I try to do something new to me each trip to WDW, and after a few years of living as a local and working as a Cast Member that gets harder. Before leaving Florida I started exploring things to do on property that aren’t the parks, and found the Events and Tours. I’ve long been a fan of the classic Seas pavilion thanks very special episodes of shows like “Full House” and “Boy Meets World.” I once had a roommate SCUBA dive in the main tank, but without SCUBA certification I thought I was out of luck. Turns out there is a snorkel option, called the Epcot Seas Adventures Aqua tour.
The Basics: No specialized training is needed, but you should be a comfortable, independent swimmer. Disney sets the age minimum as 8 years old. Portions of the tour are walking as well as many stairs, and this is a physically active experience. The only outside item able to be brought into the tank area is you swimsuit, and there is a full locker room for changing and storage as well as available showers. There is limited photographic opportunity but to the backstage nature of the tour. No theme park admission is needed. Booking is done by phone only.
Running Time: The tour lasts about 2 1/2 hours, with 30 minutes of that swimming in the tank. Arrive at least 15 minutes early. Plan extra time after the tour if you will shower in the locker room.
I coordinated with a friend to join me, and together we lived out our “Full House” dreams of being Uncle Jesse and Uncle Joey under the water. One of the features that attracted us to this tour was not needing a park ticket, making it perfect for a non-park day. We drove over to Epcot before our noon tour check-in. Walking in, we caused quiet the stir at security. Apparently, it’s not typical for someone to enter with a hairdryer. Ha ha. The guard had to check if it was a banned item, and my friend was glad it wasn’t since we’d be taking showers after our tour. Yup, weirdest thing I can say I’ve done at a Disney park it take a shower. We took up our wait outside of Guest Relations and met the other two groups joining us, a family with a tween, couple, and solo traveler.
Our tour guide came to walk us backstage, the end of photos until mid-way through the tour. She took us along a path leading almost directly to the Seas building, which was much larger than expected. Outside she spoke about the filtration system and the construction for the huge project. Inside we walked through cast spaces used for both animal care and operations. We made out way to the kitchen for the animal food, using restaurant grade ingredients, such as lots and lots of fresh lettuce for the manatees. I enjoyed seeing the many wall postings tracking the feeding schedules, which reminded me of behind the scenes of volunteering at my local zoo.
Next, we followed the manatee feeding by seeing them both backstage and then out front. Our guide took us through the Guest areas to see the main tank, then we returned to Backstage to begin the main event. First, a quick training and safety lesson about using the SNUBA system, a hybrid of snorkel and SCUBA where you use a compressed air tank but stay on the surface. Off we headed to our locker rooms to gear up in the wetsuit and to removed everything, including hair ties, that might injure the fish. Coming out they lead us up up up many stairs to the top of the building where we got our flippers and entered the great room of the main tank. Walking past the dolphin area they were very interested in us, as only they and the manatees know humans mean food. We were told at length that the sharks in the tank we were about to swim in are only fed at night and without any possible association to people.
Getting to the water’s edge we walked into the huge room that contains the tank. It is far larger than I realized, encompassing the whole building since all of the waters are within one large tank. It is bright with daylight lamps. We walked along a catwalk over the peninsula of the viewing windows below to a center column. There, we were met by two guide scientist who would be in the tank with us. We lined up on a shallow platform and got strapped into our large, heavy airtanks. It would be up to each of us to monitor our half hour of air, but since we also floated on the surface we weren’t in danger if we ran out. The 70-some degree water took most of the others aback as cool, but it was warmer than the pool where I do laps. The wetsuit helped keep me from being cold over time since the inactivity of snorkeling for thirty minutes meant I wasn’t building core heat. The last step before swimming is a quick picture by the tour guide of each person in all their gear, which we are given printed out as a parting gift.
As soon as I stepped out into the tank there were fish and animals everywhere. Just beneath us were the bank of windows, and I was fascinated to look back at the people and kids peering out. I had family members scheduled to look out for me, which is the only way to get pictures of me in the tank. From in the water I could see through the windows of the tank. I had been instructed that we could only wave with a full hand and not make other gestures, so I waved until I knew they could tell it was me. It was funny to see them inside the peninsula of windows; it looked like a human tank rather than being in a fish tank.
Right away I was taken aback by the coffee table sized sea turtle, who would visit me again when I exited the tank. With just seven people in the tank I spent most of the time in a space alone, though it was a bit disorienting with faces covered by masks and in our wetsuits. I quickly lost track of my friend. Instead I gently moved through the water, checking out the dolphin tank barrier and the turtles. Moving on I spotted fun little colorful fish and the the almost car sized sting ray far below. I would come back often to ask the scientists about tips or what to look for, which they said was a nice change of pace since most people ignore them once they hit the water. One of theses times I spotted a shark, which kept its distance and I didn’t give it a second thought. On the other hand, toward the end of the swim the massive ray left its favorite spot near one of the restaurant windows to surface near me, and suddenly my heart raced as I remembered that Steve Irwin was killed by a sting ray. Overall it was thrilling, peaceful, and probably one of my most favorite things I’ve done.
I was one of the last folks to line up to exit, floating in the water over the windows as I waited my turn. As I waited the massive, federally protected green sea turtle decided to slowly explore the platform I was supposed to be climbing onto. Due to their federal status it is illegal for me or anyone else to engage with the turtle, so I was fully blocked. After a bit some free space opened up on the side of the platform for me to get the air tank off, but the turtle still blocked the stairs. It then kept brushing up against me with a large flipper, thrilling to no end. I was torn between the excitement of the turtle petting me and being very careful not to do something wrong or out of place. The crew also wanted to get me out of the tank since I was now in it alone and soon would be delaying the group. Eventually they distracted the turtle a few feet away to open up the stairs and out I climb.
Now I realize how chilled I was from just sitting in the cold water. We walk out past the dolphins, who are again interested in us like begging dogs, and walk down down down stairs to the locker rooms to shower up. Tip, remember to take that selfie before changing out of the wetsuit. The weirdest thing I can say I have done is shower in a locker room inside a Disney park. As folks finished cleaning up they were either scanned to enter the park if they had a park ticket, or those without tickets walked back to the front entrance to end our tour.
Not only would I strongly recommend the tour, I look forward to going again. I also feel like the world of SCUBA has opened to me, having tried the half-cousin SNUBA and breathing through a tank. It was well worth the money for the swimming portion also, and also provided great insight into the operation of one of the most impressive features of Future World.