Park of the Week: Islands of Adventure

SeaWorld San Diego to remake its entry plaza as 'Explorer's Reef'

October 10, 2012, 6:11 PM · SeaWorld San Diego today announced a multi-million-dollar makeover for the park's entrance. When complete in 2014, visitors will enter the park under a giant wave, which will lead them into a new three-acre entrance plaza called "Explorer's Reef."

New SeaWorld entry
All concept art is courtesy SeaWorld

From the park's press release:

The new front gate concept will replace the existing ticket booths with a beach-themed, concierge-style ticketing area that will provide guests with a single location to purchase admission, as well as sign up for tours, animal interactions and dining experiences. Also eliminated will be the glass window between the guests and park's ticketing service representatives, creating a more open and personal experience.

Inside the park, once visitors have passed under the wave sculpture, they will enter Explorer's Reef, designed to look like they're walking on the bottom of the ocean.

Explorer's Reef

The redesigned entry plaza will feature four "touch pools," where visitors can make contact with a variety of marine creatures.

Explorer's Reef touch pool

Both saltwater and freshwater, the 24,000-gallon touch pools will allow guests to connect with sea life in an intimate way. Four hundred brown-banded and white-spotted bamboo sharks, as well as more than 4,000 cleaner fish will highlight the interaction experience. The number of fish in the touch pools will total nearly 5,000.

New SeaWorld retail

Explorer's Reef also will feature an open-air marketplace for retail and food and beverage locations.

Snack shop

SeaWorld rebuilt the entrance of its Orlando park several years ago, to generally good reviews. And Disney just showed with its Buena Vista Street makeover of California Adventure's entrance how changing an entry plaza can improve the overall feel of a park. Ultimately, though, aesthetics are just part of the experience. I'm thinking of the touch pools as the entry plaza "meet and greet" so common in other theme parks, this time featuring the real stars of SeaWorld - the marine creatures themselves. That would give the land a solid attraction to make the park a nicer experience for visitors. And I love the idea of replacing the ticket windows with something more open and helpful. But the park also will need improved retail and especially dining to make Explorer's Reef the kind of comfortable, engaging place where you want to hang around a while. (The inclusion of vending machines on the concept art for the dining leaves me a bit skeptical on that count, I'll admit….) Long term, I'd also like to see the park do more to create a "hang around" space on the bay front at the back of the park, too.

SeaWorld will build a temporary entrance, to the right of the existing entrance, for visitors to access the park while it builds the new entryway. The new gate and entry plaza will open in March 2014.


Replies (11)

October 10, 2012 at 6:43 PM · I'm not sure those are vending machines. SeaWorld Orlando has dining locations that feature food and drinks in cases like 7-11 and that might be what those are in the picture.

All I have to say about the open and glassless concept is the employees are going to hate that. No glass means no A/C! It looks pretty though...

October 10, 2012 at 7:33 PM · The renaissance in themed entertainment continues! Kudos, SeaWorld!
October 10, 2012 at 8:09 PM · Nice point on the drinks. FWIW, A/C's not that big a need next to the coast in San Diego. It ain't Orlando...
October 10, 2012 at 10:49 PM · LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! This.... What did the old orlando entrance look like? Reason why I ask is because I think the current one looks kind of boring as it is. I would much rather have this one. Plus, with manta right behind the entrance in florida, it would be perfect. Way to go sea world AGAIN... Is this going to be called the disneyland and discovery parks decade??? I think so
October 11, 2012 at 7:20 AM · They should put Antarctic in the back of the park
October 11, 2012 at 8:03 AM · I love it. It looks great. That gift store is a bit tacky, but the theming fits. I would like them to expand their kiddie section. More kids ride please. My kid enjoyed their time at SeaWorld. The improvements have made a big difference. The touch pool is a good idea, but more chances to get wet.
October 11, 2012 at 11:30 AM · Its Beautiful, but it strikes me as something that perhaps more maintenence than usual will be required on. its not going to take a lot of chipping or fading to spoil the illusion I think.

But on paper at least... Wow.

October 11, 2012 at 4:39 PM · I did work at the park for 6 1/2 years and the last time they did some major work in the FOP area ( Front of Park) about 8-9 years ago. along with a few changes minor changes. Uniforms changes along with Character changing. I worked in the GA(Guest Arrival area )
October 11, 2012 at 6:09 PM · This is great. Sea world SD needs to be brought up to par with its counterparts. I like Roberts idea of utilizing the "waterfront" area of the park. With a good theme and the natural waterfront that could be a really beautiful and relaxing place. But this and Manta are good first steps definitely. However I will say that I will not be visiting the park during the year of construction! I did that for 4 punishing years at CA adventure and I'm not doing it again. I only did it for Disneyland cause its my favorite theme park resort in the world! Ill wait to see the finished product thanks.
They also have lots of room on the east of the park parking lot for expansion or another coaster. Hopefully the work continues after the new entrance is complete!
October 12, 2012 at 4:19 AM · I really like the concept. I hope they have thought the design through and made sure this new entry does not bottleneck things up too much right after going through the gate.

That is something I dislike about the layout of AK. As soon as you enter park the path splits into a "Y" and there are animal exhibits. People tend to stop in their tracks with their strollers and things get blocked solid.

October 12, 2012 at 1:10 PM · That park has problems and the main entrance is not one of them. Wish they had spent some money improving the overall quality of the park rather than dump a couple million on new ticket booths and more touch pools.

Granted, I have not been this year to experience Manta - so perhaps the park feels less...barren and half-dayish than it did when I was there a couple of years ago?

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