I’ve lived in Florida my entire life. I’m a native. I practically grew up in the Florida Keys, spending innumerable weekends down there at my grandparent’s house and later at my parent’s place. But even being that lucky…there is one thing I’ve never, ever done—swim with a dolphin.
Two weekends ago, I finally got to do both at Discovery Cove and let me tell you, it was both amazingtastical AND surreal. While holding onto her fins and having her pull me through the water, all I could think was I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM SWIMMING WITH A FREAKING DOLPHIN—A 25 YEAR OLD DOLPHIN!!!
Also? I got to kiss her!!!
Swimming with ginormous manta rays, hugging a giraffe, petting the cutest penguin I’ve ever seen (even when he projectile-pooped) and getting to pet and babytalk to an adorable two-toed sloth, my all-time favorite animal EVER—those things were all pretty off-the-charts awesome, too.
And seeing the One Ocean show with the most majestic and unbelievably huge killer whales? It brought tears to my eyes because it was so ridiculously beautiful.
Living in Florida, you can sometimes take theme parks for granted and if you’re me, you don’t feel so bad for not doing every single thing and seeing every single thing because you know you can come back again if you so desire.
But having been on this recent trip to Seaworld Orlando, Discovery Cove and Busch Gardens Tampa (on a press junket sponsored by Seaworld) without my kids, I got to do a lot of the things that get skipped when I have my kids with me because let’s face it…the kids usually want rides first and looking-at-stuff later. I realized that this? Is a huge mistake. There is so much more to these parks than just rides.
My new philosophy is this: Budget in the extra money for the safari rides or the dolphin swimming or the special tours if you can because it’s a completely different experience.
But even if you don’t do those extra things, take time to hang out in the aviary and feed birds that are so tame they will sit on your head and watch the lions get fed up close and personal and see the Cheetahs run. See the all the shows, go to all the exhibits and for the love of God, if you can pet an animal…DO IT! These experiences are made to be enjoyed. Don’t miss them!
I promise your kids WILL remember the awesomeness of a giraffe bending down to their eye level for a piece of lettuce and they WILL remember seeing two rhinos squaring off on the veldt and they they WILL remember seeing freakishly large alligators sunning themselves on a sandy bank and if they get to see an adorable baby manatee, they will probably want to take it home and keep it in the bathtub because it’s THAT CUTE.
The next time I go to Busch Gardens or Seaworld with my kids, we’ll still ride all the rides and get popcorn and rainbow slushies like we always do but I’m taking the advice I just gave you and we’re stepping off the beaten path—I’ll be planning and mapping out the whole trip in advance so they can see and do all the unbelievably wonderful things I got to do without them!
Also, you must have your photo taken while wearing a silly flamingo hat. Your trip will not be complete otherwise :)
You can see all the photos from my trip here and if you’d like to read more about Seaworld Parks’ animal care and training practices, read a review of my trip here. It was a highly educational experience—I learned a lot and it’s all covered in that post.