If you visit Sea Life Park on O‘ahu, don't go with the expectation of it being another Sea World. It's much smaller and has half as many animals as the mainland marine park. And while the live shows get mixed reviews, it's the dolphin encounters that make the visit really worthwhile.
The shallow-water encounters allow park-goers to meet the dolphins and experience their high-energy behaviors up close. This activity's good if you have smaller children, as they get to watch the dolphins dance and play from a waist-deep platform.
Those older than eight may want to swim with the dolphins – which includes a belly ride and dolphin kisses. I like how the trainers also take time to teach guests about these amazing creatures by turning it into an educational adventure as well. It's important to understand that they're not just prized show animals but unique marine mammals that require love and attention, too.
Sea Life Park is located in a gorgeous spot on the east side, with views of the ocean and Rabbit Island. However, it's one of those places that has so much potential but just lacks the resources and funding to achieve such greatness. The park is clean but needs a major facelift. It has a datedness to it that's probably a major factor in why the park doesn't get much business.
I feel sorry for the trainers and animals because they work so hard, but when the facility itself is lacking, all their efforts seem useless. Of course, one solution would be to raise the prices at the park, which it seems they've already done; however, that discourages visitors from coming. So it's a lose-lose situation for them.
The after-show lu‘au, however, is definitely worth the price. It's a smaller lu‘au, so guests can actually participate in activities before the meal begins, such as weaving headbands and getting temporary tattoos. Guests can get their time in the spotlight, too, learning to dance hula or learning to drum. The show's host, named "Chief," keeps the crowd roaring with laughter the entire time; he leaves guests with positive memories of the park, as they talk about the wonderful time they had. Wish they could say the same for the park itself. Perhaps one day they will.
SEA LIFE PARK / 41-202 Kalani‘ana‘ole Hwy., Waimānalo, HI 96795 (Map) / Opens daily 1030am-5pm / 808-259-2500 / www.sealifeparkhawaii.com
February 14th, 2013