First Successful Family Vacation

As I mentioned in a couple of other posts, my family recently took a trip to Sea World.  My wife and I, for several reasons, have not taken a lot of vacations during out marriage, but since we have had the baby, we have begun to think it is more important to go somewhere every now and then, and expose her to a little of the world.

This year, even though she is only 22 months old, we decided to take her to Sea World in San Antonio.  I had several misgivings about the trip.  First, I was worried about the baby.  Being only 22 months, I worried about having her in the car for so long, having her in the heat for so long, whether or not she would be interested in the shows at all, and whether there would be enough to keep her interest for two days. Second, I was worried about the timing of the trip.  We planned this trip for Memorial Day weekend because my wife and I had a built-in holiday on both of our schedules.  She was able to get the Friday before off (a rarity) and so we woke up early and left for the hill country of the great state of Texas.

Being a native Texas, I decided it would be nice to use an alternate route (state Highway 281) for much of the trip.  This is actually a straighter shot at San Antonio, but it is very hilly and runs right through the hill country.  It was a very nice drive, and was made all the nicer because I thought to bring the laptop and some baby Einstein, Elmo and Disney videos along for the ride.  The baby took to this idea right away, and watched videos for much of the trip.  She only asked to get out of her seat two or three times, and did not even cry when I told her that she had to stay there.

She got very excited and silly when we arrived at the hotel, and we had some trouble getting her to go to sleep that night (she never gives us any problems going to bed, so when I say this, it is good to note that it was very little trouble).  She was just excited.

We stayed at the Fairfield Inn which is less than a mile away from the park and provides a shuttle which runs every 30 minutes.  The hotel is very new, so new in fact that it does not appear on a lot of the services on the web.  For us, it fit our budget.  The Hyatt, and Radisson Hill Country are both right there also, but were more than four times and twice as much, respectively.

The shuttle was great.  We did not have to worry about or pay for parking, and they let us off right at the gate.  When we were ready to go, we never waited more than 10 minutes.

We left on the 8:00 shuttle the first day, even though the park did not officially open until 9:00.  This allowed us the get in the gates, check out a stroller which was reserved earlier, see the sharks, and feed the Dolphins (this started at 9:00).  We had pre-purchased our tickets and printed them out at home.  At the same time we reserved a stroller which kept us from having to wait a long time in the stroller lines which were long.

After feeding the Dolphins and washing the stink of dead fish off of our hands we headed for the Shamu show on the advice of our bus driver.  He recommended that we attend the shows early, as most people crowded the rides early in the day.  This worked out for us.  In fact we went to the first Shamu show (10:00) on both days.  The first time the arena was about half full.  The second day, it was not even half full.

The first day, we sat pretty low, in the splash zone, and I have mixed feelings about this.  The good part was that the baby could really see what was going on.  She could even see the whales under water.  It was great the first time Shamu shot out of the water and my 22 month old shouted, “Wow!”  She was drawn into every part of the show, that is, until it came time to splash the audience.  We were drenched and she cried.  Once, it took us all by surprise, and she really did not like this.  Even though it was clear, the water smelled and tasted awful, and I could not shake the feeling that it was full of Shamu poo.

The second day we sat higher in the stands, and she did not cry.  I wonder, though, if she would have been drawn into the show as much at the beginning if we had sat out of the splash zone the first day.  We encountered this issue later at the Sea Lion show.  It was more of a scripted show, and our position, fairly high in the stadium, did not capture the baby’s attention at all.

One of the online tips encouraged families with small children to go to the Penguin house when the kids got tired.  This did not work out for us.  It was, indeed, cool inside this house, and there were nice benches to sit on, but when we arrived there was a loudly narrated demonstration that seemed to drone on forever.  That combined with the awful smell, torpedoed our naïve attempts to get the baby to take a nap.

When we ate at the park, it was surprisingly good.  The Barbecue was excellent, and the price was reasonable even compared straight up to barbecue places outside the park.

Later in the first day, we went to the Dolphin/Beluga whale show.  This show combined the animal stunts with divers in an artsy Cirque de Sole style.  I normally hate this sort of thing, but I’ll have to admit that the show was good, and even though we sat outside the splash zone, my daughter’s attention was kept on the action.  She liked the animals and the divers, but she especially liked the big platform-swings that the divers used to launch themselves into the water.  As a little girl who loves to swing, she was transfixed by this.

We rode the log ride, which she decided that she like by the end, but cried a little at first when the drop took her tummy.  We then went to the little kid’s part of the park.  She and my wife got on the Ferris wheel.  This was a total whip which I cannot recommend.  The line was short, but it was hot, and it took forever to load and unload each car. 

Near the Ferris wheel was a huge covered area where the floor was a soft piece of foam about a foot thick.  In this area, there were large foam shapes (some of them as big as my daughter) for the kids to play with.  She loved it so much that as we were leaving the park the next day, she asked to go back there and play one more time.

As it got hotter and more crowded the first day, we attempted to take in one of the shows.  This was a western themed animal show with all kinds of rescued animals including dogs, cats, ducks, dove, pigs, a pony, a kangaroo, a porcupine, and a skunk.  It was great for kids.  Unfortunately, my daughter was done the moment that we sat under the roof.  She went immediately to sleep.  After the show, we met the van and went back to the hotel and rested a little before dinner.

The next morning we waited to catch the 8:30 bus.  This, once again worked out as we had a better idea of what to do once we got to the park.  We attended the Shamu show, and made our way to the sea lion area.  If you go at the right time, they will allow you to feed the sea lions just like the dolphins, but the sea lions really get into it.  There are also windows in this tank that allow the little kids a better view.  My daughter loved this.

After the sea lions, we went to the water park.  A good piece of advice is, if you want to go to the water park, go early.  They only allow a certain amount of people into the water park at any time, and once it reaches the limit, the line to get in gets really long.  We walked right in.  I found a small life jacket for my daughter, and made my way to the lazy river.  We got in, and I held her and let her float in front of me.  She lasted about two minutes, and was sound asleep.  We floated for about 20 minutes around the river, and it was a good workout for me, as I was kind of squatted down the whole time.  I really enjoyed it, though.  We had lunch and a show inside the water park.  Then, we made our way to the kiddy wading pool.  This was a huge pool that was from 6 inches to a foot deep.  There was a small water slide, two other slides and a large fountain.  My daughter loved it.  We were there for well over an hour, but I think she would have stayed there all day.  She cried when we pulled her away, but we assured her that there was more fun to come.

We made our way back to the kiddy park, and stood in line to get into an area full of fountains and waterfalls for little kids.  My daughter loved this also, and even walked through the largest of the waterfalls on her own, without crying, to get to her mother.

We then raced to see the western animal show that I referenced above.  We knew exactly where to sit this time, and she loved it, and stayed awake for the whole show even though we went at the same time as the day before.

We went back and rode the teacup ride, and finished in the foam play area again.  We really did everything we planned to do, except she did not have a chance to play in the huge sand box.  She loves sand boxes.  We also did not have time to see the 3-D movies.

A couple of other things that I liked were the patriotic references (playing the National Anthem at the open of the park), and the way the park took time to recognize and thank servicemen.

On the way out, we bought a dolphin doll (my daughter sleeps with it every night) and a couple of T-shirts (for my daughter and her cousin).  She slept most of the way home, and we arrived home to a welcoming bed, and a holiday the next morning. We had an excellent time at the park, and I recommend it to anyone, even those with little children. 


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