The holidays are my favorite time of year to visit the theme parks. Each park has its own unique way of celebrating with shows, food, and attractions that make it special. SeaWorld takes their animal expertise and uses it to showcase the holidays in a way that only they can. Shamu Stadium shines with the holiday themed show. O Wondrous Night features animals that you don’t usually see in the park, and the decorations from the lamp posts to the recycled statues make it a must-see in Orlando.
Shamu’s Holiday Show – Shamu’s holiday show only runs once a night and it’s a must-see. The pre-show jazz and karaoke sing-a-long kept me and my son entertained before our favorite mammals took to the “stage.” The show itself fits right in with the holiday spirit with a very sweet portion dedicated to the love between a mother and child. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the soundtrack for Prince of Egypt was the music for the show. My favorite parts were when the mother and child were side-by-side. Since the accident with Dawn Brancheau, new regulations do not allow the trainers in the water with the animals. This is a huge bummer for both the trainers and the guests because the whales enjoy the interactions they get with their human companions and guests no longer get to see the special bond between trainer and killer whale.
Just before the show, we were checking out the underwater viewing area at Shamu Stadium, and an educator gave us some insight into the animals, including that the female killer whales are the dominant sex in the family. You could also see the floors of the viewing area were a bit different and I explained to my son that it allows them to lift the whales up for health checks and such. The educator overheard me and said that while that is correct, they use a different pool for that because it makes the mother and calf feel more comfortable. The underwater viewing area has always been one of my favorite places in the park, and I can’t wait to see it again when the massive expansion is completed.
O Wondrous Night – O Wondrous Night is in the Nautilus theater and is so popular it fills up quickly. My son and I barely got in to see the 5:00 PM show the day we were there—we weren’t disappointed, so we are glad we made it in. It’s filled with upbeat Christmas music, sung by the Herald Angels, and the story is told by a cast of lively animal puppets. The grand finale includes a host of live animals including four camels, goats, sheep, doves, a young burro, and many more. To get a really good look at the animals, try to get a spot on the aisle to the left or the right of the stage near the side doors.
Polar Express – The Wild Arctic is redecorated to resemble the feel of the Polar Express movie. From the pre-show area resembling the house of the “hero boy” and the simulator itself being redecorated, you really feel like you are walking on the Polar Express. My favorite part of entering this area was walking off the Polar Express, and after a few rooms of presents and trees, seeing a Christmas tree and Santa’s sleigh, both of which look like they came straight from the film. My favorite part of the entire attraction was the interaction we had with Santa’s elves. They took their time with each of the guests who were next in line to see Santa and managed to get my son to come out of his shell. They talked Minecraft, Star Wars, and asked him about all of the things he liked to do. They stayed in character very well. I could have hung out with them all day.
I was disappointed to see that the Polar Bears, Johnny and Klondike, were not there and have since gone to that big snow castle in the sky. They were my favorite part of the attraction and were residents of SeaWorld for a very long time. In their place, SeaWorld has given the area to a few harbor seals for the time being.
Empire of the Penguin – The Penguin Encounter has always been my favorite attraction in the park, because penguins are one of my favorite animals. Thankfully, the environment underwent a much-needed massive renovation and is finally an attraction worthy of the flightless birds it cares for. Built around the theming of their Antarctic home, your journey begins after watching the birth of Puck, a baby penguin who is learning his way in the world. For the adventurous, the Wild Expedition will be a cool experience. Those who prefer a little less action in their visit should take the calmer expedition.
The ride takes you through Puck’s life and the dangers he faces in the arctic including having to escape his predators. Geeks will be interested to know that this ride runs off of a wireless network with GPS to help the ride know who is where and where they need to go.
When you exit the ride, things will be a bit nippy because you will be in the penguin environment with nothing more than a four-foot piece of glass between you and them. While in the exhibit I learned that SeaWorld plays host to over 250 penguins and to make sure they’re comfortable, they keep the lighting and temperature similar to what you would experience in their home of Antarctica.
Holiday village and bonfire – Spend a chilly Florida evening (and by chilly I mean a crisp 40 to 60 degrees) with some holiday music, food, and a fire to keep you warm. The reindeer band was hopping when we were there and the fire was a welcome relief from the cold wind that was blowing that night. The village gives you a great view of the Sea of Trees which features over 114 trees and over 39,250 feet of garland. The trees dance to music nightly and by the time the holidays are over, will have done over 150 performances for guests.
Other fun things to do in the holiday village include festive musical performances, hot chocolate, shopping carts, and decorations galore to catch your eye. I don’t normally purchase souvenir cups, but the one the hot cocoa came in was really cute, so I splurged a few extra dollars on it.
On our way out of the park, my husband ducked into Manta for one last ride and my son and I checked out the hidden treasure that is the aquarium under the ride. There is one part of the aquarium where you are surrounded by glass walls and when you look up, you can see the sea life swimming over you. My son loved this part of the area and stayed there for a little bit just to enjoy the view. There’s another area of the aquarium where you can step into the fish world and have an “inside aquarium view.” It’s the perfect size for the younger guests, but adults can squeeze in as well without too much discomfort.
As we walked back to the car that night, I took a moment to reflect on the day: We saw killer whales have a lovely interaction with their human friends; learned that all of the animals currently at SeaWorld were born in the park; fed a sea-lion ($5 for a really nice size amount of fish), and listened to their conversations with each other; and we saw the Penguins in their new and amazing environment, complete with freezing temperatures for us to experience. Overall, I’d say it was a fun day of learning and exploring and worth repeating in the future.
Disclaimer: GeekMom received tickets into this attraction.