SeaWorld San Diego - Dolphin DaysSeaWorld is the only park in which you can get up close and personal with sea creatures while getting an education and having fun. You can meet the Orcas (killer whales), watch the Dolphins play their tricks, visit the sharks in their natural habitat, go to the North Pole on an icy safari and peek at the Penguins – and you get all that fun for a bargain.

You can add “experiences” to your visit, like the Dolphin Interaction Program or the Beluga Interaction Program.

The park also offers a large variety of dining options, and the prices are much more reasonable than other theme parks.

Tip: As usual, it pays to plan ahead. Go to SeaWorld's website and browse the various activities and show times.

Shows that you shouldn’t miss are Orca Encounter, Sea Lions Live, Dolphin Days, a trip to SeaWorld SD - Dolphin DaysWild Arctic, Shark Encounter, and Sea Lion Rescue.

For thrill-seekers, try one of the rides: Journey to Atlantis, Manta, Electric Eel, Shipwreck Rapids, and Wild Arctic (the ride).

All those shows, exhibits, and rides will be described below in more detail. Also, see special Christmas and Lunar Year celebration details at the end of this article.

Watch the video at the bottom of this article for an overview of the park.

Explorer's Reef

Explorer's Reef family touching sharksAs you enter the park, you will immediately be greeted by an into the world of sea creatures.

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Explorer’s Reef is a covered but open exhibit that allows visitors to interact with a variety of fish, mantas, and sharks. Young children especially enjoy petting mantas, cleaner fish, and bamboo sharks.

Right next to the reef, you can explore the newest souvenir store, The SeaWorld Store. You probably should refrain from taking the kids there as you enter the park. Otherwise, you will be carrying their souvenirs all day long.

Orca Encounter

Orca EncounterIn this revamped show, the killer whales (Orcas) show off their natural behavior as they interact with their trainers. The show used to be called One Ocean but was upgraded to the current show recently.

Tip: The old One Ocean show was replaced recently with this new toned-down encounter with Orca whales. The trainers try to show the Orcas' natural behavior instead of forcing them into unnatural tricks. To many, this made the show slow and boring, but the reasons for the change are commendable. It is safer for the whales and the trainers.

Expect to be dazzled by high-flying tricks, music, multimedia presentations, new fountains, and the playfulness of the whales.

The show is about 25 minutes, but the pre-show is part of the experience. You will be presented with video clips about our planet and oceans during your wait. The clips will educate you and inspire you to care for our environment better. Also, while waiting, you and your kids can use the SeaWorld App to interact with the sea creatures.

Tip: You will get enough warnings about this one, but here is my warning too: If you sit in the first 8 to 12 rows you are guaranteed to get wet. The Orcas really enjoy drenching the audience. You can always buy a plastic poncho and brave the tidal waves.

You can get closer to the whales at the back of the Orca stadium. The glass window viewing area provides an amazing view of the whales playing or feeding.

You can also dine with the killer whales. This restaurant is right at the huge whale habitat. You grab food from the buffet-style counters and take it to the outdoor tables.

Dolphin Days

Dolphin DaysThis show used to be called "Blue Horizons" and some time ago, "Dolphin Discovery."

The Dolphins are always the main actors, and they still like to show off their flying tricks and enjoy splashing the audience.

Along with dolphins, you will see appearances by pilot whales who like to play with the Dolphins.

The show is about 23 minutes. As usual, get there early to get good seats.

Tip: You can buy the Quick Queue with reserved seating. Then you can arrive a few minutes before the show and get one of the best seats in the stadium.

Dolphin Point

It used to be called Rocky Point Preserve. Here, you can meet Bottlenose Dolphins up close and personal. You can touch and feed the dolphins (only fish purchased at the nearby stand). You can also peek at the dolphins through the underwater viewing glass while listening to educational information.

Due to the popularity of this encounter and dolphin diet requirements, SeaWorld set specific times for feeding them. Check the times on the map/schedule and get there early. You may have to wait in line for a while to get to feed the dolphins.

Tip: Watch out for seagulls trying to steal the feed fish from your hands.

You can also watch Otters play or feed nearby.

Sea Lions Live

Sea Lions LiveWatch the sea lions spoof some of the most popular TV shows and movies like CSI, Idol, and Dancing with the Stars. And don’t miss the pre-show. Show duration is about 20 minutes.

Penguin Encounter

Take a peek at the lives and times of 300 cold-weather Penguins in their natural habitat. You will encounter many species of penguins, including Emperor, King, Adelie, Gentoo, and Macaroni. Watch them above water on the snow and then as they dive into their underwater habitat.

Tip: The temperature is very cold inside this exhibit, so make sure you are prepared. Also, the exhibit tries to mimic the natural Antarctic environment so expect the exhibit to be very dark during summer (Antarctic winter).

You can enjoy this exhibit in two ways: Go on the conveyor belt and be guided through the habitat, or go up the stairs and stroll at your own pace. The upstairs viewing deck has benches and TV screens for educational programs about the Penguins.

Tip: As you step out of the exhibit, make a sharp left and enjoy the warm weather Penguins playing in their small garden and pond.

Shark Encounter

Shark EncounterCome face to face with sharks of all shapes and sizes as you walk through their habitat.

Tip: Sharks lose their teeth all the time. If you look closely along the edges of the tunnel you will find some shark teeth.

The highlight of the exhibit is a 57 ft. acrylic underwater walkway.

You will see sharks swimming all around you. Some of the species you will encounter are Sand Tiger, Bonnethead, Black Tip, and White Tip sharks.

Sesame Street Bay of Play

Sesame Street Bay of PlayIf you have kids, make sure to schedule a stop at this play area for kids of all ages. This will allow the adults to relax and the kids to let loose.

This Sesame Street-inspired area is full of rides, games, and interaction with characters. It replaced the long-running Shamu's Happy Harbor, which is a big improvement. New rides include Abby's Sea Star Spin, Elmo's Flying Fish, and Oscar's Rockin' Fish.

Activities left over from the old play area are the cargo nets, slides, bouncers, and water play area. You can join the kids climbing the nets and going down the slides for a little workout.

Wild Arctic

Wild ArcticWild Arctic is a way to explore the North Pole without venturing into cold weather. You start your Arctic exploration by riding in a jet helicopter, which is a motion simulator.

The chopper takes you on a wild ride to a remote research station. Along the way, you will see the breathtaking icy wilderness and encounter a few mishaps.

Tip: Riders who prefer a smoother ride, select the middle seats of the helicopter.

If you don’t like simulator rides, there is an alternate route that takes you directly to the observation area. You can watch the same scenery – from the helicopter point of view – on a giant screen and then head to the research station on foot.

Wild ArcticOnce you land at the research station, you can observe polar bears, white beluga whales, walruses, and seals. Your observation starts from above the ice and water and gradually takes you underwater. Along the way, you will pass through an ice tunnel with a 25-foot-long ice wall.

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Tip: Put your hand on the ice, see your hand sinking in the ice and making a print, and find out how long you can last.

The gift shop at the exhibit's end contains cute stuffed polar bears and beluga whales.

Tip: The weather in Arctic is freezing cold, so make sure you have a jacket or sweater.

Shipwreck Rapids

Shipwreck RapidsGet ready to be very wet. This is your typical water ride that twists and turns between shipwrecks, live turtle habitats, and waterfalls.

Tip: For people who don’t like to stay wet, SeaWorld provides drying booths near the exit of the ride.

Ride the tube rafts and start your whitewater rafting adventure. You will get splashed a little along the way, but you are guaranteed to be drenched by the end of your ride.

Tip: If you skip the ride because the line is too long, you can take your revenge and have some fun. Use one of the water cannons along the path from Shipwreck Rapids to Cirque del la Mar to drench the raft riders.

Manta

MantaThis is one of the newest attractions at SeaWorld. It is a high-speed rollercoaster ride with many twists and turns, but it never goes upside-down.

The ride starts deceptively slow and relaxed. You will first go through an underwater tunnel. Using giant HD screens, sound effects, and slow rocking motion, you will feel like you are really underwater – with great views of mantas and sea creatures. Then all of a sudden a door opens and you are launched onto the high-flying adventure. This rollercoaster has a lot of twists and turns but no 360 loops. The ride lasts close to 2 minutes.

Once you are done with the ride, head over to the new Manta aquarium, where you can pet the mantas or see them in action through large acrylic windows.

Journey to Atlantis

Journey to AtlantisAtlantis is a water ride and rollercoaster for thrill-seekers. You start your ride with a 60-foot plunge into the water. Then you go through a calm period with your boat floating through a river.

Along the way, you will encounter evidence of the lost civilization of Atlantis, and you will come face to face with sea creatures.

At the end of the calm boat ride, you are lifted up and then dropped onto a winding rollercoaster.

Tip: This is a busy ride. Expect long waits. Best time to visit is when the park opens or when the big shows are in session (Whales and Dolphins).

Electric Eel

Electric EelThis is one of SeaWorld's newest thrill rides, featuring multiple launches, upside-down spins, steep drops, and backward acceleration.

It is not for the faint of heart. With speeds of up to 60 miles an hour and climbs up to 150 feet, prepare for many screams.

The Electric Eel is part of a new park area called "Ocean Explorer." You can explore eels, mantas, and octopi at the entrance in their natural habitats.

Emperor

SeaWorld Emperor RideAre you ready to dive like an Emperor Penguin into the icy waters of the Antarctic? This crazy rollercoaster promises to be the most terrifying ride you ever attempt.

The ride takes you up a 14-story vertical drop and then hurtles you down at 60 mph with various loops and inversions.

Full disclosure: When I saw the vertical drop, I chickened out. Do you dare to try it?

SeaWorld Sky Tower

SeaWorld Sky TowerIt's a 320-foot tower with a climbing, rotating cabin. While spinning around at a very leisurely speed, you can enjoy commanding views of San Diego and the bay. The ride has a totally different flavor depending on the time of day. Try a ride around sunset and a nighttime ride. I have only one regret about this ride: I wish the viewing windows were kept spotless so I could take better pictures.

Where to Eat

SeaWorld still lacks high-end dining, but a few good options for snacks and main meals exist.

Tip: The park offers an all-day dining package. Unless you are planning to stay the whole day and take advantage of several meals, it is not worth the money.

Mama Stella's Pizza Kitchen

If you love Italian food, this place is for you. You can find all the favorite pizzas and pasta or get sandwiches and salads.

The restaurant has several seating areas. While sitting in the covered outdoor areas, watch out for hungry seagulls.

Explorer's Cafe

This cafe is close to the main entrance and offers American favorites like cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, and salads. It also has a beer station with many draft beers.

This restaurant has plenty of tables indoors and outdoors.

SeaWorld San Diego - Shipwreck CafeThe food was above average. We enjoyed our cheeseburger and chicken combos - with fries and a Caesar salad.

Shipwreck Reef Cafe

Shipwreck Reef Cafe is my favorite dining experience at SeaWorld. The place offers fruit, salads, chicken strips, quarter-leg chicken, and beef ribs.

For sides, make sure to order the waffle fries. For dessert, you must try carrot cake, cheesecake, or chocolate cake.

With popularity comes the crowds. Expect to wait in long lines before you can order.

Chinese Lunar New Year

SeaWorld adds a few Far East touches during the Lunar New Year celebrations with shows and demonstrations.

Close to the main entrance, a group shows off their skills with Japanese drums. But the real treat is the SeaWorld San Diego - Chinese AcrobatsChinese Acrobats show at the Mission Bay Theater.

The 25-minute show dazzles with amazing feats of contortion, acrobatics, plate spinning, and hoop diving.

The show was well-choreographed and performed with high energy.

SeaWorld Christmas Celebration

SeaWorld turns into a winter wonderland during the holidays. Christmas decorations adorn every corner, and some of the sea creatures are celebrating too. Just walking around between attractions will put you in a festive mood and fill you with the holiday spirit.

As you enter the park, you will be greeted with an amazing tall Christmas tree festooned with beautiful ornaments and lights. Your favorite characters, like Shamu, will be on hand to take pictures with your family.

Some of the must-see holiday attractions are Polar Express 4D, Snow World, Shamu Christmas Show, Clyde and Seamore Christmas Show, and Christmas Tails (Pets).

Polar Express 4D is a special version of the popular movie of the same name. The 3D effects will put you inside the action, but the added dimension of special effects tricks your senses into believing. There are a few surprises that I don’t want to spoil for you, but a warning too:

Tip: Do not sit in the front seats. Try to find a place in the middle rows and right in the middle of the row you select. Obviously, you have to get in early to be choosy. We were late getting in and had to settle for the 2nd row. We still enjoyed the show, but we had to strain our eyes and necks to see everything. We also missed an amazing special effect that did not reach the front rows.

Snow WorldSnow World is an area set aside for snow play – with real snow and a sledding area. Kids of all ages can play with the snow and have snowball fights, but the sledding area is reserved for kids 12 and under. Also, expect to see falling snow along the path to Snow World.

The Otter Show: Santa gets held up and can’t deliver the Christmas gifts. “Biff” fills in for him and finds out that OP makes the naughty list again. OP and his accomplices “borrow” the list to make changes. The whole team looks for the list, but OP sneaks it back to its place – just in time for the gift deliveries.

Clyde, Seamore, and OP Otter have a new story to tell at the Sea Lion and Otter Amphitheater.

We missed the last Christmas Tails show (at 3:15), but I heard from many people – especially young children – that they loved it. The basic storyline is that the dogs, cats, and birds throw a big holiday party.

Overall, it was a great way to celebrate the holiday for the whole family.

Halloween Spooktacular

A nice and safe way to celebrate Halloween with the kids. The kids can dress in their favorite costumes and line up for treats around the park.

Some rides and shows were also dressed up for the event. At night, you can enjoy the Sesame Street Parade.

Unlike the huge scary event at Knott's Berry Farm, this one is low-key and targets the young crowd.

SeaWorld San Diego
500 SeaWorld Drive
San Diego, CA 92109
(800) 257-4268