Category Archives: The Ocean

Best Sleepover Ever: Snoring to Whale Song

Claim staked.

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, and here.

I don’t consider myself the over competitive type, at least not usually.  But when it comes to something big (like getting the best sleeping spot in Wild Arctic), look out.

It seemed like there was plenty of room in the exhibit’s lower level to ensure a satisfactory spot for all parties, but Boo and I weren’t about to take chances.  We had scoped out the area during polar bear class earlier and had set our minds on a fine patch of concrete next to the beluga whale tank.

I saw other families eying that spot too, and I wondered what their plans were.  Is it going to get hairy?  Would anybody try to crowd us out?  Was there some secret to securing the holy grail of all Wild Arctic spots?

“I’ll tell you what,” one staff member offered.  “When it’s time to brush teeth and change in to pajamas, whoever gets done first picks their spot first.”

We’d have to brush teeth and change quickly, then.

Or, as Boo and I thought simultaneously, we could skip that step altogether.

“I won’t say anything to Mom if you won’t,” the spirited 8 year old assured me.  In high stakes games, you do what you gotta do.

I should pause here to describe the anatomy of Wild Arctic.  Wild Arctic is a flight simulator/walkthru combo attraction that showcases Arctic wildlife.  Typically, visitors enter the attraction via the simulator ride—a “Star Tours” style helicopter flight to a research station deep in the Arctic.

After disembarking, visitors find themselves inside Base Station Wild Arctic, a double-level structure built around the remains of an old shipwreck.  The station is heavily themed with randomly placed crates (a must for all adventure-centric theme park attractions), electronic research equipment, and other 80’s-era stuff that one might see lying around a real Arctic base.

Here’s a short promo video from SeaWorld:

Central to the experience are the multilevel polar bear and beluga whale exhibits, which provide both above and underwater viewing of the pools.  Naturally, our group would set up camp in the underwater viewing area.  I don’t care what age you are—this was beyond cool.

By the time our freshly brushed and jammied friends returned to Wild Arctic, Boo and I had staked our claim and were sitting comfortably on our fleece throws, watching beluga whales dance 2 feet from our pillows.

Soon, the entire underwater viewing space hummed with the sound of battery-powered mattress pumps.  Beach blankets were spread and heavy sleeping bags unrolled on top.  We quietly mocked the mattress campers as we studied Allua and Ferdinand, the two belugas on the quiet side of the acrylic.

When the clamor died down, James gave a parting briefing and answered a few questions.  There was no bathroom in the exhibit.  And no, there was no A/C they could turn off, nor heating system to make things warmer.  It’s called Wild Arctic for a reason.  The constant cold, James explained, comes from the frigid water outside.  I glanced at our Wal-Mart fleece throws, which would double as mattresses and sleeping bags.  Suddenly the mattress campers didn’t seem so dumb.

James and crew bid us good night and the row of dim ceiling lights was extinguished.  It was about 1:00 am.  A good 30 seconds passed before we heard the first snorer.  He (I’m assuming it was a he) was loud and steady, and as the minutes passed he led a burgeoning chorus of a half-dozen more nocturnal lumberjacks.

Boo was determined to stay up all night to talk and watch the whales, but his voice faded as he chatted.  I don’t blame him—it had been a long day packed with enough excitement to drain any kid.  Allua and Ferdinand were mostly still, their white forms reflecting the moonlight above.  They appeared as streaks of blue in the darkened pool, and their whale song was audible through the paneling.  I’m not sure what made me happier: the situation itself or Boo’s delightful immersion in it.

Boo’s all-nighter lasted until about 1:45.  I pulled his hood over his head and straightened his covers, then tried to find a comfortable position on my concrete bed.  At some point I joined the snoring chorus myself, though it wouldn’t be for long.


Coming up: Sting rays, Moray eels, and a moonlight excursion.  In the mean time, here’s a short clip from the next day showing where we slept:


Tags: , , ,

Best Sleepover Ever: The Adventure Begins

A killer whale launches from Shamu Stadium's 7 million gallon tank in June, 2010

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 and here.

When Meadow rolls her eyes at my obsession with the sea, I tell her she can thank my grandpa for it.  Poppy, as we called him, wasn’t a waterman—he was a heart patient.  When Salt Lake City’s high elevation would begin to take its toll on the ticker, Pop would look toward the western horizon and simply say, “Let’s go.”

It never took much to convince Gran and the kids.  They’d load my mother and her siblings in the van and chase the sunset—sea level or bust.  A few military relatives living in San Diego made these impromptu road trips convenient.  The beaches, zoo, and SeaWorld were secondary, but nice.  So nice that when she grew up and started her own family, Mom continued Pop’s therapeutic pilgrimages.


Memories of those early trips to SeaWorld appear in my head like old 16mm Kodachrome snapshots.  Our routine was always the same:  Be there when the gates open and head directly to the Sparkletts Water Fantasy Show, an acrobatic fountain presentation choreographed to Beach Boys tunes.  Then it was straight to the sea lion and otter show for a performance of “The Ooky Spooky Castle.”  The dolphin and Shamu shows would follow, along with hours of exhibit hopping.

I remember leaving the park at night, thinking how cool it would be to stay and hang out with the sea life overnight.  I smiled a few years ago when, after a night time Shamu show, Boo vocalized that same thought.  Now we were there with our official Adventure Camps t-shirts and name tags, watching killer whales launch themselves in tandem from the depths of Shamu Stadium.

The evening’s events began with dinner—an all-we-could-eat spread of Spaghetti, chicken strips, and watermelon at the Shiprwreck Reef Cafe.  James joined Boo and I at a table by the sea turtles.  We shot the breeze about SeaWorld history and a resident dolphin named Stein that Boo had befriended a few years ago, and who recently passed away after a long battle with liver cancer.

Stein, the toothless dolphin (photo by SWCali)

Stein was always easy to spot in the dolphin pools because he had lost all of his teeth from old age.  In fact, Stein was SeaWorld’s oldest dolphin, having lived to his mid-40s (about 25 years past normal life expectancy).  Many of the dolphins at Rocky Point Preserve today were sired by Stein—a  notion that Boo’s 8 year old brain can’t quite comprehend, but one that makes him very glad nonetheless.

After dinner we trekked back to Wild Arctic for a demonstration on Polar Bears.  Polar Bears 101 continued in a classroom behind Shamu Stadium as the sun began to set.  These sessions were led by an enthusiastic edu-staffer named Allen, and Boo eagerly absorbed every word.  After making a polar bear claw key ring, our group joined the other Adventure Camps groups at the crowded stadium to watch the Shamu Rocks nighttime show.

Polar Bears 101 at Wild Arctic

Shamu Rocks runs all summer, but tonight would be different—at least for Boo and I.  When the waves tapered away and the fireworks smoke dispersed, the rest of SeaWorld’s visitors would be ushered out of the park.  Soon the lights would dim and the lushly vegetated walkways would be silent.

Soon we would have the park to ourselves.


Tags: , , ,

Best Sleepover Ever: Welcome to SeaWorld!

Ready for adventure (photo by Clint Thomsen)

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 the intro, click over and check it out first.

One thing was obvious when Meadow dropped Boo and I off at SeaWorld’s back door: we were the only ones who bothered to follow SeaWorld’s packing guidelines. Judging by the “essentials” hauled in by our fellow campers—duffles, drybags, suitcases, deluxe king-sized air mattresses with their accompanying battery-powered pumps—you’d have thought they were all staying for a week.

Boo and I packed lightly, for which several education staffers profusely thanked us. We had only my backpack, which contained a change of clothes for both of us and a couple of thin fleece throws.

Public sleepovers at SeaWorld are a relatively new concept. Until this year, overnighters were limited to Scouts, religious groups, and other private organizations. From side conversations between staffers, I gathered that this was one of the first public sleepovers (if not the first) they had ever held, and I detected a slight anxiety in their ranks during the check-in process.

Our group consisted of roughly 40 “campers” with a 70-30 kid to parent ratio. Though it was the Fathers Day sleepover, several mothers attended too. Most kids were Boo’s age and most parents were mine.

After stowing our luggage in a large compartment behind the Wild Arctic exhibit, the group was divided in half. Each half was assigned a member of SeaWorld’s education staff who would play the dual role of tour guide and minder for the duration of the evening. Our guide/minder was James, a charismatic, twenty-something redhead with a palpable love for sea life and a knack for interacting with kids.

Training large marine mammals to perform complex maneuvers on command looks like a tough job, but herding groups of kids through the park and commanding their attention for hours on end isn’t exactly a simple task (just ask any Scoutmaster).

Extensive knowledge about the park’s vast collection of sea creatures is a given, as is the ability to deal delicately with overbearing parents and the group’s token obnoxious kid. This young cadre of staffers had its work cut out for it, and James was a natural. It was clear that we were in good hands as he led us past the massive array of water filters and paused behind a non-descript gate.

Boo stood quietly, the excited wheels in his head almost visibly turning. It had been a few years since we last visited the park, but the familiar sounds and scents flooded our senses as we emerged between Wild Arctic and Journey to Atlantis into the main park.

“Welcome to SeaWorld!” James bellowed.

1 Comment

Posted by on August 17, 2010 in Best Sleepover Ever, The Ocean


Tags: , ,

Best Sleepover Ever: Explanation and background

Beluga dreams (photo by Clint Thomsen)

Mother, mother ocean,
I have heard you call,
Wanted to sail upon your waters
since I was three feet tall. You’ve seen it all,
You’ve seen it all.

Watched the men who rode you,
Switch from sails to steam.
And in your belly you hold the treasure
That few have ever seen, Most of them dreams,
Most of them dreams.

-Jimmy Buffet, from “A Pirate Looks At Forty”

Back in June I published a teaser post that I fully intended to follow up on (“Best Sleepover Ever,” June 19, 2010). Unfortunately, poor reception from both my mobile carriers thwarted my efforts to liveblog that night, and I haven’t had much free time since. Well, it’s time to make good on that teaser, and the next few posts will do just that.

I’m not sure how apparent it is on this blog, but the sea occupies a very distinct and permanent spot in my mind– like a perpetual background process on a computer. Even though I’ve never lived anywhere close to the ocean, I think about it almost constantly. My tastes for culture, food, and music are based largely on my fascination with the sea– with the islands, waves, and sand, and the mindset I’ve associated with them.

I haven’t exactly pinned down the source of the ocean’s appeal to me. Some of it must be innate. Some of it might have something to do with what they say about the therapeutic effect of ocean waves on the A.D.D. brain. Some of it certainly stems from family vacations to San Diego when I was young.

Those short trips included at least one day on the beach and one at SeaWorld. Back then, like today, one child was chosen from the audience during each Shamu show to “meet” Shamu. Today, this “meet” is a glorified photo op with lucky kid and killer whale safely separated by 6 inches of acrylic. Don’t get me wrong– that’s cool. But it’s nothing compared to the early 80’s, when lucky kid was ushered right to tanks edge where he or she got to feed, pet, and even hug Shamu.

Yes, hug Shamu.

One 1980-something Shamu show was especially memorable to me– first because I lost my first tooth waiting for the show to start (thanks, Uncle Josh), and second because I was chosen to meet Shamu. That’s me in the photo below:

Yours truly with Shamu. How about that outfit? Somehow I don't think this type of "meet" would fly today.

Call it cheesy, but that moment was unforgettable. SeaWorld has been one of my favorite places on the planet ever since.

My love for the ocean and SeaWorld seems to have rubbed off onto young Boo, who told me at about age 4 that he’d like to become a beach bum when he grows up, “because they just hang out on the beach all day and surf, and eat snacks.”  Boo himself has a certain history with SeaWorld, which I may touch on in upcoming posts.

This obsession with the sea and SeaWorld seems to be exclusive to Boo and I.  My wife detests the ocean and the other kids could take it or leave it. So when Meadow saw an ad for SeaWorld Adventure Camps’ Father’s Day Sleepover, she knew just what she’d do.  It would be– as even she put it– the best sleepover ever.  For Boo and I, that is.  She’d be more than happy to spend the night back at the hotel.

To be clear, SeaWorld Adventure Camps are geared solely toward kids.  Attending parents are there more for chaperoning purposes.  But if you’ve got small children, you know how fulfilling it is to watch their dreams come true.  The evening would consist of several classes and activities, after which Boo, me and about 35 other SeaWorld “campers” would  settle in on the cold concrete floor of the park’s Wild Arctic exhibit, next to the beluga whale tank, to spend the night.

Snoring to whale song.  Heck yeah.

The next few posts will recount this adventure.  The last in the series will feature some video I shot that night.


Tags: , , ,