After travelling in the UK for the past few months, we are more than ready for some warmth and sunshine, but when we step out of the airport in Orlando, we are unprepared for how "warm" it is; in fact, at 92F, warm is a bit of an understatement! And it's only April!
Actually, as rejuvenating as it is to feel the sun on our skin, I approach this leg of our journey with some trepidation. This is the last stop in almost a year of "roadschooling" our three children, and I am anxious to discover not just the typical Orlando theme park vacation, but also explore the positive educational value of such a trip. And to be honest, despite the fact that the parks and resorts are filled with ways for kids to empty our wallets (math maybe?), it doesn't take us long to find ways to extend the experience into something more.
One of our first stops is
SeaWorld, and the kids learn a lot in our day here. They see lots of species of sea animals that they would never have seen before, and there is plenty of information for them to read about each one. They also learn about the forces which threaten these species, and seeing them up close and personal makes them care more about saving them.
An especially powerful new exhibit at this park is
Turtle Trek, a 360-degree dome 3D theatre experience that takes you on a journey from the point of view of a hatchling trying to survive its first months. This is not only an incredible video experience, but it does a fabulous job of highlighting the dangers caused by humans.
It asks us all to be "everyday heroes" in the fight to save this threatened species, and to do our part to keep our oceans clean. It is inspiring, to say the least, and I am surprised to discover that the
SeaWorld's Animal Rescue Team is on call around the clock to rescue turtles, amongst other animals, and at least attempt to return them to their natural habitat. So, although we do leave the park with one stuffed-toy manta ray, we do leave with a lot more knowledge and determination to make a difference of our own.
This surprising phenomenon continues as we visit
Discovery Cove, the next day; only here, the up-close-and-personal reaches a new level. Here, we not only learn about
dolphins, but we actually take a little ride on one! Ours is Dixie, a forty-year old, nine-foot long dolphin who waves to us, splashes us, and even kisses us. And if there is anyone who can convince kids to take better care of our fragile environment, I imagine it's Dixie (or one of her friends)!
After our amazing dolphin encounter, we snorkel in a man-made reef environment with thousands of tropical fish (including Nemo and Dory, apparently), and giant rays whose skin feels like giant gummy bears as they swish past us. Again, this is an incredibly powerful experience that can only add to our kids' newly revived sense of environmental duty.
Anyway, despite my hesitation in making Orlando a part of this roadschooling adventure, it is now clear to me, and probably my kids too, that it is the approach and the attitude that makes the difference between a superficial "theme-park" experience and one that can be enriching as well as fun. It's all there; we just have to open our minds to it!
TurtleTrek at SeaWorld Orlando
Dolphin Show at SeaWorld
Jane Hastelow is a former high school English teacher and curriculum coach currently enjoying a year of family travel and education with her husband and three children. She has a BA in English and a Masters in Communications. Jane loves to combine her passion for writing with family travel. You can also follow her adventures at