We’re regular visitors to SeaWorld San Diego and have gone about a dozen times since my oldest was born. This time when I proposed it as a day of adventure while we were in town, I was surprised to get some pushback from A-, my 17yo. She had been hearing about a documentary called Blackfish that purports to expose the ill treatment of orcas in the SeaWorld parks worldwide and didn’t want to support the organization. We talked about it (though didn’t watch the film), I agreed that her concerns were valid, and pointed out that just like zoos, if we just left every animal in the wild, we’d only ever experience photos and video of them, not the entirely different experience of seeing them in person. I also pointed out that SeaWorld does a ton of ocean conservation and animal rescue work too.
I suggested that we ask the SeaWorld team about the documentary to learn from their response. Here’s what I sent:
Frankly I wasn’t sure how that would be received, but felt that candor was the better part of valor and, of course, wanted to honor and respect my daughter’s opinions.
Here’s their thoughtful response:
We explored the various content and afterwards A- agreed, somewhat grudgingly, to join us at SeaWorld and see how it went. I told her that if she really felt strongly about it while we were there, it was fine if we skipped the Shamu show and that I was proud both of her speaking up for her personal beliefs and having the presence of mind to do further research and learn that there are reasons to believe that Blackfish might not be a fair and accurate portrayal of the situation and is really more of an advocacy piece than a “documentary”.
It was with some sort of inevitability then that when we finally got down to San Diego and checked in at the gorgeous Kona Kai resort that G-, my 14yo son, was feeling poorly again and had very low energy. Miso soup helped a bit, and we finally got everything together for our day at SeaWorld.
AND IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL DAY…
After so much effort, we arrived and found the park positively mobbed on the Saturday of Easter weekend. So much so that we ended up parking in the dirt lot far, far away from the main gates. Good excuse for a walk, right?
When we arrived at the gates, we found they’d done a great job of decorating for the 50th Anniversary celebration, including completely redoing the entry area just after you go through the ticket gates, as you can see:
We were more interested in the new Manta coaster and the various animal shows, so we zipped straight to where we could figure out all the show times and plan our afternoon. Which worked out great because we realized that we had time to start with a ride on the Bayside Skyride, a favorite.
For the first time K- (10yo) was tall enough that she counted as an adult, meaning that all four of us couldn’t be in the same car. That was a drag and when I suggested that the three kids be in one car and I’d just relax in a car to myself, they didn’t like that configuration so G- ended up joining me, though not with unabashed zeal 🙂
The Bayside Skyride offers a great view over the park and, especially, of the Cirque de la Mer stage, though in all the times we’ve been at the park we’ve never actually managed to see that particular show:
Another reason I like it is that it’s reminiscent of a skyride attraction that used to be at Disneyland, connecting Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. That too offered a great view of the park but my suspicion is that because it traveled over pedestrian areas, Disney probably got tired of people dropping things over the side. Ah, humanity.
From there we decided to go to the One Ocean show, featuring the Orcas. For something different, we sat in the “splash zone”, though at the very back row of that section.
What’s the splash zone? The area where people get wet from the killer whales jumping and splashing them. It was quite amusing how people were really, really into that aspect, but given that it was a hot afternoon, a bit of a splash would feel good so it wasn’t too surprising.
Here’s one of the orcas pushing water our way:
We didn’t feel a drop, alas, but still enjoyed the show, though unlike the last time we’d seen it, this time there were no trainers in the water with the orcas, a change they had to make based on some legal decisions subsequent to a trainer being killed in a terrible accident a while back.
Since I like to just watch how the animals have been trained to react with specific behaviors, having the trainers on the edge of the pool was actually better, and since my mental image of most of these trainable animals are that they’re “kinda like dogs”, seeing them do tricks, jump, flip, and splash us humans was no different than a dog that knows how to sit and fetch a stick. Your perspective may vary.
Once that show was done we hustled across the park to go to the Manta ride, an amazing new roller coaster that was under construction the last time we were at the park. G- was feeling a bit queasy but he was determined to go on the ride, and me? You already know if you’re a faithful reader that roller coasters and I don’t get along well, so I was always planning on skipping it.
I did get this great photo while the kids were in line, however:
Unfortunately 20min into them standing in line the ride was shut down. So disappointing, and the same thing that happened to them with the Matterhorn when we were at Disneyland a few days prior. These things happen, but a drag nonetheless.
We went through the park to get to an absolute family favorite, the Pets Rule show, featuring stray cats and dogs that they’ve adopted and trained. Hilarious and quite impressive, always an inspiration for what we could train our pets to do if, well, we were insanely dedicated to them doing weird and amusing tricks 🙂
There’s a great play area (that the kids shunned because it was so busy) and arcade that caught their attention, as you can see:
Even with all three of them triple-teaming the game, however, their score wasn’t that marvelous. So it goes. 🙂
When the Pets Rule show was over everyone was running low on energy, A- was complaining she wasn’t feeling 100% and G-, well, his stomach ache had returned even as I tried my best to encourage him to eat healthy foods. So we left a bit early and went out for some delicious sushi near our hotel.
We definitely enjoyed our day at SeaWorld San Diego but while I applaud my daughter’s growing awareness of the complexity of our world and her concern with the welfare of the animals at SeaWorld, I also realize that it cast a pall over our visit, which combined with G- feeling poorly the entire time to make it a less than stellar experience.
And as every parent knows, that’s part of life too. The best laid plans, and all that.
In fact, I think this trip was one of the most frustrating I’ve experienced with my children, and much of it was me having to remember how to let go and be present in the moment, not constantly pushing for us to meet our schedule.
And so it goes…