SeaWorld Orlando is a great park for kids, but it can pose a challenge for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The park can be loud, overstimulating, and overwhelming, so it’s important to plan your day carefully to help your child have the best experience possible. Here are some tips:
Prepare your child before your visit the park. Many children with ASD handle new experiences better if they know exactly what to expect. Visit the SeaWorld Orlando website and read the attraction descriptions together. Search YouTube for videos of the rides and shows. Give your child an active role in choosing what you’ll see and do and build a sense of anticipation with social stories.
Download the SeaWorld Orlando Accessibility Guide, which is available on the park’s website. Children on the spectrum vary greatly in what they can comfortably handle. The guide contains important information that will help you determine which shows, rides, and attractions are suitable for your youngster. If your child has a service dog, the guide also spells out guidelines for animal attractions where assistance animals aren’t permitted, ride restrictions, and rest areas. Get the SeaWorld Guide Here
If you still have questions after reading the guide and doing internet research, stop in at Guest Services at the front of the park when you arrive. The park team members can give you more information on accommodations for your particular needs.
The guide also shows the locations of companion restrooms. Often these facilities are easier to use than the regular restrooms, especially on very crowded days.
Consider using preferred parking. SeaWorld Orlando offers preferred parking that costs a bit more than the standard rate but that’s much closer to the front gate. The park doesn’t run any trams, so if you’re parked far from the entrance, you’ll have to walk. It may be worth the extra cost to ensure that you won’t have to guide your family through a vast expanse of parking lot on the way from and to your car.
Choose a seat at the end of a row so you can exit quickly if needed. The music is loud and the show stadiums get very crowded if you visit SeaWorld Orlando at peak times. There’s bleacher seating at Shamu Stadium and for the sea lion and dolphin shows, with relatively narrow aisles. If your child feels overwhelmed and needs to leave, an end seat means you won’t have to stumble over other people while making your exit. The Turtle Trek 3-D movie is a very loud, intense experience that’s disorienting even for some guests who don’t have sensory disorders. You stand in the theater, so try to position your family near an exit when you choose your standing spot, and consider bringing noise reduction headphones for your child.
Consider all factors when deciding which rides are appropriate for your child. SeaWorld Orlando has mild rides for children in its Happy Harbor section and family-friendly experiences like the Sky Tower and Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. It also has three thrill rides: the Manta and Kraken roller coasters and Journey to Atlantis, a water coaster. Older children on the Autism Spectrum often enjoy the thrill rides, but consider all factors before deciding if they’re suitable. For example, riders get wet on Journey to Atlantis, and the restraints on Manta are very restrictive, with a vehicle that tilts riders face down.
Build quiet time into your schedule. There are many opportunities for down time at SeaWorld Orlando. If your child needs a quieter activity, go to the orca or dolphin underwater viewing areas or walk through Wild Arctic (ask to go inside without seeing the movie). Wild Arctic is a particularly good spot to wind down because it’s indoors and air-conditioned. It has habitats for animals like beluga whales, polar bears, and walruses. The Manta aquarium is another calm, cool spot full of fascinating aquariums.
SeaWorld Orlando has plenty of counter service restaurants and a pizza buffet, but you may want to consider a meal at Sharks Underwater Grill to combine down time with a meal. The tables in this restaurant all have a view of the shark tanks so kids can watch a variety of sharks during their meal.
Let your child do hands-on exploration. SeaWorld Orlando has many opportunities for sensory stimulation. For example, there are educational exhibits to touch in spots like Wild Arctic and the shark exhibit. Children can put their hands into the water to touch the stingrays and the dolphins at Dolphin Cove. Your youngster might even enjoy the opportunity to feed the stingrays, sharks, sea lions, or dolphins. The feedings are an extra-cost activity, but they make for memorable moments. Bring a swimsuit if your child would enjoy the water play area in Happy Harbor.
If you child has difficulty socializing with others, SeaWorld Orlando offers some opportunities to help him or her overcome this challenge. You’ll find educators near the animal habitats and handlers who come out throughout the day with animal ambassadors that kids can see close up. Children who are normally reluctant to engage others in conversation sometimes open up to talk about the animals or ask questions.
Rent a stroller or wheelchair if it would be helpful for your child. The need for a stroller doesn’t stop at a certain age, and wheelchairs aren’t just for guests with mobility problems. If you’re staying in Orlando for a while and visiting several theme parks, consider a length-of-stay rental from one of the many off-site companies rather than renting at each park. Special needs strollers that are large enough for older children are available through off site companies as well. Their prices are typically cheaper than theme park rentals, and the stroller or wheelchair is delivered to and picked up from your hotel or vacation home.
Don’t try to pack too much into one day. The main attractions at SeaWorld Orlando are the shows, and they have so many that’s it’s challenging to fit them all into one day. There’s One Ocean, which is the orca show; Blue Horizons, featuring dolphins and birds; Pets Ahoy, with cats, dogs, and a pig; Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island, starring sea lions, an otter, and a walrus; and Alure: Call of the Ocean, with acrobatics and special effects. In addition to those five shows, SeaWorld has seasonal offerings like Shamu Rocks and Sea Lions Tonight. Review a show schedule when you arrive at the park and prioritize your must-dos. If you do them first, it won’t be as disappointing if a melt-down, or just exhaustion, forces you to call it a day.