1. Get up early, but not as early as you would if you were heading for Disney or Universal. Remember, when SeaWorld says the park proper opens at 9:00 a.m., it means it. Get there a little earlier perhaps (you can get a bite to eat or browse the shops in the Entrance Plaza starting at 8:30 a.m.), but there’s no need to kill yourself.
2. After purchasing your tickets and entering the park, thrill seekers and ride freaks should head immediately to Manta, followed by Kraken and Journey to Atlantis. (Bear left after the entrance mall and follow the signs and the running kids.) Then plan on doing Wild Arctic and its exciting ride later in the day, preferably during a Shamu show when the lines for Wild Arctic tend to thin out.
If, for one reason or another you are taking a pass on the thrill rides, proceed immediately to Wild Arctic. (Just keep bearing right until you see the Lagoon and circle it in a counterclockwise direction.) If you’re not interested in taking the ride, the line for the stationary version is always a good deal shorter, so coming later may be okay. Also, if you’d like to skip the ride portion altogether, it is possible to slip quietly in through the exit in the gift shop and just see the animals.
3. Now’s the time to review the schedule printed on the back of the map you got when you entered. First, check the times of the “big three” shows — One Ocean, Clyde & Seamore, and Blue Horizons. Whatever you do, don’t miss these. Don’t try to see two shows that start less than an hour apart. Yes, it can be done but you will be making sacrifices.
Instead, schedule your day so you can arrive at the stadium about 20 minutes before show time, perhaps longer during busier seasons. That way you can get a good seat, like dead center for One Ocean or in a splash zone for the kids. There is almost always some sort of pre-show entertainment starting 10 or 15 minutes before the show. It’s always fun and, in the case of the warm-up to the sea lion show, often hilarious.
4. Use your time between shows to visit the aquatic habitats. Use the descriptions in the next section and geographical proximity to guide your choices. For example, you can leave the dolphin show and go right into the manatee exhibit. Or you can visit the penguins just before seeing Clyde & Seamore and visit Shark Encounter immediately after.
5. If you have kids with you, you will miss Shamu’s Happy Harbor at your peril. Adults, of course, can give it a miss.
6. Fill in the rest of the day with the lesser attractions or return visits to habitats you particularly enjoyed. In my opinion, several of the non-animal shows and attractions can be missed altogether with little sacrifice. If your time is really limited (e.g. you got to the park late), I strongly urge you to take my advice. You can always come back another day and prove me wrong.
7. If you stay until the end, as I recommend, you will not want to miss Sea Lions Tonight and Shamu Rocks (if they’re playing during your visit). This plan should allow you to see everything you truly want to see in one day and maybe even some attractions you wished you hadn’t bothered with.
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