Playing with Penguins: SeaWorld's Spotlight Tours

For Christmas, our anniversary and birthdays my husband and I like "doing stuff" more than "getting stuff". Because honestly, you are more likely to remember a wonderful trip than a specific gift.

So, this last Christmas my husband and I bought Annual Passes to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens! It was either that or Disney, and with two children that we had to accommodate - Shamu beat Mickey. SeaWorld is simply a great park for children and pregnant women, since there are so many shows and animals! I never feel like I have to stand in line-after-line when I visit.

Now, you may be thinking, "Why not just go for a day, though? Why an annual pass?" Good question! I LOVE the annual pass, because it gives us the freedom to go whenever we want. Spontaneity! And since we can go whenever, we never feel RUSHED to do everything in a day. We meander on over to SeaWorld. We grab a map and schedule, we peruse what shows we can hit. Then off we go. There is no need to RUN from show to show, because if we miss one - we can always catch it next time!

And the shows are always fresh and exciting! After all, you never really know what to expect when you are working with animals! One of my FAVORITE shows is Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island. The gist of it is that a pirate is looking for treasure with his seal sidekick. They land on Pirate Island, where a person is marooned with HIS seal. And the corny jokes, audience interaction and antics of the seals and other animals just keep you laughing until you are hoarse! I love the jokes. And sometimes you have to wonder if the animals have as sense of humor too, as they steal the show! Plus, they keep adding new "jokes" so the show stays fresh!

Another show I love is Pets A'hoy. SeaWorld has adopted dogs and cats from shelters and uses their natural behaviors to put on an amazing show. You have dogs riding cars, cats walking tight ropes, zany ducks and there is even a rrrrrrromantic story going on during the show. My kids were SPELLBOUND, as their eyes zoomed across the stage wondering what was going to happen next. This theater is a little smaller than the stadiums they have for the other shows, so you do want to try to get there 15 minutes early for a good seat!

But you can not forget the other shows with the AMAZING orcas, like Believe and Rocks. After all, isn't that what SeaWorld is all about? But, I will talk about those shows a little later. Because what I really want to chat about is SeaWorld's Spotlight Tours.

I've seen the posters where you get to go behind the scenes to see the dolphins up close or dine with Shamu. But new this year is the Penguin Spotlight Tour! Score! My oldest LOVES the SeaWorld penguins. He has us go through the chilly penguin encounter over and over and over again. So the opportunity to show him what it's like behind the scenes was TOO COOL (literally) to pass up! The Penguin Spotlight Tour is a 60 minute walking tour where you get to go behind-the-scenes with a tour guide as she talks to you about Penguins and their relatives, like Puffins! Parts of it is done in the main Penguin Encounter area. But the rest of it is done BEHIND THE SCENES - even IN the Penguin Enclosure where it is quite chilly. They brought out a gorgeous penguin that we were allowed to pet. He was approximately 34" tall, the same size as my oldest! Everyone was allowed to ask questions. So now I know the divers in the Penguin Encounter wear WET SUITS (not dry suits) when they go swimming in there. Chilly! And they hose down the enclosure daily.

We also got to see a BABY PENGUIN! It was so tiny and looked NOTHING like Mumble from Happy Feet! This one was all black with no fuzz! But still super cute! We also got to see a Puffin up close. He was molting, so no bright orange cheeks. And his bill was chipping off. But the trainer said he would soon regain his beauty once he finished the process.

All-in-all it was an amazing experience! If you like penguins, definitely consider it. Just make sure you pick up your tickets 30 minutes before the tour begins. One couple made an online reservation and went straight to the spotlight tour - so everyone had to wait as a phone call and some work was done to make sure they were part of the group. You need to have TICKETS in hand when you wait at the Spotlight Tour. An adult ticket for the tour is $125 and children (3- 9) are $100. You can see highlights of our tour on this teeny video.

Next on our SeaWorld agenda is to do Breakfast with Elmo and Friends. I know my kids would LOVE IT! And food is always a big hit with my husband.

I have more hints and SeaWorld stories I can share! Let me know if you have any specific questions and I can give you a hand! By the time this year is over, I am bound to be a SeaWorld expert! I've already been there 3 times in 2009!

Planning a trip to SeaWorld or another theme park? Don't forget your Kid Safe Ink.