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Sealife Park

The short take is that if you have kids say between three and ten who like dolphins, seals, penguins, turtles and other stuff from the sea and who saw “Finding Nemo” 673 times last weekend, you'll probably like Sealife Park.

If you have older kids and/or expect a Shamu-level theme park experience, stay on the beach near the hotel and order sushi. For those from the Midwest, think county fair fun versus Disneyland fun.

Why to Go

Sea Life Park is small, easily walkable and something a younger kid can get into. You can get right up to the animals, touch some of them, feed some of them, talk to the trainers, press your nose to the glass and generally enjoy the heck out of yourself. The location is wonderful, and the ride out from Waikiki takes you past some amazing scenery usually bypassed by tourists intent on suntan time logging.

Specifically, you can buy fish and feed seals by hand. There were very few people, lots of seals and our kids felt they had a hand in interacting with the animals. Did we get close? Look at this:

We also hand-fed giant sea turtles in one area, and petted one in another.

There were a series of shows, all smaller scale and more personal than what we saw at Sea World. One for seals and sea lions, another with dolphins and a short one involving penguins. We were close to everything, and were able to chat with the trainers before and after each show. We also enjoyed two “trainer talks” where the staff spoke with us Park Ranger style about their animals and what they do (the trainers, not the animals). It felt very personal and non-industrial. After one talk the trainer asked us if we'd like her to take out photos for us.

For extra charges, you can dive into their reef tank, swim with the dolphins, have a backstage tour and attend animal training classes; see the web sites below for details.

The location of the park is gorgeous, right on the sea coast with mountains as a backdrop. The ride out and back was beautiful, and we stopped several times to look and take pictures of the ocean along the way.

Why Maybe Not to Go

Older kids will likely be bored. There are a limited number of things to see and nothing is theme-park spectacular. There is no Shamu, no video arcade, no “rides” or coasters and only one restaurant. The trip out takes about an hour and by the time you see things, visiting Sea Life Park will take most of a whole day, maybe uncool if you only have five days for all of Hawaii.

If You Go

Note there is a small aquarium just beyond the Diamond Head end of Waikiki, near the zoo. Sealife Park is not that place (that place has about 10 small tanks, making the admission price work out to about 75 cents per fish you see; buy ice cream instead).

At the real Sealife Park, toilets are all over. There is only one restaurant, serving sandwiches, burgers, Japanese-style curry rice and surprisingly, stir fry set meals. Prices are about what you'd pay for the same in Waikiki. Sunblock is required, as most of the park is outside and right next to the ocean.

Lots of parking. You can also take a regular city bus from Waikiki (long and ugly trip) or get a package entrance fee and trolley ride (suggested if you don't drive). You can buy ice cream and soda in the park outside the restaurant, but no milk or diapers. Nobody seemed to care that we brought food and drink in with us. The gift shop is overloaded with cute stuff, including gear to satiate your inner Nemo but can be successfully avoided without too much trouble and a little map reading. Cute fish strollers are available for rent; check it out:

More Information

Before you visit, visit the official web site, where you can buy tickets online in advance, book special dolphin program, get basic information on prices, hours and all the rest.

You can also read the official brochure, just like the one you get at the park, in advance at brochures, or order a paper brochure sent to you.