If you’re a regular follower of this site, you know that I’m doing a series of posts about things to do in specific cities with kids this summer. I’ve highlighted lots of great activities to do in some major cities across the US. Not only are these great resources if you live in these areas, but they’re also perfect for travel.
Earlier this summer our family visited SeaWorld. Although we were all looking forward to our day, my 8-year old daughter counted down for weeks before our visit. SeaWorld combines her two loves- marine life and roller coasters.
As I planned for our day I anticipated a little bit of conflict. Mary Grace is tall and quite a daredevil. She’s always been adventurous and pushes the limits on everything. Even as a young child she went on every roller coaster with her hands up in the air. Her thrill seeking attitude could not wait to ride everything.
On the other hand, our 4-year old came to SeaWorld with us too. He likes to do everything big sister does. Although he’s much more cautious, I knew he’d be bummed about not getting to ride the big roller coasters. Because of this family dynamic, conflict was inevitable during our day at SeaWorld. I planned ahead…but I made one teeny, tiny miscalculation.
I’ve found that knowing what to expect always helps our travel days go smoother. In that spirit, I did a little research about SeaWorld prior to our trip. I learned the height requirement for the 4 major roller coasters was 54 inches. Making a tiny mark on the wall, I used a tape measure to verify my daughter was in fact tall enough. At the time, I remember thinking it was close, but clearly enough.
I also found a smaller roller coaster- The Shamu Express (dubbed as the “just-thrilling-enough first roller coaster for kids) for our 4-year old. Having mentally planned our day, I reminded the kids that they would be able to ride different rides. However, we would spend a lot of our day watching the shows together as a family. Foolproof, right?
Well, no. It turned out that my somewhat whimsical measurement “ruined” my daughter’s day. She wasn’t tall enough to ride any of the big roller coasters. The first time she got measured that day I was somewhat annoyed at the SeaWorld employee (in hindsight, I was TOTALLY wrong!) I thought they did the measurement too quickly and didn’t let my daughter get in prime, height-maximizing position before dismissing her.
Like any truly awesome parent would, I walked away and coached her on how to stand up straight enough to make the height requirement. Looking back, I’m truly ashamed at myself for thinking this way, let alone vocalizing it to my child. In my own defense, I truly thought she was over 54 inches.
It turns out, she wasn’t. She was less than 1/4 an inch away from the 54 inch mark, but she definitely wasn’t quite 54 inches. A VERY kind SeaWorld employee saw my daughter’s tears and spent several minutes making sure we were getting an accurate measurement- even giving her a chance to reposition her feet and hold her head straight. Unfortunately, no amount of will-power could make her taller.
Oh, the drama and the tears that followed the second measurement were enough to break my heart. Obviously, her height that day..or lack there of…wasn’t my fault (well, technically it probably was, but that’s another story.) But I did feel responsible for setting her up for disappointment by getting her excited about the awesome roller coasters she would ride at SeaWorld.
A few times she uttered the words “my day is ruined.” I can assure you, it wasn’t. Not even close! We had an AMAZING day at SeaWorld! I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about this minor blip in an otherwise perfect day, except for the recent tragedies at a couple of other theme parks. Most notable, the 10-year old boy who died on a water park roller coaster/slide.
The news stories hit close to home. I kept thinking about how my daughter- for a few brief minutes- said that not being able to ride the roller coasters ruined her day. Yes, perhaps, but it didn’t ruin our lives. I know at the time I felt disappointment and possibly a tiny bit of annoyance that the SeaWorld employees stuck unapologetically to the height requirements. The distance between my daughter’s head and the 54 inch mark was almost microscopic.
Now, I feel gratitude. This summer’s tragedies served as reminders to why theme parks have such strict guidelines. Rules are in place and enforced to keep us safe. Bottom line. So HUGE public thank you to the SeaWorld employees that measured my daughter that day. I know I smiled and thanked you, but deep down I disagreed with your decision. I was wrong.
*I do not know the circumstances leading to the death of the child, or any of the other details surrounding the other theme park accidents this summer. In no way am I assuming or implying that the incidents were related to any height requirement infractions.*
SeaWorld has always been and will always be a phenomenal theme park. Dedicated to research, education and rescue, the park gives visitors a glimpse into the ocean world. Not to mention, it provides the opportunity to laugh and enjoy a fun filled day.
Recently our family got the opportunity to visit SeaWorld (Orlando.) Prior to our trip I understood very little of the background and future of the Killer Whales at SeaWorld. Through various media reports my awareness boiled down to knowing the organization announced plans to end the Orca breeding program.
If you are unfamiliar with the story line, let me provide a brief explanation. Once upon a time, the owners of SeaWorld rescued killer whales in the wild and brought them to live at the various theme parks to be trained and enjoyed by audiences. Although it has been over 40 years since a captured whale relocated to a SeaWorld tank, the orca program thrives from their breeding efforts.
Earlier this year SeaWorld announced plans to end their breeding program. What exactly does this mean? It means that the current Orcas living at SeaWorld are the last generation. The last generation of Orcas at SeaWorld means that we are the last generation to have the opportunity to see them up close.
I didn’t fully understand the impact of that statement until my family sat in Shamu Stadium. As we prepared to watch the show, SeaWorld ran a short video announcing the upcoming changes to their Orca program. Within the next year, the show will be cancelled and a new habitat constructed. Until the last Orca passes away, they will continue to live in a more natural looking tank for visitors to observe. And after that, the opportunity to see an Orca up close will be gone forever.
The video was a great reminder that in a lifetime most people will never get the opportunity to see an Orca in the wild. But because of the Orca program at SeaWorld, over 400 million people have gotten the chance to learn, observe and fall in love with the beautiful creature.
Sitting in Shamu Stadium with my two kids I realized, this is a once in a lifetime moment. Opportunities are easy to take for granted. It would have been easy to get caught up in the excitement of the day.
But in that moment I urged my children to soak it all in (literally!) I pointed out that an opportunity to get splashed (or, in our case- soaked!) by an Orca was never coming around again.
It doesn’t really matter which side of the debate you stand on. The debate is over. As this generation dies, they will not be replaced. Soon the opportunity to see an Orca will be gone. Before it’s too late, go to SeaWorld. The rides at all the other theme parks will always be there. In fact, they’ll be bigger and better in a few years. But, this, this chance to see one of the most magnificent animals in the world, will be gone.
In a statement from their CEO and President, SeaWorld said ““We’ve helped make orcas among the most beloved marine mammals on the planet. As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will experience these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter.”
*Mom With A Map will forever be grateful to SeaWorld for hosting us and allowing us this once in a lifetime opportunity.*