Taking a vacation with a family in today’s economy is by no means an easy task. Then again, there’s not much for our family of six that is easy. Luckily, with the right research and planning, we were able to make it happen on a budget. Our destination of choice: San Antonio and points beyond.
It was very important to us to make these family memories with our children while they are are still young. Last weekend I shared some helpful tips and advice in the first two days of our adventure, including our detour to Georgetown and arrival to San Antonio.
And now, the rest of the story ...
As the sun rose over downtown of the big city, our children awoke to the surprise that we had in store for them — SeaWorld. (Seeing Shamu has always been on my wish list.) Using coupons through the S.A.V.E. program (found at the San Antonio Visitors Bureau) and Internet tips, we were able to score a deal on one-day admission tickets. There are also helpful ways to save on “Shamu-approved” hotels combined with SeaWorld tickets at www.seaworld.com. There are more than a dozen hotels that offer vacation packages that guests can build to suit.
Travel Tip Seven: SeaWorld does not allow guests to enter the park with any food or drinks. Be prepared for the extra expense of purchasing water, etc. The price of an average water bottle can cost upward of $3. The route we chose was to invest in the refillable Shamu souvenir cup for almost $9 with refills at 99 cents. We even packed our own stroller, avoiding that line, too. Also, allow time for lines at the admission gate and for baggage check by metal detectors.
Travel Tip Eight: After experiencing SeaWorld (or at least most of it), purchasing a two-day ticket would have been more resourceful. Sea World is a large attraction; two days would have allowed more time to fit in all that it has to offer. Plus, it is also advised not to visit for the first time on a holiday. The park tends to be crowded and obtaining seating for shows is very difficult.
But not all choices are perfect. Our Four Points hotel, for example, was located downtown. SeaWorld is not. In fact, it was about a 25-minute drive to the west side of San Antonio. Nevertheless,we arrived at the perfect time, allowing us our choice of parking spots (the park normally opens at 10 a.m.). It was just the right 104-degree temperature day for this attraction. On the agenda first for the day: Sunscreen.
Next was getting through the admission gate, which we did with ease, remembering to pick up a park map and show times. So far, so good.
Travel Tip Nine: Make note that the show time schedule is difficult to incorporate on the park map, it is trying to figure out how not to crisscross the park in the heat. Some shows only open doors 10 minutes prior to the show time.
We chose to experience the Pirates 4D show. This is a 4D movie experience lasting approximately 16 minutes with the sea’s most hapless band of pirates searching for buried treasure. Going into this show we did not realize this was an actual movie. We get all settled into the theatre when our youngest decides it is time to go potty.
Hopping up, she and I rush to the attendant to inquire to as to the whereabouts of the public restroom. Folks, take a potty break when close to a restroom, as these facilities are few and far between at SeaWorld. I am not joking. I had to pick up my 40-pound 3-year-old and rush through the adjacent gift shop to the next building for the restroom.
Now the fun begins, SeaWorld equals water. Water equals swimwear. I untangle her, take care of our business, and sprint back just as the show starts.
We quickly discover that Leslie Nielsen was the star of this interactive show. I say interactive, because while it was nice being in the air-conditioned theatre, the audience and seating become part of the show. Along with the 3D glasses, viewers were sprayed with water, felt gusts of air and enjoyed other surprises.
Pleased with our first choice, we proceed through the park trying to follow the map, all the while scoping out possible places to eat. Waiting on the next show, we spend most of our time in Shamu’s Happy Harbor. Our younger children voted and decided that the Shamu Express rollercoaster as their favorite ride. It ride lasts about a minute and is suitable for children over 38 inches tall.
Next, we trek over to the Beluga Stadium to catch the Viva! Show. This was an adorable show, holding the attention of the audience. Acrobats from land, sea, and air perform with beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins.
Before the show actually started, the audience was fully warned of the splash zones. In fact, a comical water works “plumber” demonstrated his inability to plug a water leak. Water sprayed from various corners of the audience seating as the “plumber” tried tirelessly amusing onlookers and involving unsuspecting viewers.
The 25-minute show displayed synchronized swimmers and water acrobats flying through the water and air with the whales and dolphins.
And finally it was almost time to go see Shamu. On our way we detoured by the aviary to see the flamingos and past “Journey to Atlantis” to cool off on the splash deck.
It was great, just as we had hoped. To make it even more special, there were three killer whales that performed. The show was called “Believe,” recreating the journey of a killer whale trainer. Shamu gives a special tailfin-cooling splash at the end of the show. My only wish is that it could have lasted longer than 25 minutes. Guests looking to truly experience the mighty strength of these whales need to take a seat in the first 10 rows.
We took advantage of the family meal deal at the Voyagers Café, which was plenty of food to feed us all for under $30. Then we worked off our lunch by continuing to explore the park. We discovered the cute penguins, arcade games, and the Rio Loco. It was the perfect ride for our family because it seated six. (This is where the portable lockers were very useful, allowing me to store my valuables for only 50 cents.) Our youngest sat next to me during the ride. Unfortunately, the waterfall at the end of the ride was not very forgiving — we resembled drowned rats! Nonetheless, it was fun, nonetheless.
Sadly, we didn’t get to take in all the SeaWorld shows. The Texas Splashdown was closed due to lightning spotted in the area and reopening later, only to have a wait time of an hour. We as did not have the energy to stay for the “Summer Nights” and the two new shows, Cool Vibrations and Pirates Plunder. Other “Summer Nights” shows include Shamu Rocks Texas, Sea Lions Tonight, and R.L. Stine’s Haunted Lighthouse. These night shows run through Aug. 9.
We finished off our experience with a run through Shamu’s Happy Harbor water park. Even with the 10-minute limit it was fun. A visit to the gift shops near the exit and we were ready to retreat to our hotel for another indoor picnic, baths, and dreams of our new favorite killer whale.
On the last day of our trip, we decided to squeeze in another walk downtown to revisit the Alamo, the Alamo tourist shop, La Villita (or “Little Village”), the Main Plaza, and tour through San Fernando Cathedral before we had to check out at noon from our room.
La Villita draws customers in with the scents and sights of San Antonio. Shops are owned and operated by the actual artists.
The Main Plaza, originally Plaza de las Islas in honor of the 16 families from the Canary Islands who arrived in 1731, had just undergone a renovation. This framed the San Fernando Cathedral and the beautifully ornate altar that rests on the interior. It had a great 19th century façade emphasizing the architecture.
This was the perfect time to see the Alamo — zero tourists, and the weather had cooled. It has been modified but still truly inspires visitors. The Alamo does not charge for entrance as it is presented by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas( donations are accepted, however, and fund the gift/tourist shop and preservation of the exhibits). Inside, the walls tell the story of the 13 fateful days in 1836, while just outside a Wall of History, dedicated in 1997, tells the history of the Alamo (originally named Mission San Antonio de Valero) from mission to modern times. The Alamo, a structure that has been standing since 1724, sits at the center of the four outlying missions: San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan, and Espada. The Alamo is a piece of Texas history that has amazingly survived 285 years. Soaking in this multicultural area is free and an unforgettable experience.
After loading up, checking out and getting back on the road, we made our final detour: Wonderworld in San Marcos. This attraction boasts an earthquake-formed cave, Tejas observation tower, anti-gravity house, and train ride through a waterfall into a petting zoo.
Our guide Brett, a college student, did a great job taking us through the tight, difficult corners of the cave. This cave did not have as many formations as Inner Space Cavern, but the story behind its discovery was interesting. At one point in time, this cave had a very different purpose as an underground night club. The cave tour ended with an elevator ride up the 110-feet of Tejas Observation Tower that rests on the edge of the Balcones Escarpment.
The anti-gravity house was next on the tour. The house was built on a 30-degree angle, with painted lines and perspectives that give the illusion of gravity loss. It was surprisingly effective. We loaded on a train (on wheels) that went through a curtain of water into the petting zoo, stopping to allow the kids to feed the deer.
It was nice but a little over-priced for the attraction at just under $80 for our entire family. The S.A.V.E. coupon book had a $3 saving voucher, if visiting before noon or $2 after that time.
In summary (having the six hour drive home to think this over), our budget-minded vacation was well worth the effort involved. Our only regret is that we would have liked to have had one more day. The trip has left us with an even bigger desire to return to the San Antonio area, but of course not until we finish with football season. As one of the nation’s largest cities, we are far from seeing all that San Antonio has to offer.
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