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Orlando's Best Theme Park for Little Ones: SeaWorld

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

As an Early Childhood Specialist, I am often asked which theme park is best for the younger child, toddlers to five years olds.

I know Disney is a family favorite. I live an hour from Orlando, and the Mouse Craze is REAL. Disney seems like a rite of passage. But does that mean it's where the baby will have the best time?

Weighing out the best experience for a little one, with my own family experiences and in speaking to many families who have been able to take their littles to a variety of theme parks, the verdict is in: SeaWorld is where your little ones will have the best experience.

Wait times, crowds, quality of the opportunities for engagement and some learning (children are always learning) along with how much a child can participate in are considered.

Let’s dig into what a day at SeaWorld looks like for your toddlers! Here's why this is the best Theme Park for you little one....

Toddler and family ride the Carousel at SeaWorld
The first ride: The Carousel

** All underlined bolded print opens a link to the accompanying site, I make no money for sharing this info, it is just to make info easier**

Theme Parks for the younger child:

First know that Handheld infants are not allowed to ride ANYTHING, even the kiddie rides.

They must be able to take 3 controlled steps by themselves to demonstrate control to ride.

If your baby is still being carried, they will still be able to see the exhibits and you as adults can take advantage of the parent swap. The rides will not be a part of your day. If your infant enjoys the stroller or a good carry wrap, this can still be a great time.

Second - Have you reserved your FREE kid's pass yet? This park is the most economical with all of the saving they STILL offer. See Community Deals and Offer below for links and info on how to get all children 5 and under in for free. Also, Military and Teachers are welcomes for free as well!

Hitting all the Orlando theme parks with my own children for years made me a “great mom” (if only it were that simple)! We often had annual passes to parks and rotated to experience as much fun as we could manage! I learned how to pack it all up and make it a great day. Sometimes just getting out of the house is the hardest part! Now that my youngest is 19, I am happily taking my grandbaby, who is turning two and accompanying my niece who is just under a year to our favorite spots in Orlando. **My 19-year-old also chose SeaWorld for his B-Day spot because it had been so long since he had visited. What was really cool was his cousin and big brother were excited to go check out the new rides!

The car trip to SeaWorld
Driving over to Orlando for a great day!

I tried to find some resources for which parks are best for toddlers. I saw conversations on local mom groups and in family apps asking which them park was best for the one-year-old. I found a lot of snide remarks about how it isn’t worth it because they don’t remember those times. Or how expensive this will be. These comments don’t capture the magic of Early Childhood Education. Do we keep the kid in the closet till they are old enough to retain core memories? No. Exposing them to all of the fun while they are little sets them up for a lifestyle. I intentionally prepared my children to be good travelers – and they are. All four of them are now making their own trips successfully, and we still have fun on our family adventures. That doesn't mean traveling with an infant or toddler is the easiest, we must have some flexibility to stop when they need to eat or adjust when they need to sleep.

Theme parks are just one part of learning to navigate the world and figuring out how to move as a family in the public. We learned how to roll with the day, wait in line and ride the biggest roller coasters we could, while picking the best meal deals or bringing our own food as applicable. We teamed up with other families who made the day trip over with us. This is a learning experience and character builder. It's a great family activity. It’s also amazing to have the pictures and memories for adults, which can later be shown to your children who will marvel that they’ve been to some REALLY COOL places! So no, the baby may not recall the day, but it does become a part of their experiences which they build on from then forward.

Penguins swim behind mother and child in penguin exhibit
In the penguin exhibit

Timing: Remember, if this is your first time seeing a turtle or a penguin, you may not realize how much more there is here to see and do. Follow the pace of your child who may want to stay all day with a penguin, and also show them the map (even though they are little) and let them know what is next. This will help them build connections.


Seaworld is a big park and quite spread out. There will be a lot of walking involved. Please consult the map below and consider having a plan to prevent the backward criss crossing the entire park route which is easy to get into with a park this big and people who want to experience different parts. Can this park be done in one day? Well, that depends on what you have in mind but if you want to see every exhibit, watch every show and ride every ride it will be really hard!

That being said, my niece and grand baby are two extraordinary little girls who love to be busy and all of the stimulation of a theme park is easy for them to handle. They are curious and trying to do everything independently! This day was fun for them to share.

~~~Sesame Street Land~~~

Sesame Street Land is a whole section designed for the smaller visitors, and could keep them busy for days! You don’t have to be a fan of the characters to find a world of fun here. The entire avenue is lined with rides that fit families. However, Sesame Street still to this day is a leader in the world of acceptance and diversity.

These are kid friendly rides:

Abby’s Flower Tower

Big Bird’s Twirl ‘n’ Whirl

Cookie Drop

Elmo’s Choo Choo Train

Slimey’s Slider

Sunny Day Carousel

Super Grover’s Box Car Derby

Rubber Duckie Water Works – Outdoor Splash pad with no age or size limits. This fills up on hot days and stays crowded! Lots of water play, better with a bathing suit but not necessary to have. No line, just a gather and play spot.

Rosita’s Harmony Hills is another public play space, which is not a ride but an area for children to run, jump and climb on the hills. Great for the younger kids who need a safe place to just be a kid! Musical instruments for chiming or ringing.

The Sesame Street Party Parade also marches through a couple of times a day, check the schedule for the day you are there! My daughter loved this part of the day the most - saying how happy she was to have her child experience the fun, and felt that is was so well done.

The Sky Tower is also kid/ Family Friendly, but it is not inside of the Sesame Street Land.

***This area used to be known as Shamu’s Happy Harbor. In 2019 the change was made to a new theme.

Having a significant amount of things for the younger crowd and all together in this one area makes it easier for large families to all enjoy this day and meet the needs of visitors of all ages. I still suggest staying away from weekends, crowds are more full Saturdays and Sundays. Tuesday, Wed, and Thurs are your better days to plan for.

Sea Animal Appreciation

SeaWorld switched to a priority of education and conservation a few years back and it can really be seen! While opportunities to see many of these creatures in the wild can be very hard to come by, SeaWorld has a collection of animals that is unmatched even by some aquariums. What they offer to the public as far as learning to love the species that reside in the Ocean is priceless. I may agree that taking an animal to captivity (at this point in our evolution as people) is not preferrable, but I also respect that these animals are already here, and the best was to honor them is to enjoy them while we have the chance to experience their presence.

Great Aquariums to catch:

No real lines, go at your own pace. Linger longer, or keep it moving depending on your needs, but seeing all of these underwater species builds vocabulary and context to our youngest learners! This is an educational day with lots of opportunities to identify what makes a species unique.

Manta Aquarium – Your child will be too small for this AWESOME roller coaster, but it’s great to hang out in the air conditioning and enjoy these tanks, watching the rays and sharks swim fluidly over and under. The 360-pop up aquarium is a great way to experience the sea world. Let them enjoy the line and take advantage of a parent swap.

Dolphin Cove – I can’t resist this. I could stay here all day. At 700,000 gallons this is one of the largest dolphin pools in the world. Home to a pod of Atlantic bottle nose dolphins, the tank is set up for above and underground viewing, of course both offer up close and personal views into dolphin life. The underground side is a great spot to get out of the sun or rain and is air conditioned. Another great place for a picnic! ** I am disappointed about how they have blocked half of the viewing area off for the feedings. This was a change they made before my most recent visit and while it may give the paying customer who feeds the dolphin more exclusive access, this is a deterrent to those who have been coming here looking forward to getting up close!

Toddler and dolpin saying hello
Underwater Viewing Dolphins are very friendly!

Shark Encounter – A 60-foot acrylic tunnel through a 700,000-gallon shark tank! Walking underneath the aquarium above gives you a safe, dry look into the underwater world of these fascinating sea animals. A variety of sharks, with 2 recently added hammer heads and a mixture of sharks that are living their lives while you are there! Smaller species are in the smaller tanks out front of the building. The people mover inside will keep you rolling forward and all you have to do it admire your surroundings.

Jewel of the Sea Aquarium – This is under the Journey to Atlantic ride, by the gift shop. We’ve even spread our beach towel on the floor here to ride out a storm and have a picnic in the middle of their floor. Awesome jelly fish lit up appear to be glowing!

Manatee Rehabilitation Area – While you never know who is here being tended to, it’s a pleasure to observe the manatees, turtles, and really cool fish of all kinds. I was mesmerized by the dimension of this aquarium and the manatee that sank below the surface and swam right over to us. My grand baby was busy following a huge sea turtle and saying hi to two turtles which may have been having a heated discussion 😊

Pacific Point Preserve – Undergoing some construction, this replica of their natural environment shows some rocky features around their aquarium and a shallow moat surrounding. We saw sea lions, and fur seals playing, resting, and sunbathing here. My grand baby threw a few fish too! There were some birds camping out hoping to get some fish as well. Fun spot!

Wild Arctic – Belugas, Walruses and Harbor Seals in this cold inside exhibit. My going on two-year-old LOVED being in here. There are some cool props, and the animal viewing is spectacular. There were little to no crowds when we were in there and she loved running up and down the ramp and feeling like an explorer!

Antarctica Empire of the Penguins – Brrrrrrr COLD in there!!! They keep the temps low to accommodate the colonies of penguin who live there happily in their element! Fun to see the fun creatures. If the line is incredibly long, I’d not wait. Hop over to the Wild Arctic. At no other exhibit do they make a line for a viewing of the animal habitat. Here the line is to limit keeping the doors open to keep the cold air inside. This creates quite the back up as they only allow so many in at once.

Orca Underwater Viewing Area – Be sure to catch the show, but this is a way to have a more personal connection and look up close. Fascinating to watch these magnificent whales in their habitat. See how big they are!

Stingray LagoonReach in and touch the rays as they swim by! Rays of all sizes, some are 5 feet in diameter! Sinks for handwashing for before and after touching the sea life.

Dolphin Nursery – As a for real dolphin lover, I find this area underwhelming. Maybe they just haven’t had a lot of mommy and babies while I’ve been there. Worth stopping by, but the real action will be over at the dolphin cove.

The Turtle Trek – Underwater viewing rooms giving the visitor a perspective of the turtle lifecycle egg to Ocean! Fun stop along the day’s journey.

Incredible Shows – High Energy and lots of visually exciting

There's a dolphin show, the Orca Show and a Sealion and Otter Show. Check times.

There are also feedings and other activities daily so be sure to check on the daily schedule of events!

Shows and children sometimes work, and other times serve as a great nap time! lol, children are different after all. My best recommendation is pick one show. Toddlers expected attention span is 3 - 5 minutes. Most shows from open to close run around 30 minutes, with the beginning being a video intro and the end being a finale. However, if you do not arrive early enough, the seating options will be limited and little ones may have a hard time connecting if they are too far from the action. The soak zone will get you wet! Be sure you are willing to be soaked when sitting here. Remember there are some dryers ($6.00 to use) or that Florida sun works wonders, Many who sit up in the soak Zone weak their rain ponchos to keep from being totally soaked for hours after.

On a recent visit we watched the Orca Show in the evening, and by this time our girl was taking off her shoes and socks, trying to bite me and no longer interested. She was getting cranky and sleepy! On a prior trip this show was a highlight of her day! So, timing and mood plays into it with this age, but also, she sat for the dolphin show a few hours before clapping and totally enthusiastic about all the flips and cool tricks she saw. She was screaming "yay dolphins" at the top of her lungs.

Family watching the dolphins flip
During the dolphin show

All-Day Dining Deal:

If you don’t want to worry about going hungry, this is a good deal. You’ll be able to eat and drink every 90 minutes throughout the day. Orders are limited to once every 90 minutes, and at “participating restaurants”. Serving sizes are premade. It’s a cafeteria style. Meals include: 1 soft drink or tea, 1 entrée and 1 side or dessert. There are some decent choices, and different places offer different food options which is nice. Theme Park food has the reputation of being overpriced, dry, and containing little or no healthy options. I will say, SeaWorld is a few steps ahead. We ate burgers from Altitude Burgers and they were perfect. The chicken tenders at the Waterway Grill were suggested to be the best in the park by one of their workers, and we found them to be very good. We also had some orange chicken and rice along with pot stickers from the Expedition Cafe. The kids had gotten other choices and were trying to eat all of my food! When All Day Dining has a good deal or comes with the ticket we do take advantage of this perk!

My recommendation is: eat breakfast prior to entering the park. Bring in something for lunch. Sit somewhere for a sandwich picnic (we've done dining with the sharks or other options) and have a granola bar somewhere safely stowed to hold you over until dinner. I’d recommend one intentional meal only inside of the park to try to beat the expense of eating there all day or eating their selection of foods which to me is unimpressive. Because you can bring in food for your little one, I’d be sure to have all of their snacks and lunch ready for when they get hungry. Now I've definitely sprung for the afternoon pretzel or ice-cream treat as well. Just know theme park prices reflect the price of being in an exclusive park.

I used to find the all-day dining deal to be convenient and cost effective. Especially as the teenagers got older. However, the current limits do not entice me into participating without a great deal tempting me!.

Penguins at SeaWorld
Enjoying the penguin habitat

As a mom of older kids who still loves a good roller coaster....

Manta, Maco and Kraken are three of Orlandos best thrill rides.

Maco is a SeaWorld favorite. It's high, fast, and a fun ride built to resemble the movements of shark!

Manta lifts the rider to a belly down position to glide through the coaster like a manta ray, free spirited through the water riding the waves.

Journey to Atlantis is a family favorite, my kids used to find it scary, riders must by 42" and you will get wet. We love the splash of water, and enjoy this voyage.

Icebreaker is one of the newest rides added and while it's not high velocity, it is a fun ride with a great twist to the typical ride.

Pipeline - WOW! Let's go surrrrrfffinggggg! Calling thrill seekers to join in on some inventive roller coaster fun! I Love this!! Standing up coaster excitement.

Infinity Falls is a white-water rafting ride, the whole family can ride together is over 42".

This is a whole day's worth of rides without even venturing into the aquarium aspects of this theme park.

While Universal can't be beat with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, many of theirs are 3D, 4D simulation rides are not real roller coasters. Now Hagrid's and Velocicoaster are hard to beat. The theme is great all day, and butterbeer, wands and fire breathing dragons can be fun! But Sea World's selection of great rides wins. The theme of appreciating our sea creatures is easy to adopt. Click here for our favorite Universal things to do!

Disney's theme of Mickey Mouse may attract a lot of kids, and their Star Wars at Hollywood Studios is so well done, but long lines and too many people can make a Disney Day dizzying. Click here for our tips at how to spend the day at Hollywood Studios!

Community Deals and Offers:

Veterans/ Teacher Appreciation Teachers are Free/ Children under 5 Free

Children under 3 are always free!

SeaWorld is already a more affordable and less chaotic option than other parks in Orlando. The fact that they also hold teachers in high regard keeps my business!

I often find myself writing/ reviewing that large ticket places such as theme parks USED TO or should have a teacher deal. In the way we once honored our police and military we once gave this extension of appreciation to teachers, and I wish we still did. SeaWorld does offer Free admission to all Florida Educators who hold the State Certificate, and proof must be uploaded into their site. Details can be found here: SeaWorld Orlando Free Tickets for Teachers | SeaWorld Orlando (This was very easy to do)

Kids 5 and younger get into SeaWorld Orlando AND Aquatica Orlando Water Park FREE for all of 2023 when you register in advance for a preschool pass.

Sign up for your FREE 2023 Preschool Card and your child will receive free admission to BOTH PARKS from January 3 – December 31, 2023 with unlimited visits. Valid for Florida Residents. Seaworld Parks have attractions just for preschool age kids including Sesame Street Land and a variety of animal encounters.

Military Appreciation

Complimentary admission to active military and discounts for family members who are present:

SeaWorld Orlando Baby Care Center

True Consideration - the SeaWorld Orlando Baby Care Center comes equipped with a kitchen having a microwave, bottle warmer, changing facilities, private nursing room and restrooms with kid size toilets. This space provides lots of comfort when traveling with young kids. The Baby Care Center is located in Shamu’s Happy Harbor near the kiddie rides.

SeaWorld has a “Sunny Day Guarantee”. You can read more about it here.

Tips for SeaWorld Orlando with Toddlers

*SeaWorld has gone cashless. No cash accepted anywhere, bring your apple pay or debit/ credit card!

*Although outside food is not permitted, they will allow baby food items/ snacks/ foods.

*Water bottles plastic or tumblers are allowed.

*We packed a soft sided cooler for her lunch and a small container of cut up fruit to keep hydrated in the heat. Also had two frozen water bottles for keeping the lunch cold and for drinking later. We brought her sippy cup.

*We also packed: Zinc sun protectant, a sunhat, swimmy diapers, change of clothes, blanket (for rest time/ penguin area) change of clothes, bathing suit.

*Child swap is a great feature if you and other members of your party want to ride ‘adult’ rides. This means everyone will wait in line (with the baby) together. You will swap right near the ride entrance to allow everyone to ride while someone swaps taking care of the baby.

*The weather is unpredictable: bring weather appropriate clothes. Consider layers which can be removed or swim clothes that can get wet, and a change for using in and after the water play areas.

*Consider umbrellas or ponchos (it rains often) and wear comfortable shoes! Ponchos can also be used in the soak zones if you are up for sitting that close!

*Strollers are welcome! Bags will be checked by security upon entry.

*The App is a good thing to download although I did not find it particularly helpful.

It is better to have handheld maps, I am not sure those are still provided.

**Sneakers are good for your feet! This is a day of lots of walking. We've walked 7 miles in one day and had teenagers fuss about sore feet trying to wear flip flops. Foot support is important!

The Florida Weather... What if it rains? It might. Unless there is something serious predicted, it's important to plan for the weather forecast to be wrong. It rains when it's not predicted. It doesn't when the sky is black, and sometimes it pours every day for 40 minutes. On days with inclement weather there may be less people in the park - and also you may need to go indoors for a time period of actual rain. Other than that, rain doesn't stop the world from turning. You may find this article helpful: 8 Things a Rainy Day is Good For on Vacation.

Blog Cover Page Rainy Days on Vacation

Affordability meter: 6/10

On a scale of 1-10 how affordable is this day?

With 1 being utterly unaffordable and 10 being basically free, I rate this adventure a 6. That's a GREAT score for a theme park!! This score considers my free teacher pass, and the baby being free, meaning we only needed to purchase one ticket. My daughter was able to get a great discounted purchase which included the meal deal, and as she is still breast feeding wants all the calories she can get!

We still paid for parking.

I paid for some snacks (ice cream).

We still drove (with tolls) to Orlando and did a lot of planning to make this a successful day for our toddler. I packed a soft cooler and made sure she had a variety of things to eat.

SeaWorld does send some amazing email specials for half price and other deals!

High quality experiences are my goal and SeaWorld does a great job creating an educational environment of fun. Worth every penny, and I will be back!

Annual Passes Offer - As my big kids were growing up, we had the yearly passes which allowed monthly payments and included access to Aquatica and Busch Gardens. I told my daughter I would totally get those again for the next chapter of Nasali's theme park fun times. SeaWorld does have some economical deals to make it very cost effective, especially compared to Disney or Universal. My assessment if you go more than once a month it quickly pays for itself.

Many of the SeaWorld offers include an Aquatica pass. This water park is definitely a favorite.

Floating in the lazy river at Aquatica

All in all, we voted SeaWorld as best theme park for little ones because:

1. Less wait time and so much to see.

2. Connection with Sealife and marine animals that may not be seen in other places is a perk for children who love to see other forms of life and are curious about all of it.

3. Sesame Street Land has lots of kiddie rides grouped together in one area making an entire kid zone area.

4. Those Free passes for kids 5 and under make this trip smart!

Waiting in line for over 20 minutes can make a small child miserable. Especially in the Florida sun! There was no point we waited over 20 - 30 minutes (just for penguins) for anything with her on this day. As children get older their patience and ability to wait increase, but little ones do need to see the attraction and have hands on learning opportunities. My grandbaby cried when the carousel ended. I told her on the next ride it's time to get off and we will go on another ride, and she was able to be distracted from the utter sadness of it ending. This is part of the social emotional experience and learning about how it all works. Taking turns, following the rules and having a great time!

I love these photos taken in the underwater viewing area. "There's no dolphin hiding behind my back", and lots of great interaction. Tip: Dolphins love a slinky or a window cling to get their attention!

I appreciate you stopping by today, please subscribe and share so we can stay connected.

I specialize in helping families spend more time enjoying their quality time together and less time having to figure it all out. My four children have been my test subjects of how to plan a great family adventure for many years and now that my youngest is 18, many of my travels are work related, or grandma related! As time has changed, I've evolved but I still LOVE TO TRAVEL, explore, wander, visit, discover, learn and love. If nature is there, I can find my happy place. I use the term single not to emphasize my status but to signify that if I can manage some family fun on a limited teacher's salary with four children, anyone can do it. I am just very intentional in how I spend my time and earnings. I typically seek out budget friendly ways to enjoy my time, but will occasionally splurge for the right reasons :-)

Happy Travels!! My goal is to make traveling easier for families and cut down on the planning process. 💜

Mz. Savvy

Map of SeaWorld's Park
Map of SeaWorld

Thank you for subscribing, I look forward to hearing from you!

Please comment/ share your tips and tricks for theme parks as well, so we can all make traveling as seamless as possible.

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.

Also, get all up to date information at the SeaWorld Orlando Homepage: Theme Park, Zoo & Aquarium in Florida - SeaWorld Orlando

If you are planning a Family Getaway and don't know where to begin, this is a great resource for getting started: How to Make Family Travel Successful

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