Christmas at SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego



2.3/5 Pros

  • Some really nice habitats
  • Very nice All Day Dining option Cons

  • Park overall feels outdated and with limited atmosphere
  • Some animals (e.g. Beluga Whale) don't feel happy
  • Limited Christmas atmosphere
  • Discussions about too small habitats

How can you go there? They are shit! was one of the rather modest reactions of friends and followers when I shared some impressions of SeaWorld San Diego in late December 2024 in my Instagram stories. Right on Christmas Day, my wife and I made it into the combination of zoo and amusement park, which has been in vast critics especially due to their whale and dolphin shows. Even though that means that you support them in a certain extent, I feel that as a travel blogger, you should also make your own thoughts and critics while being in San Diego. After having visited SeaWorld Orlando as well, this was my second visit at a SeaWorld park.


SeaWorld San Diego – Location & Admission

SeaWorld is located on an a roughly 0.75 km² in a bay close to the Pacific Ocean Northwest of the city center. The park opened in 1964 and became public four years later. Nonetheless, the typical way to get there is by car. Parking fees range betweem 30 and 85 USD,for a car, depending whether you want to have a close parking lot or not and whether you book it in advance or pay at the gates. There are also some shuttle services, but no public transport to the park.

As in many US amusement parks, there is a huge range of ticket prices, depending on when and how you are buying the ticket. The 2024 nominal price is 114.99 USD. However, you can save significant money if you fix the date of the ticket or buy on other platforms. My wife and I roughly paid 90 USD for a flexible ticket, which was valid on Christmas Day as well. It included all-day dining (see below) as well. When we tried to book via the park’s website, we could not pay with a European credit card (even though they even offered conversion to Euro). Customer service confirmed that this is not possible.


SeaWorld San Diego – Atmosphere

As said, I have been to SeaWorld Orlando before – and I feel that the Florida park is much better. In general, the atmosphere is nothing compared to Universal Studios, Disney or some of the good European parks like Phantasialand or Europapark. The park is clean, there are good signs. Nowadays, you are more or less forced to use their app. There are not too many fast track opportunities, which you have to book while in the park, but there is also a lack of map displays (paper maps not available any more).

Regarding the Christmas decoration and atmosphere, the Orlando park is much better as well. There have been some light installations and a Christmas parade (which we missed as we were in the opposite side of the park at that time) – but San Diego at Christmas time felt significantly less like Santa Claus than I felt in other park. Maybe a trip to the Wintertraum at Phantasialand in Germany (or quite some of their peer parks around) would really give SeaWorld some inspiration. Depending on the season, there are other themes at SeaWorld San Diego. For example, at the time of publishing, they praise Mardi Gras.


SeaWorld San Diego – Animal Habitats

We felt that in general the animal habitats are the key attractions at SeaWorld San  Diego. Thereby, we especially loved the animals which are less in focus. Exploring the flamingos is as fascinating as walking through the shark tunnel (I don’t get tired of viewing sharks and sea turtles from that perspective). I also liked that in some more popular habitats, you could either be close to the glass windows on a moving walkway, while you could take a longer time behind it from a slightly less  optimal position.

However, we also had some negative experience, majorly in the Wild Arctic hall. The penguin habitat looked really crowded. They also had Tufted and Atlantic Puffins. They are one of my favorites, but I had the feeling that the two species interbreeded in the common habitat – they simply did not look like neither of the species. The Beluga Whale, one of the key attractions of the park, showed stereotypical behavior in my point of view. I am not a biologist, so that you should not see this points as facts, but as my opinion.


SeaWorld San Diego – Rides

The unique thing about SeaWorld is the combination of aquarium / zoo and rides. The rides in San Diego feel to play a slightly smaller role compared to the Florida outlet. The latest attraction is Arctic Rescue, which was also the only ride which really lead to significant waiting times of up to one hour. This is also the only attraction which comes with Express Entry option. You can also buy the Quick Queue Unlimited pass which includes reserved seating at the shows (see below). It starts at 29.99 USD, but the price depends on the day.

Other popular ride are the roller coasters Emperor and the signature Manta. I also enjoyed getting wet at the Shipwreck Rapids, which was nice, but not a must-do. The park also has some classic fun fair attractions like the swing Tentacle Twirl or the Rescue Riders – most of them are somehow themed to aquatic topics, but could have any other branding as well. We did not make it to the Skytower, unfortunately, which gives a nice view of the park. The demand for thrill rides might, of course, be higher in the summer season.


SeaWorld San Diego – Shows

The shows are why people come to SeaWorld. Even though one theater (Bayside Amphitheater) was not in use at all during our visit and the day was not too crowded, the theaters were packed. We went for the Reserved Seating, which gives you preferred access to central seats in the theater. It seems like that this option is not sold any more individually in 2024, which is a shame. The first show we watched was the dolphin show. I felt that the show was okay, but nowadays you have seen this kind of thing. The examples they give why SeaWorld San Diego is also important for research of sea animals is sometimes a bit of too thin. Many of this projects do not require life-long keeping of animals like dolphins. Nonetheless, it was somehow entertaining.

And then, there are the Orcas. The first ten rows, which are named Splash Zone for a good reason, are indeed a splash zone. Yeah, it is somehow impressing to see these huge animals jumping in the water. But again, in times of YouTube and a lot of information on the internet, the attractions feels a bit of outdated. Furthermore, whale watching cruises are available in many spots of the world. You cannot neglect, though, that the sheer size of the Orcas is something you get in a better way in the theater.

I have to say that the best animal experiences I had were at the less well-known shows. I could not take pictures at the otter and sea lion show, which was really funny. I can definitely imagine that it much easier to keep animals like those in habitats than the large Orcas. The reef touch pools at the entrance feature the small fish which nibble at your skin. Honestly, that was the best animal interaction I had. Not that surprisingly, you can also buy several packages of animal encounters on top of your standard admission. They sell out quick, so you should buy them way before your visit.


SeaWorld San Diego – Food & Shopping

Surprisingly, dining is one of the key attractions. Even when we entered the park some 20 minutes after opening, there were queues at some restaurants. The rationale behind that is that you can buy All-Day Dining packages, which allow you having a drink, a side or desert and a main dish at one of five selected restaurants every 90 minutes.. This option was included in our Groupon ticket as well. The food quality in the spots we explored was nice, but the lines and the organization of the restaurants was not sufficient. For example, at the Shipwreck Reef Cafe, it took us over 30 minutes to order food and finally receive it. Other parks do better – and also many chain system catering restaurants do much better.

Of course, there are also rather plenty of opportunities spending some dollar into merchandise. Most of the stuff was somehow (maritime) life related. I especially like some of the shirts they had. One store was dedicated to Christmas merchandise only.


SeaWorld San Diego – Service

Apart from the typical attractions, there were also some arcade places with the typical ticketing system. Close to the bayfront, there is also a cable car, which is unfortunately for an additional charge. Lockers are provided at some places, including near thrill and water rides and at the main gate. The bathrooms were okay. Some looked a bit too poor towards the late afternoon – but I guess you cannot compare US-American parks with the service level you for example have in the U.A.E.. SeaWorld San Diego also offers free WiFi in theory. However, they already state at their website that quality might vary – which still feels rather optimistic. I finally used my mobile network while in the park.


SeaWorld San Diego – My View

While you just cannot deny a certain transformation at SeaWorld Orlando, the San Diego outlet illustrates the struggle of the heritage of this park. Yes, we nowadays are not too wrong to blame something like orca shows – but you just cannot deny that they have been very popular some two decades ago (and somehow still are). Is it better to kill them? There has also been an experiment to release an orca into the wild at a long process. Not just due to these animal presentations, the park feels outdated in times of social media and YouTube.

The large (and still, likely, too small), habitats for these mammals also take too much space to turn this park into a more modern experience. The asset of the past more and more becomes a struggle in the present. There are, indeed, some really cool spots at SeaWorld San Diego. Some rides are nice, some habitats as well. The All Day Dining Package turns out to be one of the park’s most striking attractions. Even though there are some really nice spots, I would not see the park as a good value for money.


Amusement Parks – More Postings

Here are all postings about Amusement Parks: about Animal Parks & Zoos

Here are all postings of the Zoos and More category:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *