Sea World (Dont’ Forget the Tanning Lotion and Hat!)

Can you believe I set foot in San Diego for the first time 15 years ago, and have been living here for 4 years, and managed never to go to Sea World? That’s really weird, especially considering that the place is just 8 minutes by car from here, a quick jaunt across the bay.

Well, my brother came here with his kids, and we were looking for things to do. Balboa Park was quickly shot down, because Teenagers Don’t Do Museums™. The beach was a favorite, but it seemed a little lame to come all the way from August in Rome to stay at the beach in San Diego. The water park, Legoland, Wild Animal Park, were out of the question. Giant aircraft carriers were strangely not interesting; even Fashion Valley got a mild nod from the girl, who is still eager to land some American hip swag.

So Sea World it was. Leaving on a Monday morning at 9:30. We thought it would be empty.

Turns out it wasn’t. Parking was easy (for $15, I’d wouldn’t wish the opposite). Strangely, the attendants steered us towards a spot much farther away from the entrance than needed, but we managed.

Prices shocked us. I had checked pricing online, and there was a special for $64 per adult (which in the park’s definition is anyone older than 9 years, much to the teenagers’ glee and my brother’s dismay). The prices at the door were quite steep: $79 per person. I managed to reduce the hit with the AAA discount ($72 p/p), but the bill still came out astoundingly high.

Inside, crowds roaming around, and maps of the place. The maps are drawn to appeal to the fun instinct, which means they are really hard to read. Fortunately there is the tower in the middle of the park, which helps in orienting. Also, they have signs at every major fork that tell you where to go.

Shows are timed and most have no lines. You just show up at the theater and look for a spot on the bleachers. We started with the Shamu show, which is on the left from the entrance, choosing to sweep the park from left (West) to right (East).

The Shamu show, called One Ocean, was a little preachy. In particular, there was a segment on a seal rescue that involved an evil fisherman shooting the poor seal in the shoulder, which made the seal distressed and unable to eat. Guns bad, seal good: that was the message.

Then the orcas showed up, and we were actually entertained. it is quite amazing what those orcas learn, especially when compared to the dolphins, which I would usually assume are more easily trained. I mean, I see them do spectacular things in the wild, right next to me on the waves at Black’s! Sometimes we’ll even miss a great wave just mesmerized by the leaping dolphins!

After One Ocean, it was time for the rapids. That’s an actually amazingly fun ride on a river, the main purpose being soaked by splashing waterfalls, rapids, chutes, and water sprays. I found it particularly fun because I stayed completely dry, my brother next to me apparently getting all the water that was destined to hit me.

By then it was lunch time, but nobody seemed to be particularly hungry. We got three hot dogs and an apple juice, and I saw a generous $23 disappear. I am glad there was no pernicious hunger problem in the family.

Next we went to the Manta Ray Experience and groped a few of those. The lady that did the announcement explained every five minutes that the stingers were removed, and that it was like trimming nails on a human. I thought of the two times I had been stung in the waters, and wish the darn rays would get clippers already.

Right by the tank is the Manta Ray-themed roller coaster, a fairly big if flat affair. We convinced the girl to join us and stood in line. Thankfully, it was a Monday and the wait was short (18 minutes exactly, we made a game of it by each guessing the time it would take and then seeing the record slip from one to the other). The roller coaster was fine, if a little dull. Kids in mind again, I guess.

The show after that was billed as a dolphin show, but it was mostly a pot-pourri of strange. There were multi-hued parrots flying, acrobats vaulting into the water and doing a Cirque-du-Soleil-light show, while dolphins were mostly used to propel trainers.

At this point, the kids started being bored. The shows were clearly aimed at the generation after them, and the only thing they were really interested in was the animals themselves. We went through the Arctic, looking at sleepy polar bears, comatose walrusses, and fake Arctic scientific exploration station gear. We stayed at the dolphin tank, where the dolphins were friendly but uncommitted.

Three of us (the nephew preferring to stay by the dolphins) went on the tower tour, which was as lame as it gets. It’s essentially a round two-storey elevator that takes you up, overlooking the city of San Diego. While the inside rotates about, you are sitting still, watching the coast and the houses crawl by. It all felt like something designed in 1972 that was modified to appease the sensibilities of a lawyer afraid of civil suits against the park in the 1980. I would think that placing outlines of the things you are seeing would possibly help. And maybe adding a display highlighting destinations you cannot actually see for reference.

We finally ended the trip by going to the far side of the park. There was a penguin experience and a polar helicopter ride. The helicopter ride is an interesting concept: a platform is moved hydraulically to match the on-film motion, leading to a realistic feel. I wish they had done this for Avatar when it came out, but the helicopter ride itself had no story and was exceedingly short. The odd thing is that they could have used the elements of the ride to build on an interesting story – like for instance following the polar bears that are trapped on floats because the ice in the Arctic is breaking up, or looking at the break-up of the Larsen-B ice shelf, or at the melt rivers and canyons on Greenland. Instead, they made it about a dull pilot trying to show us dull things before a dull Artic storm hits us.

After that, and after all the sun we were not prepared for, we were ready to go home, skipping both the penguin experience and the second roller coaster (which was suspiciously small).

Final vote: too pricey, too focused on small children, more animals and fewer gimmicks, please.

 

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