I took both my sons on the Autism Spectrum to San Diego Sea World over spring break. Part one discussed parking, entrance fees, discounts and Dining with Shamu. This was a birthday trip for my ten year-old son who wants to someday work with animals. I hired someone to take us around and assist with my children so each child had an adult. We tried two-way radios, but it seemed many other families were using them and it was hard to distinguish voices.
We liked the Shamu Adventure better in part because it was easier to observe with the large television screen. They showed a segment of Jack Hanna, and did a special for those who are relatives of the military. If I heard correctly they got in for free. The Dolphin Encounter was the favorite because you can interact closely with the Dophins, feed them fish for $4.00, provided you wait in a long line at certain times of the day. We lucked out the first day and were able to spend ten minutes in a special area with a trainer to feed four Dolphins.
The dolphins were three adult females with one pregnant, and the remaining dolphin was the male child of one of the females. The feeding bin had the buckets numbered for each dolphin so they got their prearranged food for the day. My ten-year old was delighted to pet and feed the dolphins. I checked online upon return home and found this usually costs $35.00 per person. They also have someone walking around taking photos, but they did not turn out and took a long time to wait for them at the photo station.
The Skytower Ride is in the middle of the park and we used it to guide us in directions. Wild Arctic is where you will see the Polar Bears. Before you get inside the exhibit there is a movie you watch beforehand. There are two lines for this, one for motion seating and the other for non-motion. We realized the second day that we could get passes to move ahead of the line, but the first day we entered through the back way of the exhibit from Wild Arctic Gifts store. We were quite disappointed to see no Polar Bears out and about, but did get to see a Beluga Whale and spent sixty dollars in the gift shop.
My eight year-old non-verbal son chose a few National Geographic videos ($20. each). The shops we purchased from included Gifts from Shamu, House of Douse, Shark/Manatee Shop, Trinket truck and Island Traders. A Sea World backpack my son now takes to school daily cost $24.99, a tube of marine animals costs $5.99, a shark pencil is $2.59, chapter books on sharks cost $5.49. An autograph book and souvenir book were each $4.99, a cassette they go to sleep to of the sounds of Sea World was $12.99, plus the stores have the headphones so you can preview prior to purchase. A polar bear keychain for his library card cost $3.99, a squishy beluga whale was $3.99, a 9” plush dolphin cost $6.99 and refrigerator magnets were $1.99 -$3.99.
On our second day we had the pass from the Guest Relations Booth that got us in the line at front at the Wild Arctic. The movie was not of interest to any of us, but ten minutes later and we were able to spot three Polar Bears. One of them was enormous while another one was busily rubbing his behind on the wall. We stayed here for a very long time while everyone went by because it was enjoyable to watch the three Polar Bears interact. The large one went over to a smaller one that was lying down and let out a huge roar, this was very exciting, especially since I took many pictures. We always visit the Polar Bear exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo twice, but never had such a treat to see three bears before.
The Shark Encounter was inside a dark and hot area so I stayed at the front entrance with my younger son. My ten-year old was not too impressed with this exhibit. This was on a moving sidewalk with glass in front of the displays. The Penguin Encounter was on the same type of moving system but it was cold in there and hard to tell the Penguins apart. It went quite fast with the Penguins plopping into the water, walking around and standing. There seemed to be many of them squeezed into this area. The various species were listed overhead.
The Sea Lion feeder pool was very close to the Dolphin Encounter. My oldest son loves Sea Lions but after his experience with the Dolphins he was not really interested in standing still and listening to the trainer speak about the Sea Lions. They were swimming in inner tubes with feeding time was in the afternoon. Flamingo Cove was pretty and is also used as a special events area. The freshwater aquarium had archer fish and the forbidden reef had stingrays and a white tipped reef shark.
We did not go to the Pets Rule show, which runs for 25 minutes four times a day. We saw two Clydesdales on the second day at the Clydesdale Hamlet. There was a sign saying not to touch them since they could bite, but many were leaning over the fence anyway. Most children on the autism spectrum have a connection with dolphins and whales, so the basis of our visit was to see them and not do any rides. This was the first time my children have been to a park that has rides so they were not interested or missing out. They have Journey to Atlantis and Shipwreck Rapids that have a height requirement starting at 42 inches. The Southwest Airlines skytower has a requirement of 46 inches and opens at 8:30 am. The bayside skyride is set at 38 inches and opens at 11:00 am. The Extreme Zone has the rockwall at 40 pounds and the trampoline at 40 pounds with both starting at 9:30 am. I did not even see these, but since we have a trampoline at home it was not worth looking for.
The games center was a nice play to go to get out of the rain storm that surprised us the second day for a little while or to get out of the hot sun for some down play. The games here are expensive so we did not choose any, but the prizes were large. The issue with the games was that they wanted two players for each before you could start.
There was an ice cream place – Pineapple Pete’s that had tables with umbrellas and was located near the dressing rooms for changing into suits for the rides. I used this for changing my son’s diaper and noticed an assisted restroom nearby for those in wheelchairs. The diaper changing stations were not as easy to spot, but they were in good condition. Restrooms were all over the place with the largest one near the Shamu Adventure. I spotted a wheelchair and assisted dog in one stall. The restrooms had plenty of stalls and sinks with limited mirror space.
There were water fountains, seats for resting and sinks for washing hands after feeding the dolphins. I also spotted some signs for ATM machines, first aid but never did see the mother’s nursing room, but not something I went out of my way to search. I spent $27.00 for lunch at the Calypso Bay Smokehouse. There was one line that then formed into four separate ones to get beer, wine, juice, fries, cakes, hand carved sandwiches and hot dogs for children. The lady in line in front of us was a bit irate at the noise my non-verbal son was making while waiting in line, but she changed her tune when she got an education lesson and noticed his t-shirt. The steak sandwich was delicious and my kids were happy with their meals. The one downside was the seagulls hanging around the dining area outside ready to pounce on food. This really bothered my ten year-old son and the table behind us dropped three drinks trying to duck from these birds.
The second day we went to the right side once out of the entrance gate to the Reservation center to make our selections for the lunch at Shamu Adventure. This is where you would sign up for tours. The lockers were to the right. The park was filled with families, yet we were able to walk about with ease and not feel crowded.
There are many gift shops and small concession stands selling trinkets, drinks, food and photos. I spent $40-60 at several of the shops. At the shark gift shop the clerk mentioned she was happy to see my son get three chapter books since mostly kids get toys.
When you walk past the entrance you can head to the left for the Shamu Adventure, past that is the Shipwreck Rapids, World of Sea Aquarium and tide pool. In the middle you will find the Entertainment Games Center, sea lion, dolphin encounter, with the forbidden reed and flamingo cove to the left of them. Behind that section is the Haunted lighthouse. At the right side of the entrance is the Clydesdale, pet’s rule, wild arctic and penguin encounter.
It was a few months ago that we were at San Diego Sea World and it is still the topic of discussion for my ten year-old. My non-verbal son looks daily at the photo album with the pictures from our visit. The highlights were seeing the Whales close up for the Breakfast and touching the Dolphins, plus observing the Polar Bears. Doing the breakfast for his birthday was a nice treat, but my son probably would have preferred having it the next day after seeing the Shamu Adventure and learning more about Shamu. The Breakfast is more expensive than the packaged lunch, but no comparison to having the hour-long time with the whales. The Breakfast buffet is cheaper than the dinner option, plus you get to enter Sea World San Diego earlier than the park opens.
Sea World is the perfect destination for children on the autism spectrum. Taking two days to visit is worth noting. We will be returning next spring break.
Portions taken from a review originally published on Epinions
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