So if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Flickr, you know last weekend I had one of the most incredible days of my life.
(Yes, I’m talking about Sea World again.)
Besides just being able to enjoy Sea World in all its holiday finery, I also got the special opportunity to experience the Grand Adventure tour and campout overnight in the park. What is the Grand Adventure tour? Well I’d call it the mac-daddy of all close-up, behind the scenes animal interactions and tours combined into one day!
When I arrived at the park Saturday morning the first thing I did was meet up with the awesome Sea World PR team and my Wildside blogger buddies in the overnight camp dorms to drop my sleeping bag and stuff. It was super fun and cozy. Then we met Cheyenne, our Grand Adventure tour guide for the day. She works in Sea World’s education department and she is amazing! Her enthusiasm and depth of knowledge knows no bounds.
First Cheyenne took us to meet Kyle and Kelsey, the dolphin trainers. We spent a long time learning about and interacting with two bottle-nose dolphins, Gilly and Brady. I could write a whole post just on what I learned about these dolphins and the great conservation work Sea World does. But pictures tell the story better!
We each got some time to pet a dolphin, feel it’s fin and tail, interact with it, and feed it some yummy fish. Here’s a video of me asking Gilly to do his hula dance.
After the dolphins showed off a bit for us, we moved on to the behind-the-scenes stingray tank. Cheyenne taught us all about the various types of stingrays, and then we each fed them some calimari. It was really cool and felt a little brave of me to feed these guys by holding the food below them and allowing them to swim over top and suck up the squid like a little vacuum cleaner.
Speaking of brave, the next activity we did involved a bunch of sharks. First our fearless leader, Cheyenne, wrangled a small shark from the larger tank and put it in a shallow cage that we could reach. It took her a little while but she was awesome.
Then we each took turns reaching into the cage and petting the little shark. Carefully. His skin was not soft and smooth like the dolphins, it was more scaley and rough like a snake or sandpaper. This is me petting the shark, being asked to smile for the camera, but not wanting to take my eyes off the shark while my hand was in the tank.
Then we checked out a little labratory they have for growing and studying different types of coral. They don’t actually use the coral in the park, but they share their research findings for the benefit of coral restoration projects worldwide.
First we headed to a classroom where trainer, Megan, taught us all kinds of amazing facts about the Beluga whales. They are gentle giants for sure, not at all aggressive like orcas or dolphins can be. They have no real way to protect themselves so their first instinct is to flee potential danger. Their big foreheads are actually filled with oil and they can change the shape of their oily melon however they want. It helps them use sonar detection to navigate through very dark deep oceans where they can’t see.
Next we all hopped into the private trailer dressing rooms and donned our wetsuits. They were very hot in the sunny 85 degree weather but proved important for swimming in the 65 degree water.
Here we are hanging out with Oliver the beluga. He was the sweetest thing EVAH! So soft and friendly. We loved on him, petting him pretty much everywhere. Did you know belugas are ticklish? Yep, I tickled his belly and he twitched like crazy.
I totally forget what I asked him to do with my hand motions, but whatever it was he did it. We also spent some time with Luna, another beluga, who you see leaping into the air in the photo above. I was mesmerized and grinning ear to ear the whole time we were in the water. The beluga interaction is a little expensive, but I found it to be well worth it. There’s just no way to convey how cool this experience was.
The last up-close animal experience we had for the day was behind the scenes at the Penguin Encounter. Penguins are absolutely my favorite animal so you can imagine how this excited me. We learned a lot about what they eat, the various species they have there, how they mate and keep their eggs, and what the baby penguins look like. We got to sneak into the exhibit from the back side and as soon as we entered, several little guys came running up to us looking for food.
Then in the back kitchen they brought Rosita, a rockhopper penguin, out to meet us.
The Grand Adventure tour is not *just* for VIP bloggers either, it can be experienced by anyone! Smaller pieces of the tour, including animal interactions such as swimming with the Beluga whales, are available for purchase as well.
So if you love animals like I do, I highly recommend you check out all the various exclusive park experiences at Sea World. I’m going back with my family in a few weeks and I can’t wait.