Sea World, an old standby, offers some great thrills and chills in San Antonio, Texas.
Newsflash to all pre-teens! Sea World San Antonio's "Haunted Lighthouse 4-D" film, brainchild of R.L. Stine (of "Goosebumps" fame) is one of the country's coolest attractions!
The attraction is one of those sensory stimulating, interactive film experiences a la Disney's "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" or "A Bug's Life" in which theater-goers wear standard 3-D glasses, and the 4th "D" is provided by hidden water and air jets.
The 25-minute, family-friendly film begins with a salty sailor telling a campfire tale to a young girl and her little brother about a sailing family who perished in a storm long ago. When told that the family's two children haunt the island's lighthouse, the disbelieving kids set out to explore the ghosts' residence— in the middle of a wicked thunderstorm, of course.
When the spooky fun begins, a 3-D shark lunges toward you, flashing its huge, sharp teeth. The ghost children sprout oversized fish heads. Water bursts, air cannons, thunder cracks and fog are synchronized to the film's scary scenes. I was squealing and laughing along with the rest of the audience, from one special effect to another.
While the film's plot is not terribly scary or gruesome, smaller children might be frightened by the loud noises in some scenes and the startling special effects. (For example, our son Jamie was 4 when we visited Disney's "A Bug's Life" and he completely freaked out.) Most kids, however, will have a ball.
In addition to the film, SeaWorld seems to offer something for everyone: 25 animal shows, thrill rides (including some great roller coasters), a water park, and animal exhibits and interaction programs.
On my visit, I participated in the Beluga Whale Interaction Program. The "animal trainer" held everyone's attention, even the younger folks in our small group, during the 20-minute classroom instruction on the whale's habits and habitat. The real excitement kicked in when I was fitted with a wet suit and aqua shoes for my "hands on" experience. Once on the ramp in the chilly 62-degree salt water, I petted and fed the beautiful white whale, floated in the water with her, and learned hand commands, some of which made the whale soak me from top to bottom. But she made up by kissing me (photo op).
A day at SeaWorld for a family of four admittedly doesn't come cheap: admission is almost $60 per adult and half that for ages 3-9. The 90-minute interaction programs (Beluga whales, sea lions or sharks) cost an additional fee per person, not including park admission.
Nonetheless, SeaWorld is well run and squeaky clean, unlike many other parks, and offers far more family-friendly options, particularly with younger children, than your typical amusement park.
For park information, including special offers with nearby hotels, operating schedule and requirements for participation in the interactive programs, visit the Sea World San Antonio site.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.