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 park 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 from 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.
When I traveled to San Diego for Spring Break with my family, my husband and I decided that we wanted to visit SeaWorld San Diego.
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 true SeaWorld shows just once. As amazing as the shows were, this will be the last time visiting.
This film opened my eyes to a part of the industry that I had never experienced before. While the movie focused primarily on SeaWorld park in Orlando, 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 in 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.
SeaWorld San Diego Today
The main reason was because 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, were barren and the tanks didn’t show the magic of underwater life.
We 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 San Diego 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 ticket booth to help you. This is innovative, 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 for a single-day ticket.
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 trouble getting SeaWorld tickets, there is no one to help you at the park.
They also have a quick queue pass available to get you to the front of the line for all theme park rides
SeaWorld San Diego 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.
Use the GoCity card to get to more attractions. You can buy one by clicking here.
Parking Costs at SeaWorld
Be prepared to pay for parking. $20 for basic parking, $25 for upfront parking and $35 for VIP preferred 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.
See The Shows
Take advantage of ALL the SeaWorld park shows. They have amazing production value. Nothing I have seen has ever compared to this. They 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 sea lions live 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.
SeaWorld San Diego Tip #3: See all the Shows
The orca (killer whale) 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. If you want to be near the splash zone, get there early.
SeaWorld San Diego Tip #4: Go Early to Get a Good Seat for the Orcas
There are aquatic touch pools near a lot of the aquariums. The young 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 to guests and to answer any questions you might have. The pool at the front of the park is incredibly busy by the park entrance.
Stop by these on the way out to avoid the crowds.
SeaWorld San Diego 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, the sea turtle reef, and the main aquarium. There is even a good penguin encounter.
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 theme park rides and games. We only logged about 3 miles of walking. Not bad, but not nearly as much as the other parks.
If you are looking for more animal encounters, I highly recommend checking out the San Diego Zoos.
Essential Tips For Visiting the San Diego Zoo Before Going
San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tips and Fun Things to do
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.
This was the biggest shock to me, seeing that so much focus was on the other activities and not the animals.
That’s not all bad news. They have a fantastic Sesame Street Bay play area for kids. It’s centrally located in the park and is an excellent way for the kids to burn off some steam. Water rides and a roller coaster are sprinkled throughout the park.
SeaWorld San Diego Tip #6: Rides in SeaWorld San Diego are for Big Kids or Small Kids 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.
SeaWorld San Diego Tip #7: Only get a Queue Pass if everyone is over 42 inches
The Extra Encounters
The extras are where SeaWorld San Diego loses it for me. There are so many animal encounters to partake in, 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 extras, 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 Diego 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.
They also put a lot of focus on drinking. Near every animal show, there was a booth of premium beers and other adult beverages. It was easier to find an adult beverage over a kid-friendly drink.
The decision to go to SeaWorld 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. Regarding 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 SeaWorld’s tips and tricks if you decide to go.