Swimming with the sharks

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, July 24, 2010

Find tour times, costs, driving directions and additional information following the story below.

Inside a seemingly harmless building, next to the antics of SeaWorld's famed Sea Lion's Clyde and Seamore, awaits the ocean's greatest predator.

"Man eaters, and that's really not the case," said Marine Life Educator Cindy Gillen about folks impression of sharks. "That is a common misconception."

After all, this is not the type of cold-blooded creature you want to cuddle with. But you can get close -- real close at SeaWorld.

Sharks Deep Dive allows the courageous to be submerged and come face-to-face with 30 different sharks in a metal shark cage.

"The cage will move along the exhibit, all the way to the very end and then back again to the starting point," Gillen said. An overhead cable system move the submerged cage, while guests watch sharks swim freely.

At a cost of $5 million, the Shark Encounter started welcoming visitors in 1980. More recently, daring visitors can take the plunge.

Gillen tried to calm my nerves before suiting up.

"You're more likely to be stuck and killed by lightening, nine times more likely, than killed by a shark," Gillen said.

Before the experience, I rode through the Shark Encounter's clear tube and pondered their size, strength and teeth. After all, sharks are something I fear, and what better way to conquer that anxiety then by immersing myself in their world?

All participants are given a wet suit, while special oxygen filled "Sea Trek" helmets eliminating the need to be scuba certified. Each helmet is equipped with a microphone linking nervous explorers with the surface.

Senior Aquarist Gretchen Scrimger assisted in our dive from the surface. The water temperature is a cool 70 degrees. With the helmet snuggly in place, participants then enter the cage and sink to the bottom of their steel cell. Once submerged, the real world melts away. It's dark, still and in a strange way, comforting.

An underwater camera allows you to see what I did -- a peaceful world full of sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks and even a giant ray.

"They are very calm. They pretty much do their own thing, as long as you don't pose a threat or act like food, they leave you alone," Scrimger said.

With technology everywhere and "to do" lists growing, this is one place isolated from the outside world that can change your perspective, and allow to look in on another world.


Shark's Deep Dive

What:
Be submerged inside a real cage and then plunge into the Shark Encounter at SeaWorld Adventure Park. The 30 minute tour takes you underwater and face-to-face with five species of sharks. Special helmets supplied with oxygen allow visitors to breathe normally under water and stay in communication with the surface.

Where:
Orlando
Orange County

Program Days & Hours:
Wednesday through Sunday at varying times from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
(Note: Tours are generally not offered on Monday or Tuesday).

Cost:
All Participants: $149. The cost fluctuates seasonally. For current prices, click here.
The submersion experience is reserved for park guests 10 years old and greater, while all guests are welcome to view the sharks through the underwater tunnel.
NOTE: Park admission is required, and not included in the cost of the Sharks Deep Dive Experience.

Parking:
Cars: $12
RV's: $15
(No need to get pushy at the toll booths. There's 6,700 parking spots in the SeaWorld lot).

Info Line:
Tours:(888) 800-5447, then hit option 3.
Local: (407) 351-3600

Tankful To Go Bonus Info:

  • Wet suit and changing area are provided. Participants must bring a bathing suit.
  • Scuba certification is not needed.
  • Visitors get a shark booklet and T-shirt.
  • SeaWorld passholders receive a discount

Address:
7007 Sea World Dr.
Orlando, FL 32821

GPS Longitude & Latitude:
Latitude:
28.40952

Longitude:
-81.462229

Web Sites:
SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld Educational Resources

Driving Directions:
SeaWorld is a Central Florida icon, boarded by Interstate 4, Central Florida Parkway, International Drive and the Beachline Expressway.

Here are driving directions from places further away:

From the North: Sanford, DeLand, Daytona Beach, Palm Coast -

From your part of Central Florida, jump on I-4 West. You'll head to Orlando and pass through downtown.

From I-4, take exit 72. Signs will read "Beachline Expressway or "FL-528. This is also the exit for the Orlando International Airport. No worries, although the Beachline is a toll road, you will not need to dish out any spare change.

Once on the Beachline, take the International Drive exit (exit #1).

At the bottom of the ramp, you'll come to a traffic light, turn left. This is International Drive. Keep going straight on I-Drive. Soon, you'll pass Aquatica on the left and the Kraken Roller Coaster on the right.

At the corner of I-Drive and Central Florida Parkway, turn right.

SeaWorld's entrance is off of Central Florida Parkway on the right.

From the West: Tampa, Davenport, Winter Haven, Lakeland -

Jump onto I-4 East. Follow the signs marked toward Orlando.

Just after the Orlando Premium Outlets on the right, use exit 71, you'll see the giant SeaWorld sign.

At the bottom of the exit, head right and stay in the center lane. This is Central Florida Parkway.

The parking lot entrance to SeaWorld is on the left hand side of Central Florida Parkway, at the sign for SeaWorld. It's hard to miss since there are several killer whales jumping out of it!

From the East: Cocoa, Space Coast and Melbourne -

From the coastal areas, take FL-528, better known as the Beachline Expressway. You'll pass through three toll plazas (have $7 roundtrip ready).

Head west past the Orlando International Airport, the Florida Mall and over the famed Orange Blossom Trail. Take the International Drive exit (exit #1).

At the bottom of the ramp, you'll come to a traffic light. Turn left. This is International Drive. Keep going straight on I-Drive. Soon, you'll pass Aquatica on the left and the Kraken Roller Coaster on the right.

At the corner of I-Drive and Central Florida Parkway, turn right.

SeaWorld's entrance is off of Central Florida Parkway on the right.