SeaWorld Orlando's Just For Kids festival returns again this year on four Saturdays -- Jan. 12, 19, 26 and Feb. 2. I recently spoke with Muffett Baker, the theme park's entertainment production manager, to get her thoughts on the what not to miss at Just For Kids. Here are her recommendations for making the most of the festival and my tips for families.
This is the second year for the Just For Kids festival. What do you think made it a success the first year?
Muffett: This is a great time of year, and families wanted to get out and do something different after Christmas and the holidays were over. And, also, because it is geared toward the little kids and is something new. The artists we've brought in are part of their lives as something they see on TV.
Kristin: As a local parent, I'd have to say we were tempted by all the great discounts on the festival days. Kids are free for the Up-Close animal tours, which meant our family of four could have more one-on-one time with the dolphins and their trainers for $120 instead of $200.
What are the most popular parts of the Just For Kids festival?
Muffett: The concerts have been great. They are really popular, and they're so much fun. Most of the artists are geared toward children and they know how to do all the things that kids want to see and hear and do. And then we have other interactive things throughout the park that children just really like to be a part of.
Kristin: That certainly was the case with Imagination Movers, the first concert on Jan. 12. My eight-year-old daughter and I attended the concert, even though the target audience was really the preschool or kindergarden set. But because the musicians were so good about interacting with the audience -- jumping into the crowd, high-fiving as many kids as possible, directing them to stomp and clap -- she could participate without knowing the songs and have a fun experience. We both enjoyed the final song, when the Imagination Movers covered One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful."
Speaking of concerts, if visitors do not get in line for tickets when the distribution begins at 9 a.m. on Saturdays, what are their chances of still getting to see the shows?
Muffett: I'd say pretty good.
Kristin: Last Saturday, tickets for Imagination Movers were still available at noon for the 2 and 4 p.m. shows.
What tips do you have for first-time visitors for the Just For Kids festival?
Muffett: Plan out your day for everything you want to do, but make sure you make time to either come and get your concert tickets or purchase one of the breakfasts for a guaranteed spot. (See my previous blog post for details on the special character breakfasts.)
Kristin: If you have more than one day to spend at SeaWorld Orlando, focus on the Just For Kids events on Saturdays because they only occur then. If your chid is older, like mine, and is unsure about the concerts, he or she probably still will like Shamu's Party Zone, located near the concert venue. This area features a live DJ, games, crafts and character appearances. Plus, there's a face painting station and snacks available for purchase.
For returning guests, what is new this year?
Muffett: We've changed the footprint of it just a little bit, and we've expanded a little. We've got a little more of everything we had last year, and we also have the addition of the Elmo Rocks! show.
Kristin: My daughter liked that the reward for visiting the Ocean Adventure education stations was more substantial this year. Kids who visit all four locations and collect the corresponding stamps each receive a Shamu backpack clip.
When you are creating special events like this for SeaWorld, what goes into the process?
Muffett: Last year when we started talking about this, we thought about what kids like to do and how they like to interact. Then we thought about what areas of the park would accommodate that. Happy Harbor is great for kids, but there is not a lot of other footprint to build on. So, if we wanted to do the concerts, we needed to come over here [Nautilus Theater] and support them in this area of the park so it can be easy for everyone to see what we've got.
As soon as Just For Kids wrapped up last year, we started planning for this year and looked at how it worked, what we could do bigger, what we could do better, what we could change, and what we could try new. I think right now we just want to expand [the festival] a little at a time.
DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando during its Just For Kids festival. My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my article.
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