at the Living Seas

by Deb Wills, December 2002

The shimmering geosphere that greets your entrance to the park can fit inside it with room to spare. It is 203 feet in diameter, 27 feet deep, is home to more than 65 species and 2,000 occupants, holds 5.7 million gallons of water, is the largest indoor aquarium in the world, and I got to swim in it! I'm speaking, of course, of the aquarium at Epcot's Living Seas Pavilion.

Deb in the Wet Suit Ready to Go!Whenever I happened to be at the Coral Reef Restaurant or inside the Living Seas Pavilion itself, my day would be made if I saw a diver in the tank, and I'd be especially excited if they saw me and waved! I know, I know, it's simple, but hey, it's those little things that make me love WDW so much. In fact, I had occasionally thought of getting my scuba certification just so that I could swim in the Living Seas. Up until just a month ago, this unique experience was reserved only for those who are certified, but now, thanks to the new Epcot Seas Aqua Tour experience, just about anyone can swim with the fishes. :) Epcot Seas Aqua Tour is available to persons aged 8 and older willing to pay $100 for the opportunity to be one with the water and sea life.

On the day of my experience, I met my guide at 12:30 p.m. and embarked on what became almost a private tour. Disney website hostess Ahnalira Koan (www.ourlaughingplace.com) and I were the only ones on the tour, so we got personalized attention and asked anything and everything we could think of. Justin took us backstage and we walked to the Living Seas Pavilion. During the short walk, he told us facts and figures about the Living Seas Pavilion and specifically about the aquarium.

We began with a tour of the aquarium itself, just as any guest would see it. The prevailing theme, told to us time and time again, was that we would be visiting their home and we were not to touch anything! In fact, if the Divemaster saw us touching the coral or any of the sea life, or if we approached within 10 feet of the dolphin tank, our dive would immediately end and we would be escorted out of the park. That's how serious this is!!!

As we walked along the glass walls, Justin pointed out a variety of fish and told us how shy or friendly each was, and how different species would react to us. We had a quick lesson in sea life identification, covering sharks, rays, various fish and the endangered sea turtles.

In one building and out the next, it was a maze of corridors and stairs that brought us to a lounge which held comfy chairs and sofas as well as a few small aquariums. Justin continued to talk to us about conservation and more of what we could expect once inside the tank. Each of us signed a release form, and we learned how to put on and take off the aqua tank which would contain our air for the 30 minutes we were inside the tank. Our "outfit" would keep us at the water's surface and it would be nearly impossible to go below. This was just fine with me. :) We learned about the regulator and then watched a 10-minute film about the experience and the type of sea life we might encounter. Upon its completion, we were escorted to the locker rooms.

It was off with our street clothes and on with our bathing suits in this warm locker room with private dressing and shower stalls. We had a one piece, short sleeve, short length wetsuit to don as part of our experience. The suits were difficult to put on and felt very tight and almost buoyant. In fact, at one point I felt like I was walking on the moon. Lockable lockers were provided and soon we were back out with Justin and off to the Dive Tank.

Our Divemaster for this experience was Terry, who once again explained about the rules and helped us get saddled up with our air tanks and fins. Actually, getting the fins on and off was perhaps the hardest part of the whole experience. We learned the layout of the tank and what we might see in each area (including the Coral Reef Restaurant windows and the guests on the other side of the glass walls). Justin took our photo and we were good to go.

I put on my mask, got the regulator in my mouth and stepped backwards off the landing area..... I was IN THE LIVING SEAS AQUARIUM! The water felt VERY cold initially until Terry told us it was 78 degrees. Ok, I figured, I can deal with this, and soon I didn't feel the cold at all! For a few moments I was so excited that I had to stop myself and just relax, breathing slowly and getting used to my exhaled bubbles floating upwards past my head. WOW. It was expansive, it was breathtaking and I quickly was ever so glad I had decided to do this. I saw both species of sharks - the brown shark, which stays on the bottom portion of the water and the black-nosed sharks, which swim around on the middle levels. While neither got particularly close to me, I did see a couple of them below. The entire time, different fish were swimming by and I recognized some of the varieties that Justin had pointed out.

Terry tapped me on the shoulder and as I popped up, he explained that both of the sea turtles were close by and pointed me in their direction. What an awesome experience! Both the male and female were swimming around, heading up to the surface for air and gliding ever so gracefully through the water. These 400-pound creatures were amazing to watch. At one point, I started to back up because one was getting pretty close to me. Remember, touching the turtle would mean an immediate end of the dive. Of course, if they approached me, I was ok as long as I didn't touch them, but I didn't feel comfortable being any closer. I'm not sure how long we watched them, but it was a highlight of the experience.

As I explored the rest of the tank, I got to see the Coral Reef Restaurant from the tank and wave to diners. I also went over to the wall where guests were looking, and waved and waved to lots of folks! That was so much fun. I remember how it would make my day to see someone swimming in the tank and have them wave to me.

I learned that Mickey Mouse does indeed swim in the tank on occasion. Mostly he is hired for special events, but even Mickey has to keep his dive certification active which means he must do two dives per month. If you're lucky, you just might get to see Mickey swimming during your visit!

All too soon, the 30 minutes were over, and it was time to leave the tank that I had felt so much a part of for such a brief time. We returned to the locker room, took hot showers, and joined Justin in the lounge. We filled out a survey, received a color photo of us in the tank and also a Epcot Aqua Seas t-shirt!!

I highly recommend this experience to everyone, and plan to do it again sometime! Just remember that you are a guest in their home and need to behave accordingly!!

Epcot Seas Aqua Tour is offered daily at 12:30 p.m. No park admission is required. No cameras are allowed. Cost is $100 and discounts are offered for Disney Vacation Club members and Annual Passholders. To book this, and any other tour at WDW, call 1-407-WDW-TOUR.


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