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SeaWorld San Diego: The Ultimate Guide

Last Updated on July 20, 2021

SeaWorld San Diego, California is controversial to say the least. Blackfish went hard at SeaWorld, and the masses responded.

I get it. I love animals, and the thought of giving money to an establishment that is not acting in their best interest did not sit well with me. After some independent research, I pulled the trigger on a visit during our last trip to San Diego.

I didn’t talk to a sea lion to get its take on its living situation or anything, but I have to say, I loved it. The employees make a REAL hard sales pitch for the good work they are doing for marine life during the shows. SeaWorld is aware of its reputation. I believe it is doubling down with good deeds to combat it.

Why Should You Visit SeaWorld San Diego?

1. SeaWorld San Diego Animals

2. SeaWorld San Diego Shows

3. SeaWorld San Diego Rides

4. Sesame Street Bay of Play

5. SeaWorld San Diego Quick Queue

6. SeaWorld San Diego Animal Tours and Interactions

7. SeaWorld San Diego Gluten Free Dining Options

8. SeaWorld San Diego Tickets at a Discount

9. Tips to Plan Your Day at SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego

1. SeaWorld San Diego Animals

The animal exhibits are amazing. The enclosures are really well done, and you can see unique animals that you cannot see at the average zoo. In addition to the animals below, there are aquariums with tons of different types of fish and other sea creatures.

Orca Encounter

Killer whales are featured in the Orca Encounter show, but you can also view them throughout the day in an underwater viewing area. If you are tight on time, you might want to view them here and skip the SeaWorld San Diego Orca Encounter show.

Dolphin Point

The dolphins are also featured in a show, Dolphin Days. You can watch them swim freely throughout the day, but unlike with Orca Encounter, the show is not to be missed.

Otter Outlook

Otter Outlook features four California sea otters. An otter is featured in Sea Lions Live, but it is fun to watch them swim freely as well.

Wild Arctic

SeaWorld San Diego Wild Arctic is an elaborate exhibit. In addition to the animals, there are areas kids can explore, including a place to crawl through a frozen den. The animals featured are:

1. Beluga Whales

2. Harbor Seals

3. Walruses

This guy took a particular liking to my son (either that or he was testing for weaknesses in the glass, raptor style).

SeaWorld San Diego Walrus

Penguin Encounter

The Penguin Encounter complex features several different types of penguins, complete with a moving walkway to view them. Even more fun than at the airport.

Sea Lion Point

Sea Lion Point features sea lions and seals. You can also see sea lions in the funniest animal show of all time, Sea Lions Live.

Shark Encounter

SeaWorld San Diego Shark Encounter is an awesome indoor exhibit. You can look at sharks from the surface, then walk under the tanks to really appreciate how many teeth they actually have.

Turtle Reef

Turtle Reef features tanks with giant turtles. The exhibit is beautiful, and it has a Turtle Talk with Crush vibe.

2. SeaWorld San Diego Shows

The shows are undoubtedly what makes SeaWorld San Diego unique. If you love dolphins, there is nothing more fun than watching them flip through the air with techno music blaring in the background.

Animal Morning Moments

Animal Morning Moments is generally offered at the beginning of the day. The schedule varies. There are several options that may be available.

Explorer’s Reef Interactive Touch Pools

Explorer’s Reef Interactive Touch Pools allow you to interact with cleaner fish, horseshoe crabs, and bamboo sharks. If you pull back all ten fingers, this could be a nice way to start the day.

Orcas Up-Close Underwater Viewing

During Orcas Up-Close Underwater Viewing, behaviorists talk about the orcas. They also demonstrate learning exercises. For good measure, they give a hard sell on how they are helping orcas in the wild and how orcas voluntarily participate in the activities.

This sounds a whole lot like what they do during the regular Orca Encounter show, so you can probably skip this one unless you want to ask questions.

Dolphin Point

During the Dolphin Point presentation, behaviorists talk and demonstrate how the dolphins play and interact. Again, you can probably get this during the regular dolphin show if you don’t have questions, so you may want to get in line for a ride during this time.

Otter Outlook

Otter Outlook features otters interacting with their trainers. There is also discussion about the otter surrogacy program, which is apparently when otters that cannot be released into the wild raise other otters that can (another pitch for the good work it does).

Dolphin Days

Dolphin Days is the main dolphin show. The dolphins are like Kerri Strug on crack. The level of athleticism is bananas. This show is a must see.

Pro tip: If your child doesn’t like getting wet and sticky, avoid sitting in the splash zone. While this seems like Parenting 101, we dropped the ball.

At one point during the show, they brought out this giant zombie dolphin (not its real name) and he made it rain like Oprah handing out cars. Turns out, the dolphins were swimming in salt water, not Evian, so my four year old was unhappy.

Thankfully, we saw this show toward the end of the day, because that was the end of our day.

Sea Lions Live

Sea Lions Live features sea lions, Clyde and Seamore, and an otter sidekick. While I realize they are doing tricks and not actually following the story line, the show gives the illusion they are acting. This show is reminiscent of Animal Actors on Location at Universal.

Sea Lions Live is adorable. It is slapstick comedy at its finest, except it is actually funny because sea lions get a pass when telling mediocre jokes.

The human actors are tolerable as well, and I don’t say that lightly. I am a tough customer.

Orca Encounter

Orca Encounter is the killer whale show, formerly the show featuring Shamu. The show was recently revamped to showcase typical orca behavior in the wild. This sounds nice in theory, but I’m not going to lie, it was about as exciting as watching paint dry.

The seating for this show is also located inside of a furnace. The combination of all the slow talking (which was basically a giant commercial for SeaWorld’s good deeds) and the heat made for restless children.

SeaWorld San Diego Manta

3. SeaWorld San Diego Rides

SeaWorld San Diego Rides for Big Kids

Emperor

SeaWorld San Diego’s new ride, Emperor, is a roller coaster slated to open sometime in 2020. Named after the Emperor Penguin, it claims to be the tallest and fastest floorless dive coaster in California.

Height Requirement: TBD

Electric Eel

SeaWorld San Diego Electric Eel is a relatively new roller coaster. It has multiple launch points, loops, twists, and inversions. In other words, pack the Dramamine.

Height Requirement: 54 inches

Tidal Twister

SeaWorld San Diego Tidal Twister is another new, intense roller coaster with twists. You are given the sensation you are riding the tides on the ocean, which I imagine is even more nauseating than the prior two.

Height Requirement: 48 inches

Journey to Atlantis

Journey to Atlantis is different than anything on which we have been before. You are taken up a roller coaster track, then dropped into the equivalent of Six Flags Great America’s log ride. You travel through an interior section, seem to go up an elevator, then switch back to the roller coaster (which will not make you vomit). It is not to be missed.

Height Requirement: 42 inches

Manta

Manta is a very fast launch coaster, but it is more mild than the other crazy ones. It does not go upside down. My then six year old handled it.

Height Requirement: 48 inches

Riptide Rescue

Riptide Rescue is the equivalent of an Octopus ride at any carnival. There is nothing special about the ride, so you can skip it if you can’t fit everything in.

Height Requirement: 40 inches

Shipwreck Rapids

SeaWorld San Diego Shipwreck Rapids is a water ride (also found at many other theme parks) where you travel through rapids and get soaked. It is fun, but save this one for a warm day.

Height Requirement: 42 inches

Tentacle Twirl

Tentacle Twirl is like any swing ride you find at other theme parks. While they do involve spinning, I find these much more enjoyable because of the fresh air.

Height Requirement: 40 inches

SeaWorld San Diego Rides for Little Kids

Abby’s Sea Star Spin

Abby’s Sea Star Spin is basically the teacup ride at every other theme park on the planet. You as the adult can clamp down on the wheel and pretend to help while actually slowing the cups down.

Height Requirement: No minimum to ride with an adult, 42 inches to ride alone

Aqua Scout

Aqua Scout is a simple ride where children ride in a circle on bouncing submarines. The cars are cuter than most, but if you have been to a carnival, been there, done that. Ride if you can squeeze it in, but if your day is too full, this is an easy one to cut.

Height Requirement: No minimum to ride with an adult, 36 inches to ride alone

Elmo’s Flying Fish

Elmo’s Flying Fish is Aqua Scout in cars shaped like Elmo fish. Again, think upscale carnival.

Height Requirement: No minimum to ride with an adult, 48 inches to ride alone

SeaWorld San Diego Elmo

Octarock

Octarock swings back and forth Pirate Ship style. Fortunately, you probably don’t need to ride, because the height requirement is low.

Height Requirement: 31 inches to ride with an adult, 36 inches to ride alone. Guests over 6’1″ cannot ride. Stuff some Kleenex in your shoes.

Oscar’s Rockin’ Eel

Ooh, child. Oscar’s Rockin’ Eel looks like torture. This ride spins you around in multiple directions. It is definitely meant for kids with a high tolerance for spinning.

Height Requirement: No minimum to ride with an adult, 42 inches to ride alone

Sea Dragon Drop

Sea Dragon Drop is a ride where a bench bounces up and down. It is fun, but can be found at plenty of other theme parks.

Height Requirement: No minimum to ride with an adult, 36 inches to ride alone

SeaWorld San Diego Rides with An Extra Charge (Not Cool, SeaWorld)

To be fair, I know SeaWorld took a serious financial hit after Blackfish. However, charging for rides that are not that special is not the way to recoup profits. I refuse to ride out of principle. You know, because they care what I think (they don’t).

Bayside Skyride

Bayside Skyride is a ride around the park in gondolas. You can ride a gondola at Disney World for free as a mode of transportation. There is zero reason to ride this ride.

Cost: $6 per person ages 3 and up, children under age 3 are free

SeaWorld San Diego Skytower

Skytower is a giant snoozefest ride that spins slowly in the air to give a better view of the park. I am probably being overly critical due to the extra charge.

Cost: $6 per person ages 3 and up, children under age 3 are free

4. Sesame Street Bay of Play

Sesame Street Bay of Play houses the little kid rides and a large jungle gym that can entertain kids for hours. There are also character meet and greets with Sesame Street characters.

The jungle gym gave me a bit of a heart attack because it is difficult to keep track of children from outside the structure. There is more than one exit, and the area is massive. If you are going with another adult, divide and conquer from the ground.

Walrus

5. SeaWorld San Diego Quick Queue

Quick Queue, a front of the line pass, is similar to MaxPass at Disneyland, Reserve ‘N Ride at LEGOLAND California, Universal Express Unlimited at Universal Orlando, and the FastPass system at Disney World.

There are several Quick Queue options. The prices vary by the day. As of the time of this writing, you can purchase the following:

Reserved Seating (Shows and Presentations)

Cost: Starts at $5.99 per person ages 3 and up per day, children under age 3 are free

Attractions Included with Unlimited Access:

1. Orca Encounter

2. Dolphin Amphitheater

3. Sea Lion & Otter Amphitheater

Quick Queue Unlimited (Front-of-the-Line Ride Access)

Cost: Starts at $9.99 per person ages 3 and up per day, children under age 3 are free

Attractions Included with Unlimited Access:

1. Electric Eel

2. Manta

3. Shipwreck Rapids

4. Journey to Atlantis

Quick Queue Premiere (Front-of-the-Line Access + Reserved Seating)

Cost: Starts at $14.99 per person ages 3 and up per day, children under 3 are free

Attractions Included with Unlimited Access:

1. Electric Eel

2. Manta

3. Shipwreck Rapids

4. Journey to Atlantis

5. Orca Encounter

6. Dolphin Amphitheater

7. Sea Lion & Otter Amphitheater

Year Round Quick Queue Premier (Front-of-the-Line Rides + Reserved Seating All Year)

Cost: $100 per person ages 3 and up, children under 3 are free

Attractions Included with Unlimited Access for a Year:

1. Electric Eel

2. Manta

3. Shipwreck Rapids

4. Journey to Atlantis

5. Orca Encounter

6. Dolphin Amphitheater

7. Sea Lion & Otter Amphitheater

Are Quick Queue and Reserved Seating Worth It?

Quick Queue for Rides

Hours for SeaWorld San Diego vary by the day, but regardless of how late it is open on the day you visit, odds are you will have a difficult time packing everything in. If you are only there once, or are interested in making your life easier, seriously consider purchasing Quick Queue Unlimited. You will save a ton of time, even when Is It Packed tells you the crowds will be low.

If you plan to go several times per year and can afford the splurge, Year Round Quick Queue Premiere is a no brainer.

You can add Quick Queue even if you did not purchase your ticket directly.

Reserved Seating for Shows

Reserved Seating for the shows, on the other hand, seems like a massive waste of money. We were there on a busy summer day in June. We had no problem getting into all the shows and did not line up hours ahead of time. There were empty seats in every theater. Save your money.

6. SeaWorld San Diego Animal Tours and Interactions

There are extra animal tours and interactions for guests looking for a more interactive experience. You must purchase a park ticket in addition to the cost of the tour or interaction. As of this time of this writing, there are several options.

Dolphin Interaction

During the dolphin interaction experience, guests can get in the water with the dolphins. There is touching, feeding, and playing, but no riding on the noses of two dolphins. This isn’t the Bahamas.

Height Requirement: 50 inches

Cost: Starts at $125 per person

Beluga Interaction

During the beluga interaction, you enter the water and interact with belugas, including feeding, touching, and playing.

Height Requirement: 50 inches

Cost: Starts at $150 per person

Dolphin Encounter

You stay dry during the Dolphin Encounter. Touch, feed, and train them poolside.

Height Requirement: None to participate with an adult, 48 inches to participate alone

Cost: Starts at $45 per person

Beluga and Walrus Encounter

During the Beluga and Walrus Encounter, you get a behind the scenes visit to Wild Arctic. You also get up close encounters with both animals (hence the name).

Height Requirement: None, but the minimum age is 6

Cost: Starts at $45 per person

Sloth Encounter

What now? With this tour, you get a behind the scenes visit to Dolphin Amphitheater. For some reason, sloths roll with the dolphins.

Height Requirement: None, but the minimum age is 6

Cost: Starts at $60 per person

Sea Otter Encounter

Sea Otter Encounter includes a behind the scenes tour of the Sea Otter Exhibit. You get to feed them during the tour.

Height Requirement: None

Cost: Starts at $60 per person ages 3 and up

SeaWorld San Diego Penguins Up-Close Tour

During Penguins Up-Close Tour, you go behind the scenes at Penguin Encounter and interact with one.

Height Requirement: None, but the minimum age is 6

Cost: Starts at $45 per person

Seal and Sea Lion Encounter

During the Seal and Sea Lion Encounter, you go behind the scenes at Sea Lion Point. You meet a seal OR sea lion. You are also given fish to feed them.

Height Requirement: None

Cost: Starts at $45 per person ages 3 and up

SeaWorld San Diego Killer Whales Up-Close Tour

Note, they said up close, not in water. All good. This tour includes a 45 minute tour and talk from a behaviorist.

Height Requirement: None, but the minimum age is 6 (because it’s boring)

Cost: Starts at $70 per person

Family Adventure Tour

Family Adventure Tour includes a 105 minute walking tour, early admission to SeaWorld San Diego, interaction with cleaner fish and bamboo sharks at Explorer’s Reef, touching of bat rays, a behind the scenes tour of Aquarium Lab to touch moon jellyfish, and a dolphin playtime session.

Height Requirement: None, SeaWorld San Diego recommends children be under age 10

Cost: Starts at $85 per adult, $65 per child ages 3-9, children under 3 are free

Ray Pool

Flamingo Encounter

Flamingo Encounter gives you up close time with the flamingos. It only lasts about 20 minutes.

Height Requirement: None

Cost: Starts at $25 per person ages 3 and up

Private VIP Tours

You can book Private VIP Tours to tailor the tour to what you want. Notably, these tours include two day park tickets, which makes the price more palatable.

Cost: Starts at $225 per person for two hours and goes up to $575 per person for six hours with a two person minimum

7. SeaWorld Gluten Free Dining

SeaWorld San Diego can accommodate food allergies. Not like Disney Cruise Line style, but you should be safe to eat. Supervisors will assist you when you order at your request.

I tried gluten free pizza at Mama Stella’s Pizza Kitchen. It became extra apparent they were making an effort to avoid cross contamination when they handed me a plastic pizza cutter. I appreciated the option to eat something other than salad, but the SeaWorld San Diego food was overpriced and underwhelming.

SeaWorld San Diego Dining Plans

SeaWorld San Diego offers All-Day Dining deals. I am a fan of dining plans when they make sense, but I have a hard time imagining how this one does.

As of the time of this writing, the plans costs $34.99 per adult and $19.99 per child. You can eat as much as you want, but how much fast food are you actually going to eat? We’re not talking about character meals here.

8. SeaWorld San Diego Discounted Tickets

Direct Purchase

SeaWorld San Diego ticket prices vary. You can purchase tickets directly on the website. Options include single day tickets, annual passes, and tickets that include the extra experiences listed above.

Discounts for SeaWorld San Diego are sometimes offered. As of the time of this writing, SeaWorld San Diego military passes gives military personnel and their families free admission.

Third Party Bundles

SeaWorld San Diego discount tickets can be purchased in a bundle of attractions on third party websites. If you plan to visit other attractions, this may be the best SeaWorld San Diego deal for you. The Go San Diego Card for SeaWorld San Diego and San Diego Zoo made the most sense for us.

Undercover Tourist

Undercover Tourist sells discounted tickets for several theme parks. As of the time of this writing, you can purchase discounted single day tickets, with or without a SeaWorld San Diego dining plan, annual passes, and SeaWorld San Diego tickets combined with other attractions, as well as discounted parking.

Groupon

SeaWorld San Diego Groupon deals are available on occasion. Just because Groupon is involved does not mean the SeaWorld San Diego prices will be better than other sites. Do not assume this is the cheapest option without comparing the price to other sites.

9. Tips to Plan Your Day at SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego Park Hours

SeaWorld San Diego hours vary by the day. There is a calendar posted on SeaWorld San Diego’s website. Regardless of how late the park is open, if you want to see everything and spend any amount of time watching the animals, you will need a touring plan.

Touring Plan

Unfortunately, my go to app, Touring Plans, does not cover SeaWorld San Diego. You’re on your own. Look at a SeaWorld San Diego map before you arrive.

The perfect plan for you will depend upon several factors, so my tips for SeaWorld San Diego will not be the same for everyone. If you have a child who cares about small rides, go to those first. If you want to ride the big SeaWorld San Diego attractions and did not purchase SeaWorld San Diego Quick Queue, you probably want to go to one of those first.

No matter what, make sure you note the show times and make them a priority. The rides will be there all day. You can only see the shows a few times a day. The SeaWorld San Diego park map should have a schedule.

SeaWorld San Diego App

Download the app before visiting. The app will tell you SeaWorld San Diego wait times for the rides (which you can hopefully ignore because you purchased Quick Queue), show times, tools to navigate the park, information about the animals, and general information about the park.

Outside Food

SeaWorld San Diego does not allow outside food, but you can bring it in if you have a medical diet. Baby formula is also allowed (obviously). You can discuss your needs with a park representative.

SeaWorld San Diego has picnic areas outside the park if you want to avoid theme park prices.

SeaWorld San Diego Parking

As of the time of this writing, SeaWorld San Diego parking is ridiculous $25. You can purchase it through Undercover Tourist at a slight discount, or through SeaWorld San Diego’s website. You can also pay at the gate.

SeaWorld San Diego annual passes include parking.

Final Thoughts – SeaWorld San Diego

We love SeaWorld San Diego. I completely understand the concerns people have with the treatment of the animals and its employees. However, I get the sense SeaWorld as a brand is aware of its reputation and is working to do better.

SeaWorld San Diego is a great option for families with children of all ages. The animals, exhibits, rides, and shows are awesome. They have big rides for older kids, and Sesame Street Bay of Play with play structures and small rides for younger kids.

Make a tentative touring plan before you enter the park to make sure you don’t miss the things that are important to you. Also, be sure to shop around for tickets for SeaWorld San Diego get the best deal. Plan a visit. You will not regret it.

SeaWorld San Diego Pin

32 thoughts on “SeaWorld San Diego: The Ultimate Guide

  1. It has been quite a few years since we went here. Looks like prices have gone up a lot. I might have to encourage my daughter to go with her children since they are a military family. I don’t think they were free last time we went with them.

  2. Oh boy my boys would love this!! 😍 One of these days we will be able to travel to the States and this would be going on the bucket list! Thanks! ☺️

  3. My 4yr old would be so excited to go to Sesame Street!!!! We’re definitely going to have to make a trip before she grows out of that stage!

  4. This looks like an awesome place for both adults and kids! I didn’t realize Sea World even had rides. I’m trying to visiting California this year to go to Disneyland so I may have to check out Sea World too!

  5. I went to SeaWorld quite a few times when I was younger and loved it! Haven’t been in a while for obvious reasons, but this makes me want to go again.

  6. I haven’t been in San Diego SeaWorld but I love Orlando one! is my favorite theme park, last time I went there almost cried on the Dolphin’s show! is so magical!

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