Because of weather, we left for the marathon a day earlier than I had planned. And because of that, we received an unexpected gift.
Something you kind of begin to take for granted, living in Central Florida, is knowing an assortment of people who work at the major theme parks. One of the perks of being an employee of Disney, Sea World, Universal, etc… is the ability to get your friends and family into the parks for free. Once my husband and I were married, it was years before we actually had to pony up the money to enter any of the parks. In fact, because of the generosity of a certain friend, we used to spend every New Year’s Eve at Epcot, wining and dining our way around the World Showcase.
But not living in the Sunshine State for over 10 years now, we’ve lost that special connectedness to park employees. So it was a great surprise that our wonderful friend with whom we would be staying in Orlando, called us just as we were pulling into a hotel parking lot off I-75. Friends of hers had called to invite her family to a day at Sea World the very next day. Knowing we were coming in, she declined. They persisted, and invited her friends – us! – to tag along. She thought we would be tired from our travels, so she said “no” again, but then thought better of it, and called to ask if we would be interested in going to Sea World – for free!
We thought long and hard about it. Seriously.
For all of 2 seconds.
“YES! YES! YES!” screamed the kids. “Home! We’re going home!” they shouted.
That’s because they used to live at the theme parks. Honest-to-God if that’s not the truth.
We left Orlando when they were really little. My husband was working two states away for over 9 months, while I stayed and tried to sell the house. The only way to keep the house clean with three children under the age of 6 was to never be there. You laugh, but it’s the truth. We had passes to almost everything: Disney, Sea World, the Central Florida Zoo, the Orlando Science Center… and more. So my kids really did think of Shamu as a brother – or sister perhaps, because some of the killer whales are females too.
We could hardly sleep going to bed after that… I mean, freebie tickets to Sea World truly was a fabulous present. Even more so because it was utterly out of the blue…
Plus – and this is a big plus – we were able to count it as a day of homeschooling!
This is one of my first memories of Sea World… ever. This used to be the dolphin pool way, way back when I was a whippersnapper. Now it’s the Dolphin Nursery. People used to be able to stand at the edge, buy a paper container of smelly, nasty fish that you could use to feed the dolphins. You’d drop a fish in the water just as one swam by, it would eat the fish, and if you were lucky, you could pet Flipper.
I had to point all these totally useless facts out to my kids while they rolled their eyes. But I felt good for dispensing such facts.
This is the “Soak Zone.” The first 8 or so rows are always set aside so that insane people can get splashed by the various dolphins, whales, walruses, sea lions at the shows. My kids are in the Soak Zone. I, on the other hand, am safely ensconced about 20 rows up. For people that don’t think it ever gets cold in Florida, it does. This day, despite my son wearing shorts, it was cold. Cold being a high of 64 degrees or so, but still, all the humidity indigenous to Florida makes it cold. I promise. So, yes, he really is a lunatic to want to get wet when it’s that cold.
We were with a large contingent of teenagers on this outing. Still really being a kid/daredevil/teenager in my own head, I was more than eager to ride some rollercoasters. So, off to another one, Manta!
The seats move up and back so that you are facing stomach-down (face-down!) the entire time. Your feet are behind you so you have the sensation of flight. The rollercoaster travels directly over the pedestrian area, and we were able to see our friends waiting and watching for us. They said I had a smile on my face the size of Texas. That’s because I was able to discuss the aerodynamics of flight for our homeschooling, and I was pleased with myself. No, not really. I lied. I was just… happy.
Flamingos…. Growing up in Florida, I never saw a flamingo unless it was at a theme park. Really, where do these birds actually live in the wild? They’re so pink because of all the shellfish they eat. A park employee told my children that. It’s so nice not to have to do the teaching all the time.
The Christmas decorations were still up, but even though it was dusk, there were some Christmas lights on these trees. You can’t see them well, though, but trust me when I say that they were random and patchy at best. We were told by the lovely gentleman that got us in (for free!) that the squirrels somehow make it out to the trees and gnaw on the wires. Why? Who knows? How? An even bigger mystery! A good one to ponder though for homeschool purposes….
Finally, a visit to Sea World wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Shamu show. This one – truly! – was quite educational. It was the first day back from maternity leave for a new mother orca, and also the first day that Makaio made his Sea World debut. So there was quite a bit the trainers discussed about birth, baby orcas, etc… Because it was mom and baby’s first public outing, plenty went wrong, but the trainers really did use it as an educational opportunity.
Well, for us, it used to be. But now we live a day’s drive away. So it really was wonderful to be afforded the privilege to spend a day in our own “backyard” again.
It really was such a lovely, fabulously unexpected gift.