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  1. #1

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    Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    My son and I recently did a sleepover at SW San Diego. There's not a lot out there online about these events, so I figured I'd write up a trip report/review for those interested. Because it's lengthy and photo/video heavy, I'm posting it in several parts on my website. The first installment is an intro, which includes a photo that might spark a side discussion here on human interaction with killer whales.

    Read the intro here:
    Best Sleepover Ever: Explanation and background BonnevilleMariner

    I hope to post the next installment tomorrow (I'll provide its link here too). I'd really appreciate your thoughts.

  2. #2

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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    I'll leave the intro as a just a link, but rather than making you click over to my website for the rest of the entries, I'll just adapt the narrative and paste it here. It's not your normal trip review-- it's more a narrative format and maybe overly descriptive for a forum-- which is why I originally just linked to it on the website. I'll still provide the links to the original review, but this way you don't have to leave the boards in order to read it.

    Part II: Welcome to SeaWorld!



    One thing was obvious when Meadow dropped Boo and I off at SeaWorld’s back door: we were the only ones who bothered to follow SeaWorld’s packing guidelines. Judging by the “essentials” hauled in by our fellow campers—duffles, drybags, suitcases, deluxe king-sized air mattresses with their accompanying battery-powered pumps—you’d have thought they were all staying for a week.

    Boo and I packed lightly, for which several education staffers profusely thanked us. We had only my backpack, which contained a change of clothes for both of us and a couple of thin fleece throws.

    Public sleepovers at SeaWorld are a relatively new concept. Until this year, overnighters were limited to Scouts, religious groups, and other private organizations. From side conversations between staffers, I gathered that this was one of the first public sleepovers (if not the first) they had ever held, and I detected a slight anxiety in their ranks during the check-in process.

    Our group consisted of roughly 40 “campers” with a 70-30 kid to parent ratio. Though it was the Fathers Day sleepover, several mothers attended too. Most kids were Boo’s age and most parents were mine.

    After stowing our luggage in a large compartment behind the Wild Arctic exhibit, the group was divided in half. Each half was assigned a member of SeaWorld’s education staff who would play the dual role of tour guide and minder for the duration of the evening. Our guide/minder was James, a charismatic, twenty-something redhead with a palpable love for sea life and a knack for interacting with kids.

    Training large marine mammals to perform complex maneuvers on command looks like a tough job, but herding groups of kids through the park and commanding their attention for hours on end isn’t exactly a simple task (just ask any Scoutmaster).

    Extensive knowledge about the park’s vast collection of sea creatures is a given, as is the ability to deal delicately with overbearing parents and the group’s token obnoxious kid. This young cadre of staffers had its work cut out for it, and James was a natural. It was clear that we were in good hands as he led us past the massive array of water filters and paused behind a non-descript gate.

    Boo stood quietly, the excited wheels in his head almost visibly turning. It had been a few years since we last visited the park, but the familiar sounds and scents flooded our senses as we emerged between Wild Arctic and Journey to Atlantis into the main park.

    “Welcome to SeaWorld!” James bellowed.


    Original Link: Best Sleepover Ever: Welcome to SeaWorld! BonnevilleMariner

    Stay tuned for Part III coming soon!
    Last edited by JungleBumCT; 08-17-2010 at 08:13 AM. Reason: Removed extra spaces

  3. #3

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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    Part III: The Adventure Begins



    When My wife rolls her eyes at my obsession with the sea, I tell her she can thank my grandpa for it. Poppy, as we called him, wasn’t a waterman—he was a heart patient. When Salt Lake City’s high elevation would begin to take its toll on the ticker, Pop would look toward the western horizon and simply say, “Let’s go.”

    It never took much to convince Gran and the kids. They’d load my mother and her siblings in the van and chase the sunset—sea level or bust. A few military relatives living in San Diego made these impromptu road trips convenient. The beaches, zoo, and SeaWorld were secondary, but nice. So nice that when she grew up and started her own family, Mom continued Pop’s therapeutic pilgrimages.

    Memories of those early trips to SeaWorld appear in my head like old 16mm Kodachrome snapshots. Our routine was always the same: Be there when the gates open and head directly to the Sparkletts Water Fantasy Show, an acrobatic fountain presentation choreographed to Beach Boys tunes. Then it was straight to the sea lion and otter show for a performance of “The Ooky Spooky Castle.” The dolphin and Shamu shows would follow, along with hours of exhibit hopping.



    I remember leaving the park at night, thinking how cool it would be to stay and hang out with the sea life overnight. I smiled a few years ago when, after a night time Shamu show, Boo vocalized that same thought. Now we were there with our official Adventure Camps t-shirts and name tags, watching killer whales launch themselves in tandem from the depths of Shamu Stadium.

    The evening’s events began with dinner—an all-we-could-eat spread of Spaghetti, chicken strips, and watermelon at the Shiprwreck Reef Cafe. James joined Boo and I at a table by the sea turtles. We shot the breeze about SeaWorld history and a resident dolphin named Stein that Boo had befriended a few years ago, and who recently passed away after a long battle with liver cancer.

    Stein was always easy to spot in the dolphin pools because he had lost all of his teeth from old age. In fact, Stein was SeaWorld’s oldest dolphin, having lived to his mid-40s (about 25 years past normal life expectancy). Many of the dolphins at Rocky Point Preserve today were sired by Stein—a notion that Boo’s 8 year old brain can’t quite comprehend, but one that makes him very glad nonetheless.

    After dinner we trekked back to Wild Arctic for a demonstration on Polar Bears. Polar Bears 101 continued in a classroom behind Shamu Stadium as the sun began to set. These sessions were led by an enthusiastic edu-staffer named Allen, and Boo eagerly absorbed every word. After making a polar bear claw key ring, our group joined the other Adventure Camps groups at the crowded stadium to watch the Shamu Rocks nighttime show.



    Shamu Rocks runs all summer, but tonight would be different—at least for Boo and I. When the waves tapered away and the fireworks smoke dispersed, the rest of SeaWorld’s visitors would be ushered out of the park. Soon the lights would dim and the lushly vegetated walkways would be silent.

    Soon we would have the park to ourselves.

    -----
    Original link: Best Sleepover Ever: The Adventure Begins BonnevilleMariner

    Stay tuned for part 4 coming early next week! Don't all comment at once
    Last edited by JungleBumCT; 08-19-2010 at 11:56 AM. Reason: Resized pics

  4. #4

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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    very cool... this is something i would love to take my niece to.

  5. #5

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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    Part IV: Snoring to Whale Song



    I don’t consider myself the over competitive type, at least not usually. But when it comes to something big (like getting the best sleeping spot in Wild Arctic), look out.

    It seemed like there was plenty of room in the exhibit’s lower level to ensure a satisfactory spot for all parties, but Boo and I weren’t about to take chances. We had scoped out the area during polar bear class earlier and had set our minds on a fine patch of concrete next to the beluga whale tank.

    I saw other families eying that spot too, and I wondered what their plans were. Is it going to get hairy? Would anybody try to crowd us out? Was there some secret to securing the holy grail of all Wild Arctic spots?

    “I’ll tell you what,” one staff member offered. “When it’s time to brush teeth and change in to pajamas, whoever gets done first picks their spot first.”

    We’d have to brush teeth and change quickly, then.

    Or, as Boo and I thought simultaneously, we could skip that step altogether.

    “I won’t say anything to Mom if you won’t,” the spirited 8 year old assured me. In high stakes games, you do what you gotta do.

    By the time our freshly brushed and jammied friends returned to Wild Arctic, Boo and I had staked our claim and were sitting comfortably on our fleece throws, watching beluga whales dance 2 feet from our pillows.

    Soon, the entire underwater viewing space hummed with the sound of battery-powered mattress pumps. Beach blankets were spread and heavy sleeping bags unrolled on top. We quietly mocked the mattress campers as we studied Allua and Ferdinand, the two belugas on the quiet side of the acrylic.

    When the clamor died down, James gave a parting briefing and answered a few questions. There was no bathroom in the exhibit. And no, there was no A/C they could turn off, nor heating system to make things warmer. It’s called Wild Arctic for a reason. The constant cold, James explained, comes from the frigid water outside. I glanced at our Wal-Mart fleece throws, which would double as mattresses and sleeping bags. Suddenly the mattress campers didn’t seem so dumb.

    James and crew bid us good night and the row of dim ceiling lights was extinguished. It was about 1:00 am. A good 30 seconds passed before we heard the first snorer. He (I’m assuming it was a he) was loud and steady, and as the minutes passed he led a burgeoning chorus of a half-dozen more nocturnal lumberjacks.

    Boo was determined to stay up all night to talk and watch the whales, but his voice faded as he chatted. I don’t blame him—it had been a long day packed with enough excitement to drain any kid. Allua and Ferdinand were mostly still, their white forms reflecting the moonlight above. They appeared as streaks of blue in the darkened pool, and their whale song was audible through the paneling. I’m not sure what made me happier: the situation itself or Bridger’s delightful immersion in it.

    Boo’s all-nighter lasted until about 1:45. I pulled his hood over his head and straightened his covers, then tried to find a comfortable position on my concrete bed. At some point I joined the snoring chorus myself, though it wouldn’t be for long.
    —–
    Original Link: Best Sleepover Ever: Snoring to Whale Song BonnevilleMariner

    Coming up: Sting rays, Moray eels, and a moonlight excursion.

    A short clip showing where we set up camp is at the original link (can't find a way to embed video on the boards).

    Here's an above water view of either Ferdinand or Allua the next day:

    Last edited by JungleBumCT; 09-02-2010 at 12:53 PM. Reason: resized pics

  6. #6

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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    Part V: Orcas, rays, and a comatose moonlight excursion



    When it came to getting the best sleeping spot in Wild Arctic, skipping the teeth brushing turned out to have been an excellent idea. But skipping the bathroom part of that last bathroom break? Eh, not so much.

    It hit me at about 2:00 am. Or at least that was the point when ignoring nature’s call was no longer an option. Answering it wouldn’t be simple. I’d have to get up, tip-toe to the exit, take a flight of stairs, wake our chaperone, and trek over to a building by the Penguin Encounter. First, though, I’d have to wake Boo.

    “Hey pal, do you need to go to the bathroom?” It would be slightly less embarrassing for me if Boo was the reason we were going.

    “Nope,” came his comatose response.

    He slowly came to as we trudged up the stairway to check out with the doorman. The balmy air outside was a stark contrast to our virtual igloo. I walked slowly in order to take in the SeaWorld that very few humans ever see: middle-of-the-night SeaWorld—when the path lights have been dimmed and that infamous elevator music quieted.

    Boo resumed his slumber immediately upon our return. As I arranged his blanket I noticed that his clenched fist still held a stingray tooth he had found earlier in the evening. I carefully pulled it away and secured it in a zipper pouch in my backpack. If he lost it during the night I’d never hear the end of it. After all, this was no ordinary stingray tooth.

    I continued to replay the evening’s events in my head– picking up after the Shamu Rocks show. After the crowds filtered out of the park, the education staff had gathered us to the orca habitat’s underwater viewing area for a little Whales 101. While a staffer named Erin demonstration on the insulating qualities of whale blubber using clay and ice water, I walked over to the massive viewing window. Hovering on the other side was 12 year old Sumar. Sumar seemed to enjoy interacting with me and the other parents. Like the belugas, his song was audible through the acrylic.

    TANGENT: In case you were unaware, Sumar was the orca that passed away on Sept 7. I’m glad we got a few minutes with him that night in June.
    NESTED TANGENT: Sumar is one of many orca sired by Tilikum, the killer whale involved in the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at Seaworld Orlando.


    SeaWorld campers get a close-up of Shamu and friends in this extraordinarily cheesy photo from SeaWorld Public Relations

    “I heard you can use some of the moves the trainers use to make the whales interact with you,” one father asked.

    “Well, we can ask them to interact with us,” James censured. “Then if they want to, they might.”

    SeaWorld campers get a close-up of Shamu and friends in this extraordinarily cheesy photo from SeaWorld Public Relations (copyright SeaWorld.com. All rights reserved.)

    Despite his wiry figure and youthful gait, James carried a certain gravitas with the kids and amongst his fellow SeaWorld staffers. He employed the same sarcastic finesse both to coax the bashful kids from their shells and repress Annoying Kid’s loud interjections. And though his primary duty was to keep the larger flock together, he still found a way to make each kid feel important. When Boo lost the polar bear claw keychain he had made, James ducked out of the Shamu show to make him a new one—with the same color beads arranged the same pattern.

    The last activity of the night was a visit to the Forbidden Reef, where a few dozen stingrays and a sturgeon that thinks he’s a stingray solicit fish and rub-downs from visitors. After feeding the rays, Boo spotted a stingray tooth at the bottom of the pool and James fished it out for him with a large net.

    “I can’t lose this stingray tooth,” he said. “It’s a special stingray tooth.”

    Boo’s tooth now secure in my backpack and nature’s call finally answered, I finally bid good night to the belugas.

    Click here to see some footage I shot when I woke up in the morning. Notice how quiet it is in there. If you listen closely, you can hear whale song.

  7. #7

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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    that is so cool!
    I've always wanted to have a sleepover at Sea World!
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  8. #8

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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    It's definitely worth it!

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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    aw! That sounds like such fun! Thats so cute...him sleeping with the stingray tooth.




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    Re: Sleepover at SeaWorld: A Dad's Review

    Part VI: Video Wrap up

    Ok, I finally found the time to compile some clips of the sleepover. To wrap up this ridiculously elongated review, here's a video montage. You'll see some familiar stuff and some backstage stuff too.

    I shot these with my Flip UltraHD camcorder. You’ll have to forgive the over-simplistic editing. Flip shoots a format that is only editable using their severely hamstrung application. You can’t do much more than string clips together and add giant font titles.

    But you’re not interested in the technical gripes of a frustrated video hobbyist. Onto the footage!


    YouTube - SeaWorld Adventure Camps Sleepover - SeaWorld, San Diego


    Original Link:
    Best Sleepover Ever: Video wrap up BonnevilleMariner

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