Brace yourself. I’m going to tell you something shocking and I want you to be prepared. I’ll give you a minute. Are you ready? Are you sure? Alright…here we go.
Sometimes when my family goes to Florida, we don’t just go to Disney World.
I know. I’ll let you process it.
Now that we’ve all come to a place where we accept that there are things outside of Disney World in Orlando (not that I would ever travel there without spending a few days in the World), I can tell you about my family’s excursion to Seaworld and how my fellow special needs friends can plan to venture outside of the World and enjoy some of the other attractions this area has to offer.
Leaving the World….at least for a little bit.
Going to SeaWorld was not something that we thought about for our first few trips. Our focus was totally and completely on Disney World and getting that down. It wasn’t long, though, before Avalon started hearing about SeaWorld and the animals there, and expressing her dream of visiting. One year I concocted a plan to surprise her with a Trip to Florida and decided that I was going to include Sea World in it. I knew that this would make surprising her with a trip even more exciting, and would be new memories for us to treasure.
It also meant I needed to do some extra planning and preparation.
Plan your tickets in advance. Fortunately, buying tickets for SeaWorld is nowhere near as complicated as Disney World. I still recommend that you get them in advance so that you don’t have to worry about standing in line to get them when you arrive. You can select a single day or a multi-day for just SeaWorld, or you can make it a two-park ticket and add the water park Aquatica. We happen to hold Platinum Annual Passes for Busch Gardens Williamsburg here at home, which provides admission to all of the SeaWorld Entertainment parks throughout the country, so that made picking our tickets easy
Reserve extra experiences. The only thing better than a vacation is a vacation with extras. I am very big on adding extra experiences to my family’s trips, whether it is one of the seasonal parties or a tour. These keep our trips fresh, surprising, and exciting….and let’s face it, feeling a little VIP is never a bad thing. When it came to visiting SeaWorld, these extra experiences looked like the perfect way for us to see more and for me to spend some special time with my bitty. I reserved a backstage penguin tour that allowed us to go back into the penguin care center, learn about them, and even touch one. It was a really amazing experience, and a great break from the confusion of never having been there. Reserving in advance is important because these experiences do fill up. Most require at least 24-48 hours advance reservation
Connect with the animals. Sure, there are rides at SeaWorld, but they aren’t the main attraction. Take the time to really explore the animal attractions that let you get up close and personal with some pretty amazing creatures. I am very glad that they are changing up the way that they are presenting the orcas, but I am also very glad that my family got a chance to see the classic dancing presentation. It was inspiring and also obvious that these gorgeous creatures were enjoying what they were doing. It’s a memory that I will always treasure. What I enjoyed just as much (or possibly even more), though, were the actual interactions that I got to have with the animals. You can purchase small containers of fish to throw to the seals…but be super extra careful. Hubbykins might have not followed the instruction to cover the fish with his hand and got dive-bombed by a huge bird. Be sure to stop by the stingray pool. You can lean in and run your hand along their backs and feel their wings. If you are ambitious, you can purchase small fish and hold them out so that the rays will swim over your hand and eat them with their little vacuum-mouths
Don’t compare. This is a big one, and I’ll admit I have to be reminded sometimes. Even though my family is a huge theme park family and we venture to a park at least once every week or so between March and the end of October (not including our Disney trip whenever that falls in the year), I still find myself sometimes going…well, if this was Disney. Try not to do that. Nobody is Disney….because they aren’t Disney. It’s tricky, but you have to think it through. When you venture out into the larger world beyond the World, take it as a totally new and different experience. Don’t expect the cleanliness, service, amenities, or anything that you usually expect from Disney. That’s not to say that these other parks aren’t fabulous, but they are definitely different, and if you go into it without your Disney goggles on, you’ll have a much better shot at enjoying it for all it’s worth. This can also let you really appreciate the parts of the parks that you might not find so easily at Disney. At SeaWorld, for example, there is a huge play area for the little ones. There are a couple smaller playgrounds at Disney, and of course, the Bone Yard in Animal Kingdom, but this one was different. Avalon bounded off and played for more than an hour, burning off energy and giving me a chance to rest while I watched her
Use your tools. Remember all those fancy tools we’ve been tucking into our utility belts along the way to help prepare for a trip to Disney and then enjoy it while we’re there? All of those apply to these parks as well. Take some time before you go to study the maps or do a video tour so that you feel more secure when you arrive. Watch POV videos of the rides. Read descriptions of everything. Bring along your sensory conditioning tools. Choose a place that you think will be your comforting peaceful place. Even though I had never been, I knew that the stingray pool was going to be my happy place. No matter what else was going on in the park, I could stand beside the pool and run my hand along these peaceful, gentle animals, and feel calm.
I’ll always look forward to Disney World more than anything. There’s never going to be an attraction, a place, or an experience in Florida that I’m going to be more excited about. There will be times, though, when we break the mold and venture out for a day or two in our trip. That can be exciting, too, but it can also be nerve-racking. With some preparation, though, our trip to SeaWorld turned out to be a lot of fun and a wonderful surprise for the baby. We’re looking forward to visiting again to catch some of the things that we missed our first time around.
Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist.