SeaWorld behind-the-scenes tours offer up-close animal encounters like no other Orlando theme park

in SeaWorld Orlando, Theme Parks

SeaWorld Orlando recently launched a new series of behind-the-scenes tours that connect guests to animals in unique ways. From petting penguins to feeding sea lions, a tour through SeaWorld offers experiences that can’t be found in any other Orlando-area theme park.

Behind the scenes tour I recently had a chance to try out a few of these unique experiences and learn a bit more about SeaWorld’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts. Stepping out of the park’s main streets into the behind-the-scenes area instantly places you into a working facility.

Rows of tanks are visible, in which rescued sea turtles are swimming happily on their way to good health. Nearby, rehabilitated manatees are cared for by experts, ensuring their survival. The dedicated SeaWorld team sees the animals as their family, lately spending more time with them than their actual families due to the nearly overwhelming ongoing rescue efforts from the recent Gulf oil spill.


Sea Turtle Rescue

Sea Turtle Rescue

Sea Turtle Rescue

The more fun, but still educational side of the tour experiences includes petting penguins and feeding sea lions. Here are a few video highlights of these penguin and sea lion encounters:

Leaving the Florida heat and into the cold, carefully-regulated environment filled with penguins is a treat. The penguins all appear quite friendly with one another, often spotted grooming each other. While petting a penguin (briefly, with a short two-finger gesture to emulate another penguin rubbing them) was a unique experience, I found it more entertaining to simply stand and watch them interact with each other. One even reminded me of my own cat, just standing there squinting its eyes at the light. Cute.


Feeding sea lions is another stop available on some of SeaWorld’s tours and while it’s not exclusive to the tours, it is more enjoyable to feed these loudly barking creatures in a group, sharing the experience with each other. I learned that a group of birds has also taken up residence in the sea lion area. It’s not part of the SeaWorld cast of animals, but they allow the birds to remain anyway, though guests are not encouraged to feed them. The fish is for the sea lions, after all. As for the sea lions’ loud barking – apparently they’re smart enough to realize that if they annoy guests long enough with their crass vocalizations, they’ll get rewarded with a fish in the mouth (food for them and a brief moment of silence for the guests).

Sea Lion feeding

Sea Lion fish food

Sea Lion feeding

More information about the newly-available SeaWorld tours:

  • A general Behind-the-Scenes Tour includes a visit to SeaWorld’s Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, plus exploring a polar bear’s den, close encounter with a penguin, and even an interaction with a small shark.
  • Sea Lions Up-Close teaches about what it takes to care for and train sea lions then provides reserved seats for the comedy sea lion show, “Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island” folowed by a chance to take a picture with one of the show’s stars.
  • The Dolphins Up-Close Tour brings guests backstage to SeaWorld’s Whale & Dolphin Stadium to learn what it takes to train the stars of the Blue Horizons show, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. An up-close and personal encounter also takes place at SeaWorld’s Dolphin Cove during a special training session.
  • The Penguins Up-Close Tour allows guests to get close to puffins and penguins while learning about caring for these birds from aviculture experts.
  • The Elite VIP Tour brings private groups through the park with a SeaWorld expert, riding Manta, Florida’s first flying coaster, enjoying the Believe killer whale show, encountering animals up-close, and having a meal at Sharks Underwater Grill. The standard VIP Tour offers the ability to feed dolphins, sting rays and sea lions during the VIP Tour, then dine on a freshly-prepared lunch.
  • For more information on SeaWorld’s all-new tours, visit

    More photos from a few of SeaWorld Orlando’s behind-the-scenes experiences:

    Photos by Katherine McElroy.


    1. Renee

      DO NOT PAY FOR THIS (Sea Lions Up-Close) TOUR. I would give it no stars, but that was not an option. Save your money because you will not be up-close with a sea lion like the title and the picture suggest. First, you go to Pacific Point Preserve and they tell you the difference between a sea lion and a seal; which can be read on the signs around the exhibit. Next, you go to where the “Clyde & Seamore” show takes place. You are asked to sit in the first two rows and then are quickly taken up to the tank, a group at the time to have your picture quickly taken. You are not allow to look at the sea lion (you keep your back towards him) and have to take a large step forward before you can walk back to your seats. Then you head back to Pacific Point Preserve where you are given a bucket of fish to feed them with everyone else. Just save your money and get to the show early to sit in the first two rows and spend $20 and get five trays of fish to feed the seals/sea lions at Pacific Point Preserve.

      1. Jennifer

        I’m glad I read this review, we were looking at giving my daughter this experience for her birthday, but now I won’t waste the money!


        1. Thanks

          Thank you for your honesty!! I actually was going to reserve today but thanks to your review I will save the money and put it elsewhere.

    2. Linda

      Has anyone done the penguins up close tour?

    3. Stacey

      Linda, I know it’s nearly a year after the fact, but I did the Penguins Up Close Tour this summer and it was awesome!

      The guide was incredibly informative and very nice. We got about an extra 20 minutes or so of interacting with the penguins.

      The meeting spot was somewhat hard to find because there was no signage. There may be now.

      We went past the seal lions and she pointed out one of the new pups–so cute! We went behind the scenes where she separated us into our groups as she said she’d call us by our number and then we followed her up the ramp and inside. We got to see some penguins that were in the process of being relocated. She showed us the food prep area and talked about how they cared for the penguins. Most of our time was spent with the penguins!

      The area that you’re allowed in is relatively small. No strollers were allowed. Wheelchairs would be difficult.

      She called us up by our group to get a picture with the trainer and the chosen penguin. They let you interact for a bit and then called the next group. While others are getting their interaction, you can pet the penguins that come up to you at the gate–those that don’t want to interact stay away.

      It is cold there, so I suggest bringing a light jacket, no matter how hot it is outside. I was happy that I brought mine!

      Be sure to bring your camera!

    4. Ginny

      I am in a wheelchair and my mom recently purchased the dolphin up close tour for me especially to do at Sea World Orlando. I was so excited to get to participate in this type of experience. We went to the park early as to not miss our appointed time and instructions. When we got to where we were supposed to meet, the lady at the counter informed us that there was a problem with one of the tanks and that our experience had been canceled with no warning whatsoever. We drove all the way from Georgia just for this experience with the dolphins and to see the other exhibits afterwards. I hardly ever get to participate in anything like this so this was special and I was terribly disappointed and not a happy girl. They did tell my mom that her money would be refunded to her credit card but that did not help my disappointment because I had been looking forward to this for a month. I understand that things do happen but I thought at least we should have been offered another experience.

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