Visiting SeaWorld San Diego with Small Children

My family recently visited SeaWorld San Diego with our 2-year-old twin boys. We went on a Sunday during SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular, so we expected the park to be packed. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t very crowded at all! We didn’t have to wait for rides, the shows weren’t filled to capacity, and we were able to move easily through the animal exhibits. Even the various trick-or-treat stations set up throughout the park had very short lines, or none at all.

The best part was that we all got in free of charge! My husband and I received complimentary tickets through SeaWorld’s Waves of Honor program, and kids under 3 are always free.

With the Halloween Spooktacular going on through October 27 and the beautiful fall San Diego weather, October is a great time to visit SeaWorld San Diego. What makes it even better is that there is a great money-saving promotion going on: through October 31, you can get one free ticket for kids ages 3 to 9 for every adult ticket purchased. That’s a great deal!

My boys had a wonderful time at SeaWorld San Diego, and I think kids of all ages would as well. Here are 10 tips for visiting SeaWorld San Diego with small children:

1. Have a game plan: Don’t try to tackle the park without a plan. As soon as you arrive, pick up a map and schedule. Check the schedule for the times of animal feedings, shows, and character appearances. Pick out the ones your family really wants to do, and plan your day around them. (Don’t rely on the show times listed on the website, because they often change. In fact, on the day of our visit, the showtimes were completely different from the ones listed on the site!)

2. Budget for food: SeaWorld will not allow you to bring sandwiches, meals, snacks (except small snacks for kids), or drinks other than water into the park. Park workers will check your bags at the entrance and make you leave those items in a rental locker or return them to your car. There are picnic areas outside the park at which you can eat food you bring, but that’s not usually practical with small children. So plan to purchase food inside the park. (As at most theme parks, it’s not cheap.) I’d recommend the Calypso Bay Smokehouse for tasty barbecue options. As for water, bring a few bottles and refill them at water fountains throughout the park to save some money.

3. Prepare to get wet: Had we known there would be so many opportunities for the boys to get wet, we would have brought their bathing suits! There are so many fun play areas around the park with water features that we had to struggle to keep them away from. We also sat in the Soak Zone at Shamu Stadium during the Shamu show, figuring we’d get sprayed. We actually got drenched! So be sure to bring bathing suits, towels, and a change of clothes for your little ones. A waterproof camera might come in handy, too!

4. See the Shamu show: If your squirmy toddler or preschooler can sit through only one show, make sure it’s One Ocean, the all-new Shamu show—it’s a must-see! During this 25-minute show you’ll witness majestic killer whales gliding through the water, flipping in the air, waving, and performing many other tricks. Be aware that if you’re sitting in the first 16 rows, called the Soak Zone, you will get soaked! My boys had a blast at this show and are still talking about it.

One-Ocean
Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld® San Diego

 

5. Arrive early for shows: Shows can fill up quickly, especially during peak times such as summer and school breaks. So be sure to arrive early—I’d recommend at least 30 minutes before show time—to snag a good seat. You can give the kids snacks or little toys to play with to entertain them while you wait. In addition to One Ocean, we saw Pets Rule!, which was a lot of fun for our 2-year-olds. And if your child is a fan of the movie Madagascar, try to see Madagascar Live! Operation Vacation. Click here to read about all of the shows at SeaWorld.

Pets Rule
Pets Rule!
Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld® San Diego

 

6. Visit the Sesame Street Bay of PlayThis two-acre section of the park is lots of fun for little ones, especially Sesame Street fans! There are three rides for young children. We went on Abby’s Sea Star Spin and Elmo’s Flying Fish, and the boys loved them. We thought Oscar’s Rocking Eel might be a bit too much for them, but if you want to give it a go with your little one, sit in the middle of the boat so the ride is less scary. There is also a huge play structure with tunnels and net crawls, as well as enclosed play areas with features like bouncy floors and punching bags. (My boys had a blast bouncing and running around on the huge Toddler Mat.) Be sure to catch one of the shows featuring your child’s favorite Sesame Street characters, and stick around after the show to meet them. One of the highlights of my boys’ SeaWorld trip was meeting Elmo!

Sesame Street characters
The highlight of my boys’ trip—meeting Elmo and friends!

 

7. Beat the ride lines: On busy days, lines for the big rides—including the roller coasters Manta and Journey to Atlantis—can get pretty long. There are a few ways, however, to avoid the long wait times. First, head to those rides during showtimes for One Ocean and Blue Horizons (the dolphin show), as those shows usually fill up. Second, take advantage of the park’s child switch policy. Just tell the attendant when you get to the front of the line that a second adult is waiting with your child, and he or she will get a pass to skip the line when it’s their turn to ride. Finally, consider purchasing Quick Queue. For $20 per person, it allows you to skip the lines for the five big rides.Quick Queue Premier, for $30 per person, lets you skip the ride lines and get reserved seating at the shows.

8. Keep your cool: The sun can get pretty strong in San Diego year round. When you and your kids need a break from it, visit one of the park’s indoor marine exhibits, such as Penguin Encounter, Turtle Reef, Shark Encounter, or any of the aquariums. All of these exhibits are spectacular, but our favorite was Penguin Encounter—there were scores of penguins—and Shark Encounter, which takes you on a moving walkway through a clear tunnel to watch sharks swimming all around you.

Penguin-Encounter
Penguin Encounter
Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld® San Diego

 

9. Consider an exclusive experience: You can purchase several exclusive experiences for an additional fee. They include the Dolphin Encounter, which allows you to touch and feed bottlenose dolphins and learn hand signals used to communicate with them, and the Penguins Up-Close Tour, which brings you behind the scenes of the penguin exhibit to meet a penguin face-to-face. Click here to read about all of the exclusive experiences and to decide if one is right for your family.

10. Spend smartly on souvenirs: We promised the boys souvenirs from SeaWorld, but dreaded having to overspend on trinkets they’d never use. But then we found the perfect option. At the Discoveries Toy Store, you can fill your own small plastic suitcase with as many sea-life figurines as you can fit for only $9.95! Our boys had a blast picking out little penguins, dolphins, whales, and more. We managed to cram 20 figures in the suitcase, and the boys have not stopped playing with them since we got home!

Do you have any other tips for visiting SeaWorld San Diego with small children? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Jennifer Marino Walters is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in All You, Fit Pregnancy, Parenting, and several other magazines and websites. She’s the mom of adorable twin boys and the wife of a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. Though she and her family recently moved from the mountains of Colorado to the beaches of Southern California, Jennifer—a New York City native—is a city girl at heart. She writes about her adventures raising twins while navigating the military lifestyle on her blog, www.doubledutytwins.com

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Debbie T
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We took our just turned four year old granddaughter. She wore her spider costume. Sea World really went all out! Everybody had a great time!

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