ORLANDO, Fla. – If you think you have seen it all at SeaWorld, think again.
There is a wild side that you have probably never encountered.
With a little planning and a few extra bucks, you can experience some amazing animals in a whole new way.
The theme park offers exclusive tour experiences and whether you are interested in killer whales or cool birds, they have something for everybody.
I had the opportunity to check out six of their special add-ons. Here is what you should know:
The Dolphin Up-Close Tour
This was my absolute favorite. You get to touch dolphins, need I say more? But, really it is a full 45-minute experience packed with intriguing information about dolphins. For instance, did you know dolphins make that laughing noise out of their blowhole and not their mouths? The pool has about 12 dolphins in it. Guests are split into small groups led by a trainer. So, you will be interacting with more than one dolphin. You even get the opportunity to instruct the dolphins to do a few tricks. Feeding them is also a cool treat for dolphins and visitors. They literally eat right out of your hand. Also, prepare to get wet, the dolphins can get a little frisky and may splash some salty water on you, especially during some of their tricks.
Prices start at: $45/each
I recommend this for: Adults, small children, anyone with an adventurous spirit.
Penguins Up-Close Tour
This tour is like being transported to Antarctica without ever stepping foot on a plane. First you go behind the scenes and one of the experts tells you all about the different kinds of penguins. SeaWorld has five of the 18 species on display. You will also learn how they keep track of more than 270 penguins at the exhibit. Before you go into their winter wonderland, you get to observe a few of the smaller penguins in a separate room. The small group I was in even got to pet a baby penguin. The little sweetie was so soft. Then, we were taken into the main exhibit. It was very cold and smelled a bit like fish. But, hey, it just adds to the authenticity. I would recommend wearing tennis shoes and bringing a sweater, even on a hot day. Also, make sure you have your phone out, because once you get inside you get to interact with a younger penguin and a full size penguin face-to-face. It is truly unique. The penguins are pretty cooperative and you will likely get great pictures and video so you can share the moment with friends and remember it for years to come.
Prices start at: $70/each
I recommend this for: Adults, kids older than 5, people who enjoy doing something outside of the box.
Animal Ambassador Tour
This tour is for anybody who wants a little variety in their lives. Tours differ a little bit from one to another based on animal availability. But, one thing I bet will stay the same is the interaction you have with the animals and the fun facts you will learn about them throughout the tour. During my tou,r we got to meet a green iguana, a Crested Cara Cara (falcon), a sloth, a possum, and a laughing kookaburra (bird). It was a fun feast for the senses. Once one animal was being carried away, another one was being carried in. My small group of mostly parents and children got to ask a lot of questions and touch each of the animals and take personal pictures with them. My favorite was by far the laughing kookaburra. If you fake a high pitched laugh it will mimic you, which will automatically leave you doubling over in sincere laughter.
Prices start at: $20/each
I would recommend this for: Adults with younger children and adults who are kids at heart.
Walrus Up-Close Tour
This tour was full of surprises. The sheer size of a walrus is something to behold. The walrus my small group got to spend the most time with was a whopping 1,800 pounds. She was also very loud. Not in an annoying way. More in a, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that” kind of way that kind of makes you giggle. You get to learn a lot about the animals, how they came to live at SeaWorld and their day-to-day activities. You even get to feed one and take a professional photo. But, you will not get to pet them or take pictures of your own. You will be provided a secure locker to leave your phone and camera in during the tour.
Prices start at: $30
I would recommend this for: Anybody
Killer Whale Up-Close Tour
This seems like a really cool tour. The group of 19 I was in was a bit bigger than some of the other tours, probably because it was only offered once that day. The ambassador takes you into Shamu Stadium. Having the whole stadium to yourselves feels extra exclusive. The whales swim happily in the background as an expert tells you all about the exhibit, the whales and answers any questions you may have. For instance, did you know the tank the whales are in holds 7 million gallons of water? That’s enough to fill 350 large backyard swimming pools! They tell you about all the exciting things to come, you can instruct the whale to do a trick, take personal or professional pictures, and you may even have the opportunity to feed one. But, whales will be whales. Before we could get to all of that fun stuff, our tour was canceled because one of the whales would not cooperate and go into the back part of the tank. The ambassador gave a very sincere apology and offered everyone a full refund.
Prices start at: $90/each
I would recommend this for: Everybody
Sharks Up-Close Tour
This felt like one of the shorter tours. You start at the public shark/stingray tank. Everybody gets to toss food in for the sharks and take personal pictures. Then, you head back to a massive private shark tank. It is dark inside and the water is full of different kinds of sharks. You learn a lot about the sharks and what it takes to care for them at the park. You end at a small tank with a few small sharks. This is where you get to pet their backs. They feel a little different than you would expect. There were a lot of younger children on this tour. They really enjoyed petting the sharks and the adults seemed to get a kick out of it, too.
Prices start at: $20
I would recommend this for: Young children and anybody who loves sharks.
About the author: I am a news producer at WKMG-TV and a true adventurer at heart. I have traveled to more than 20 states, 10 countries and counting. I have lived in Central Florida for the last 14 years. Whether it’s staying in town or going abroad, I enjoy having new experiences and trying new things.