Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
Last week, I brought you reviews of two of SeaWorld Orlando's premier thrill rides: Journey To Atlantis and Kraken. This week continues the review of the Anheuser-Busch theme park, including a brief glimpse into the parks past, thanks to TPI reader Carrie Hood.
Before Busch purchased the oceanic-themed park, it was owned by HBJ, a schoolbook publishing company. At the time, HBJ also owned the old Boardwalk and Baseball park in Haines City and Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. They later sold the parks to Busch Entertainment. Boardwalk and Baseball closed in 1990, and Cypress Gardens was purchased by its own management team from Busch in '95 (only to have its own gates close on April 13, 2003). Sea World, however, fit right in with the Anheuser-Busch image of wildlife conservation, and so the company invested greatly in the park.
The park has changed much over the years. Originally, Shamu performed in the old Whale and Dolphin Stadium (now called Key West Dolphin Stadium). With the arrival of a second killer whale, Shamu Stadium was built on the opposite side of the park's lagoon. There were a number of different show throughout the park, ranging from a superhero-themed water-skiing show to a music-themed fountain show at the Seaport Theater (now part of the new Waterfront). There were also a number of gardens featuring exotic plants and birds, much like Cypress Gardens once did.
Busch Entertainment is responsible for building the recent attractions at the park, including the Sky Tower, Mission: Bermuda Triangle (now Wild Arctic), and the entire Key West area.
Looking at the SeaWorld Orlando guide map, you'll likely notice how Key West Dolphin Stadium sits on one side of the park and Shamu Stadium sits on the other. The smaller Sea Lion & Otter Stadium sits between the two, just above the Waterfront which is roughly smack dab in the center of the park (the Sky Tower is located here and serves as a useful point of reference for guests who might find themselves lost).
Key West Dolphin Stadium is home of the Key West Dolphin Fest--think Shamu meets Jimmy Buffet. Nine different dolphins and a false killer whale will perform fantastic tricks (and yes, you CAN get wet if you sit close enough towards the front). There's some good humor involved in the show, of course. It's a fine piece of edu-tainment and a must see if it's your first visit. There are no video screens to provide better views, but the stadium is just the right size--just about any seat is a good seat, with the high center being a quiet vantage point. The audience does reach capacity and then some, so you're well advised to arrive thirty minutes early to have your pick of the best.
No more than a few yards away is Dolphin Cove, where during scheduled feeding times you can feed and pet the dolphins. It can get rather crowded, as dolphins are quite popular. Not too far away is Manatees: The Last Generation? where you can see these "sea cows" in an underwater viewing area.
On the other side of the park you can find Shamu Stadium where Shamu and his family of killer whales will perform with some great jumps and tricks with the trainers. This show is ultimately the premier show to see when visiting SeaWorld--especially for someone's first time. A giant monitor above the wet stage makes it easy to see all the action, no matter where you're sitting, and multiple underwater cameras let you see the whales underwater. You might even see yourself on the big screen. Unlike the Key West Dolphin Fest, the show has more of an educational feel to it. Renowned animal specialist Jack Hannah appears on the monitor throughout the show to talk about killer whales and their habits. And oh yes, if you sit far enough down in the bleachers, you will get drenched by the cold salt water.
Shamu also performs two different shows: The Shamu Adventure takes place during multiple times throughout the day and at night, you can see Shamu Rocks America, where the killer whales and their trainers perform to rock and roll music.
Near Shamu Stadium is Wild Arctic, an exhibit that features arctic animals like beluga whales and polar bears. You can choose to walk right into the exhibit, or you can "fly" to the arctic base via a helicopter simulator in the same vein as the old Akbar's Adventure Tours at Busch Gardens and Star Tours at Disney-MGM Studios. The ride offers a minor thrill--compared to attractions that have opened in recent years, the ride isn't as convincing. Aside from that, some of the scenes have the simulator programmed to be extremely jerky--nowhere near as smooth as Star Tours. You might be better off to forego the wait for the copter and just walk to the exhibits.
Past Shamu's Happy Harbor play area and the Anheuser-Busch Hospitality Center, you'll come to Nautilus Theater, home to SeaWorld's latest show Odyssea. This is probably one of the best shows in the entire park. People perform acrobatic feats on stage, accompanied by music and lights in a very Cirque du Soleil-style performance. The actors are fantastic and some of the imagery is very surreal. The lead character, a lost tourist, pantomimes with the audience before the real show begins which garners a few laughs. This is one not to miss.
Nearby is the Sea Lion & Otter Stadium, home to Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island. The stage is part pirate ship/part island and given a tropical look to it. Trainers dressed as pirates perform along with the two sea lions Clyde and Seamore. You can also see an otter and walrus here. Some of the human acting may be sub par, but overall, the show is funny for the kids. A pirate mime ushers in guests into the stadium at the beginning of the show and his performance alone is genuinely funny.
Nearby in this area, you'll find the Shark Encounter, where you'll see moray eels, puffer fish, and other terrors of the deep before taking a conveyer belt through a tube to get an underwater view of some impressive sharks. The tour has been changed up a bit to make way for the new Sharks Underwater Grill where you can dine with the predators.
On the other side of the Sea Lion & Otter Stadium, you'll find the Pacific Point Preserve, where during certain times of the day, you can feed sea lions and seals, and just beyond that is the Penguin Encounter, where you can see penguins and puffins in remarkable recreations of their natural habitat.
Back in the central Waterfront, you can see Pets Ahoy at the Seaport Theatre. This show features cats, dogs, ducks, birds and a pig. Compared to other animal shows, this one is downright fun as the animals execute stunts on the beach front setting, one after another. The animals in the show were all rescued from local SPCAs and animal shelters in the central Florida area.
You can find other small attractions and exhibits throughout the park, including a recreated tide pool, a Dolphin Nursery, and numerous physical activities and games like a wall climb and trampoline jump.
My SeaWorld experience was very pleasant. I've never been amazed by sea creatures, but folks who have an interest in marine life will certainly find this park the place to be. If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to post them here. And thanks again to Carrie Hood for all the history information!
When the Waterfront eventually reaches completion, I'll be sure to offer a full review of all the shows, entertainment, and food available. Until next week folks, stay dry and keep on ridin'!
I want to know why they changed the name of Terrors of the Deep to the bland Shark Encounter? That name doesn't explain the freaky eels and stuff in there. Ick.
One correction I have to make - you cannot just walk into the exhibit of Wild Arctic. If you choose to go "by land," they still make you sit in a room and watch the same friggin' video. We were trying to save a little time so we wouldn't miss Pets Ahoy, but it turns out it would have been just as fast if we had ridden the ride portion.
Maybe when the park is more crowded they don't make you sit through it (or maybe if you ask really nicely, they'll let you sneak through). It's pretty darn lame without any motion...
When was the last time you visited SeaWorld? Construction walls were put up from the Sky Tower towards the Shark Encounter--construction is continuing in this area, and I have no idea as to when it will be completed.
One question I have, is if anyone's heard about the ski show coming back. When we were there in early March, they were doing some construction on the stadium area where the ski show used to be. I asked some workers in the park, and most didn't know anything, but one hinted that they thought it was coming back. It looks like that area 1/2 way through the bridge might be set up to be part of the show, so...
I know that they did move the bridge out to a different location, but it still seems like they'd have room for it. It used to be a great show, so we have our fingers crossed. :)
"My SeaWorld experience was very pleasant. I've never been amazed by sea creatures, but folks who have an interest in marine life will certainly find this park the place to be..."
Permit me to offer a minor amendment to that statement. Specifically: "...folks who have an interest in marine life, and who are not picky about how much 'circus' they get in the presentation of it, will certainly find any Sea World park the place to be."
Joe, don't get me wrong. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. However, I have to say that the high point of my last Sea World visit was watching it recede in the rear-view mirror as we drove away.
I've already made my own views about the Sea World chain abundantly clear in other posts, so I won't repeat them here.
Just to inform you, "Shamu" (His real name is Tilikum) does not perform, or do water work, as he has proven to be a dangerous animal in the past. Before he arrived at Sea World Orlando, he was at a marine park in Canada, and killed one of it's trainers.
"Just a few months prior to the birth of Kyuquot, Tilikum was involved in an incident which resulted in the death of a trainer. Twenty-year-old Keltie Byrne, who worked at the park, slipped and fell into the tank with the whales. Tilikum, a pregnant Haida II, and Nootka IV grabbed her in their mouths and tossed her to each other, presumably playing. Keltie drowned. It should be noted the whales had never had humans in the water with them before."
The trainers are unwilling to do waterwork with the animal for their safety, which is obviously paramount over your entertainment. If you are about to ask why he is there, it is because he was too big to be kept at Sealand any longer, and needed a new home. His duty at Sea World Orlando is to splash the guests, and to provide semen for the breeding program.
However, since that's not the real topic of the thread... Thank you for a most detailed report.
I would add that I think the book "Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience" (Susan G. Davis, University of California Press) makes a terrific reality check against the "Wow!" factor that Sea World is so very adept at spoon-feeding to the public.
Sheesh... If Microsoft had Sea World's marketing talents, and vice-versa... Oh, wait...
It is at least in my opinion quite appropriate that these trainers are taking the proper precautions regarding their safety around Tilikum.
I was merely trying to point out that the story quote you posted read like the writer was trying to boost paper sales at the expense of a tragic death. That's the only thing I had a problem with.
The Sky Tower was at the park long before Busch got involved...I remember riding it as a kid.
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