For almost a decade—from its opening in 1973 to the launch of Epcot Center in 1982—SeaWorld Orlando was comfortably “the other Orlando theme park.” It was the place to take the kids on a long weekend after the treasures of the Magic Kingdom  had been exhausted, or the place you went if you couldn’t quite afford the ticket prices at Disney. Even after Disney’s other parks opened and Universal Orlando  got off the ground, SeaWorld just went along its merry way, putting on Shamu shows and letting you ride an escalator through a shark tank.
In 1998, though, it appeared that someone at the park realized SeaWorld was in danger of becoming an antiquated oddity, classed alongside old-school attractions like Gatorland , and so Journey to Atlantis —SeaWorld’s first thrill ride—was opened. After that first water coaster came the high-speed Kraken  steel coaster as well as a renewed focus on conservation messages in their animal exhibits. SeaWorld had renewed itself in terms of vitality and relevance, and the expansion continued to include the dolphin-interaction experiences at Discovery Cove  and the water-park fun at Aquatica .
While the resort is still definitely the lesser of the “big three,” it certainly warrants consideration on any visitor’s itinerary. The sea-mammal shows at the main park are truly unique, especially when combined with roller coaster thrills, and Discovery Cove is an absolute must-visit experience. The various pricing schemes SeaWorld offers also make it an incredible bargain.
Standard admission to SeaWorld is $75 adults and $65 children, but online discounts are available, and the ticket is good for two days of admission rather than just one. Multipark ticket packages can be constructed that add on admission to Busch Gardens  or Aquatica  ($100 adults, $90 children) as well as Busch Gardens and Aquatica ($135 adults, $125 children). Packages with Discovery Cove  admission are also available, beginning at $259. Florida residents can get additional discounts, and annual passes are also quite a bargain.
SeaWorld also sells “Orlando FlexTicket” packages, which provide unlimited admission for two weeks to SeaWorld, Aquatica, both Universal parks , and Wet ’n’ Wild  for $235 adults and $215 children. For an additional $45, you can add Busch Gardens Tampa to the list, and they’ll provide round-trip shuttle transportation at no extra cost.
SeaWorld has no on-site accommodations, and as for nearby dining, you’ll be heading for the International Drive  area.
There are two airports that serve the greater Orlando  area, Orlando International Airport (MCO, One Airport Blvd., Orlando, 407/825-2001, www.orlandoairports.net ) and Orlando-Sanford International Airport (SFB, 1200 Red Cleveland Blvd., Sanford, 407/585-4000, www.orlandosanfordairport.com ). SeaWorld and the nearby hotels on International Drive are only about 15 minutes from Orlando International Airport; the Sanford airport is 45 minutes away.
SeaWorld is located just off International Drive near the intersection of I-4 and State Road 528 (the Beach Line Expressway toll road). Parking is $12, and your parking pass can be used at both Aquatica  and SeaWorld . Parking at Discovery Cove  is free.