Is It Wrong to Take Your Family to Sea World?


No, I don’t believe that it is. But you may want to do some research first. As you probably know, tomorrow you’ll be able to buy discounted tickets to Busch Gardens and Sea World via Daily Getaways promotion. Side note: if you are after Choice points, make sure you are ready to go at 1 PM ET today, as soon as it goes live. Read my post for more on this particular deal.

Anyway, the first park  is pretty much “vanilla”  as far as readers’ reactions go. But Sea World? It’s somewhere between staying in Hyatt Vendome and joining KKK. I was a bit surprised how angry some people got last year when one of the bloggers mentioned this sale. I actually wrote about it myself, but I’m a relatively small fry, which is why I was probably spared the flaming.

So, I wanted to weigh in on this topic, especially since we just went to Sea World with my parents. First, I absolutely don’t think it’s wrong for bloggers to mention this particular deal. I make a point of not entangling destinations’ political climate  or companies’ ethics  with my blog’s content. My job, at least the way I view it, is to present information and let readers do their own research.

I’ve seen other bloggers been heavily criticized for going to and subsequently writing about their trip to Maldives. The main reason was political situation (as perceived by readers) and hostility towards Western nations. It was indicated that miles and points bloggers have a moral obligation to boycott destinations that don’t align with US policy. That’s a slippery slope and I don’t intend to go down that road. I don’t get involved in political discussions IRL, and have zero interest in doing it online. I think where people choose to travel is their call to make, not mine.

sea world dg

To me, the situation with Sea World is similar. I haven’t watched Blackfish documentary, but I’ve heard enough about it to know the gist of the issue at hand. The biggest problem conservationists  have with Sea World  has to do with breeding of Orca whales and training them to perform tricks. I actually agree with them completely. For one, I don’t think the whales belong in such a confined space.

There are many other issues as well. One of the reasons I haven’t been to this park in ten years is due to the fact that several trainers have been killed and Sea World  still kept the Orca show going. Right now they no longer make trainers get in the water during shows but unfortunately, it’s too little too late for families who already lost their loved ones.

Sure, one can argue that trainers knew the risks, but it’s still wrong for company to put money ahead of human lives. And that’s unfortunately what brings in the bulk of the money: the whales. At least that was the case before all the controversy started. Recently, Sea World has announced that they plan to stop Orca breeding program. There is no doubt in my mind that profit and not remorse was behind this decision.

However, there is a flip side to this issue. I’ve seen people comment on that article and say that after witnessing Orca whales in-person, they decided to make donations to conservation efforts. Of course, there is no way of knowing whether those reviews are real or not. But one thing is for sure: you do feel appreciation for those majestic creatures after seeing them up-close. Make no mistake about it, Sea World is in it to make money. That said, for families who can’t afford to see dolphins or other sea creatures in their natural habitat, and who already happen to be in Orlando to visit Disney, this is the next best thing.

My reason for going was my parents’ visit. We try to take them to one amusement park each time they come to US, and Sea World seemed like the logical choice. They’ve already been to Busch Gardens and Magic Kingdom, plus Disney prices are currently out of reach for my family’s budget. The fact that we could buy tickets for $50 (half of what Disney costs) was a major selling point.  Plus, I knew they would enjoy Sea World and they did. Kids and my husband had a good time as well.

I, on the other hand, was miserable. As soon as I entered the park, my allergies went nuts. I don’t know what plant of flower set them off, but it was bad. My nose was dripping, my eyes were watery and I was sneezing non-stop. Universe trying to tell me something? You decide. Of course, since we paid all that money, I had no choice but stay and make the best of it.

So, here is my hazy  and Claritin-influenced recollection of the day. Sea World  is working hard to repair its tarnished image. Too hard, if you ask me. There were all kinds of corny songs at the end of each performance about how we are one world/one family. The dolphin show was something else. They had birds flying,  acrobats performing tricks, you name it. I turned to my husband and said: I think they are channeling Cirque du Soleil. His response: More like Cirque du Lame’. Spot on.

However, there are many good things about this park, and I really think your family will enjoy it. You can see giant turtles, penguins, manatees, walrus and more! You can even take picture with flamingoes.

flamingos at sea world

They also have pretty cool rides like Atlantis and Manta Ray, which my daughter and my mom (!) absolutely loved. My dad is too chicken for stuff like that.

sea world ride

Not to be missed, especially for small children is Pets Ahoy show (watch it on YouTube). I found this comment interesting: “This show emphasizes Sea World’s two main strengths: rehabilitating/rescuing animals and providing education to the public. Now if they would just free the Orcas, everything would be fine.”

The park is not as crowded as Disney, which makes for a more relaxing atmosphere. In other words, Sea World is about more than just whales and dolphins. Even if you decide to skip Orca show, I believe you’ll get your money’s worth during the visit. Well, unless you get horrible allergy to something. See Trip Advisor reviews of Sea World here

Of course, for some, the fact that the money goes to support Sea World corporation is a deal breaker. I respect that, which is why I mentioned Blackfish documentary. I think you definitely should do your research and decide for yourself. But those are my two cents, whatever they are worth. I’m not going to lie, I still have mixed feelings on whether it was the right or wrong thing to do. But I do know this: my family had an amazing time, and my parents got to do things they simply can’t experience in their own country.

Some alternatives to Sea World

Fortunately, when it comes to marine life, Sea World is not the only game in town. There is a newly opened Sea Life Aquarium Orlando, which is part of Merlin Entertainment, the same company that owns Legoland.

I haven’t been there, but reviews are pretty good. Plus, the tickets are more affordable at $20 for adults and $15 for kids. If you don’t care about rides/shows and simply want your kids to see some ocean life, this might do the trick.

If you are heading to Clearwater area, I highly recommend Clearwater Aquarium, a very good deal for the money and a fun experience for the whole family. I wrote about it before, and hope you check it out.

Of course, comparing Sea World to aquariums  is sort of like comparing apples to oranges. The first one is a true amusement park, with something for everyone. Whether  ethical considerations should outweigh potential fun with the family  will be your call to make. Plus, if you do go, it will add up to a considerable expense, especially if you have two or three kids. I don’t believe  this deal will sell out quickly, so you have some time to think about it.

Readers, what are your thoughts on visiting Sea World?

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4 thoughts on “Is It Wrong to Take Your Family to Sea World?

  1. The Sea World issue is a hard one. I grew up going to Sea World, and it seemed magical when I was young. I remember wanting to be a Sea World trainer when I grew up. It seemed like the whales really loved being in the shows and were happy. I wanted my kids to experience it too. A few years back we bought the season passes. Then I watched Blackfish. 😦 We had the passes already so we went but I felt a little guilty. As an adult, a lot of the magic had worn off. Now instead of seeming happy, the whales seemed sad floating around with their fins bent. I guess it was nice my kids got to see Shamu and experience it, but I’m glad SW won’t be continuing the whale breeding program.

    I guess it’s a hard thing to find the answer to. Really, the argument can be made against all zoos unless they are strictly rescuing hurt animals that wouldn’t make it in the wild. It’s a moral dilemma.

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    • Jennifer, that’s basically how I feel too. We won’t be going any time soon, so I won’t have to wrestle with this decision. I agree, the magic is just not there when you know the backstory.
      I am glad my parents got to experience it, though. They loved seeing various species of marine life, and enjoyed the shows. I hope Sea World will eventually rebuild its image because I think they do a lot of good. It’s important not to forget that they rescue and rehabilitate animals who otherwise wouldn’t make it in the wild.

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  2. Sea World and some similar parks, in a way, have been a victim of their own success. One of the original reasons given for marine shows is that the parks/aquariums wanted to demonstrate the animals’ intelligence so that people could relate and see they weren’t just “dumb fish”…and therefore…care more protecting the animals in the wild. The parks also began in a time period where unlimited information was not instantly available at your fingertips, so it served a purpose of getting out the message. You could say this edu-tainment effort was successful to the point where people now openly question whether keeping animals in captivity is the right thing to do. I haven’t seen Blackfish, but I know that the film has it’s own critics, with several people in the film stating they were misrepresented or at the very least, saying the filmmakers did not tell the full story. People hear “documentary” and they automatically assume it is a fair and balanced look at a specific topic, but this is often not the case, especially documentaries that are made for-profit. It is clear that Sea World probably made some mis-steps – whether that was intentional or not is open for debate – and certainly they have been slow to respond in adapting their business to changing public attitudes and scientific understanding about the animals’ welfare. Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is not without controversy either. By many accounts, they were a perpetually struggling marine rescue facility until the story about Winter broke and was eventually turned into a movie. Now, Winter and Hope (from DT2) are their cash cows. Yet, with all that money rolling in, the CMA facility is still existing in an old water treatment plant that seems inadequate for the animals needs and they do some things that likely cross a line (paintings by dolphins? meet Winter face to face? really?) I’m sure that animal attraction-based businesses are not easy to run. They have to find that moral balance between animal welfare and educating/entertaining the public in a sustainable way that will cover the costs and further their conservationist mission (assuming they truly have one). Depending on who is running the business, that balance can sometimes skew one way or the other.

    So…yes…I have taken my family to Sea World and CMA. They enjoyed both, but I hope that the educational benefits outweighed some of the ickier aspects of these attractions (they definitely learned some things, because they repeat facts and figures about the animals to this day, LOL).

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    • @Erik Spot on! I think people should definitely do their own research and not just take someone else’s word at face value (including mine). There is no doubt in my mind that creators of Blackfish had their own agenda as well. I’m sure their motives were good, but they probably wanted to skewer public’s perception in a certain way, and succeeded.

      For Sea World, these whales have been cash cows for decades, so of course, they weren’t gonna give them up without a fight. I’m sure they now wish they did. To them it is mostly about money since they are a for-profit business. I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong because Disney is a for-profit business as well. And they have Animal Kingdom park with an environment which by all accounts shortens the life span of animals. Where do you draw the line? Which animals are OK to keep in captivity and which ones are not? I don’t think there is a clear answer. That said, IMO whales just don’t belong in those pools, but some would disagree.

      It’s funny, I actually wrote about this whole Winter experience and thought it was kind of sleazy. They charge obscene amounts of money to take photos with that dolphin, but I wonder how much of it gets reinvested into facility. I definitely think they are overdue for complete overhaul. It seemed absurd how much they’ve invested into set exhibit of the movie “Winter’s Tale” instead of focusing on aquarium itself. You are right, this issue is not quite so black and white. My family did enjoy it, though, and I thought it was a good deal for the money. Just like I thought Sea World ticket was a good deal for $50 if you can take whale issue out of equation.

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