My family and I recently dined with some really big eaters. And I mean really big.
We enjoyed a theme-park meal with a different kind of entertainment than we had previously experienced. Dine with Shamu reopened in July after a hiatus of more than two years, and we decided to surprise the kids with the dinner as part of their birthday weekend at SeaWorld Orlando.
The experience begins by checking in before the 5:30 p.m. meal at the underwater viewing area for one of the behind-the-scenes pools for the killer whales. The Dine With Shamu pool is connected to the other tanks in Shamu Stadium, home to the daily One Ocean show and summer’s Shamu Rocks! When the gates are open, the whales swim between the pool and come right up to the viewing glass, amazing guests with their sheer size.
After check-in, a photographer will take a complimentary photo of your party before sending you up the ramp to the entrance to wait for the restaurant to open. When it does, a dozen or so waiters come out to greet guests and escort each group to their assigned table. The restaurant basically curves around the length of the whale pool, with a glass partition for separation. It’s covered, but is an open-air atmosphere. Tables for four are arranged two deep, so there really are no bad seats. But if you make your reservation in advance you can request to be in the front row.
Once you are shown to your table, you will be invited to visit the buffet, which is designed to be mainly sustainable and natural foods. Main dishes include all-natural grain-fed beef sirloin, open-flame grilled free range chicken, pork loin with no preservatives or additives and certified sustainable seafood. Fresh fruits, salads and sides are seasonal offerings. There also is a bread table and a dessert bar that features such favorites as chocolate cake, red velvet cake, strawberry shortcake and chocolate chip cookies. The kids’ buffet includes hot dogs, sea shell pasta with tomato marinara and meatballs and macaroni and cheese. (The menu is subject to change seasonally.) Beverages are Coca-Cola products, hot tea, coffee and unlimited beer and wine for the adults.
We found the food to be better than your typical counter-service meals at Orlando theme parks. I especially liked the salads and the pork loin, which was served with a chutney. My husband said the fish was good. My children were happy with all the usual kid favorites, and they always love getting to choose their meals at a buffet. When we told the server they both were celebrating birthdays, my son and daughter each received a specially decorated piece of chocolate cake with sprinkles and gummies.
Make no mistake, though. You are not at Dine With Shamu so much for the food as for the stars of the show — the Shamu namesakes. The trainers and mammals began their presentation about 6:15. Trainers move around the pool, talking about the whales in the wild and their care at SeaWorld, while the whales play. It mostly is an educational presentation, with a few tricks thrown in for good measure. Don’t expect to see a choreographed show like you would if you are sitting in Shamu Stadium. This is a behind-the-scenes experience and each evening can vary, depending on which whales are available and cooperating. The show might be short, but the experience remains original.
Along with the other safety features that are new to the Dine With Shamu pool, an additional “slide-out” was added as well. Slide-outs are the shallow areas along the edge of the pool that whales learn to slide out of the deep water and up onto so guests can better see them. During the day, the whales can be found sunning themselves in the slide-outs, we were told.
Once the whale presentation is finished, guests begin to leave. So, the whole experience lasts about an hour or so.
SeaWorld is offering a great deal right now: For each paying adult, one child ages 3 to 9 can eat free for reservations made before Dec. 25, 2012. The adult price is $29 for the remainder of 2012. (It was $49 when the Dine With Shamu reopened in July.) Park admission is required for this experience.