It’s easy to hear “SeaWorld” and just think of the one theme park you know. But the brand is actually an ever-growing empire that’s spread across America. Here, we tell you everything you need to know about every single one!
By Joanna Lowy
Of course, we have to start in Orlando – arguably the best-known of all the locations. And SeaWorld Orlando theme park – recently voted the top amusement park by “USA Today” – is definitely the lynchpin of everything on offer here.
There’s something for everyone in terms of the rides – from the white-knuckle roller coasters, including the latest addition, Ice Breaker (not for the faint-hearted!), to the calmer offerings for the younger kids, such as Sesame Street Land. Some reviews argue that it might be better suited to older children, as many of the rides are not suitable for younger ones. Having said that, as its name would suggest, you’d come to SeaWorld – first and foremost – for the incredible ocean of aquatic life, which is well-loved by all, young and old.
Expect oceanariums, interactive exhibits, shows and natural habitats. You can also pre-book a range of reservation-only animal encounters, such as penguins, walruses, dolphins, and – as the latest addition – beluga whales! As a company, SeaWorld is widely recognized for its animal rescue and rehabilitation program, with the Orlando branch, in particular, being well respected for its work with manatees.
Discovery Cove is another attraction based here, giving you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with dolphins, snorkel with tropical fish, walk underwater, and feed exotic birds – including during the Flamingo Mingle – before hammock-napping on one of the immaculate beaches. This is the place for you if you love the idea of getting intimate with some of life’s most incredible sea creatures, but don’t fancy queuing hours for the privilege. A bonus is that everything you’ll need for this all-inclusive day resort is included in your admission, such as all meals, snacks, snorkeling gear, and towels. A little slice of paradise after a busy day (or two) at the theme park, which is just minutes away.
The final Orlando offering is Aquatica water park – a one-of-a-kind water park, home to some of the world’s most exhilarating rides. Featuring a whopping 15 water slides, wave pools, lazy rivers, lagoons, and endless sandy beaches, it’s the perfect combination of adrenaline-pumping activities with a heavy dose of tranquility. You’ll soon see why it’s continually featured in the top ten water parks in the world.
Some popular highlights include the Dolphin Plunge, consisting of two AquaTubes shooting riders 250 feet underwater into the incredible creatures’ habitat, and Ray Rush, a thrilling family water raft adventure.
It may surprise you to learn that this is where SeaWorld actually began, coming to life in 1964. As such, SeaWorld San Diego theme park holds a special kind of charm all on its own. The centerpiece of San Diego tourism, it is home to world-class animal shows, thrilling rides, and educational presentations and exhibits, and is truly a force to be reckoned with.
While the rides are still pretty epic here, they’re on a slightly smaller scale than those in Orlando, although Emperor is the tallest, fastest and longest dive coaster in California. The Manta Ray and Electric Eel roller coasters are also popular, while the younger kids will adore the Sesame Street Bay of Play, boasting a range of cute rides and wet and dry playgrounds.
In terms of the animals, this park will not disappoint, either, as you meander through more than 100 acres of incredible exhibits, including an underwater shark tunnel, Turtle Reef, and a penguin encounter with almost 300 penguins! There are even more reservation-only animal encounters here than in Orlando, offering all the same, plus flamingos, orcas, sloths, and sea lions. You can also go swimming with dolphins here, which is unavailable at SeaWorld Orlando.
SeaWorld San Diego continues to play a vital role in rescue and rehabilitation, with almost 20,000 animals having been rescued since its opening. Spending the day here will not only be hugely enjoyable but will also help contribute to this effort, as a part of every ticket price goes towards the program – win-win!
By this point, you may also assume that SeaWorld is synonymous with a bit of Sesame Street fun – and you’d be right! In fact, if you ask us how to get, how to get to Sesame Place, we’d tell you to head for San Diego!
Open since 2013, this isn’t actually the original Sesame Place (that accolade goes to Philadelphia – more on that soon), but it certainly packs a punch in terms of its offerings. Boasting 17 acres of roller coasters (eight “dry rides”) and 10 water attractions, daily productions of the outdoor show “Welcome to Our Street” and frequent Sesame Street Party Parade processions, there’s something for everyone here – young and old. This park is also open for a month longer than its Philadelphia counterpart, with tickets available throughout January.
The heat in Texas can be stifling, so SeaWorld San Antonio theme park – established in 1988 – can offer such welcome relief. The walk-through habitats feature sharks, stingrays, dolphins, penguins, and sea lions, while the adrenaline-pumping rides that SeaWorld is known for are all on offer here, too. Steel Eel and Great White are particularly popular ones.
Again, most of the rides are targeted toward older children, which could be a problem if you have young kids. However, there is also a Sesame Street Bay of Play here (as with Orlando and San Diego SeaWorlds) and a wide variety of informative, entertaining, and funny shows. There are also more animal-encounter experiences here than at either of its sister locations.
There are still some, however, that believe that – compared to some of its counterparts – this one is less impressive. However, next door is another SeaWorld attraction – the second Aquatica water park (after the one in Orlando), which also offers a range of pools and water slides, and is better suited to kids of all ages. Considering the intensity of the Texas heat, this is a godsend, not to mention that you can make more of a day of it by visiting both attractions. Be aware, however, that one does not automatically give you entrance to the other, meaning this can work out to be a very costly day!
Welcome to Busch Gardens– a 297-acre theme park that’s not only older than nearby Walt Disney World, but cheaper, too – and it boasts more than 12,000 animals, African-themed lands, live shows, and restaurants.
The roller coasters deserve their own mention, being that there are over 20,000 feet of roller coaster tracks at the park! Little ones will also be plenty occupied, too, thanks to the Sesame Street Safari of Fun, offering a range of attractions and the chance to meet some of the characters.
With a healthy combination of entertainment and education, it’s the perfect park for animal lovers and thrill-seekers.
Right across the street from Busch Gardens lies Adventure Island water park– 30-acres of water-filled fun in the sun, combining exhilarating thrills with a dose of calming tranquility. Expect a water playground, wave pool, and waterfalls, as well as some private cabanas in which you can sip cocktails while the kids are having the time of their lives on some of the action-packed rides. The Caribbean Corkscrew and Colossal Curl are just two of the most popular, but the park continually adds new attractions.
What’s more, unlike some of the other SeaWorld parks, Adventure Island really does cater to all ages, particularly with features targeted at the younger ones, such as the Paradise Lagoon and Fabian’s Funport, and other whole-family activities like the Rambling Bayou lazy river and Endless Surf wave pool.
While both Busch Gardens and Adventure Island are top-notch offerings – and are located very close to each other – they’re not really designed for guests to do both at once (a bit like the situation with SeaWorld San Antonio and Aquatica). Once again, if you like the sound of both, you may well have to dedicate two separate days and pay for two individual tickets to get the most out of them.
Williamsburg opened its own Busch Gardens theme park in 1975, following on from the Tampa Bay attraction in 1959. Claiming the title of “World’s Most Beautiful Park” for three consecutive years, it’s certainly one for the bucket list.
Instead of African-themed lands, like in the Tampa Bay park, the theme here is Europe, with a particular highlight being the Oktoberfest village and beer gardens (especially for the adults!). The roller coasters here are also seriously epic and offer a range of different thrill-seeking levels. There is also the Sesame Street Forest of Fun, filled with similar adventures to the Sesame Street Safari of Fun in Tampa for the younger ones.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg has something for all the family – and then some! With endless forests, rivers, and bridges, you’ll just have to see it to believe it.
Water Country USA – Not far from Busch Gardens Williamsburg, this also offers a great day out. As well as some stomach-turning rides – their names probably telling you all you need to know (Vanish Point, Jet Scream, and Big Daddy Falls. Gulp.), there’s also a family-friendly wave pool and lessons for less confident swimmers (although these come at an extra cost).
Visitors love the variety of attractions and – as theme parks go – the wait times aren’t said to be atrocious, either. It is, however, only open from late spring until Labor Day weekend.
Last, but by no means least, come to Philadelphia for the original Sesame Place, a Muppet-filled attraction like no other that’s been spreading some furry fun since 1980 (but only between May to December, when it’s open!).
Highlights include Cookie’s Monster Land, daily shows, lots of fun water features, an awesomely huge Neighborhood Street Party Parade, and the opportunity to meet, greet, and eat with Elmo and his friends!
Boasting 15 rides and eight water attractions (so a little more than its San Diego counterpart), Sesame Place was also the first theme park in the world to be designated as a Certified Autism Center in 2018.
So … where will you head first?
Joanna Lowy is content manager at trip planning platform, Tripening