We would go every year. I remember hating when my dad would go because it meant an obligatory visit to his Uncle Jim and Aunt Ginger. Don't get me wrong; I understand the importance of family and all that. But this was cutting into my Shamu time. So I always preferred it when my grandparents took me or my mom and I went.
Pap, of course, was always the best person to go with. He would always buy me whatever I wanted – a real Hawaiian coral necklace – and liked to eat at the actual sit-down restaurant instead of the grab-n-go food stands. He loved that because Sea World was owned by Anheuser Busch, he could drink his wine all day long.
Pap also loved a good schedule and at Sea World, it's important to stick with a show schedule. Otherwise, you're spending a lot of time in the Penguin Encounter and it kinda stinks in there.
During my teens, the grandparents' trips tapered off so it was up to my mom to continue to take me. Not that she would ever complain about it; she loved Sea World just as much as I did. I still remember driving there with her when I was 16 while we listened to Genesis and Madonna non-stop. That was the year she bought me a camera before the trip and let me get the Japanese oysters that were guaranteed to have pearls in them. The one I picked had two! (I had a thing for aquatic-based jewelry. No judging.)
My affinity for coral and pearls was nothing compared to my love of sea mammals. I know it was a "thing" to love dolphins in the 90s much like owls are a "thing" now. But this was different. I truly felt that what I was meant to do on this earth was work with dolphins and whales. I even pseudo-stalked a trainer after a Shamu show to ask her how I could be a trainer some day. She made it seem easy; you needed a degree in either marine biology or psychology, had to be a fit and strong swimmer, had to be able to dive down 25+ feet of frigid water. I was game.
The first school I applied to was UNC-Wilmington because they had a great marine biology department. At my campus tour, I was told that only 1% of students in that program had a chance at working with marine mammals. I was looking at a future full of fish. This was before Finding Nemo made fish cool.
I don't think I even finished my application to UNCW.
I still loved Sea World, though.
When we moved to Austin, I was excited to be in a days' drive distance to the Sea World in San Antonio. I took L.E. on Monday, the first day of spring break. It had all of the elements I loved about the Ohio one: Shamu the killer whale, Clyde & Seamore with their sea lion show, belugas, the smelly Penguin Encounter plus the added bonus of a Sesame Street-themed kiddieland.
I didn't take a bazillion photos because the look on L.E.'s face when she saw Shamu leap out of the water was absolutely priceless. I'm glad I saw it for real and not through a camera lens. She clapped and laughed with the rest of the crowd and couldn't wait to see more animals. She actually sat pretty still through all of the shows. The only time she grew impatient was while we were in line for the Grover carousel.
If you ask her what her favorite part was, she will tell you it was the sharks.
|Not gonna lie. I had a Jaws 3 moment.|
The downside is now Sea World is really expensive. Also, and I don't know if it's because I was just at Universal Studios in Orlando so my theme-park expectations were super high (Universal is an amazing park; lots of food stands and bathrooms) but there seemed to be very little options when it came time for lunch. Every stand had a HUGE line. So we made do with junk food like popcorn and ice cream. L.E. was just fine with that.
It's not often that I get weirdly sentimental but I'm so happy that I have this one tradition to carry on with my daughter. I'm sure Dr. T. will come along to Sea World – without dragging us to see family like my dad did – but I'll always treasure the first time it was just L.E. and me.
I'm really looking forward to bringing my mom, too.
But no Genesis or sea-based jewelry...