Thursday, November 29, 2012

San Antonio Trip--Part 3

In case you missed the first parts of this trip report:

Part 1
Part 2

Nathan really wanted to ride the big roller coaster, the Steel Eel.   We decided to split up, and Brian took Nathan to ride on the Steel Eel while I took the younger kids to the SeaWorld Express Christmas Train.

The SeaWorld Express:

Before boarding the train, each child received a ticket (that looked like the ticket in the Polar Express movie) and the tickets were punched once we were inside the train.  The train took us around some Christmas decorations near the lake.  I think this was Alyssa's favorite part of our whole day!  She was so excited to be on the choo-choo train!

Our timing worked out perfectly that we were off the train about the same time Brian and Nathan got done with the Steel Eeel.  I think the roller coaster was higher and faster than they both expected!

Next we visited the penguins at the Penguin Encounter:

Then we kept traveling around the lake and came upon the Rio Loco ride.  Nathan insisted on going, so I went with him.  Luckily, we didn't get too wet (although Nathan was disappointed we didn't get too wet!)

It was 4:15 p.m. at this point and we had to decide if we were going to make it to the 4:30 Shamu show.  There was only one other Shamu show at 8:15 p.m., and we weren't sure our younger kids would make it that late.  So we decided to book it over to Shamu stadium.  We got some of the last seats but still had a great view of the show.  The kids were once again really impressed with all the tricks, but Brian and I noticed how different the show was from shows in the past.   (Trainers are no longer allowed in the water due to past tragedies).  It was still neat to watch, though.

After the Shamu show, we had about 30 minutes to kill before the Sesame Street show.  So the kids played some more in the Bay of Play and we met a few more characters.

At 5:30 we went to "A Sesame Street Christmas Show."  Alyssa was mesmerized and excited to see Elmo on stage!

It was now 6 p.m. and we decided to head back to the Shamu section to get some dinner.  The park was really emptying out.

We had dinner at Shamu's Smoke House.  As you can see from the picture, there was hardly anyone else in the whole restaurant.  The food was pretty good.  We had brisket and bbq chicken.  A nice change from the typical theme park fast food.

The kids' meals came in a Shamu container:

We decided to let the kids have one more round in the Bay of Play (I think this was our 4th time there that day?) before we left the park.  As we walked from the restaurant back to the play area, the walkways were completely deserted.  It felt like we had the whole park to ourselves!

We ran into Abby Cadabby:

The boys went on some rides for a 2nd time and also played in the big jungle gym area.  Alyssa had more fun on these raised mounds in front of the stage.

After 7 p.m., it seemed like the park started to fill up again.  It must have been season passholders coming after work.  At 7:35 p.m., we watched a different Sesame Street show called "Elmo's Christmas Wish".  Alyssa loved it!

At this point, it was 8 p.m. and Brian and I were worn out.  We decided to head back to the hotel. 

We took one last walk through the candy cane forest and had one last look at the lights:

Up next:  Final thoughts on the trip and ways we saved money.

Monday, November 26, 2012

San Antonio Trip--Part 2

In case you missed Part 1, here is a link.

We returned home from the River Walk around 7:30 p.m. I helped Brian get 2 of our kids ready for bed and then I took my oldest with me to Starbucks to meet a friend.  Dividing the kids near bed time made it easier to get our two youngest to sleep.  Unfortunately, I shared a bed with my younger son and didn't sleep a wink that night!  Oh well.

The kids were all awake by 6:30 a.m., which is normal for them.  Since SeaWorld didn't open until noon, we had plenty of time in the morning to swim in the hotel's pool after breakfast.

We had the whole pool to ourselves.  Yippee!  The kids hadn't been swimming since late summer.

After swimming and showers, we ate lunch in our room (brought from home and stored in the room's refrigerator). 

Finally, it was almost noon and time to head out to SeaWorld!  It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.  Here is the sign at the entrance:

We had pre-paid for our parking online at a discount, so we just had to show our receipt.  The parking lot looked fairly empty when we arrived.  I was surprised that there was nobody directing us where to park--you could just park wherever you wanted.

When we walked up to the entrance, there were probably almost 1000 people in line.  Not exaggerating.  There were 2 lines, one on each side, and they snaked around and stretched out to the parking lot.  It was 11:55 p.m., 5 minutes before opening.

Brian took the kids out of line to snap this picture in front:

Once the park opened, it took 25 minutes for us to actually get in the gate.  Ok, now I don't want to constantly compare SeaWorld to Disney World....BUT, there are a few operational things that SeaWorld could learn from Disney World.  Just sayin'. :)

Christmas decorations were out!

Once we were inside the park, we decided to head to the left and go to the dolphin area and the shark/coral reef tank.  First we fed the dolphins.  They were hungry!

Then we went next door to the shark/coral reef tank.

Alyssa was more interested in swinging from all the rails inside!

We then walked back in front of the entrance to get to the rest of the park.  There was a mariachi band playing:

We headed for the Sesame Street Bay of Play next.  This area just opened in 2011 so none of us had seen it.  We saw Cookie Monster and Grover just standing around.  There were no kids around them at all.  I thought that was odd, since we were used to a crowd gathering around all the characters at Disney World.  We stopped for some hugs and a family picture with these guys:

And then around the corner we saw some more characters with no lines.

The Bay of Play was nearly empty!  The boys wanted to ride some kiddie rides.  There were no lines at all.

We also spent some time at the big play area there.  Cargo nets, slides, all sorts of things.  There was a little kid play area down beneath it in the shade where Alyssa and I went.
It was now getting close to 2 p.m. and we needed to head to the Sea Lion show.  We weren't sure if we could see all the shows offered that day (7 total), but we decided to prioritize the Sea Lion show (Clyde and Seamore's Countdown to Christmas), a Sesame Street show (there were 2) and of course the Shamu show (Shamu Christmas Miracles).  The Sea Lion stadium was adjacent to the Bay of Play.

For some reason, I did not take any pictures during the entire Sea Lion show.  It was good.  The kids were impressed at Clyde and Seamore's tricks and the show held their attention the entire time..

After the show, the boys wanted to return to the Sesame Street section.  So I took them there for more rides, while Brian took Alyssa to another nearby playground.

It appeared that a lot of people from the Sea Lion show dumped into the Bay of Play because it was a little more crowded than it was before the show.  There were slight lines for the rides now, but still 10 minutes or less.  We rode Grover's Round-Up Carousel:

And the Shamu Express! (I took this photo from the SeaWorld website).

I think the kids could have played in the Sesame Street Bay of Play area all day.  But it was 3:30 p.m. at this point and if we wanted to see more shows or go on more rides, we had to get moving.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

San Antonio Trip--Part 1

Last Tuesday morning, we told the kids they would get to open one Christmas present early. Really early, since we were still more than a month before Christmas!

Inside the box, inside an envelope, was this collage I made for them (free, with a coupon code from Walgreens) that told them we are going to SeaWorld!

They were excited, but a bit confused. They had never heard of SeaWorld.  "Is that part of Disney World?"  They got a little more excited when we told them to get dressed because we were leaving NOW!!!

Earlier we had told them we were leaving to go to family's house on Thursday.  Which was true.  They just didn't know about this small detour we were making to San Antonio before we met up with family on Thursday.

We got on the road around 9:15 in the morning.  Before we left, we packed a lunch in a cooler and researched highway rest stops along our route.  We stopped at this rest stop just outside of Salado, Texas.

It had nice picnic areas and a playground for the kids to run off steam.

There was even a "Motorist Workout" section for exercise.

We spent about 45 minutes at this rest stop eating lunch and playing on the playground.

A few miles south of this rest stop, we got on the new "super-highway" between Georgetown and San Antonio. This new tollway, also known as the Pickle Highway or State Highway 130, just had the last stretch completed on October 24th of this year.  It has the highest posted speed limit of any highway in the U.S. at 85 m.p.h.  It cost us $6.17 in tolls, but skipping the Austin traffic on I-35 and having the faster speed limit was totally worth it!

We made it to our hotel about 3 p.m.  Since the hotel was so close to SeaWorld, the lobby and elevators had SeaWorld advertisements.

We stayed at a Springhill Suites using Brian's Marriott Rewards points.  We picked this hotel because:

*  It is just a few miles from SeaWorld
*  It has a free breakfast
*  It has an indoor pool
*  It has rooms that sleep up to 6 people

The lobby/breakfast area:

Our room.  It had 2 queen beds and a sofa bed.

The desk area/sofa bed area.

We got settled in our room and watched TV for a bit and then we headed down to the River Walk.  It was about a 20 minute drive from our hotel. 

We parked at the River Center mall and decided to take a river boat cruise.  The first thing I noticed was how empty the entire River Walk was!  I had been there twice before, both times during the summer, and it was just packed.  And hot.  But on this Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, there were no crowds and the weather was cool.

The cruise lasted about 40 minutes and our guide described the history of the River Walk and pointed out some interesting things on buildings as we passed by.  All 3 of my kids were way more interested in this than I thought they would be.  At the end, my 8-year-old said, "That was fun!  Let's go on that again!"

After the cruise, we decided to splurge and eat dinner on the River Walk.  We had researched restaurants online earlier and read good reviews about a new Mexican restaurant near the River Center mall called Maria Mia.  We had the entire patio to ourselves and a great view of the river.
Dinner was good.  The restaurant made its own tortillas, which to my husband is the sign of a good Mexican restaurant.

Before we left the restaurant, we had our picture taken inside by the Christmas tree:

And on our way back to our car, we stopped to take some pictures in front of the official River Walk Christmas tree:

Up next:  San Antonio Trip Part 2, Hotel Pool and SeaWorld