My family loves and adventure and can’t be still for long. When the opportunity to attend AdventureCon at SeaWorld in San Antonio arose, we jumped at the chance to attend. Unlike other blogging conferences, this one was a family conference. While I was attending the Saturday conference sessions at the hotel, my family would be treated to experiences of their own with trainers, and have the chance to explore more of SeaWorld and Aquatica.
Aquatica was the real draw for the kids – when we visited SeaWorld over spring break earlier this year, the weather wasn’t cooperating and it was too cold for us wimps to brave the water park (we stuck to the coasters) and they have been begging to go back to try out Aquatica.
And it’s not a family adventure or vacation without an injury. Boo was quick to comply with a soccer injury that landed him on crutches and in an immobilizer to keep him from bending his knee, and we knew those crutches would be a challenge for all the walking we would be doing. The VIP treatment we would get over the weekend showed itself as the organizers sorted us out and hooray, Guest Services at SeaWorld had a wheelchair ready for us each morning, complete with cup holders for their refillable cups.
For this trip, we stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott SeaWorld/Westover Hills Hotel. We were greeted at the desk with a goodie bag for the kids and a friendly smile. The location of the hotel can’t be beat – it is a quick 2 mile drive to the park, but you don’t need to drive at all because they offer a free shuttle service to the park. What a great way to save money on parking!
Now, what I truly love about SeaWorld is that in the process of letting us enjoy these beautiful creatures, they take great care to educate us about both the animals and how to better protect and care for the world around us, and in particular, our oceans. Education has always seemed to play a big role in any interaction we have had there.
So while I was at the conference on Saturday, my family started the day with a trainer talk at the new Sea Lion Stadium. Miss M was very excited for the chance to feed them and check out the surroundings – when we were here in March, the area was still under construction, so this was a new experience.
After that, they had the rest of the day to themselves. But what to do with a kiddo in a wheelchair? It would be one thing if he could bend his knee – he watched patiently while the Hubs and Miss M rode a few rides, happy to not have to make an excuse, because he is NOT a coaster boy.
This is a great place to stop and make a comment about wheelchair accessibility: while admittedly, SeaWorld is not entirely flat, it is extremely wheelchair accessible. SeaWorld has a ride accessibility program for all of its roller-coasters and water rides, which would have allowed Boo to take one other person with him in line at Steel Eel and Shamu Express, three other riders with him on Journey to Atlantis and Great White, and five people with him on Rio Loco (if he actually rode thrill rides – more on this later.) You can click here for more info on their accessibility program.
After riding a few rides, the Surprise Squad approached my family, and they were was lucky enough to be gifted with Dine with Shamu! This year is the 50th anniversary of SeaWorld, and the Surprise Squad is approaching guests and offering up some pretty big surprise gifts over the course of the summer. I have to admit, I was pretty jealous, as this is a fantastic experience.
They were treated to a delicious buffet lunch poolside in Shamu Stadium, in an area that’s normally restricted to trainers and animal care specialists. While they ate, trainers roamed between tables answering questions and then they were treated to the Shamu show.
By the time they were done dining with Shamu, it was hot, and everyone was ready for Aquatica. Boo wasn’t about to break doctor’s orders and hop up steps to throw himself down a water slide – like his Dad and sister did – no matter how much fun it appeared to be, because he wanted back on that soccer field asap.
So what did this guy do at a water park, you may ask?
All the live long day.
We bent the rules a bit with the immobilizer, I’ll be honest, taking it off because it really shouldn’t get wet. He hobbled on crutches to the lazy river ramp and one of us ran his crutches back to our chair. We did put a compression/sport band on the knee – medically it didn’t do anything, as the goal was to not use the knee – but mentally, it served as a reminder to keep that leg as still as possible.
Which is easy when you are floating on a lazy river.
At the end of the afternoon, I met them at SeaLion stadium for the all new SeaLion High show.
We kicked off day two together at the park with a trainer talk at the Beluga stadium. When we first arrived, the Pacific White-Sided dolphins were swimming in the tank, and they looked to be as curious about us as we were with them. What beautiful creatures! Miss M was able to go close up to the tank – she was captivated. (Mental note: sign her up for an encounter with the dolphins when Discovery Point is completed in May 2016.) I’ll say it again: I love that SeaWorld educates as much as they entertain, and the trainer shared a wealth of information about the dolphins.
After the trainer talk, we broke off into groups for tours. I was outvoted on the behind-the-scenes tour (which hopefully will be an option at next year’s conference) and instead went to see the sting rays and the birds.
We had been to a stingray touch exhibit when we lived in Chicago, and it too Miss M ages to get her nerve up to touch them then (despite how badly she wanted to) and so I warned her this would be a quick stop. We discovered on arrival we would actually be feeding them! They are well used to being fed and at the first – um, sniff?- of fish, they were turning toward us, mouths open to suck in the fish. When it first happened, there was a girly shriek that may have come from both Miss M and the hubs, and the fish went flying into the water.
I will confess there might have been a little meltdown at this point, because it was time to move on and as terrified as she was to feed them she desperately wanted to feed them. It served as a good reminder, too, that even on vacation, you need to keep to your kids’ schedules when it comes to snacks and mealtimes.
A quick snack to boost her blood sugar and we were good to go. (My apologies to everyone else.)
We headed back to the lazy river so I could spend some time with Boo; Pea and the Hubs headed off to check out Stingray Falls, giving Miss M a closer look as the ride took them underneath the stingray pool.
Unfortunately, my husband had a business trip the following day so he headed back to the hotel to catch a flight back to Dallas. The kids and I decided to take on one last challenge: Rio Loco.
Now, I promised you a story earlier, didn’t I?
The line for Rio Loco goes up and over the river on a bridge, so for wheelchair access, you go to the side of the ride, where they have a second channel to load the guest and their family. Once buckled in, a gate is dropped to let you onto the river. I may have mentioned Boo hates thrill rides, so a bit of back story is in order.
There might have been a little miscommunication the day before, when we tried to get him on the ride – Miss M kept talking about the waterfall (that you go under) – he thought you went OVER it, and at the last minute, tried to back out. I wasn’t letting him because I knew he would love the ride if he gave it a chance. The poor ride attendant was very patient with him (thankfully, we were in the wheelchair line, because we would have been holding up everyone in the regular line). In the end, he loved it, and so we found ourselves back again where the tale begins.
As we waited, Miss M said “wouldn’t it be funny if the same guy was working?” Boo paled at the thought. And guess what? It was. The attendant said “I remember you guys” and pushed us off. We rode the ride, and of course, mom gets stuck under the waterfall. As we approached the end of the ride, the gate stopped us at the bottom of the ramp – I assumed it was because they needed to switch the gate to let us back in the channel by the wheelchair.
At the top of the ramp – no switch, and we found ourselves at the main loading/unloading station. I looked at the wheelchair across the way, and the steps I was going to have to hop Boo up and over to get him there. We quickly explained the situation, they apologized profusely, and sent us through the ride again.
This time, Boo bore the brunt of the waterfall, and we stopped, again, at the bottom of the ramp. Miss M started yelling, obnoxiously, “switch the gate. SWITCH. THE. GATE!!”
And you guessed it. The gate didn’t switch.
Another attendant approached as the ride was stopped. She said “I’m sorry – do you mind going through one more time???” Of course, we agreed (honestly, we were thinking “how cool is THIS?”) and the ride started up again.
And of course, mom got nailed by the waterfall, again.
Third time lucky and we ended up at the wheelchair access.
The attendant looked somewhat apologetic as he helped us out, smiling. And while we understand mistakes can happen, Boo is still certain that the attendant didn’t switch the gate on purpose because he was so freaked out the day before, only to discover he loved it.
And while I doubt that is what happened, it sure made me the cool mom in their eyes to take the brunt of the waterfall so many times. And I was pretty happy to see such a big smile on my guy’s face.
We were worn out at the end of the day, and went to bed dreaming ofour NEXT trip to SeaWorld/Aquatica – on all of our legs.