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SeaWorld turns on the holiday magic

By CHARLOTTE SUTTON

Times Staff Writer

ORLANDO — If you are a fan of The Polar Express, the tale of a boy who boards a magical train to the North Pole, meets Santa and learns the true meaning of Christmas, you'll enjoy climbing aboard SeaWorld's version of the adventure. The train rocks and rolls (but never actually goes anywhere) as highlights of the animated movie unspool before you.

But the real fun starts when you get off the train. Out you step into the frosty "night'' air. That wall is real ice; press your warm hand in and leave your imprint. Gaze up to the starry sky for what must be the closest thing to the Northern Lights you can find in Central Florida. And that Christmas tree! It towers impossibly high just as in the movie. Tear yourself away, though, because over the railing there's a sea full of Beluga wales.

Keep on going . . . there's Santa himself, waiting to hear the wishes of eager kids in line.

SeaWorld has transformed its Wild Arctic section into the Polar Express Experience, continuing through Jan. 4, and it's a great way to keep that holiday spirit going. If you have a child who's too small or an adult who's not quite fit enough for the train's gyrations, there's a low-impact version that also gets you to the main attraction here, the "North Pole.''

The Polar Express Experience is just the start of SeaWorld's holiday fun. The entire park is lavishly decorated with lights, ornaments, trees, wreaths — even "snow'' that falls after dark. Seasonal music (great classics you may not have heard in years) plays throughout, and nobody minds if you can't help but sing along.

The animal shows are as much fun as ever: We hooted at the cornball sea lion and otter pirate show. "Pets Ahoy''' is tweaked with upbeat holiday tunes (love the surfer version of Sleigh Ride) and the timeless message to support local humane societies, the source of these amazing performing cats, dogs and even a pig. Pacific Point Preserve, where you can feed the sea lions, and Penguin Encounter are can't-miss stops, too.

As always, the Anheuser-Busch Hospitality Center offers free adult refreshments. Admiring the mighty Clydesdales housed next door, we had to wonder what the brewery's sale will mean for the park.

Thrill seekers will love Kraken, the only roller coaster I've ever tried that warns you to take off your earrings before boarding. Next time, I'll try it with my eyes open.

SeaWorld's biggest stars, Shamu and his killer whale friends, get in on the action with their regular daytime performances and nightly "Christmas Miracles'' show. Magnificent whales leaping in the air is all the miracle I require, but the show's heartwarming (if a little schmaltzy) message about the wonders of everyday life strikes the right chord, especially now.

Charlotte Sutton can be reached at sutton@sptimes.com.

. If you go

SeaWorld

The theme park is off Interstate 4, Exit 71, in Orlando. Park admission is $69.95, $59.95 ages 3 to 9. Florida resident discounts available online. Park opens at 9 a.m. daily and closes at 7 p.m. today and at 10 p.m. the rest of the weekend. Call toll-free 1-800-327-2424, or go to seaworld.com for more information and daily show schedules.

The Orlando Philharmonic performs music from The Polar Express in the evenings, capped by fireworks, Friday through Tuesday.

SeaWorld turns on the holiday magic 12/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 3:30am]
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