22
Oct

A Real Wild Time—Part 1

by Alan Rider

A lot of folks mistakenly assume that having a truly extraordinary experience means spending a ton of dough or traveling to exotic locales.  Today’s post, the first in a two-part series, proves that ain’t necessarily so.

Eat your heart out, Captain Ahab!

Eat your heart out, Captain Ahab!

Considering I’m all about hunting down remarkable adventures, it’s probably not all that surprising that I generally tend to shy away from theme parks and similar attractions that cater to the masses. But my recent trip to San Diego reminded me that sometimes, with a little digging, it’s possible to turn up some downright extraordinary experiences even in the most touristy places you can imagine.

Case in point: SeaWorld’s Beluga Interaction Program.  While dolphin encounters have become fairly common, I can’t think of anywhere else you can get up-close-and-personal with one of these great white whales short of making the arduous and expensive trip to the Arctic Ocean (you can read about my friend Bob Howells’ beluga experience in the waters of Hudson Bay here).

While actually sliding into the 52-degree water with two of the park’s 14-foot long belugas was definitely the high point of our behind-the-scenes experience in the park’s Wild Arctic habitat, it was far from the only cool thing we did during the 70-minute program.  Seeing an 11-foot tall male polar bear rear up on his hind legs to reach a treat offered by his keeper—even if he was behind his protective steel enclosure—was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I am the walrus!

Obie: I am the walrus!

My favorite part of the experience, however, was the chance to feed a 2,500-pound male walrus named Obie. After his snack, the portly pinniped showed off a few of the hilarious sounds he could make, including a lion-esque roar that left me covered in fish scales and walrus snot  (Note to Self: Never stand in front of a vocalizing walrus).  Now there’s a story for my next cocktail party!

In short, the entire Beluga Interaction Program was an absolute hoot.  Not to mention a great reminder that sometimes you’ll find extraordinary experiences waiting for you in the least likely places.

NEXT TIME: We go on safari without leaving California.

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