Last updated on August 16th, 2019
SeaWorld San Diego brought the name Shamu into the homes of everyone. But in the last decade, it suffered a lot of bad press. Despite it all, it still survives. But why is no one talking about it? Are there still some SeaWorld tips and tricks to make your trip successful? I decided to find out and give you a SeaWorld San Diego review you’ve never seen before.
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As a kid, I remember SeaWorld vividly. Getting to watch the Orcas jumping from the water was life-changing. I wanted nothing more than to be one of those trainers that got to interact with those whales. I was in love. As I grew up, I wanted to become an oceanographer or marine biologist just to get up close with these amazing mammals. I’m sure a lot of other kids shared this dream. The only thing that held me back in pursuing that dream was my ineptitude for biology in high school. But that didn’t stop others from sharing in my dream. Then everything changed with a documentary called Blackfish.
This film opened my eyes to a part of the industry that I have never experienced before. While the movie focused primarily on SeaWorld, it’s something that I think about at every zoo I visit now. I’m not anti-zoo. I think they play a fantastic role in conservation efforts and in some cases at trying to keep different animals from becoming extinct, like the San Diego Zoo. When it’s done right, it brings awareness to why we need to protect these animals.
When I traveled to San Diego for Spring Break with my family, my husband and I decided that we wanted to visit SeaWorld. We had our reservations about going but felt they deserved another chance. Knowing the changes the park has made since the documentary came out and knowing that seeing orcas in captivity is something that will be phased out in our lifetime, I wanted to make sure my kids got the opportunity to see a show just once. As amazing as the shows were, this will be the last time visiting.
The main reason was that of the overall experience. I felt that the park was overpriced, crowded, and small. Their sea life exhibits had a tinge of algae on the glass, barren and the tanks didn’t show the magic of underwater life. We also felt that they were trying too hard to change their image. Their efforts were overkill, and it didn’t feel genuine. If you are like me and wanted to go at least once, here are my SeaWorld Tips and Tricks to make sure you have a good experience.
SeaWorld Tips and Tricks San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego Ticket Deals
They only have self-service ticket machines. There is no one to help you. This is innovated, yet frustrating at the same time. You can purchase tickets online too if you want to skip the self-service kiosk or get the Go City Card. Children 2 and under are free. Otherwise, you’ll be paying upwards of $70 per person. The price changes depending on the time of year. You can take advantage of discounts for AAA members, Military, Teachers, and Residents. If you are having troubles getting the ticket system to work, there is no one to help you.
Tip #1: Buy Your Tickets in Advance
The best option is to get a Go City Card. This pass is a great deal. The pass includes admission to over 40 different attractions, museums and a lot of California favorites, including both Zoo’s, SeaWorld and the USS Midway. If you plan in outright, you can save yourself a lot of money using this pass. But you may need a few days poolside to recover.
Parking Costs at SeaWorld
Be prepared to pay for parking. $20 for basic parking, $25 for upfront parking and $35 for VIP parking. These are just the starting rates. Depending on if you are visiting during peak times, it could be higher. When I visited, it was closer to $40 for VIP. To avoid this cost, look into taking the Metropolitan Transit System bus from the Old Town Transit Center. It’s about a 15-minute ride.
Take advantage of ALL the shows. They have amazing production value. Nothing I have seen has ever compared to this. The open up the stadiums 30 mins before the start and their staff entertains you the entire time. I’m not sure who enjoyed the pre-show at the Seal Show more, my kids or me. The entire stadium was filled to the brim by the time the show started, so arrive early if you can. They also offer VIP seating if you want to spend a few extra dollars. Those that did have the VIP pass were more confused about how the perk actually worked, I’m not sure it’s a perk.
Tip #3: See all the Shows
The orca show is by far the most popular. They only have a few performances a day. We managed to get in right before the start of the show and sat at the very top. We were able to see just fine. Due to OSHA requirements, the staff is no longer allowed to get in the water with the orcas. I didn’t feel that it was a detriment to the show. The orcas still displayed a lot of the same type of behaviors they did before, minus the people riding on the whales.
Tip #4: Go Early to Get a Good Seat for the Orcas
There are touch pools near a lot of the aquariums. The kids will love them, and there are many opportunities to get to know some of these sea creatures. Staff is located near each of the pools to give education guests and to answer any questions you might have. The pool at the front of the park is incredibly busy when you first get in. Stop by these on the way out to avoid the crowds.
Tip #5: Save the Touch Pools at the Entrance of the park for LAST
They do have a few other aquariums, like the shark enclosure, turtle reef, and the main aquarium. The Shark Encounter included an underwater viewing tunnel which was nice. The other aquariums lacked exciting lighting and were overall dark and hard to see things in. Even the orca viewing area had a ting of algae.
The park is smaller than the San Diego Zoo and Safari Parks. Half the park focuses on sea life and aquariums, while the other part is focused on rides and games. We only logged about 3 miles of walking. Not bad, but not nearly as much as the other parks.
SeaWorld San Diego Rides
The rides at SeaWorld in San Diego are available for every age level. I found that you have to be over 42 inches to get on the majority of them. Under that and you are stuck on toddler rides, that go in circles. That’s not all bad news. They have a fantastic Sesame Street play area for kids. It’s centrally located in the park and is an excellent way for the kids to burn off some steam.
Tip #6: Rides in SeaWorld San Diego are for BIg Kids or Small Kid Not Both. Plan Accordingly
For those that are going on the rides, and are over 42 inches, there is an option to pay more to get to the front of the line!!! Yeah… more money! Sorry, if you couldn’t tell, I hate when companies charge more. Without a Queue Pass, you may feel like a second class citizen.
Tip #7: Only get a Queue Pass if everyone is over 42 inches
The Extra Encounters
The extra’s is where SeaWorld San Diego loses it for me. There are so many additional ways you can see the animals, from riding on dolphins, to breakfast with the orcas. These are very special treats for a premium price. From the perspective of someone who didn’t purchase the extra’s, it felt like this was the only way you could get a good view of these animals. While I’m sure riding in on a Dolphin is a memorable experience, I’m not sure how ethical it is to do. It also prevented most of the public from seeing much of them.
SeaWorld San Deigo has prioritized these experiences for guests. Knowing that the rest of the paying guests will not be able to see as much, is a disservice to the rest of their guests. They should make everyone feel special, not just those with deep pockets. It would also do more to improve their overall image.
The decision to go to Sea World has to be a personal choice. I usually don’t write a post about places unless I would recommend others to visit. With this particular place… I’m still up in the air. It was something that my kids and I will never forget. But at the same time, it didn’t live up to my expectations. For the costs, I think they could do better. The park has some significant room for improvement, but I wanted to make sure to give you all the details and some of SeaWorld tips and tricks if you decide to go.
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