After my trip to SeaWorld with my nieces in June, I knew that it was definitely a place Jackson would like. I also knew that I wanted to do the Aquatica Stingray Encounter with him, because knowing how much he loves all things ocean, I figured it would be an amazing experience for him.
Jackson had never been to SeaWorld or Aquatica, so the entire experience was new for him. These are the photos from our visit.
Since it was a hot July day, I decided we would spend the first half of the day at Aquatica, and the evening in SeaWorld. When you walk into Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark, the first thing you pass is the Stingray Falls Lagoon.
We stopped so Jackson could look at the rays, and he was immediately drawn in.
We headed off to get changed into our bathing suits, and we rode the Stingray Falls ride first thing. Jackson loved it…and when we went through the tunnel he was even more excited to see the rays swimming there up close!
I got this photo on my phone right after we got off the ride. Jackson was so excited that the stingrays could swim up close and touch his hand…so I got more excited for our opportunity to get in the water with the rays later in the afternoon.
After riding a few more slides we had a great lunch and Jackson kept hamming it up as tried to take his picture.
**One thing I feel compelled to say here. People have often said thing to me like, “you’re so brave for traveling with him alone” etc…and while I will admit that it is not always easy…it actually isn’t that difficult either.
I have found that the more I travel with Jackson, and the more I expose him to, the better he gets at handling things. Since we started traveling pretty regularly about a year ago, Jackson has gotten better with crowds, waiting to eat, walking without darting or running away from me, and is generally more patient.
I realized this on our trip to Disney World last October…and have been much more eager to travel with him since then.
I also realize that this may not be the case for all children on the spectrum…but I’m mainly saying it here now, because before last year I was the parent who was afraid to travel with my son because of his autism. When I got brave enough and finally did it…I realized we could have been doing it all along.
The lesson? Be brave. You never know what awesome things will come of it.**
It was now getting close to time for our Stingray Encounter, so I found a shady spot and let Jackson play in the sand for a little while before we headed over to the lagoon.
Lately, Jackson is all about sensory stimulation by picking things up, running them through his fingers, and watching them fall to the ground…over and over again. He will do this with sand, dirt, mulch, paper….you name it.
This activity calms him a great deal…so we sat in the shade in a quiet spot and both enjoyed the restful moment.
Once we headed over to the lagoon for our encounter, I checked in and politely told the guide that Jackson was special needs (just in cased he panicked in the water or something, I wanted the guide to know why ahead of time). He said it was fine and told me that his full time job was as an elementary school teacher for kids with special needs, so he totally understood.
I’ll admit, hearing this made me feel even better about things.
A few other families checked in…and after a few minutes another guide came over and explained all the rules and safety info we needed to know before getting into the water. She explained that it was safe to be in lagoon with these rays because their barbs had been clipped so they could not hurt us. The barbs are made from the same material as our fingernails and are trimmed regularly in a very similar fashion, so it does not hurt the rays at all.
The stingrays in the lagoon are mostly Cow Nose Rays and there are around 110 of them in the water, along with some tropical fish and a spotted type of ray (though I can’t specifically remember what she said their names were).
After our brief instruction session, we walked over to get into the lagoon. We were told to wade in to a little more than waist deep at our own pace. Jackson was ok with this, but when he realized the water was MUCH colder than all the other water we’d been swimming in that afternoon, he was not happy at first.
We stood there in the water about ankle deep for a few minutes so he could adjust…and just then, the stingrays began to come over and swim around our ankles. When he saw them, he got excited and I was able to entice him to go a little deeper into the water.
After a few more minutes, he had totally adjusted to the water, and was completely thrilled by all the stingrays coming right past us and brushing against our bodies.
He sat his hand out gently and would laugh as they passed underneath it.
The wonder in his eyes at that moment brought tears to mine. It was simply wonderful.
One of the best things about the Stingray Encounter at Aquatica was that it included one photo with each paid ticket. The entire experience, which lasted about half an hour, was seriously amazing….and it cost just $25 per person.
To me, it was a phenomenal value for what we got…and I don’t know if you can tell from that photo or not…but Jackson seriously thought it was the greatest thing EVER.
The only time he got upset was when we had to leave.
The rest of our day at SeaWorld was good, though we found ourselves a bit tired. Jackson, my own little mini dare devil, rode the Steel Eel with me and loved it!
Jackson especially loved the Coral Reef exhibit, and since it was in a dark room with A/C we lingered there for a long while before heading home.
Overall it was a fabulous trip and I’m so glad I decided to take Jackson for the fabulous experience of swimming with the Stingrays. I will remember that sweet look of wonder on his face forever.
One day tickets for SeaWorld + Aquatica are $79/per person for ages 3 – 9 and $87/per person for Adults. They also offer the Fun Card option, which for $10 more per person you can get unlimited visits to SeaWorld and Aquatica for the remainder of the 2013 season (this is what I decided to purchase, since I knew I’d be visiting again this year anyway).
For more information on SeaWorld San Antonio and Aquatica or to buy tickets visit: http://www.seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sanantonio