WEEKEND GETAWAY: SeaWorld San Antonio
EDUCATIONAL ENCOUNTERS, TOUR COSTS & FAMILY CONCERNS
by Bernadette Verzosa
My daughter shrieked with delight as we heard the snorts, squeaks and wheezes from the water. They were the surprisingly varied sounds coming out of the blowholes of the five orcas, also known as killer whales. We were having lunch as the trainers engaged us with endearing stories about the orcas including the youngest, 2-year-old Sakari, and her mom, 21-year-old Takara. With netting in between, we were just five feet away from the giant creatures!
We decided to take an educational trip to SeaWorld San Antonio, and this Dine with Shamu was one of the encounters on our itinerary. It turned out to be a weekend of wonderful moments. We witnessed a 2,000-pound walrus doing sit-ups. We felt stingrays flap their fins against our legs as we fed them. We also fed and petted the sea lions. We even got a kiss from Oliver, the beluga whale.
“It is hard to put into words the incredible feeling you get being so close to these powerful animals,” says Ann Quinn, Director of Education. “For children, they are memories that create life long imprints in their hearts and minds.”
Quinn has been leading tours at SeaWorld for 24 years. She remembers showing up as a guest the very first day the park opened. “I remember the exact date. It was April 15, 1988. I was a high school teacher and I walked into the park and everything I looked at amazed me,” she recalls. “I looked at everything and saw opportunities to teach biology, physics, literature, water chemistry. Everywhere I looked, there were opportunities for learning.”
Quinn says she was a high school vice principal and teacher at the time, and appreciated the curiosity the park inspired. “Having children run up to you and say ‘Teach me something about this animal!’ You see them transformed,” she says. “You see them find a career that they have passion for and you see them want to make a difference in the world.”
In addition to creating SeaWorld San Antonio’s curriculum, Quinn also contributes to the amusement park’s conservation and community outreach efforts.
Children are especially awestruck at the shows. At One Ocean, the killer whales weighing thousands of pounds seem quite agile jumping through the air, shimmying in dance and splashing the crowd. In Azul, the synchronized swimmers and springboard divers flip and twist alongside the Beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins. The Cannery Row Caper stars sea lions, walruses and an otter with their actors/trainers.
Asked about the training, caring and breeding, SeaWorld tells ParentsPost.com in a statement: “Regarding our breeding program, we have the most successful marine mammal breeding programs in the zoological community, including hundreds of dolphins and 25 killer whale calves. More than 80 percent of the marine mammals in our care were born in our parks. Captive breeding is one key measure of an animal’s overall health and how well it has adapted to a zoological environment.”
OFF-PEAK ADMISSION & TOUR COSTS
A little known fact about SeaWorld: even when the rides and some shows shut down, its educational encounters programs remain fully staffed. Families and groups can arrange tours at any time. “People think we close down after the summer, but we do things all year round. So interactions and tours can be arranged even when the park is closed,” says Quinn. “The rides may be not be operating, but we have families and school groups visit all year.”
There is a range of programs available depending on a child’s age, a family’s time and a family’s budget. But the biggest bonus to going off-peak when the park is closed, visitors don’t have to pay the park entrance fee.
The Up-Close tours cost extra. In addition to the park entrance, the additional fees start at $ 28 per person. For my family of two adults and one child, we had a receipt with a total of $ 90.84 for each Up-Close encounter experience. As you can imagine, the expenses added up. Dine with Shamu was $ 90.84, Sea Lion Up Close was $ 90.84, and Belugas Up-Close was $ 90.84. While Dine with Shamu is a summer season opportunity, the Up-Close encounters with the Beluga Whales, the dolphins, the sea lions and the penguins are available all year round.
The extra fees for the Interaction programs and camps vary. Children ages 7 and older can register for the Interaction programs with the Belugas and Sea Lions, which start at $159 per person. During these interactions, an adult can accompany a child as an observer for $10. The all-day Grand Adventure Tour, which includes swimming with the Belugas and feeding the penguins, is $295 per person.
In October, SeaWorld San Antonio celebrates Halloween with extended hours and additional shows. In November and December, the park is decorated in holiday regalia and features a series of Christmas shows.
SeaWorld San Antonio sits on a sprawling 250 acres of land. Build in time for walking leisurely and breaks between activities. The walking can take a toll and tire out even the most athletic children. There were some parents wheeling around wagons with their kids, towels and miscellaneous items. We rented a stroller for our 4-year-old – stroller rentals are $15 per day.
SeaWorld does allow visitors to bring into the park a limited amount of food and drink.
Here is a list of what the park allows:
(1) Small ice chests of six-pack size or smaller – one per family
(2) Special dietary food, diabetic, health related or dietary needs. These types of specialty foods may enter the park with park management approval.
(3) Baby food, bottles, jars and other baby items
(4) Fountain drinks, single-serve drinks, refillable mugs, if open prior to turnstile
(5) Reasonable quantity of bottled drinking water. Juice boxes – straws must be disposed of
(6) Single serving of snacks (3 ounces)
Finally, when creating your itinerary of shows and encounters, ask for a breakdown of the activities. Some encounters are more than one hour long but include a show. Some visitors, like me, unknowingly end up watching a show twice. We made time to catch Azul on Saturday, not realizing it was part of the Beluga Up-Close tour, which we had scheduled on Sunday.
For more information, click on this link to SEAWORLD SAN ANTONIO’S EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS. For lots of fun information about sea creatures, SeaWorld maintains an animal information database at www.seaworld.org.