SeaWorld in San Diego

SeaWorld is one of those "must-see" attractions in San Diego. It is a combination of theme park and aquarium geared towards family fun. Upon entering Sea World, get a map and then decide what you wish to see. It is near impossible to experience everything in one day, so be judicious in your choices. You can choose to do the rides: you will get wet and the line-ups are long. You can choose to see the shows: arrive at least 15 minutes early to make sure you get a seat. Most shows are in an open-air stadium so bring a hat or jacket as necessary. Or you may choose to see the exhibits: there's a lot to choose from and there's a lot of ground to cover, so lace up those sensible walking-shoes and let's get going.

SeaWorld Rides
Probably, the most exciting part about SeaWorld are the rides. There are 7 "real" rides and 3 "kiddie" rides (which I don't really count as an exciting ride). You need to be at least 42 inches tall to ride the real rides and for the kiddie rides, they still need to be accompanied by someone who is over 42 inches tall.

Manta: Regular roller coasters are operated by mechannical force: a chain pulls your car up a ramp and then you start your downward plunge. The manta is powered by electromagetics which propell the cart along the track. Because of this, you don't need the long "uphill" to get the twists, turns, and drops. You don't get a pre-warning that a drop is coming up a head.

Start by waiting in line (there is always a line) and then grab a seat. Each car carries 20 people seated in pairs, so assemble yourselves accordingly. Seats cannot accomidate large passengers so if you are stout in stature, try the test-seat at the entrance of the ride before you line up. The ride enters a dark tunnel where images of manta rays swim around you. Meanwhie, the car moves forward a bit, moves back a bit, moves forward a bit more, moves back quite a bit, then it shoots you out the tunnel and you begin the severe turns, twists and plunges. It's only two minutes, but man, what a two minute!

manta seaworld
The Manta ride is powered by electromagnets so it can make sharp turns and quick dips without the "climb" before the drop.

Journey to Atlantis: This ride is visible from the parking lot so it gets a lot of attention. It is like a traditional roller coaster with the added bonus that you splash into water. In this manner, the ride is similar to the water-log rides which you may have experience in other amusement parks.

First of all, line up and when it's your turn, grab a seat. The cars look more like boats and they fit a total of 8 passengers organized in pairs. The car is pulled up a ramp and then you plunge down into a man-made lake. You lazily wind your way around the waterway until you get to a tunnel. Here, your car is lifted by an elevator. At the top. you can see far and wide but don't get distracted by the view because the ride plunges down with twists and turns. Too soon, the ride will end and you will disembark wishing for a second round.

atlantis seaworld
Journey to Atlantis as seen from parking lot. A combination of roller coaster and water-log ride.
You will get wet. Some people wear ponchos to ward off the splash. Some people wear swimming suits so they don't get their day clothes wet. If you do so, you must have a pair of shorts or skirt over-top your swimming bottoms. You cannot ride with bikinis or one-piece swim suits. Your bottom must be covered. Men would be ok if they wore swimming pants that look more like shorts but they will not let you go on if you wear speedos. Cover your bottom otherwise you will be denied access.

Shipwreck Rapids: This is a great traditional ride where you float down an inner tube. Except now, it's not just a regular inner tube, but a soup'ed up one with chairs and seat belts. Each inner tube seats 9 passengers assembled in three groups of three. This ride is not a roller coaster so you won't be plunging down dangerous heights. Instead, it is a soaking-wet-ride. You will splash through rapids and churning water. On hot days, you will go under a waterfall. If that doesn't get you wet, bystanders (complete strangers who you want to throttle later) will bombard you with a water cannons.

shipwreck rapids You will get wet in the Shipwreck Rapids ride. Your back pack will get wet. Your camera, cell phone, and car keys will get wet. Protect your electronics in zip-lock bags, or under multiple layers of clothing.

Wild Arctic: This is a nice ride - it is indoors so you won't have to wait under the hot sun and you won't get wet. The ride is located near the Beluga whales and polar bears at the east side of the park (after entry to the park, heads towards the right).

In this ride, you board a "helicopter" (an auditorium-like room) where you will "fly" through a snowstorm to land at an Artic Base Station. The lights go out and you will see a video simulating a flight through a snow storm. The seats are on a platform and the platform will rock and shake according the the visuals. It is surprisingly realistic and upon exit, you might feel like you were on a helicopter.

wild artic Although Wild Arctic ride is not a roller coaster, it is not recommended for people with heart problems, pregnant women, people with neck injuries etc. The combination of big-screen visuals and jostling/rocking may cause motion-sickness.

Enter the "helicopter" seating area...

and enjoy the show with large screen, a rocking platform, and dramatic sound.

wild artic

Riptide Rescue: This ride is your classic whirly twirly ride which you might see at a
county fair or amusment park. You've seen it before: a spider like contraption will twirl the cars around - it's the kind of ride that might make you throw up if you are prone to motion sickness.

riptide rescue riptide rescue
Riptide Rescue has three spider arms, each arm is attached to 4 cars, and each car seats 2 people: total of 24 passengers. Grab a seat, hang on, and have fun.

BaySide SkyRide: This is a six-minute gondala ride suspended above the waters of Mission Bay. It is a very relaxing ride, unless you are afraid of heights. This ride is like the SkyRide at the zoo. You sit in gondolas (4 passengers per car) and travel along a zip line. If you look towards SeaWorld, you will see the Cirque de la Mer Stadium and Perez Cove with the marina. If you look away from SeaWorld, you will see Mission Bay and a patch of sandy land called Fiesta Island. You do not get off the gondola when you get to the other side, it is a round trip affair. Remember to take off your hat and hang on to your map because it can get windy.

SeaWorld SkyTower: When you drive on the I-5 you can recognize SeaWorld by the central SkyTower which is 320 feet tall and often decorated with holiday lights. The SkyTower ride is a chamber (called a capsule) which slowly (150 feet per minute) rotates up and down the SkyTower. It takes two rotations to get up and two rotations to get down. The capsule can hold 55 people and the ride is 5 minutes long. This ride allows you to get a bird's eye view of SeaWorld!

seaworld skytower SkyTower Fact Sheet

Height from base to top of flagpole = 320 feet
Height from base to top of capsule = 260 feet
Height of capsule = 20 feet
Diameter of capsule = 24 feet
Seating capacity = 55 people
Duration of ride = 5 minutes
speed of ride = 1.7 mph (150 feet/min)
Number or rotations per ride = 6
      two on ascent,
      two on top, and
      two on descent

Kiddie Rides: I won't spend too much time on the kiddie rides except to say that they are all located in the Sesame Street Bay of Play area. Children must be able to walk to enter these rides (no infants and toddlers) and they must be accompanied by someone over 14 years of age and over 42 inches tall.
  • Elmo's Flying Fish ride is an airplane ride which goes round and round. it is similar to the Dumbo ride in Disneyland.
  • Abby's SeaStar Spin is your classic teacup-ride where you spin and twirl.
  • Oscar' Rockin' Eels is the most "wild" ride in the kiddie zone. The ride swings you forwards and backwards like a pendulum and it swivels towards the left and right too. Here's the secret, if your child doesn't want to be swirled around too much, sit at the center of the "eel" where the effects are less prominant. It is a mild version of the Captain Cranky in Legoland.

SeaWorld Shows
SeaWorld is famous for its fabulous shows which include sea creatures such as orca whales and dolphins. The most famous would be the Shamu Show (orca whales) followed by the dolphin show. But there's also the SeaLion show, the Pet Show, and Madagascar Live (singing and dancing). During the evenings and holidays, there are special events with added shows. Shamu Stadium: "One Ocean" is a 25 minute show featuring killer whales (orca whales). The whales will perform by jumping and splashing the audience. If you don't want to get wet, stay away from the "Splash Zone"! Be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early so you can find a seat. It is an open-air stadium so bring a hat, jacket or umbrella as necessary. Vendors will move up and down the aisle to sell whatever you might need to make your day easier. Stroller parking is available just outside the stadium.

Distinctive black and white colored Killer whales perform at the Shamu Stadium.
Four killer whales (orca whales) salute the crowds in the One Ocean Show.
Beware the splash zone!

Dolphin Stadium: presents the "Blue Horizons" show which features as many as 8 to 10 dolphins and 1 or 2 pilot whales. The show often has a storyline which connects dolphins and people to make a coherent story. The story changes from time to time, but one thing remains the same: the dolphins will amaze you with their acrobatics and antics. Stay away from the "Splash Zone" if you don't want to get wet. Stroller parking available just outside the stadium. Inside, the stadium is open-air so be prepared to endure the elements regardless if it is wind, rain, or more likely, sun.
dolphin show
Bottlenose dolphins & trainer leap through the air.
dolphin show
A trainer riding on the nose of a pilot whale.

dolphin seaworld
As many as 10 dolpins in the show at the same time.

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A trainer straddling two dolpins.

Sea Lion & Otter Stadium: is again another open-air stadium but the chances of getting soaked is quite low, though there might be a mist or spray of water - just enough to put a smile on your face. This 20-minute show features sea lions, seals and otters. Like the dolphin show, the storyline changes from year to year.

sealion show seaworld
Actors and trainers will facilitate the show with dancing, singing, and antics while the animals will amuse you. The show is much more relaxed compared to the Shamu show and the Dolphin show, but it is quite entertaining nevertheless.

Arrive early to enjoy the pre-show entertainment which can be just as fun as the show itself!

Pets Stadium: and the Pets Rule show is perhaps the most unusual show in this aquatic theme park. This show features domesticated animals (dogs, cats, pigs, and birds) perform tricks to the audiences delight. Seeing dogs fetch and roll isn't that unusual, but getting cats to perform is quite a feat.

pets seaworld
Adults might find the Pets Rule show a bit tame, but kids will love it. At the end of the show, the audience is invited to go on stage to meet the animals. Show time is approximately 25 minutes.

Mission Bay Theatre: is located on the far north west corner of the park. The show here changes periodically but it is currently showing "Madagascar Live!". This 20 minute musical includes a live band, singers, dancers, and various performers.

SeaWorld Exhibits SeaWorld has many exhibits showing marine life. These are often overlooked because of the dramatic shows and rides mentioned above. However, one should appreciate that all sea life are valuable even if they don't leap and jump for our entertainment pleasure.

SeaWorld is organized in a somewhat haphazard manner. You can easily get lost or find yourself walking in circles. The exhibits are interspearsed throughout the park and they are interconnected by numerous walkways. With the dramatic stadiums and appealing food establishements, it is possible to miss the exhibits entirely. Nevertheless, if you enter the park and head towards the east (right side) you will find these creatures:

Wild Artic is located at the far east side (right side) of the park. Here you will find beluga whales, walruses, and polar bears. The Wild Artic Ride is also located here so you might want to try that if you are in this area of the park.
beluga whales beluga whales
You can view the animals above water or below water. When underwater, the animals (beluga whale and walruses) swim really close to the glass window.

Penguin Encounter is also located at the east side of the park. You will find glass enclosed tanks where 300+ penguins will swim, dive, and frolick. There is no ride in this exhibit, but there is a moving sidewalk (conveyor belt) so you don't actually have to walk. I believe they are looking at us; not the other way around.

penguin seaworld penguin seaworld
Penguins are housed behind a thick glass enclosure. The landscape is quite interesting. It sure looks cold in there but that doesn't seem to bother the penguins because they are constantly diving and darting around in the water.

Heading towards the north part of the park (away from the entrance), you will come to turtles and sharks.

Turtle Reef is shaped like a tunnel which you walk through. Inside you will find aquarium tanks filled with fish and over 60 sea turtles. The tanks are large (higher than a person) so you can see the turtles swim and glide under the water. Near the exit, there is a turtle-themed computer game which young children might enjoy. This exhibit provides shade which maybe a welcomed relief from the San Diego sun.

seaworld turtle Underground viewing area allows you to see the turtles among fish.

Shark Encounter has two parts. The first part is like a house. You walk through and look down at tanks with sharks cruising along the bottom of the tank. Facilitors are positioned in key locations to make sure you don't fall in by accident.

The second part is like a hollow glass tube which you walk through. Sharks swim above, beside, and all around you. You are pulled along on a moving sidewalk (conveyor belt) so you don't even have to concentrate on walking. Good thing too because this is one of the world's largest collections of sharks. Some children get a little freaked out by this exhibit so be ready to hold onto them tight.

seaworld shark
Sharks as seen from above.
They cruise around looking for easy prey.
seaworld shark
Enter the tunnel of sharks!
Sharks swim around you. If it wasn't for the glass, you would be easy prey.

At this piont, the park gets pretty confusing with all the possible routes. Look for signs which will direct you the way. If you keep walking west, you will come upon sea lions and sting rays. Or, if you head south west, then you will come to the dolphin exhibit. Pacific Point is not very descriptive name, but this is where the sea lion exhibit is located. Here, you can buy a tray of fish and feed the sea lions. They seem to be hungry all the time and it's interesting to see how they jostle each other to get your attention.

sea lion sea lion sea lion

Manta is an exhibit which features bat rays. It is an interactive exhibit, which is to say, you can stick your hands into the basin and pet the rays. Some are friendly and seem to enjoy visiting the spectators. Others are aloof and glide by mysteriously. You can buy a tray of food and feed the bat rays. Be aware that their mouth is facing the bottom of the tank so in order for them to get your food, they almost have to do a somersault to get the treat. Their bodies are designed for finding food at the bottom of the ocean floor.

The Manta ride is also located here so those who want to ride can ride; everybody lse can see the exhibit.
bat ray
Above: Visitors reach into the water to pet a bat ray.

Above-right: A bat ray cruises along the bottom of the basin.

Right: Underground viewing area allows you to see the animals swim underwater.
bat ray

bat ray

Dolphin Exhibit is located at Dolphin Point. Here, bottlenose dolphins will swim and do tricks. Trainers and educators are on hand to answer questions. You can pet the dolphins at designated times when Trainers are there to assist you. Consult your map to find "Dolphin Connect" presentation times. It's a great place to see the dolphins up close and have all your dolphin questions answered.

Another noteworthy location is the underground viewing area of the Shamu Stadium. Here you can see the majestic killer whales swim before and after the show. Sometimes the whales swim very close to the window making it a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

Animal Connections SeaWorld has one more exhibit called Animal Connections. This is an odd exhibit in that it features land animals totally unrelated to the sea. It is as if they thought of this after the fact and they never fully developed the idea. Here, facilitators will bring out animals such as porcupine, armadillos, iguanas and the like. These animals are often on leashes and you may take photos of the animals or ask the trainer questions. In my humble opinion, this exhibit is a bit of waste of space. SeaWorld should concentrate on sea creatures at let the San Diego Zoo take care of the land animals.
seaworld animals seaworld animals
An iguana being shown at Animal Connections.

SeaWorld For Young Children

If you have young children then you know that you can't run around the entire park without a break. A great place to unwind is Sesame Street Bay of Play. The kiddie rides are located here plus there's jungle gyms and play structures which will allow the children to release their energies. Kids don't like being corralled to shows and dragged through exhibits, a stop at the Bay of Play might be exactly what they need to prevent a meltdown.

SeaWorld's rides are really designed for older children above 10 years old. The shows are great for all ages but many of them are located in outdoor stadiums making it hot and crowded. The exhibits are appropriate for children plus, there are kid-friendly elements scattered throughout the park:

seaworld mascot Mascots and characters in costume will appeal to big kids and little kids.
seaworld for kids Head cut-out boards are fun and will help you preserve good memories. Not surprisingly, this board is located near the Penguin Encounter
seaworld raft Climb-on play structures allow kids to have relaxed play. This raft is located near Turtle Reef.
seaworld snow cave Climb-in snow caves and tunnels allow the young kids to explore and pretend. There's also a large wall of ice for kids to touch and feel. This feature is located at the Wild Artic
seaworld shopping At the exit of each exhibit, you will be faced with a gift shop. Your kids will LOVE these stores and BEG for stuff animals and toys. Try to resist buying the first thing they ask for because you will find that half an hour later, they will beg for another item in the next store. Each store is stocked with items related to the exhibit which you just experienced.

Games Entertainment Center Near the Bay of Play is also the Games Entertainment Center. This is basically an arcade/county fair type of deal where you pay-to-play various games. Some of the games are like those in the
county fair: toss rings over the neck of a bottle; shoot baskets to win a prize etc. Other games are what you might find at an arcade. Although i enjoy watching other people play, I find this section of the park to be least appealing because 1) you have to pay extra to play and 2) although it looks easy, you almost always loose. It's just another way for them to make money from you.

seaworld "Bahama Baskets" is one of the pay-to-play games offered at the Games Entertainment Center.

SeaWorld Food, Dining, Restaurants

SeaWorld is peppered with dining facilities. You have a mix of
  • sit-down establishments where you sit and they come to you with a menu.
  • cafeteria style establishments where you grab a tray and shuffle along and choose your own food.
  • food stands where you stand in line, order something quick, and then walk away with it.
There is a large choice of types of food, here's a brief list:
popcorn, cotton candy, pretzels, drinks, ice cream, dip-n-dots, coffees, smoothies, baked goods. Pizza, hamburgars, hot dogs, tacos, wraps, sandwhiches, turkey legs, chicken nuggets, sausages, salads and more. Don't worry about food because it seems like there is a food establishment just outside of every ride, exhibit, or show.

SeaWorld Admissions, Parking, Location

All in all, I would say that SeaWorld is a really fun place to visit. It has value and it's unique: you can't get it anywhere else. Here's the bad news: it's sort of expensive especially if you have a family.


An adult ticket is about $80. You can sometimes get an online deal and get tickets for $65.
A child's ticket is about $70. With a discount, it can go down to $65.

However, if you are lucky, you can sometimes get a buy-one-adult-ticket and get one free child ticket.
If you live in San Diego, you can take advantage of SeaWorld online deals. A good deal is the Fun Card. Here, you pay for entrance once and then get free entry until the end of the calendar year. Or you can buy a year membership which will allow you entry for 365 days after date of purchase. This comes to a good saving if you can come back over and over again. This also allows you to enjoy the park at a more moderate pace because you know you can always come back the next day or next week.

Avoid line ups by purchasing tickets online. This will save you a bit of time but you will still need to go through security check before you can enter into the park. Once inside, you will find more lines.

SeaWorld Parking:

Here's another piece of bad news. Parking is $15. You get free parking if you have a year membership ($145). You could park outside the park in Mission Bay and walk to SeaWorld, but this is a long walk. You need to think if this is realistic if you have children - keep in mind that after a day of fun in the sun, no one will want to walk 20 minutes to get to the car.

SeaWorld Hours of Operation:

In the Fall
Open at 10 am
Closes at 5 pm (Mon to Thurs); 6 pm (Fri & Sun); or 7:30 pm (Saturday). In the Summer
Open at 9 am
Closes at 10 pm (M to Thurs) or 11 pm (Fri, Sat & Sun).
check here for details


500 Sea World Drive
San Diego, CA 92109

(800) 257-4268
web site
map of SeaWorld