Travel

Head for Florida’s water parks to meet orcas and otters

Have a splashing time: An orca wows spectators as it launches out of the water 


A week spent exhausting the twin theme park delights of Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida is, well, exhausting. 

You may not believe this – especially if you’re a 12-year-old – but there comes a moment when you really have had enough of gravity-defying rollercoasters and computer-generated thrills.

The whole family will eventually ache for something quieter, more thoughtful and much more uplifting.

Have a splashing time: An orca wows spectators as it launches out of the water 

Have a splashing time: An orca wows spectators as it launches out of the water 

This is where SeaWorld Orlando comes in. The thrills to be had here are not entirely of the white-knuckle variety (though the park does boast some stunning rollercoasters such as Manta and Mako), they come from the pleasure of getting close to some of the world’s cutest creatures. 

SeaWorld prides itself on being one of the few places in the US where you can encounter orcas, penguins, otters and dolphins: but this isn’t merely a matter of being amazed by them – visitors are gently informed about what we should be doing to make sure they continue to thrive in their natural environment.

Your approach to a visit should be the same as your plans for tackling Disney or Universal: before you enter the park, you need to have already decided what your priorities are and in what order you will tackle them.

First things first: are you all dressed correctly? At Disney, for example, a key planning factor is the blazing heat. I’ve been in the parks in August when temperatures exceed 100F: you need hats, plenty of sun screen, lots of water and the right clothes for keeping cool (and a jumper for keeping warmer when you venture indoors and the ferocious air-conditioning brings temperatures right down). 

SeaWorld Orlando also boasts some stunning rollercoasters including Manta

SeaWorld Orlando also boasts some stunning rollercoasters including Manta

SeaWorld Orlando also boasts some stunning rollercoasters including Manta

Guests can get involved with a spot of bird feeding down at Discovery Cove 

Guests can get involved with a spot of bird feeding down at Discovery Cove 

Guests can get involved with a spot of bird feeding down at Discovery Cove 

One of the big dangers of Florida is air-conditioning flu! The same principles apply to SeaWorld – remember you will be visiting lots of indoor places which are kept ultra cool for the welfare of the animals (expect it be pretty cold, for example, when you meet the penguins). 

You’ll also be near water and are likely to be drenched if you’re in the front few rows of the killer whale show: waterproofs or clothes that dry out quickly are a must. (Bring a small towel, at least.)

If you’re concerned about getting wet, check the weather forecast before setting out. In the height of summer, there will be afternoon thunderstorms on most days. Plan your day to avoid getting caught in these (the risk of lightning will close many outdoor attractions).

Get to the park at opening time and head straight to the attractions you most want to visit such as Turtle Trek or Antarctica: Empire Of The Penguin – queues will build throughout the day.

Make a friend: Visitors are seen enjoying some time with one of the resident dolphins at SeaWorld

Make a friend: Visitors are seen enjoying some time with one of the resident dolphins at SeaWorld

Make a friend: Visitors are seen enjoying some time with one of the resident dolphins at SeaWorld

Visitors can take a dive down to explore the colourful world lurking under the water's surface

Visitors can take a dive down to explore the colourful world lurking under the water's surface

Visitors can take a dive down to explore the colourful world lurking under the water’s surface

You should also consider visiting SeaWorld’s two ‘sister’ parks: Discovery Cove and Aquatica.

Discovery Cove is billed as an all-inclusive day resort where your family can experience ‘exciting animal encounters in a breathtaking tropical atmosphere’. 

Visitors have the chance to swim with bottlenose dolphins, feed tropical birds, snorkel through a saltwater reef and play inches from a family of otters. The park describes itself as ‘a paradise of rocky lagoons surrounded by lush landscaping, tropical reefs, winding rivers, a resort-style pool complete with waterfalls, and pristine white-sand beaches’.

Orlando park review sites are very enthusiastic about the Discovery Cove experience: though there are warnings about the cost of the official photographs in the dolphin encounter and the effectiveness of the dolphin-friendly sunscreen available in the park: use your own is the advice.

Aquatica is SeaWorld’s answer to Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach: an imaginatively designed and executed water park: attractions include Ihu’s Breakaway Falls which features four different slides.

On Taumata Racer visitors can speed down a 300ft slide, in and out of tunnels and around a 360-degree turn before racing across the finish line.

But Dolphin Plunge is the signature ride, with the chance to speed through 250ft of clear tubes underwater, then through the Commerson’s dolphin habitat. Make sure you give them a wave as you pass through…

TRAVEL FACTS 

Attraction Tickets Direct (attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk) offers a Discovery Cove Ultimate package including a full day at the park with a 30-minute dolphin swim, plus 14 days unlimited access to SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Aquatica waterpark. 

It costs from £185pp. 

Tour operators to Orlando include Virgin Holidays (virginholidays.co.uk), TUI (tui.co.uk) and Thomas Cook (thomascook.co.uk).

 


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