As a California resident, former SeaWorld San Diego annual pass holder, and parent of two—I have been to this watery amusement/education park more times than I can count. Here's a list of 10 tips to make the most of visiting SeaWorld with kids.
1. Schedule your day around SeaWorld's shows.
Grab a park map at the entrance and plan your day around the show times listed on the back. There are nine different shows to choose from (three of which only take place at night), ranging from 5 minutes in length (the Into the Blue Fireworks show) to 20-25 minutes. Get to the shows a little early to nab a good seat. Doors to shows close promptly and they do sometimes fill to capacity, especially during high tourist seasons like spring break and summer weekends. My family's favorites are the Blue Horizons show (with leaping, spinning dolphins and humans dressed up like birds performing Cirque de Soleil-like acrobatics in and out of the water) and Pet's Rule! (a humorous show filled with land animals like dogs, cats, ducks, and pigs performing tricks galore).
2. Remember where you park.
I have lost my car more at SeaWorld San Diego than anywhere else. Rows are marked but the signs are widespread so take note of exactly how close you are to the row letter and number.
3. Budget meal money and calories.
You can bring small kid-sized snacks into the park, but not full meals. Yes, they will check your bags at the entrance and make you return forbidden food to the car, pack the items into a rentable locker, or dump it out. As at most amusement parks, the food is not cheap. There are plenty of deep-fried and sugary temptations, but you can also find healthier options like salads, barbecue-smoked chicken (at the Calypso Bay Smokehouse), and fresh fruits.
4. Get in line for popular rides first thing.
If you want to ride Journey to Atlantis (a roller coaster with two big splashy dips), Shipwreck Rapids (a very wet water ride), or Riptide Rescue (a spinning thrill ride) — get in line first thing when the park opens in the morning. Lines can get quite long (an hour+) as the day goes on. These rides are located quite a distance from each other, so you have to prioritize. Journey to Atlantis is probably the most popular, so hit that one first. The Bayside Skyride (a gondola ride over San Diego Bay) and the Skytower Ride (the tall needle-shaped ride in the center of the park that provides 360 degree views of the park) are more mellow and wait times are typically more manageable. There are also three fun rides for young children in the Sesame Street Bay of Play area of the park.
5. Prepare for A LOT of time in the sun.
If ever you were going to pack sunhats and slather on the sunscreen, do it at SeaWorld. There is no shade for the shows and sitting on the aluminum benches under the beating Southern California sun (particularly in summer), it can feel like the hottest place on the planet.
6. Cool down & bring swim gear.
There are plenty of watery opportunities to cool down at SeaWorld: fountains at the Sesame Street Bay of Play for young children, Shipwreck Rapids and Journey to Atlantis water rides for big kids and adults, and sitting in the splash zone at the park's many shows. Bring along swimsuits and towels for little ones who will get soaked in the Sesame Street splash area. If you forget, you can buy Elmo, Zoe, and other Sesame Street character-themed gear there. You can walk through the chilly Wild Arctic attraction (with polar bears, beluga whales, and walruses on display) or the Penguin Encounter.
7. Keep kids busy while waiting for SeaWorld shows.
Kids can get antsy waiting for shows to start, so use toys and snacks as entertainment while you wait. Pack a few little distractions in your day bag or purse like mini bubbles, toy cars, or Sillybandz. Food is allowed into shows (and peddled by SeaWorld employees inside), so this is a good time to break out the snacks to busy the kids.
8. Stay hydrated.
You will be doing a lot of walking, probably in the sun. Don't get so busy that you forget to stay hydrated. There are plenty of beverage carts throughout the park. The Frozen Lemonades are deeeeelicious!
9. Keep it fun by alternating activities.
Especially with children, it's important to alternate mellow activities (like watching shows or walking through the park's numerous aquariums) with busy fun (like climbing the giant rope structure in Sesame Street Bay of Play or feeding sea lions at Pacific Point).
10. Tell children what to do if they get lost.
During one visit to SeaWorld, my family found a little boy all by himself with tears in his eyes. I asked him if he was lost and indeed he was. We walked back with him to Guest Relations/Lost & Found and stayed with him until his aunt was located. Before exploring any large tourist attraction, remind children what to do should they become separated: Stay where you are until your grown-ups return, or approach a MOM with children of her own and tell her you are lost. (And, parents should keep eyes open for children who could use a little help finding their families!)
Do you have a SeaWorld tip or favorite attraction to share? Tell us in the comments!
A Note from The Travel Mama: My family and I recently received complimentary media tickets to SeaWorld San Diego. All opinions are my own.