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

in SeaWorld, 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.

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