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Best Sleepover Ever: Orcas, rays, and a comatose moonlight excursion

14 Sep

Morning view

This post continues my report on the SeaWorld Adventure Camps’ Fathers Day Sleepover that my 8 year old son and I attended at the San Diego park back in June. If you missed previous installments,  check them out here, here, here, and here.

When it came to getting the best sleeping spot in Wild Arctic, skipping the teeth brushing turned out to have been an excellent idea.  But skipping the bathroom part of that last bathroom break?  Eh, not so much.

It hit me at about 2:00 am.  Or at least that was the point when ignoring nature’s call was no longer an option.  Answering it wouldn’t be simple.  We’d have to get up, tip-toe to the exit, take a flight of stairs, wake our chaperone, and trek over to a building by the Penguin Encounter.  First, though, I’d have to wake Boo.

“Hey pal, do you need to go to the bathroom?”  (It would be slightly less embarrassing for me if Boo was the reason we were going.)

“Nope,” came his comatose response.  Wonderful.

He slowly came to as we trudged up the stairway to check out with the doorman.  The balmy air outside contrasted starkly with our virtual igloo.  I walked slowly in order to take in the SeaWorld that very few humans ever see–  middle-of-the-night SeaWorld—when the path lights have been dimmed and that infamous elevator music quieted.

Boo resumed his slumber immediately upon our return.  As I arranged his blanket I noticed that his clenched fist still held a stingray tooth he had found earlier in the evening.  I carefully pulled it away and secured it in a zipper pouch in my backpack.  If he lost it during the night I’d never hear the end of it.  After all, this was no ordinary stingray tooth.

I continued to replay the evening’s events in my head– picking up after the Shamu Rocks show.  After the crowds filtered out of the park, the education staff had gathered us to the orca habitat’s underwater viewing area for a little Whales 101. While a staffer named Erin demonstrated the insulating qualities of whale blubber using clay and ice water, I walked over to the massive viewing window.  Hovering on the other side was 12 year old Sumar.  Sumar seemed to enjoy interacting with me and the other parents.  Like the belugas, his song was audible through the acrylic.

“I heard you can use some of the moves the trainers use to make the whales interact with you,” one father asked.

“Well, we can ask them to interact with us,” James censured.  “Then if they want to, they might.”

SeaWorld campers get a close-up of Shamu and friends in this extraordinarily cheesy photo from SeaWorld Public Relations (copyright SeaWorld.com. All rights reserved.)

Despite his wiry figure and youthful gait, James carried a certain gravitas with the kids and amongst his fellow SeaWorld staffers.  He employed the same sarcastic finesse both to coax the bashful kids from their shells and repress Annoying Kid’s loud interjections.  And though his primary duty was to keep the larger flock together, he still found a way to make each kid feel important.  When Boo lost the polar bear claw keychain he had made, James ducked out of the Shamu show to make him a new one—with the same color beads arranged the same pattern.

The last activity of the night was a visit to the Forbidden Reef, where a few dozen stingrays and a sturgeon that thinks he’s a stingray solicit fish and rub-downs from visitors.  After feeding the rays, Boo spotted a stingray tooth at the bottom of the pool and James fished it out for him with a large net.

“I can’t lose this stingray tooth,” he said.  “It’s a special stingray tooth.”

Boo’s tooth now secure in my backpack and nature’s call finally answered, I finally bid good night to the belugas.

Here are a few clips I shot when I woke up in the morning.  Notice how quiet it is in there.  If you listen closely, you can hear whale song:

—–

The next (and last) installment in this series will feature a video summary of the sleepover.

*Sadly, Sumar passed away earlier this month of unknown causes.  I’m glad we got a few minutes with him that night.

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