SeaWorld before 10am: A Dream For Parents and Toddlers. Here's this local's guide to making the most of your SeaWorld day before your kid's naptime (and beat the heat and crowds while you're at it!).
Note: Always Pack Tissues represents many tried and tested travel sites as what is called an 'affiliate' partner. That means if you click on my ads I may get a commission from a resulting sale.
What to see at SeaWorld Orlando before 10am
Be there when the gates open, or about 20 minutes prior. The primary exhibits (Sesame Street land and the big coasters) are blocked off until 10am so now is the time to hit the aquariums.
Start Here: Penguins in Antarctica, 9:15am
Holy cow! Now I don't know if this is all the time or if we just got lucky, but the penguin habitat as 9am is ACTIVE! Emperor penguins are paraded out in single file while gentoos swim happily. Park employees bang cans and slap knees getting the penguins to file in for meal time. In the summer the habitat is darkened to match the sunless days in their natural environment, as our summer is actually winter in Antarctica. Watch them in their happy feet glory at this hour, and skip the line too. We walked right in. Note: for those that remember a ride - that is no longer in operation. It looks like they may be working towards opening it up again in the future, but for the last year it has been down.
Next: Sea Lions, 9:30am
The Sea Lion exhibit sucks in the midday heat so you have to go early since there is no shade. The only shade is a tiny umbrella by the SeaWorld employee who makes occasional announcements about the seal and sea lion activity. It's really fun as a child to hear the barking and groaning from the animals, and as an adult it's great to joke about which of the sea lions looks like he's on MDMA and grooving on life. Amusing for all!
Followed By: Shark Encounter, 9:45am
Air conditioned and super fun, the shark encounter's primary exhibit is the moving walkway tunnel, which travels under giant bumpheads, grouper, stingrays and yes, SHARKS. On the other side of the tunnel is the restaurant, where at a few dollar signs on the price scale it offers you a more intimate view of the tank.
The Main Event
Sesame Street Land, open at 10am
Get in line inside the gift shop (or better yet, send Dad). There are photo shoots all day with various characters from Sesame Street. The kids can hug Elmo, high five Cookie Monster and wave at Big Bird. It's kind of amazing.
All the rides in Sesame Street spin (barf). Just do them anyway. We like the Elmo train and merry go round.
There's a little playground area and splash pad too!
Big Bird and his park employee friends read stories a couple times a day by Big Bird's house (his bird nest). All the kids sit around and listen and yell colors and fun things.
Pro mom tip: There's a beer garden tucked conveniently just outside the Sesame Street sign. You may need this.
Final Stop: Wild Arctic Base Station
The old helicopter ride through snowy mountains has been down since the pandemic. Instead, now you can enter through the ride's old exit - the gift shop - to see my favorite exhibit, which is the Wild Arctic base station. You can see beluga whales, walruses, seals and more here. It's kept at a chilly temperature and always very pleasant to get out of the rising heat. Bonus is that the gift shop is also the clearance store for the whole park, where you can pick up finds for 50% off!
Good any time: Check out the dolphin underwater viewing area
Dolphins are so smart and playful, adults and kids love watching them play for a long time. The underwater viewing area near the Turtle Trek has A/C and is a nice respite from the heat.
Bonus tips for Moms:
Halloween at SeaWorld is AWESOME. For around $3 buy a themed bag (we got Elmo) from any of the gift shops and take your kid Trick-Or-Treating for free around the park. You can dress up your kid in a costume if you want, or not. Then, take their bag to each little candy booth as many times as you want and the kind park employees dump candy down a cool candy chute. My girl didn't quite "get" Halloween when we first did this, but we are ready this year!
There are several exhibits where you can feed the animals, such as the seals and sea lions and also the stingrays. My advice: let someone else shell the cash for the stingrays and just stick your hands in the water to try and touch them (this is allowed and encouraged by park staff). They are super slimy and weird!!
If you stay for shows, my favorite has always been the sea lion show. It's funny (if not painfully awkward) and features a baby otter that is too cute to resist. Runner up is the dolphin show, which will bring you to happy tears when you see how amazing they are. A little boring in the middle - they have a featured kid steal the show to feed and coddle the dolphin for a few minutes - but still amazing. If this is your only day at SeaWorld, make time for one show.
You can actually have breakfast with Elmo and it's really affordable. Check out details on the SeaWorld website. At $15 for kids and $30 for adults, this buffet character breakfast is probably cheaper than your Starbucks and muffin at your hotel.
Christmas at SeaWorld is my favorite time of year. Their sea of trees light show is great in the evenings, alongside their Christmas dining kiosks offering mulled wine, winter treats and a fireplace for getting cozy with your loved ones. There's an ice skating show, special Elmo Christmas musical, and so so much more. This is the time to go!
In the manta aquarium there is a fun little pod to take photos of your kid "inside" a fish tank.
If you need a place to stay and don't want to fork out $30 for parking, stay across the parking lot at the Renaissance Hotel! It has a beautiful pool and atrium and it's literally a 5 minute walk to the park gates.
Once you have completed your loop around the park, call it a day and go get some lunch somewhere outside the park. As you leave you'll see droves of people filing in, the heat will be high over head and you'll be grateful your little one hasn't fallen asleep for their midday nap yet. You and your kids will get to fully enjoy everything and there will be no fussing, no heat and no overly long days! Winning!