Kids and summer camp go hand in hand. Chances are you went to camp when growing up, and came home covered in a layer of dust and mud. Then when you became a parent it became a tradition of sorts to send your kids off on their own adventure. Difference is, summer camp has grown up too. My teen was interested in just one camp this summer – SeaWorld Career Camp. Getting muddy has a tough time competing with getting wet, especially when the water is full of dolphins, penguins and sea turtles.
My daughter’s done all sorts of camps, but this was a first. She’d have to fly to camp, and though she’s earned more than her share of frequent flier miles, it was her first solo flight. There was a slight moment of hesitation when the realization set in, but it quickly turned to yet another plus on top of a week away from home. She had a straight flight in and out of San Diego and camp counselors take care of getting campers to and from the San Diego International Airport, leaving one less thing for parents to have to schedule and worry about.
No Mud, But Still Dirty
Granted, it’s not uncommon for teen girls to have a love for animals, especially the cute marine kind. But this is not what I would call a warm and fuzzy get to swim with dolphins everyday type of camp. This was a get up at 6:15am, prep 50 buckets of fish so the otters, penguins or orca whales would have a good breakfast to start their day. SeaWorld camp counselors washed the kids t-shirts twice as the week progressed.
Campers stay at SeaWorld. Even folks who have been to the park are surprised when they hear there are dorm-like accommodations hidden amidst all the action in the park. (Campers bring their own bedding.) Along with having structured hands-on scheduled access to SeaWorld’s animals, campers get to visit rides and shows. Riding Manta, the park’s new roller coaster, before the park opened one morning got rave reviews. While campers pretty much cover the entire park, they are not allowed to go anywhere without a counselor.
“My favorite part of camp was the penguin encounter. We went behind the scenes into the exhibit before the park opened. An emperor penguin nuzzled up to me, sticking his head in between my knees. Talk about once in a lifetime experience. The trainer explained that it thought I was its mother.” I had first heard it via email, than once again live and in person when my daughter arrived home. Surprise, surprise, the emperor penguins had outdone the bottlenose dolphins.
Campers are asked to leave electronics at home. The one exception is cell phones. While understanding phoning home is important for kids and their folks, SeaWorld still strives to keep the electronics out of sight, out of mind, and probably out of the water their animals call home. When campers arrived on Sunday, all phones were collected by the counselors. On Tuesday and Thursday, campers got them back for 30 minutes and were allowed to make calls, check email and text to their heart’s content. Disconnecting a teen can be a tricky but wonderful thing, and interestingly enough I never heard any complaints about it from my daughter.
Making Learning Fun
The kids do a great amount of their working and learning behind the scenes. Cleaning fish, feeding turtles and flamingos, but every now and then it seemed they found their way into the spotlight. “We were standing in the shark med pool (where sharks are given medicine) with baby sharks. Park guests could see us through a plexi-glass window. We couldn’t help but wave at them. They waved back and then started taking pictures. It was fun.”
But my daughter also learned some key lessons on dealing with the public and made the realization that sometimes handling animals is easier than handling guests. One afternoon they were herding flamingos from the viewing pen to a behind the scenes pen. The steady stream of pink stopped many guests, apparently right on the flamingos path. “It’s really tough when people don’t move. It’s hard to be polite. People really can’t be near them, but they want to take pictures.” She also got a valuable hands-on lesson in conservation- five minute showers.
My daughter’s biggest complaint, no milk with dinner or lunch. The brightly colored bug juice that is a summer camp staple, didn’t leave much of an impression. I guess she is getting older. In addition to the Career Camp for grades 10-12, SeaWorld offers a Resident Camp for grades 10-12 that takes a field trip to the beach to give paddle boarding a go. For middle school aged campers entering grades 7-9, along with learning to care for SeaWorld’s many animals, they get to head to the beach to surf and snorkel. There’s even a camp for 5-6th graders. So many choices, so few days of summer.
Dana’s daughter was hosted by SeaWorld’s Career Camp, but as always Dana’s and her daughter’s opinions are their own.
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