How to Reduce Wait Times at SeaWorld Orlando

Zag, Don't Zig

Penguins in SeaWorld's Antarctica attraction.
••• The penguins in SeaWorld's Antarctica attraction may look like they are waiting in line. But the human lines to view them can get quite long. © Arthur Levine, 2013. Licensed to About.com.

As with Central Florida's other major theme parks, SeaWorld Orlando is wildly popular. While it may not attract the mega-sized crowds that Disney World and Universal Orlando generate, it nonetheless welcomes lots of visitors eager to experience its marine life-themed attractions, exhibits, and shows. Depending on when you visit, that can mean looooong lines. And nobody likes long lines, right?

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To help minimize wait times at SeaWorld, consider my general words of advice for all parks: zag when everybody else is zigging. That is, try to plan your vacations and visits at less busy times whenever possible. If you can, avoid the high-traffic periods such as the week between Christmas and New Year's, the early summer, Easter, and school vacations. The fall, for example, can be a wonderful time to visit the park and commune with the dolphins, stingrays, penguins, and other animals without a crush of other guests.

If you find yourself in Orlando during a peak attendance period, try these other suggestions for avoiding humungous waits (which are mostly variations on my zag/zig principle):

  • If you want to see the polar bears and other creatures (and escape the Florida heat into a chilly environment) at the Wild Arctic attraction and the lines are long, you could bypass the simulated helicopter ride and proceed directly to the animal exhibit.
  • If the lines are prohibitively long at the TurtleTrek attraction, you could nonetheless see the animals swimming in the pool alongside the attraction.
  • If possible, take a midday break when the park is generally the most packed. Perhaps you could return to your hotel for some pool time or a nap. Or maybe you could go to a nearby restaurant for a leisurely lunch.
  • Return in the early evening when the crowds have thinned, and you should find shorter lines. (Be sure to save your ticket and your parking receipt, and get your hand stamped for reentry.) As a bonus, during the busier times, SeaWorld presents special nighttime shows.
  • Whenever you will be visiting, do some pre-planning. SeaWorld's official website lists show schedules (and the shows are among its highlights) and other park info well in advance. Develop a rough itinerary so you will have a sense of what you will want to include.

Help! The Lines are Crazy Long!

If you will be visiting the park during an especially busy time, and the general suggestions above wouldn't make enough of a dent in the amount of time you will be spending in line, SeaWorld does offer a couple of nifty options -- but they will cost you.

Quick Queue Unlimited is SeaWorld's line-skipping program. In March 2016, the cost started at $19 per person and rose to as high as $34 during busy seasons. The pass allows users to go to the front of the line as many times as they wish on seven attractions (which are the ones with the longest lines):

  • Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin
  • Manta
  • Kraken
  • Journey to Atlantis
  • TurtleTrek
  • Sky Tower
  • Wild Arctic

Is it worth it? Only you could answer that. But consider how much you would already be paying for general admission to the park, and then consider how much time you might end up stuck in long lines. For example, when I visited in mid-summer of 2013, the wait for the Antarctica ride alone was 100 minutes. Without the pass, you might not be able to fit in everything that you would like to experience. If you had a gang of four, an additional $80 or more to purchase Quick Queue Unlimited passes wouldn't be chump change (unless you're lucky enough to be one of those folks for whom money is not an issue), but it could offer good value if you would be able to breeze past long lines, have a relatively stress-free day, and be able to pack in everything on your wish list.

Speaking of money not being an issue, if you are a Mr. or Ms. Moneybags, you might want to look into SeaWorld's Expedition SeaWorld Tour. It includes a guided tour, a Quick Queue Unlimited pass, an All Day Dining Deal (which offers unlimited meals at most of the park's eateries), and reserved seats to three shows. The cost (in March 2016) starts at $79 for ages 10 and older and $59 for children 3 to 9 -- and that's in addition to general admission to the park. The price is higher during busy seasons. A private VIP tour gives small groups their own guide, includes immediate access to all rides, offers reserved seating for all shows, and tosses in a meal at the full-service restaurant, Sharks Underwater Grill. Prices start at $249 per person. Yikes!

Are the tours worth it? Again, only you could answer that. While it would definitely make lines almost a non-issue and offer a generally stress-free day at the park, it is perhaps more about pampering and less about managing lines. For most of us, an additional $300 for our gang of four really isn't chump change. But it could be a great choice for you members of the Moneybags clan out there.