SeaWorld Orlando

At SeaWorld Orlando, the resident animals are more than just photo ops -- they're the main attraction.

By: Heidi Tyline King

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Photo by: Alexei Toiskin

Alexei Toiskin

Why muss with the mouse when you can swim with the fishes? At SeaWorld Orlando, the resident animals are more than just photo ops - they're the main attraction. Submerge yourself in the murky, underwater world of the endangered Florida manatee. Feed and touch dolphins in a tropical lagoon. Walk through a frozen tundra as penguins and puffins cavort above, below and beside you. And get up close and personal with denizens of the deep, including eels, barracuda, venomous fish and sharks, in an underwater tunnel that traverses a deep-sea aquarium.

If that's not enough to satisfy your animal instincts, go behind the scenes with one of the park's exclusive tours. Or hop aboard the Adventure Express for backstage access to shows and front-row seats for a private feeding of park animals. An expert guide leads the 5-hour tour, which also includes front-of-the-line access to SeaWorld's rides.

To the Rescue, another SeaWorld exclusive, highlights the park's animal rescue and rehabilitation program for sea turtles, aquatic birds, seals and manatees, all of which are released into the wild upon recovery. This hour-long, tour provides a peek at rehabilitation techniques rarely privy to the public.

Still thirsting for something wet and wild? Answer the ultimate call of the wild by enlisting in the Trainer for a Day program. Slip into a wet suit for a try at the glamorous role of Shamu's tutor. Shadow a real trainer to learn training techniques and receive one-on-one interaction with whales, otters, walruses and sea lions. Later, hang with the heavies backstage for the inside scoop on area cleanup and animal care. The package includes lunch and is limited to three "trainers" daily. Call well in advance for reservations.

SeaWorld is also home to a number of rides, including a collection of killer roller coasters. Kraken, named for Poseidon's mythological underwater beast, is Orlando's highest, fastest, longest and only floorless roller coaster, dangling riders above the track on pedestal seats at speeds of 65 mph. The Wild Arctic zips and zings riders through the frozen North Pole - complete with walruses, harbor seals, polar bears and live beluga whales - in a simulated jetcopter. And Journey to Atlantis, a hybrid roller-water coaster, soaks and spins riders to Atlantis with not one, but two of the steepest, wettest and fastest drops in the world.

Of course, there are options for those who prefer to keep their feet on solid ground, including the world-famous Shamu Adventure, featuring performances by the park's 7 killer whales, and Cirque de la Mer, a Peruvian circus filled with special effects and unbelievable acrobatics.

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