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SeaWorld – North End: Key West at SeaWorld


Key West at SeaWorld is not so much an attraction as a collection of related attractions wrapped in a single theme. The attractions here are aquatic habitats featuring the denizens of warmer waters and the theme, of course, is the casual sophistication and good times atmosphere for which Key West has become famous. On both scores, SeaWorld acquits itself admirably.

Turtle Point

Rating: * * *
Type: Aquatic habitat
Time: Continuous viewing
Kelly says: Best when a staffer is present

Turtle Point is small by SeaWorld standards, a shallow sea water pool fringed by white sand beaches. It is home to four species — loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, and green sea turtles, all of them rescued animals.

Turtles, it must be said, are not the most lively creatures SeaWorld has on display. No leaps and twirls here. So, for most folks, this habitat will warrant no more than a quick look. Fortunately, SeaWorld staffers are often hanging out by the pool ready to answer questions. When a group of people gathers and starts exercising its curiosity, a visit to Turtle Point can be quite interesting.

Stingray Lagoon

Rating: * * * *
Type: Aquatic habitat
Time: Continuous viewing
Kelly says: Your best shot at touching a SeaWorld critter

Under a shading roof lies a long, shallow pool with a smaller “nursery pool” in one corner. Its edge is at waist height for easy viewing and interaction. Scores of stingrays lazily circle the main pool, while their “pups” navigate the nursery pool. The mature rays may look scary, but they are remarkably gentle creatures that will tolerate being petted (they feel a bit like slimy felt) and will almost always appreciate a free handout. A small tray of tiny fish called silversides can be purchased for a staggering fee of $15 or $20 depending on the crowds (annual passholders get a 10% discount). Despite the high cost, there are plenty of takers.

Once again, SeaWorld education staffers make regular appearances here, providing a steady stream of information about these fascinating creatures and answering any questions you might have..

Thanks to the accessibility of the stingrays, this is a very popular attraction. If the pool edge is packed, be patient. Eventually you will be able to make your way forward where your patience is sure to be rewarded.

Dolphin Cove

Rating: * * * * +
Type: Aquatic habitat
Time: Continuous viewing
Kelly says: A spectacular SeaWorld habitat

Dolphin Cove lets you get up close to these delightful creatures — at a price. This extensive Key West habitat allows petting and feeding on one side and viewing on the other, from both a raised platform and an underwater observation post. Most people start at poolside. Here you can lean over a low wall and reach out to touch a passing dolphin. Since dolphins are naturally curious and gregarious animals, they often pause to check out the curious tourists who are checking them out. For many people, passing their fingers along the sleek flanks of a passing dolphin is the highlight of their day at SeaWorld.

Unfortunately, if you want to grab the best viewing spot and maximize your chances of touching one of the inhabitants here, you will have to pay for the privilege — and queue up to do so! You see, dolphin feeding here is carried out by paying customers and a prime section of the water’s edge is roped off for those who are performing this job. A line, often a long one, forms for the purpose of purchasing a small paper tray of three smelt-like fish for $6 ($5 for annual passholders). Only those who have purchased fish are allowed into the prime viewing area alongside the dolphin pool.

Note: The amount of fish sold is limited, because the staff wants to make sure the dolphins don’t over-indulge — unlike the human guests who are, in fact, encouraged to eat to excess! So, while you can purchase more than one tray, there may be a limit on your total purchase depending on the size of the crowd.

If you don’t wish to buy dolphin snacks, you are relegated to a much smaller viewing area at the far end of the pool, where your chances of interacting with a dolphin, while not precisely nil, are certainly much diminished.

Having fish to offer will definitely increase your chances of touching a dolphin, although they will occasionally swim close enough to the edge to allow a foodless hand to sweep along their flanks. But you can’t just show up any old time and buy food. It’s sold only at specified feeding times and only up to the quantity that SeaWorld’s marine dietitians have determined is appropriate to keep the dolphin fit and not fat. If touching a dolphin is a priority for you or your child, I would advise checking out feeding times and arriving a bit early to get on line to purchase food. Otherwise, there is a good chance you will be disappointed.

A number of SeaWorld photographers roam the far shore and snap just about everyone who makes it to poolside. The photos can be previewed on video screens in the photo hut just a few yards away. A single 6-by-8-inch photo will set you back $20, but you can get every picture they took of you and your family on a CD for $60. There are frames, too, including one held by a plush doll dolphin for $20.

While touching dolphins seems to be the first order of business for most visitors, don’t overlook the underwater viewing area (as many people obviously do). It offers a perspective on these graceful beasts that you just don’t get from above and, not incidentally, is a wonderful place to wait out those afternoon summer thunderstorms for which Orlando is famous. It will also give you a deeper appreciation of the skill and craft that went into designing the reef-like pool in which the dolphins live. To get there from the petting and feeding area, walk around the pool to your left. As at all the habitats, SeaWorld staffers make occasional educational presentations. There is usually a staffer sitting on a life guard’s raised chair on the beach across from the petting area. Feel free to hail him or her from the sidelines if you have any questions.

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