Trip Report: Sea World San Diego

Edited: October 18, 2015, 6:36 PM

Back in late August this year (2015), I took my second visit to Sea World San Diego. Despite living in Orange County, I had not visited the park since 2006 due to high ticket prices. When I first walked in, I was surprisingly impressed by the Explorer's Reef exhibit. It was nicely themed and it was fun to touch the fish. After that I checked out the underwater Shamu exhibit. That was really cool, as you got to be really up close with the orcas. These two exhibits both pleasantly surprised me and gave me high expectations for the rest of the park. Once the park opened, I headed straight for Journey to Atlantis (in hindsight I should've listened to disneyversal's advice about riding Shipwreck Rapids first and I was planning to ride it first, but I have a horribly bad habit of riding the ride closest to the entrance). On the way to JTA, I saw Animal Connections. Although I did not enter, I was really unimpressed by its theming. Explorer's Reef and the Shamus made me feel like I was at a well themed amusement park and Animal Connections made me feel like I was my a local zoo.
Then I got to JTA, and I felt that magic. The epic music and the amazing theming gave me the same magical feeling that I felt when I went to Disney World and USH. Although the ride itself does not live up to its magical theming, its still a decent attraction. However, the rest of the park is poorly themed. With the exception of everything I have mentioned up to this point, Manta, Wild Arctic, and Shipwreck rapids, the park is pretty badly themed. Its probably the worst themed park I've been to. After JTA I went to Wild Arctic, and man was it horrible. First off, the motions had nothing to do with the film. It felt like all the motion was just randomly added in. Second, the ride is incredibly boring. The motions are not thrilling and nothing exciting happens during the film. This was probably the worst ride I've ever ridden (besides Boomerang @Knotts) and I ended up giving it a 4/10 on the park review page (my friend wanted me to give it 3/10). The exhibit afterwards was pretty good, though. It was nicely themed and we got to see a lot of cool wildlife. After Wild Arctic, I headed to Manta. The route there goes through Elmo's Kids Area (or something like that) and man was it poorly themed. There were crappy carnival games all over the place and there was zero theming. I was kind of blown away by this, as I couldn't believe that I just went from Disney level theming to Six Flags level theming. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I would much rather have consistent, average level theming than Sea World's sometimes really good but mostly really bad theming. After that traumatic experience, I reached Manta. Manta was a really good coaster. Like really good. Like best family coaster in the state good. That's right, I'm calling Manta better then Revenge of the Mummy, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Ninja and Sierra Sidewinder. Why? Manta is filled with airtime AND its intense. One second you're being flown out of your side and the next your being crushed by g-forces. I was really impressed by this ride.
After Manta I headed for Shipwreck Rapids. Shipwreck Rapids also exceeded my expectations. Although its not the best rapids ride in the state (that award goes to GRR), I found it to be superior to Kali River Rapids at WDW. Shipwreck gets you really soaked, and its not just through water canons and water falls but also through rapids. I think I got more wet on Shipwreck that I did on Jurassic Park when I sat in the front row when all the water effects were on. Next I saw the Killer Whales: Close Up show. That show was OK- most of it was pretty boring. After that I looked at a bunch of exhibits. I don't want to go too much in depth because most of the exhibits were crap. They were no better than the bottom of the barrel exhibits found at the San Diego Zoo. The only notable one is the Shark encounter, which is, for some reason, extremely crowded. When I went Manta was a station wait all day, but Shark Encounter was packed to the brim. Despite this, it was still a pretty cool exhibit.
Then I saw the Sea Otters Live Show. This is the best show by far in the park, and it was meh. The pre show was really funny, but the actual show was a bunch of crappy tricks. I was hoping the show would be comedy- oriented, but it wasn't. All they cared about was doing lame stunts. Then I saw Pet Stars. This show had some funny moments, especially toward the end, but all the tricks were "been there, seen that". Then I saw Dolphin Days, and it was the same stuff. I know we're at an animal park, but it gets pretty boring when every single show is centered around tricks. After getting some re-rides on Manta and Shipwreck rapids, I saw SeaWorld's signature attraction, One Ocean. I remember seeing this as a kid and being amazed by all the amazing tricks. Boy was I disappointed. Because of the Tilikum incident, trainers were not allowed in the water with the Orcas, which really hurt the show. It was basically the exact same thing as the Dolphin Days show. The Orcas jumped, they splashed their tails, and they came up on the artificial shore. And this goes on for 20 minutes. Yeah, I did not enjoy One Ocean.
However, I did like how Sea World honored those who served in the military- its great to see a theme park honoring the members of society who put their life on the line to defend our country. In the end, don't go to Sea World San Diego. Even though Manta and Shipwreck Rapids are amazing and Journey to Atlantis is a solid ride, the rest of the park is pretty lame and is not worth a $70 one day ticket. My experience at Sea World has greatly lowered my chances of attending another Sea World park (not a Busch Gardens park though- from what I've heard they are themed A LOT better). If I had to give Sea World San Diego a rating, I would give it 6/10. 5 of those points are because of Manta and Shipwreck, the final point is for Journey to Atlantis.

Replies (4)

October 18, 2015, 10:18 PM

I love San Diego's Manta. It's very different than Orlando's, but a delight in its own right.

This post reminds me that I really need to get back down to SeaWorld some time. I haven't been since the Explorer's Reef opening (the last new attraction to open at the park).

October 19, 2015, 3:15 PM

I've never been to a sea world park, but I hope to go. Was it crowded? I've heard that the park gets a lot of bad press.

October 19, 2015, 3:44 PM

Great trip report, Juan. Having just visited the park for the first time in a few years last month, I definitely agree with some of it and disagree with some. SeaWorld has some things that they do really well, but there are definitely areas that could use improvement if they want to justify charging the price that they do. Manta is great, Journey to Atlantis is great, Shipwreck Rapids is great, and some of their shows and exhibits are pretty good, but unless you want to see every show it is really a half-day park that is probably only worth $50-60. I wouldn't go as far as saying don't go to SeaWorld San Diego, but I would say that it is more of a one-time park (or once per major addition...I've only made 4 visits in the past 15 years) and that if you've visited the other SeaWorld parks it probably isn't worth adding to a So Cal trip unless you'll be down in San Diego anyway.

Edited: October 20, 2015, 2:29 AM

I have an annual pass, but never thought to write a trip report. JTA is so amazing, I rode it over and over again. The good thing about the negative press is that there are very few lines. I still feel that after Universal and Disney, they make the best theme parks.

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