Last week, my family took a unique and little-known excursion at Disney Epcot’s Living Seas Aquarium. The Aqua Seas Tour is a behind-the-scenes tour of the Living Seas facility, culminating in a surface swim inside the aquarium!
The tour behind the scenes was cool. It was fun to learn, for instance, that the animals in the facility are fed restaurant-grade food and that the kitchen is maintained above the level of sanitation required for restaurants. The joke at Epcot is that if food falls on the floor in the kitchen at the aquarium, they don’t feed it to the fish – they send it over to the restaurant! (Don’t worry. Not really!) According to Disney, the main aquarium tank contains approximately 5.7 million gallons of sea water and is large enough to hold Spaceship Earth (the giant white ball icon of Epcot) with room to roll it around!
But of course the real draw of this excursion is the swim. Epcot suited us up in wetsuits and briefly trained us on use of the air tanks and regulator. Even though this was a surface swim (and they pile on enough buoyancy to make sure you stay on the surface), the swimmers breathe through diving equipment. It’s easy to get used to and not unlike a snorkel – without the worry of accidentally dunking your snorkel and getting a snoot-full of water.
In full view of the tourists in the aquarium, we swam out into the giant tank, sharing our space with schools of fish, curious eagle rays, sand sharks, and one large sea turtle. The fish were totally nonplussed by our appearance in their environment. The sharks stayed at the bottom where they belonged, while the eagle rays came to check us out eye-to-eye and schools of fish swept by just in case we had any food to hand out. The sea turtle swam up and surfaced for air just a few feet away from me. I poked my head up above the water line and saw his big turtle head appear opposite me. He gulped his air and went back down, completely uninterested in me.
Both my daughters (ages 10 and 13) handled the equipment without much problem. In fact, this was a repeat visit for my older daughter and me. She and I took this tour 5 years ago, when she was only 8! On this trip, the younger daughter had a little trouble with a leaky mask, but overall enjoyed the experience. As for the older daughter, she climbed out of the tank with such a big smile that the Epcot staff told me it made their day.
The cost? About $100 per person, which isn’t bad, and all the money is donated to a wildlife conservation fund. Disney actually picks up the actual expenses of the program. I highly recommend this as a worthwhile experience, and you can learn more about the program here.