It had been a longer than expected drive, but I finally found myself pulling into the gates of Sea World San Antonio. It was warm, but not oppressively hot and there was a smattering of clouds that day which offered an occasional reprise from the Texas sun. Winding through the drive from the gates to parking area is always a fun moment. The trees provide a natural canopy of shade and the walrus crossing sign always makes me grin.
Of the many benefits which are bestowed upon annual pass holders, perhaps the most rewarding is the free parking. I’ve always had an inner hatred for being forced to pay to park at a theme park. Such pettifogging rankles my innards. Upon surrendering my pass for inspection, we were waved through to the parking area and set about the task of locating an empty spot. Sea World San Antonio has two main parking areas. Preferred, which is closest to the gate, and general, which is where the rest of us dregs park. It’s actually not all that much further away to park in general parking and in fact, it’s all one giant lot which has been augmented with some concrete barriers.
In short order we, managed to get everyone squared away and headed up to the entrance. Our unplanned delay on the access road of loop 410 necessitated a stop at the facilities just outside the gates. While I waited for the girls to finish up, I felt it prudent to take a few shots of the entrance plaza. I’m not really sure why that is. I take a picture of the gates EVERY time I’m there. Yet, it seems that just as I am incapable of completing a trip to Walt Disney World without stopping in Pinocchio Village Haus, I am equally incapable of taking a trip to Sea World without taking a photo of the front gate.
We made our way through bag check and then did the hand scanner thing. As soon as I made it into the park, a random guest stopped me and handed me a $5 merchandise voucher. SWSA does this funky thing with their locker rentals in the water park where they give you back a $5 merchandise credit when you turn the key back in rather than offering an actual $5 refund. Turns out this family was leaving and didn’t want to use it. I thanked the guy and then thanked the Lord for reminding me that it was time to relax and enjoy my family.
I grabbed a show times guide and took a couple of minutes to re-formulate The Plan. After looking over the remain show times and factoring in the distance between shows, heat, humidity, barometric pressure and the number of quarters in my left pocket, I was set. One of the things the girls really wanted to do was to feed the dolphins. So, we headed left.
If his honor will permit a sidebar, I would like to digress a moment. If you ever find yourself in Sea World San Antonio, and are standing in the entrance plaza, it may be a bit confusing as to which way to go. You can’t see anything BUT the entrance plaza at that point. (Think The Oasis at AK.) The entrance is offset on the left hand side and 95% of the park will be to your right. The only things you will find to the left are Dolphin Cove (which is a petting pool, and not the actual dolphin show which is to the right), the Coral Reef and Shark building, and some shops. When the park first opened, there was a one acre map of the US over there that was labeled with a dizzying number of locals. Apparently the upkeep got to be too much and that area of the park was closed. (You can still see the outline of it on Google Earth / Google Maps.)
Sea World San Antonio has changed much over the years. The first time I went, the dolphin show was called "Friends" and featured four different types of marine mammals. (Bottle nose dolphins, pacific white sided dolphins, Beluga whales and false killer whales.) The stadium was only partially covered and as it faces south, it was always scorching hot, but the show was focused completely on the animals. Now the show is called "Azul" and while I haven’t seen it yet, I hear it is similar to last year’s show "Viva!" There are now only pacific dolphins and Beluga whales, and about half the show focuses on high divers and acrobats. The stadium is fully covered and is certainly cooler in the Texas heat than the open plan it began with, but I miss the old show.
Another show that was around the park first opened was called Wheels. The performers were all on roller blades, bikes and motorcycles and as a teen age boy, I LOVED it. It was loud, rocking and hoot load of fun. Now, that theater serves as a concert venue and is only occasionally utilized.
Of course not all the changes have been bad. Numerous thrill rides have been added, and the waterpark is a fantastic feature on hot summer days. Both serve to up the cool factor for teens while making the crowds at the shows much more manageable. There’s even a couple of 4D movie flicks that serve a similar brand of cheesy entertainment as Muppet Vision 3D, but with the interactive features of Mickey’s Philharmargic. And while neither of the Sea World shows holds a candle to Philharmagic as far as sheer entertainment value and wow factor, they are still fun and offer an enjoyable air conditioned break. (Oh and if you’re trying to find them, they are in the back of the park near the Sea Lion stadium and they both share a theater.)
Okay, digression over.
After passing by some outdoor shops and the ice cream joint by the park exit, we headed down the hill to the back corner of the park. We were a bit too late for the 4:00 PM feeding at Dolphin Cove, so we made our way over to the Coral Reef & Shark exhibit. As far as these types of things go, this isn’t too bad a joint. However, don’t go in expecting a super cool underwater shark tunnel or blow you away reef. The exhibits are nice, don’t get me wrong. And we do like to come in and take a gander at them. But don’t expect to spend a lot of time here. We killed 20 min this time around and that was actually moving pretty slow for us.
With our fish viewing skills properly honed, it was time to return to Dolphin Cove and queue up for a chance to spend more money to feed the dolphins. This is another thing that grates on me a bit, but I get over it because the girls LOVE to do it. If there is anything that will convince me to part ways with ten bucks for a couple of trays of dead fish, it’s having my daughters bat their eyes, say please in their drawn out way, and talk about wanting to say hi to their dolphin friends.
The girls feeding their friends.
My youngest daughter and her "friend" talking.
This time was actually our most successful feeding to date, as both girls were able to touch a dolphin. Upon washing the residue from everyone’s hands it was time to lay some tracks. We needed to book it over to Sea Lion Stadium for the 5:30 showing of The Cannery Row Caper. We only had fifteen minutes to get there so we hadn't any time to dally. We set out at a brisk clip and I eventually picked up my youngest daughter to speed the process along.
We arrived in the stadium with about 8 minutes to spare and after getting the girls situated, I headed to the snack bar they have at the back of the joint. It was time to utilize the second best benefit of an annual pass, the 20% discount on food, drinks and merchandise. We always order a souvenir cup and then refill it throughout the day. Even though we were only staying a few hours, it was still hot enough out to warrant such a purchase. (Plus I bring them to work every day in order to fulfill our “All cups must have a securely attached lid” mandate.) Thanks to the AP discount and the merchandise card from our random friend at the front gates, I was able to score two souvenir cups for a couple of bucks.
I was one popular pappy when I returned with the drinks and not long after being seated, the show began. I always enjoy this show as it’s quirky humor cracks me up. Things were going pretty well until about ten minutes into the show. That’s when things got…well…interesting. One of the tricks the sea lions are supposed to do is to swim out to the glass wall at the front of their tank and perch their front flippers on top of it. The first sea lion did great, but the second built up too much momentum and when she got to the top of the wall, she kept right on going and fell over. Suddenly there was a sea lion in the stands. The crowd gave a collective gasp, the trainer had momentary look of shock, a couple of employees came running in form the sides and everyone stood up. Was the creature hurt? How would they get it back in the tank? What soda did Biscuit order in those refillable mugs?
Tune in next time for the answers to these and many other questions you didn’t know you were going to ask.