was having some fits.

      We did Sea World Camp again this year and loved it! So glad you are trying it out.

      Yes, you need to pack a lunch everyday. It doesn’t have to be a sack lunch- actually your regular school lunchbox is best because they collect all of the lunches in a tote in the mornings at drop offs and bring them to where the kids have lunch. You will get it back each day- haven’t lost one yet.

      They provide the tshirts and water bottle the first morning of drop off (although I did give Dudette a Gatorade in her lunch each day to help with hydration). I also sent her with a sunscreen stick each day that could fit in her pocket. Her cheeks were getting burned this summer for some reason. Also spray down with sunscreen each morning at home or at drop off. A hat is highly recommended too.

      As far as swimsuit goes, regular shorts each day are fine. They won’t get super wet- maybe a little on rides and in shows. If you are signed up for the Friday Let’s Get Wet session, then a swimsuit under tshirt (for girls) or wearing swimshorts (for boys) is recommended.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions…happy to help! You will enjoy next week!

      Bridget

  2. Brian Carter August 9, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your experiences at SeaWorld & Aquatica with your readers! I’m happy to hear that you and your family have been enjoying your Annual Passes (pass members rock!!), and we appreciate the feedback about SeaWorld Camp and the attractions you experienced.

    Come see us again soon!

    Brian Carter
    SeaWorld & Aquatica

  3. Natalie August 7, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    I would choose Christmas!

  4. Christina August 7, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    I think we’d choose a Halloween sleepover!

  5. Alvina Castro August 7, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Halloween!

  6. Elizabeth August 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    What a wonderful present to give to your kiddo anytime of the year. What an extra special Christmas it would be to enjoy Sea World all lit up during the Christmas Holiday. Thanks for review I am going to talk to my husband about making a trip real soon.

  7. Bridget August 7, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    @ Emily- so glad you found the review helpful. I’m more glad that it reignited your enthusiasm for Sea World! It’s funny how things change during different phases of our lives.

  8. Emily August 7, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Thank you for this wonderful review!! I’m so excited to check out Seaworld again!!

  9. Amanda Volz August 7, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    My older daughter attended the Sea World camp two years ago and LOVED it. I’m hoping to win this for one of the last two weeks of summer, and I’d send my little one for her first time, and buy a seat for my older daughter.

    If we don’t win a summer camp, then Christmas would be perfect!

    • Amanda Volz August 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      Also….the correct Sea World twitter account is @seaworldtexas

  10. Liz I August 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    I’d choose Christmas! how fun! 🙂

  11. Lindsey August 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    Christmas

  12. Bridget August 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    @ Jeana- I promise you she will love it! Good luck to you!

  13. Jeana August 7, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    My daughter would absolutely love this!!! We are huge Sea World fans!!