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SeaWorld – South End: Shamu's Happy Harbor

Rating: * * * * +
Type: Play area
Time: 30 minutes to an hour
Kelly says: Great for young kids, toddlers, and their long-suffering parents

If Wild Arctic (below) represents an attempt to reach out to the thrill-seeking segment of the tourist population, Shamu’s Happy Harbor seeks to appeal to the youngster too antsy or uninterested to sit still for a fish — no matter how big it is. Here is a way for even very young children to be entertained in that most effective of ways — by doing things for themselves.

Shamu’s Happy Harbor is dominated by a four-story, L-shaped, steel framework painted in shades of sea green and pink. At first glance it looks like a construction site gone very wrong. Closer inspection reveals it to be an intricate maze of cargo netting, plastic tubes, and slides that kids can climb up and through to their heart’s content. Some chambers in this maze contain tire swings, just like the ones in backyards across America, except that these are two stories above ground level. The cargo netting is completely enclosed in smaller-mesh black netting. While there’s no danger of falling, the upper reaches of the structure are quite high and some smaller children may become frightened.

It’s not just for kids, either. Adults can join in, too, although some of the parents I watched obviously wished they weren’t allowed. While the corridors of netting are big enough to accommodate anyone, the tubes are designed with smaller people in mind. Thus, the average sedentary grown-up will get quite a workout going through them. You’re allowed to climb up but stairs are provided for the trip down. Too many middle-aged sprained ankles is my guess.

The larger structure of Shamu’s Happy Harbor is complemented by any number of lesser activities, called “elements,” all of them action-oriented. These will keep kids busy for hours unless you can drag them away to the next show at the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium. There are four-sided, canvas “mountains” that kids can climb with the help of knotted ropes and then slide down, and large inflated rooms in which kids 54 inches and shorter can bounce and tumble.

Standing in front of it all is a kid-sized schooner, the Wahoo Two, just waiting to be explored. Nearby, the Water Works offers a jumble of tubes and netting that is constantly splashed with jets of water. The perimeter of the Harbor is ringed with a series of smaller kiddie rides, the most elaborate of which is the Sea Carousel, a cute kiddie-friendly ride with a capacity of 64 aboard colorful sea creatures in four concentric rows. The choices of critter range from the cute to the rather scary, so guide your child accordingly. On the other side, you will find Flying Fiddler (42 in. minimum height) Jazzy Jellies (42 in. minimum), Ocean Commotion (42 in. minimum), Swishy Fishies (36 in. minimum), and, most interestingly, the Shamu Express (38 in. minimum), a kiddie roller coaster with cars cleverly themed with Shamu-like tail flukes. At the other end of the Harbor, you’ll find Shamu’s Splash Attack, where you can pay to sling water bombs at a friend. Buckets of seven water-filled balloons are two for $5, and Op’s Beat, where kids can bang on hanging steel drums to their heart’s content.

Shamu’s Happy Harbor is an ideal place for parents to take the squirmy baby of the family when he or she gets restless with the more grown-up attractions at SeaWorld.

Photo Op: Just opposite Shamu’s Happy Harbor is a made-to-order photo backdrop. It’s a life-sized model of Shamu and Baby Shamu perfectly posed under a sun awning (to protect your shot from that annoying glare). Place your kid on Shamu’s back and click away.

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