Admittedly our crew is … well, we’d probably prefer “enthusiastic” to “fanatical,” but we’re really big fans of Walt Disney World! We’ve got our favorite rides and restaurants; we know some of the fun facts, where to find a lot of the hidden Mickeys, and how to hit the high score on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
One of our favorite adventures – and a new surprise for these old hands at the Disney experience – was the Epcot® Seas Aqua Tour. If you think the magic only takes place on one side of the stage door, think again. … Our backstage tour included details about the more than 6,000 sea creatures and their care, facts about the Caribbean Coral Reef Aquarium and its and impressive monitoring and filtration systems, and information about Disney’s significant conservation efforts around the country. Most exciting was the chance to snorkel in the 5.7 million gallon manmade saltwater tank. (If you can’t quite get your head around how big that is, Spaceship Earth – the Epcot golf ball – would fit inside the Aquarium with some room to spare).
After a brief tour behind the scenes, including some insights into how the manatees, sharks, dolphins and other fish spend their days and what they eat for lunch – and assurances from the guide that the sharks had in fact eaten lunch – we changed into scuba gear and headed to the tank. The whole group seemed to feel a little sheepish heading through The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion to the tank until one small admirer told us we were the coolest thing he had seen all day at the park.
After some instruction and assistance getting on our gear, we were ready to swim with the sharks … and the sea turtles and angelfish and eagle rays.
The animals seem unfazed by the people in their midst. More than once we turned to find ourselves right in the middle of a school of fish or the path of a ray. Though you sign a contract that you will not harass – or even attempt to touch a turtle – our guide joked that the turtles don’t have to sign it and they do come quite close.
The air tanks prevent you from going under water, but floating along the top of the crystal clear tank with an air tank, you’ll see every kind of imaginable creature, including the ones waving from the restaurant and viewing areas. Little mouths may have some trouble adjusting to the adult size regulator, but everything else, including the wetsuit, booties, fins, vest and goggles were available in kid sizes. Disney provides lockers for changing and all the necessities, including showers with body wash, shampoo and conditioner and hair dryers.
No photos are allowed “backstage,” but a photo of you and your group, in your gear, is taken once you’re in the tank. We received the photo, a commemorative pin and a bag (handy for our wet swimsuits) along with an informative, memorable, magical afternoon.
For more information: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/epcot/epcot-seas-aqua-tour/