This year, we tried to think out of the box and at least give stuff that's also useful or serves a dual purpose (like binoculars for our upcoming Alaska cruise). While each of our kids got a few toys, they also received hoodies, PJs and shoes.
But an even better idea is the giving the gift of travel or the gift of an activity. And that's just what my parents gave my kids this year--a day at SeaWorld San Antonio. We went here four years ago as a family over Thanksgiving, but my youngest was only 2 years old and hardly remembered it. We were due for another visit!
I realize that it's January now, and Christmas is the last thing on your mind. However, I want to share our experience while it's still fresh in my mind and in case you are looking for a travel gift for next year (or any time of year!)
We live about 5-6 hours away from San Antonio, and we would be visiting family just 2 1/2 hours away after Christmas. I was able to use points to stay at Hyatt Regency Hill Country for 3 nights, so we combined our SeaWorld visit with a family visit.
SeaWorld San Antonio transformed into a Christmas Celebration wonderland from November 19-January 1 in 2016. The park had over 5 million Christmas lights, the largest display in the state of Texas!
We arrived at the park just before opening. Even though we were 10 minutes early, workers had already started letting visitors inside.
Rides/ShowsThe first thing we did was head to the Sesame Street Bay of Play. The large play structure was open, as well as the splash pad.
My youngest (now age 6) was happy to meet the Sesame Street characters, but my 9- and 12-year-old boys refused.
The Bay of Play area had four rides open. Two were geared for smaller kids, and two were for all ages and families. My kids liked this Abby Cadabby Rocking Wave ride:
They also loved this Shamu Express roller coaster, and rode it several times.
Rides in the rest of the park were very limited at this time of year. The two water rides (Rio Loco and Journey to Atlantis) were drained and closed. Two roller coasters (The Great White and Steel Eel) were open.
All of the shows were different for Christmas. There were seven total shows, and we made it to the four main shows:
* Shamu Christmas: Miracles (orcas)
* A Dolphin Christmas (dolphins, beluga whales and cirque acrobats)
* Clyde and Seamore's Countdown to Christmas (sea lion show)
* A Pets Ahoy Christmas (dog and cat show)
Our two favorite shows were A Dolphin Christmas and A Pets Ahoy Christmas. We liked A Dolphin Christmas because the beluga whales had a lot of personality, and the human acrobatics were very entertaining. The dogs and cats featured in A Pets Ahoy Christmas were very cute and performed a lot of tricks.
The great thing about the Shamu Christmas: Miracles show is that it had live music! There was a saxophone player and live singers performing Christmas music.
If you have visited SeaWorld at any other time of year, these shows are different from the normal performances.
We went on Thursday, December 29, and the crowds were very minimal. Shamu Stadium was less than 1/2 full for the evening show.
Christmas CelebrationThe park was full of Christmas photo ops. Everywhere we turned was another cute holiday-themed decoration.
You could even pose inside a life-size snow globe!
When it got dark, we could see all the lights. Each part of the park had a different theme and different colors. Five million lights!
My daughter loved this candy-cane section!
This "train" ride also toured around some Christmas decorations.
Dinner with RudolphAs a splurge, I booked our family the Dinner with Rudolph and Friends. I was hesitant to spend the money on a big dinner buffet, but I figured my older kids won't tolerate this character stuff for much longer. Tickets to the dinner were 30% off on Black Friday/Cyber Monday.
When we arrived at the check-in stand, an employee directed us to this tunnel of lights.
We were ushered into this outdoor tent covered in blue lights (with space heaters). It was an intimate setting.
Rudolph and his girlfriend Clarice came to our table.
Bumble and Yukon Cornelius (also from the Rudolph TV show) were at the front of the room by the snow cave.
The dessert bar had hot chocolate, brownies, s'mores and cookies. Yum!
The dinner was worth the money, and I'm glad we went.
Tips for Visiting SeaWorld San Antonio during Christmas Celebration* Check the park hours in advance, as during the winter the park opens later. The hours on the day we visited were 1 p.m. - 9 p.m.
* Use a discount code or Groupon to buy your tickets. I found an online code, CHICKFILA2016, that was good for $48 tickets ($20 off). You can also buy parking online ahead of time.
* If you are visiting after Thanksgiving, check for Black Friday/Cyber Monday online specials. This past year, SeaWorld offered discounts on the character dinners and annual passes.
* Look at the show schedule in advance, and plan out your day to make the major shows. We skipped the two Sesame Street Christmas shows. Since the hours are limited, it's difficult to fit in all the shows and still go on rides and see lights.
Here is a music video of our trip, which includes SeaWorld and Hyatt Regency Hill Country. I'll be writing a review of our hotel on MilesForFamily next week.
If you live in Texas and are tired of accumulating plastic toys at Christmas, consider a gift to SeaWorld!