Scuba Diving Santa made a festive appearance in a water wonderland Saturday at Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium at its Have a Merry Fishmas holiday show.
The jolly red-suited diver, beard and all, along with his elf, took the plunge in a magical dive show among the fish — including sharks — in the aquarium’s 160,000-gallon ocean tank.
A highlight was when the diving duo held up a naughty or nice sign as kids and adults posed for photos in front of the tank. All the children made the nice list while a few older fans weren’t so lucky.
The Heneke children — M.J., 9; Grace, 6; and Destiny, 4, waved at and squealed for Santa, which made parents Tanya and Jason happy.
“They all believe in Santa, but M.J. is asking questions,” said Tanya, who said the visit was part of their annual holiday visit from San Antonio to Grapevine, which bills itself as the Christmas Capital of Texas. “I think it’s going to be his last year.”
The three children were thrilled to get a personal visit with Santa, especially because it might help get their Christmas wishes — a robot for M.J., a dollhouse for Grace and a cellphone for Destiny.
Mom, Tanya, rolled her eyes at her youngest child’s request, but said they had other nice plans for her.
Grace was confused that Santa’s elf was wearing socks until her mother asked, “Do you wear shoes when you are swimming?”
After the show was over, the family went on to visit other sights in the aquarium with Grace exclaiming as Santa swam out of sight, “That was fun!”
The sock-wearing elf, Javier Reyes, had a good time, too. He played the role of the elf on Saturday, but has been Santa at other dives this season.
Reyes is one of Sea Life’s aquarists, and has been diving at Sea Life Grapevine for five years. On Saturday, fellow aquarist Ethan Eismon played the role of Santa.
It’s a dream job for Reyes, who studied marine biology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
“I really enjoy working with animals,” he said. “I started on our education team and then after training and certification became an aquarist.”
The kids are always excited to see Scuba Diving Santa. They think it’s cool to see Santa under water swimming with sharks and sting rays.
Javier Reyes, Sea Life aquarist who plays a scuba diving Santa Claus and elf at Sea Life Grapevine
He said the aquarists participate in the dive every holiday season. Six aquarists are certified divers.
“The kids are always excited to see Scuba Diving Santa,” Reyes said. “They think it’s cool to see Santa under water swimming with sharks and sting rays.”
Santa wears special scuba diving gear along with a Santa suit. This outfit includes a weight belt so he can stay underwater and an air tank.
“And of course, my Santa suit!” Reyes said.
The sting rays are the most curious, and they love to come and say hello when we get in the water.
Javier Reyes on what it’s like to swim with sharks and sting rays
The dive is made in the regular fish exhibit, which includes “some interesting critters,” Reyes said.
“It’s not scary at all,” he said of his fellow finned swimmers. “We are trained divers and have safety measures in place. I know what precautions we need to take while swimming in the water with these animals to protect them and myself. The sharks are actually more afraid of us than we are of them. The sting rays are the most curious, and they love to come and say hello when we get in the water.”
In keeping with the aquarium’s message of conservation and caring for the environment, the event began with Sea Life education team staffer Berkan Dincer reading “Christmas Eve at the Aquarium.”
It ended with the positive message, “The greatest gift we can give is a clean, healthy ocean.”