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2010 Best Theme Park Attraction nominee: SeaWorld Orlando's Believe

By Robert Niles
Published: December 23, 2009 at 1:39 PM
SeaWorld Orlando's Believe joins the 2010 Best Theme Park Attraction in America tournament field as the 15th seed in the Best Live Show bracket.

Shamu in SeaWorld Orlando's Believe

Believe debuted in 2006, the latest version of SeaWorld's killer whale show. The show blends video footage and audio narration with the in-pool performance by SeaWorld's killer whales and their trainers... and, yes, everyone sitting down close usually gets soaked. (The show also runs at the SeaWorld theme parks in San Diego and San Antonio.) Here are some highlights, courtesy SeaWorld:

I got to spend some time with the killer whale trainers in San Diego a year ago, and watched some of the backstage preparation with the whales (none of which actually are named "Shamu," by the way.) Personally, I've always gotten a kick out of TH Creative's description of what I also consider the most impressive moment in the show:

There's that point in the show where a trainer goes under water and and one of the [killer whales] comes up behind him and they burst through the surface with the trainer perched on the animal's nose. The trainer goes into the air and dives back into the water.

Okay, to complete that manuever the trainer [first] goes underwater and at one point has to look back over his shoulder and see this creature the size of a bus coming right up behind him.

How exactly does Sea World reprogram that trainer's most primal DNA to make certain that when he is flying through the air he is not screaming like an eight-year old girl?

The big knock on the current version of the show, which might explain its position in the bottom half of the draw, is that it doesn't offer the same percentage of whale tricks as previous shows. The narrative overlay about pursuing one's dreams, some readers claim, distracts from the spectacle of watching killer whales spin and flip like a cocker spaniel, drenching the audience in turn.

Recent SeaWorld shows seem to have followed a similar path, scaling back animal tricks in favor of trainers delivering messages about the importance of conservation and animal care. Some see that as a knock, others as a step forward. Either way, we'll find out if "Shamu" can swamp his competition when voting begins in the tournament, in March.

Please share your thoughts about Believe, in the comments.

Readers' Opinions

From Manny Barron on December 23, 2009 at 2:28 PM
I'm one of the people that can't stand this new version of the Shamu show. Shamu shows used to be a lot more fun back in the day. I could care less about the narrative part that this new version is trying to tell. I only see the more upbeat night time versions of the Shamu show when at Sea World. Believe will have no chance of beating the 2 seed.
From Joshua Counsil on December 23, 2009 at 4:02 PM
Yeah, I liked TH's description, too. Really puts it in perspective.

However, for the non-stunt portion of the show, I'd like to toot my own horn and refer to an excerpt from my SeaWorld trip report:

I encourage environmental and follow-your-dreams messages, but SeaWorld's shows are so heavily laden with sap that they could give Quebecers a run for their money as the world's largest maple syrup producers. Believing. Following your dreams. It's a damn whale doing tricks for tourists. [Believe] is still very good, but all the downtime in between the acrobatics really kills the momentum. We felt that Blue Horizons was, overall, a better show.

Maybe we'll see Blue Horizons as another seed.

From 67.8.63.61 on December 23, 2009 at 8:58 PM
I agree that I don't like the 'believe' show. I would rather see more whale tricks or learn more about the whales. Instead you get a show about how the trainer loves their job. Honestly, I could care less that the trainers love their job. I'm glad they do but I'm here to see the whale and learn about marine life...not your life.
From Bruce Lane on December 23, 2009 at 11:43 PM
From Robert...

"Please share your thoughts about Believe, in the comments."

OK, but remember -- you asked! I will, however, keep it short.

To my mind, in this context: "Believe" = "Deceive."

"Blue Horizons" = "Blue Delusions."

It is my deepest hope that we, as a species, will eventually outgrow such shallow-minded exploitive spectacles as what SeaWorld insists on foisting upon the world at large.

I don't expect it to happen in my lifetime. In fact, I would be surprised if it takes less than, say, five or six generations to come about. Nor do I expect many others to agree with this view. I am perfectly content to let Time itself decide if I'm right or not.

Have a great holiday, no matter what.

From Rob P on December 24, 2009 at 3:38 AM
There will always be that little voice in the back of your mind telling you that all zoos are morally wrong. Seaworld is , to all intents and purposes, an aquatic zoo with bucketloads of interaction and entertainment thrown in.

I have reasoned , to satisfy my own doubts, that there are some very positive reasons for places like Seaworld. Not least of all that they educate through entertainment. The latest generation of kids , absorbed in their ipods and computer wizardry , run the risk of losing interest in the important things around them.

Seaworld , imho , has been one of the highest profile edu-tainers in this field and if the animals are healthy and happy then so am I. Whilst it's true that they aren't in the wild where they belong their unwitting sacrifices might just save their species in the long term. The Seaworld legacy has now spread to places like Loro Park in Tenerife and this type of awareness can only be a good thing.

I don't think that the recent incarnationsof the Shamu show or the Dolphns Blue Horizons are as good as in the past but they're still pretty damn good. Perhaps they took on board the questions raised about the welfare of the animals and reduced the number of "tricks" to reduce potential stress. Either way Seaworld remains one of the best Parks to visit bar none.

From tilikum shamu on December 24, 2009 at 6:44 AM
I've been going to SeaWorld Orlando since it opened in 1972, and although I do miss an educational component to Believe (although I hear that in addition to this show, SWC is offering a daily educational program) I LOVE this show. Why? Because it is based on the true story of Ted Griffin, the first person to ever capture and train a killer whale. The fascinating story is told in his book "Namu, Quest for the Killer Whale." It really was his dream that the whales inspire people to take better care of the planet and stop shooting, maiming or killing marine mammals in general. They did a pretty good job of capturing his (and their) feeling. I'll vote for it.
From Pyra Dong on December 24, 2009 at 10:28 AM
I like "Believe"-- but I don't think it'll do very well in the voting. I don't think any shows including animals will do well because trainers don't want to push the animals in crazy directions just b/c it'll raise the enjoyment of guests.

The whale tricks in "Believe" are VERY impressive, and I honestly believe the amount of tricks done during the show is appropriate. DON'T ask for more awesome stunts or splashes from a jumping Shamu. While I'm not a tree-hugger, I never liked it when people say shows become boring because the animal actors are not pushed to do more stunts. Come on, whales aren't supposed to be splashing tourists (they should be eating them hahaha-- or at least, the noisy little ones).

From Robert Niles on December 24, 2009 at 11:21 AM
Gets me thinking....

"New at SeaWorld for 2010! It's 'Survivor: Shamu'... where, each show, the audience votes off its most annoying member - straight into the waiting maw of a hungry killer whale!"

C'mon, you just laughed. :-)

From 67.8.63.61 on December 25, 2009 at 1:13 PM
I'm ok with the amount of tricks. I just don't need the story about how the trainer likes their job or the audience participation hand motions. I can't stand either.
From Joshua Counsil on December 25, 2009 at 1:54 PM
Gotta love the episode of South Park this season ("Whale Wh*res") on this subject, as well as the one a few seasons ago ("Free Wilzyx"). If you haven't seen them, I recommend them, particularly the latter. It takes a lot of slight jabs at SeaWorld, while the former take on the subject of whaling.
From Bruce Lane on December 25, 2009 at 6:14 PM
Rob, I appreciate your counter-comments. I could go into a long and detailed counter-counter of each point you make, but instead I'm going to ask that you do one thing.

Read that book I keep recommending: "Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience."

For the record: I never said all zoos were morally wrong, nor would I ever believe such a silly statement.

Happy travels.

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