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Dolphins Up Close Tour Archives

February 26, 2015

Ways you can interact with SeaWorld's dolphins now that public feedings have been discontinued

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SeaWorld Orlando announced this week that it has closed its popular dolphin feedings to the public. Our family, along with many others, will miss this rare -- and affordable -- opportunity to interact with dolphins.

Readers of this blog might recall that I began going to SeaWorld Orlando and writing about my family's experiences there because of my daughter's interest in learning about dolphins. Going to the dolphin feedings was one of the first things we did, and it became a regular stop on our visits. My then-seven-year-old daughter was in awe of the friendly dolphins, and being able to get so close to them was a dream come true for her.

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Because the dolphins obviously had learned they would be fed, they were not shy about approaching the visitors along the wall. For the price of a tray of fish -- $7 - each guest could feed, pet and take photos with the dolphins. In the three years since our first dolphin feeding, we have tried a variety of dolphin experiences in Florida. They all have been amazing, but none are as inexpensive as the now-discontinued dolphin feedings.

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Still, there continue to be experiences to interact with dolphins at SeaWorld parks - just not as many opportunities to feed the mammals without the direct supervision of a trainer. Visitors can book new Dolphin Encounter packages that start March 3 and will take place at the same location adjacent to Dolphin Cove. The packages, which will start at $15, will allow each participant to pet a dolphin with a trainer's assistance. A $30 package also includes one 6 x 8 professional photo. Both Dolphin Encounters last 10 minutes and include an educational overview. The new packages are similar to what is offered at SeaWorld's other parks in San Antonio and San Diego.

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In addition, SeaWorld Orlando continues to offer its Dolphins Up-Close Tour. When we experienced the tour a couple years ago, it included learning how to scatter-feed the mother and baby dolphins in the nursery. This is a different technique than what was used at the feedings at Dolphin Cove, where visitors drop a single fish into a dolphin's open mouth. (Each tray contained four fish.) Scatter-feeding means tossing handfuls of fish into the water and is intended to teach dolphins how to hunt for food, as they would in the wild. During the tour, we also visited Dolphin Cove, where a trainer taught our family to communicate with the dolphins with hand signals, and we were able to take photos. The regular price of the Dolphins Up-Close Tour is $59 for adults and $39 for children ages 3 to 9. Prices may vary with the season, however.

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SeaWorld Orlando also has a sister park -- Discovery Cove -- dedicated to dolphin interactions. The park is known for its unique dolphin swims, which allow guests to be towed a short distance by a dolphin. Before that happens, though, a small group of visitors stands in the lagoon and learns about dolphins and interacts with one of the mammals assigned to them. The interactions don't focus on feeding the animals, however. I visited Discovery Cove last month, and we spent the time before the swim petting various parts of the dolphin and learning some of the signals used by the trainers. Although a few of the people in our group were asked if they'd like to give the dolphin a fish, it didn't seem as if that was a planned part of the experience. And, honestly, that was fine with me. It was far more memorable for me to be standing in the water next to dolphin, touching it, and then to swim with it than to feed it. (You can read about my experience at Discovery Cove and the dolphin swim on previous blogs.)

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And I suspect other SeaWorld and Discovery Cove visitors will feel the same way. It's disappointing that the public feedings are no longer available, but the new Dolphin Encounters still allow visitors to touch and interact with the dolphins. And I've seen firsthand with my daughter, who surely will be a future marine biologist, how such interactions can inspire conservation in a new generation.



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November 27, 2014

SeaWorld Orlando announces 'Blue Friday' deals and holiday savings

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It's Thanksgiving -- are you ready to hit the stores? If you're still in that turkey coma or just don't want to be pulled away from all the pigskin action, there are some great theme-park deals to be purchased from the comfort of your own home. Of course, not having to fight the crowds is a gift in itself!

SeaWorld Orlando has dubbed the day "Blue Friday" and is offering quite a few deals to save you some green. Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Friday, you can purchase these Buy One, Get One Free offers for admission to the theme park and its water park, Aquatica:

** BOGO SeaWorld Orlando 1-Year Annual Pass; a savings of $156

** BOGO SeaWorld/Aquatica Orlando 1-Year Annual Pass; a savings of $180

** BOGO Full-Paid, Any-Day SeaWorld Orlando Ticket; a savings of $75

** BOGO Aquatica Orlando Single-Day Ticket; a savings of $19

** BOGO SeaWorld Orlando/Aquatica Orlando Combo Ticket; a savings of $89

Visitors also can receive significant savings on offers for these experiences in the park:

** BOGO SeaWorld Orlando Quick Queue Unlimited; a savings of $19

** Buy one Adult Santa's Fireside Feast, get one Child Santa's Fireside Feast free; a savings of $19

** BOGO Dolphins Up-close Tour; a savings of $59

** BOGO Sea Lion and Otter Tour; a savings of $39

** BOGO Wild Arctic Up-Close Tour; a savings of $59

My family and I have experienced the Dolphins Up-close tour and highly recommend it. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that my 10-year-old daughter is in love with dolphins, and this experience was perfect for her with two feeding opportunities and even a training session. I wrote about our tour here. If you have a dolphin-lover in your family, this deal offers significant savings.

One of the other deals is for Santa's Fireside Feast, and we have enjoyed that as well. My son and I attended the seasonal event at the Seafire Inn Restaurant a couple years ago. It's a great way to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus without a long line and to feast on a traditional holiday meal. One child can attend for free with each paid adult.

To take advantage of the Blue Friday deals, guests must register to receive SeaWorld Orlando's e-mail updates or already be subscribed at http://seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-orlando/ Fans can subscribe any time between now and Dec. 1 to participate. The deals are available through 11:59 p.m. EST on Monday, Dec 1.

In addition, SeaWorld Orlando is offering free admission to the theme park for each child with a paid adult for the holidays. That deal can be purchased and redeemed through Dec. 31.

SeaWorld's 2015 FunCard is on sale now and it's valid for the remainder of 2014 and all of next year -- with no blackout dates. So, adults pay $95 plus tax and kids ages 3 to 9 pay $90 plus tax for the holidays and an entire year of general admission.

Finally, guests who visit SeaWorld on select days through Dec. 31 also can experience SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration for the price of regular admission. This is a wonderful value, especially when you consider that other area theme parks require separate tickets for holiday events.



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January 17, 2013

Tips for families attending SeaWorld's Just For Kids festival

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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.

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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.

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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.

January 5, 2013

SeaWorld Orlando's Just For Kids festival begins Jan. 12

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SeaWorld Orlando kicks off its Just For Kids festival for the second year on Jan. 12. For four consecutive Saturdays, the theme park is offering families special entertainment and discounts on some of its popular animal experiences -- and many of the offerings are included with regular park admission.

Children (and their parents) can hear concerts by some of today's popular kids' performers, a couple of whom you've probably seen in the past during Disney Channel's morning programming for its youngest viewers. The performers include:

** Jan. 12 -- Imagination Movers
** Jan. 19 -- Laurie Berkner
** Jan. 26 -- Choo-Choo Soul
** Feb. 2 -- Kratt Brothers

Concerts are at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in the Nautilus Theater, and tickets will be distributed across from the venue beginning each Saturday at 9 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no additional charge for these tickets.

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Want a guaranteed seat for the music? Then book the Shamu & Friends character breakfast at the Terrace Garden Buffet restaurant. The 9 a.m. meal guarantees admission to the 2 p.m. concert, and the 11 a.m. breakfast saves you a spot at the 4 p.m. concert.

During the breakfast, families will have meet-and-greets with SeaWorld characters and will receive a 6 x 8 family photo.

The menu, which is subject to change, includes baked ham, scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, biscuits and sausage gravy, bacon, sausage, French toast sticks, Belgium waffles, seasonal fresh fruit, breakfast pastries, yogurt, cereal, milk, juices, coffee, and assorted Coca-Cola products.

Reservations are required for the Shamu & Friends character meal, and children younger than 2 are free but require reservation. Tickets are $39 for adults and $29 for children ages 3 to 9.

Younger kids might also enjoy Elmo's VIP character breakfast. The popular red muppet brings one of his Sesame Street friends to a full-service breakfast -- with much the same menu as the Shamu meal -- at Sharks Underwater Grill. This breakfast also comes with character meet-and-greets, a 6 x 8 family photo, VIP seating for the 11 a.m. concert, and complimentary valet parking. Tickets are $49 for adults and $39 for children ages 3 to 9.

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For my family, though, the best benefit of the Just for Kids festival is the discount on the animal encounters. For the Dolphins Up-Close, Sea Lions Up-Close, Behind-the-Scenes and Family Fun tours, one child is free with each paid adult. On these tours, guests younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult. That savings can add up quicker than a orca can eat a pail of fish.

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Regular readers of my blog may know that my 8-year-old daughter is in love with dolphins and aspires to train them, so the Dolphins Up-Close Tour is a perfect activity for us. (You can read about our experiences on my previous post.)

In addition to concerts and tours, SeaWorld is hosting fun zones on Just For Kids days:

** New this year is Elmo Rocks!, a concert with Cookie Monster, Zoe, Abby Cadabby, Bert and Ernie at Seafire Inn.

** The Lakeside Patio becomes Shamu's Party Zone, which features a family-friendly DJ, games and character appearances.

** An Ocean Adventure program takes young guests to four Sea Star locations in the park for educational activities. Kids can collect cards and stamps at each location and then redeem them for a prize.

SeaWorld Orlando pass members receive additional discounts during the festival, such as 20 percent off dining in all cafeteria-style restaurants and merchandise in the gift stores. Admission to SeaWorld is $89 for adults and $81 for children ages 3 to 9 with a Fun Card, which allows admission all year long.


August 4, 2012

What to know before you go to SeaWorld Orlando

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If you're heading to SeaWorld Orlando with kids in tow, there are a few things you might want to consider before you reach the turnstiles. Here are some tips for newcomers to help you enjoy your day to the fullest.

** Food: Everyone likes to eat, right? This can be an expensive part of your day at any theme park when you're feeding a family, but there are ways to minimize the expense. First, know that SeaWorld's policy is to restrict outside food and beverages from the park. The only published exceptions are for special diets or baby food.

SeaWorld does offer an All-Day Dining Deal, which allows guests to choose unlimited food from six restaurants, with a few exceptions. Adults pay $32.99, and kids ages 3 to 9 cost $17.99. This can be a good value if you're going to be in the park for more than one meal. My favorite deal, though, is the refillable soda cups, which can be used on the day of purchase and any subsequent days. The price of the cup is based on the style, but all refills are $1. And SeaWorld Orlando now features Coca-Cola products.

** Shows: There are so many amazing animal shows at SeaWorld Orlando that you could spend the entire day moving from stadium to stadium just to see them all. (Extra shows have been added, too, for Summer Nights, which runs through Aug. 12.) Most families don't take that approach, however, so you'll need to prioritize the shows and then work the rest of your day's plans around that schedule. The two Shamu shows -- One Ocean and Shamu Rocks! -- and the Blue Horizons dolphin show are among the most popular, so plan to get to them at least 30 minutes early. (For more on the summer shows, please see my previous blog post.)

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** Roller coasters: If your children like roller coasters, make sure you check the height requirements to avoid any disappointment in the park. For the two biggest thrill rides, Kraken and Manta, kids must be at least 54 inches tall. Journey to Atlantis has a height requirement of 42 inches.

** Additional costs: Some experiences at SeaWorld Orlando are not included in your admission. For animal feedings, such as dolphins and stingrays, you'll have to buy the food. (More details about the dolphin feedings in another post.) There is a $5 charge per 20 minutes in the paddle boats, and up-close tours also are a separate price. If you would like to skip the long lines for popular attractions, you can purchase Quick Queue for one visit per major attraction or get the unlimited version for the day. Prices for Quick Queue vary, based on the option you choose and date of your visit. Currently, Quick Queue one-time is $14.99 per person and Quick Queue Unlimited is $24.99.

** Photos: If you're used to relying on Disney's PhotoPass photographers who are dispersed throughout the parks, you may be surprised to find only a handful of professional photographers at SeaWorld. They usually are concentrated near the entrance to the park and by the Dolphin Cove pool. So, if you want a lot of photos from your day, be sure to bring your own camera.

** Extra clothing: SeaWorld has more opportunities for guests to get wet than other theme parks -- from water rides to animal feedings to splash zones at the performances. There is even a water play area in the Happy Harbor kids section. If you are concerned about your kids walking around in wet clothes, you'll want to bring extra outfits or maybe rain ponchos.

Forgot something? Don't fret; it happens to all of us. SeaWorld is more than likely to have what you need for sale. Even this theme-park veteran had to buy sunscreen on her last visit.

July 28, 2012

Meet SeaWorld Orlando's amazing dolphins

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Dolphins, dolphins and more dolphins! If you or someone in your family just cannot get enough of these adorable mammals, SeaWorld Orlando has a number of dolphin experiences to fill your entire day.

My almost-8-year-old daughter's love of dolphins prompted our family to purchase SeaWorld passes this year, and we have been exploring all the ways in which she can get close to her favorite animals. Here is a little bit of what we have learned from our visits.

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Blue Horizons

Blue Horizons, the show where you see dolphins and their trainers perform amazing feats together and individually, is a fun show for all ages. The performance, which happens multiple times each day, also features tropical birds and ariel acrobats that fly toward the audience. There really are no bad seats in Whale & Dolphin Theater, but if you want a center spot, be sure to line up at least 30 minutes early, especially with the summer crowds. Also, know that employees will be walking through the stands selling snacks and drinks, so there's little need to stand in a line elsewhere -- unless you want to refill your soda mug.

Finally, if your child is a little starstruck by the human performers and would like to meet them, you're in luck. They usually line both sides of the walkways leading out of the stadium and are happy to pose for photos and talk with guests.

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Dolphin Cove

To meet some of the park's dolphins, guests can head to adjacent Dolphin Cove, where they can choose from three experiences. There's an underwater viewing area for this large dolphin pool, plus two interactive areas on the surface. On the far side of Dolphin Cove, guests can see the dolphins as they swim by and possibly pet them if they stop. In our experience, this doesn't happen often because these smart animals know they will be fed on the other side of the pool.

Dolphin feedings that are open to guests usually take place five times per day on the gated side of Dolphin Cove. Because of the limited space and popularity of these interactions, queues can form as much as an hour before the event, so plan accordingly. (Unfortunately, most of this line is in the sun, so at least grab a drink to keep hydrated.) Each guest entering the feeding area MUST purchase a tray of fish for $7 ($6 for annual passholders). There are no exceptions to this rule -- even if you just want to take photos of your kids petting the dolphins. Our solution is to purchase four trays and give each child two so their experience lasts longer and we have more opportunities to videotape and capture images.

Even with double the fish, the feeding goes by quickly. The dolphins will swim right up to the edge of the pool and open their mouths, waiting for the fish, not unlike dogs begging for food. Guests are instructed to pet them under the chin as they drop the food in. My daughter never gets tired of doing this, even though she finds the dead fish gross. Sometimes when she's feeding I manage to sneak in a friendly pat -- no fish for me, thanks!

During the dolphin feedings, SeaWorld photographers will stand on the opposite side of the pool and take photos, which you can view immediately afterward. We haven't had much luck with the professional photos but we have managed to take quite a few memorable shots on our own. When the group feeding is finished, guests are directed to the hand-washing station to clean up.

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Dolphin Nursery

A short walk from Dolphin Cove, guests will find the Dolphin Nursery, an area for pregnant dolphins, mothers and babies to bond without interference from the males of their species. This is a smaller dolphin pool, but the view from the sides is quite good. SeaWorld Orlando recently announced that mom dolphin Starkey gave birth to a baby on June 30, and both can be seen in the nursery.

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Dolphins Up Close Tour

If you want to interact with the moms and babies, it's time to sign up for the Dolphins Up Close Tour. This experience begins at the nursery where guests learn how SeaWorld cares for dolphins and then they participate in a scatter feed. The technique of dropping fish all over an area of the pool at the same time mimics feeding in the wild and helps teach baby dolphins to hunt for food. Trainers then guide the older dolphins through a few tricks for the viewers.

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Next, the group walks to the gated area of Dolphin Cove for the most exciting part of the tour -- some one-on-one time with a dolphin and a trainer who will teach participating guests basic hand signals. My kids were thrilled when our dolphin responded to their motions. They also had plenty of time to pet the dolphin and we got some great photos.

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My family participated in the Dolphins Up Close Tour at the beginning of the year during the Just For Kids festival, when children were free with a paid adult. Normally tickets for the tour are $50 for an adult and $30 for a child ages 3 to 9.

Other dolphin experiences

We are planning to go to two other SeaWorld Orlando properties this year for dolphin experiences, and I'll be bringing you the details on what to expect if you are planning similar trips. We're heading to Discovery Cove, where both kids will swim with the dolphins for their birthdays, and Aquatica, where we plan to slide right by all those smiling creatures when we're playing at the water park.

If you're going to be visiting Walt Disney World, there are a couple of dolphin programs there, as well.

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About Dolphins Up Close Tour

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Dolphins Up Close Tour category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Dolphin Nursery is the previous category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.