It's pretty darn small in comparison to Sea World. If you've ever been to Sea World, then you might be disappointed with the Sea Life Park. Think of it as a very low-budget, small scale version of Sea World with no corporate backing from Anheuser Busch. On a positive note, I thought the Sea Life Park was well worth the price of admission (at least at the military-discount price from ITT).
We went to the dolphin cove show first, which was neat to see, but not extraordinary. The backdrop of Makapu'u Ridge and the Makapu'u Lighthouse (where we were just hiking yesterday) was really beautiful though.
We were on top of that ridge in the background yesterday. In the hi-res version, you can see the Makapu'u Lighthouse on the left side of the ridge.
Next we went to the reef tank to watch the Stingray Ballet. I really enjoyed just standing there watching the fish, the turtles, and the rays swimming around and around in the tank. I took several pictures I really liked, but I'll just share a couple here.
ES faces-off with a Puffer
I was trying really hard to get a good shot of one of the rays flying by behind the boys. I thought this was going to be my favorite shot of the day the way things were lining up...
Turtle Feeding in the Reef Tank
The second show we went to was by far the best. The Hawaiian Ocean Theater was a really fun show to watch with dolphins, penguins, and sea lions. As an added bonus, this show is done in a covered amphitheater, so it was nice to sit in the shade and have a rest from the blazing hot sun today. The first three rows of benches are yellow to warn you about getting wet from splashes. If you take kids to the show, and they don't mind getting wet, then I encourage you to sit down in front. They do a parade of the penguins and have a couple of sea lions walk through on the floor level right in front of the front row, so all the kids that were sitting down in the front row got really close looks at the penguins and sea lions.
The third show we attended was the Kolohe Kai Sea Lion Show. It was mildly amusing, but not great. The kids enjoyed seeing the sea lions. If you go in expecting low-budget, then you'll be happy. If you go in expecting Anheuser-Busch corporate-sponsored Sea World, then you're going to be disappointed. There were at least a dozen people got up and walked out in the middle of the show.
There were more static displays of turtles, penguins, birds, etc to see, too. However, the two things that really made it worth the price of admission for me were the Hawaii Ocean Theater and just standing there mesmerized by the fish in the big reef tank.
Logistics: Food wise, you will note on their website that they do not allow outside food or drinks. This caused LW to ask, "What do they offer for food and drinks inside the park?" You will also note that the website lacks any such information about what they DO offer for feeding hungry thirsty children. There's very LIMITED options. I saw one snack bar that offered hot dogs, soft serve ice cream cones (vanilla only), and funnel cakes. That's it folks.
Also keep in mind that this is in a fairly isolated location way out on the eastern tip of the island. There isn't ANYTHING close by or convenient.
Advice for future seekers of the Sea Life Park: Plan to eat elsewhere before or after your visit. In our case, we looked at the schedule and planned to arrive at the park at noon so we could catch the 12:30 dolphin cove show.
If you drive there via the counter-clockwise coastal road past Hanauma Bay and the blowhole, then you can stop in Hawaii Kai to have lunch on your way. There are a dozen places to choose from in Hawaii Kai - everything from McD's to Roy's. (Aside: I don't recommend THIS Roy's in Hawaii Kai because the acoustics are horrible and you won't be able to hear the person across the table from you. Also, do NOT go to "the Shack" - we tried it and that place is horrible!). Personally, I would shoot for Tacos del Mar.
Time wise, we arrived about 12:07 and made it just in time for the 12:30 show. We left about 3 p.m. just after the sea lion show, so we were there just under 3 hours.