TPI ORLANDO - SeaWorld Orlando, Past and Present

Sea World Orlando: Joe Lane offers a comprehensive tour of SeaWorld Orlando and its attractions, and writes a bit about the park's history as well.

From Joe Lane
Posted April 13, 2004 at 12:59 PM
Attraction Reviews From SeaWorld Orlando

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'!

From Jason Moore
Posted April 13, 2004 at 2:53 PM
The new Odysea show is ok, but I prefer the old show that it replaced much better. same concept (Cirque rip-off)but it was much more interesting.

From Joe Lane
Posted April 13, 2004 at 4:47 PM
Tell us more, please! ^_^

From Kevin Baxter
Posted April 14, 2004 at 12:27 AM
It's kind of hard to describe, but sounds very similar to the one you described. Cirque-style acrobatic acts tied together by that touristy-clown dude. I wouldn't doubt if they kept a lot of it. Has anyone seen both?

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.

From Jason Moore
Posted April 14, 2004 at 7:32 AM
I've seen both, but I don't remember enough from the old show to properly describe it. I just remember walking away from it having enjoyed it a lot, whereas the new show left me a little underwhelmed and dissappointed. they used the same mime/host character, but the theme was completely different. I can't remember a lot of details, but one of the stand out moments was when the mime brought up audience members up for a funny little boxing gimmick.

From joe totoro
Posted April 14, 2004 at 9:31 AM
how long will it be until the waterfront is completed?

From steve lee
Posted April 14, 2004 at 8:20 PM
I actually thought the Waterfront was done. I didn't see much in the way of construction last time I was there.

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...

From Joe Lane
Posted April 14, 2004 at 9:04 PM
Not that I would encourage it, but Wild Arctic exits to a gift shop, so perhaps, if you're clever, you can sneak through the back way?

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.

From steve lee
Posted April 15, 2004 at 4:32 AM
I was there in October of last year.

From Joe Lane
Posted April 15, 2004 at 9:39 AM
I was there last month. I think Kevin may have mentioned in a recent past BLOG that the Waterfront is a two phase expansion project.

From steve lee
Posted April 15, 2004 at 9:42 AM
Ah, I was not aware of that (and honestly, who friggin' believes that Baxter nonsense?). That's refreshing to hear, as I was pretty unimpressed by what I guess must be the first phase...

From Terry Cotant
Posted April 26, 2004 at 8:50 AM
We signed up for a 2 year Gold pass, and have been there with our 3 younger boys on 4 trips so far. When one of my sons was just 4 years old, he fell in love with the dolphins, and was even more excited when the picked him for the dolphin show! (If you've seen the show, you know what I mean.) Now, dolphins are his favorite thing in the world, and he wants to be a dolphin trainer when he grows up (and he's serious about this!) :)

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. :)

From Henry Winkelstein
Posted June 7, 2004 at 2:02 AM
I was there last week and the rocky island thing in the middle of the bridge seems to be used for storing props for the water show and the fireworks show at night. I didn't see it myself but someone told me they are doing the water ski show now.

From Kelly Casey
Posted October 21, 2006 at 8:03 PM
I was at SeaWorld, Orlando today. I must say I was quite disappointed. Seems the dolpins and the whales where extremely unwilling to co-operate. I must say that in the end the dolphins did finally give in and the performance was wonderful. But the Shamu show was horrible. My family and I sat in the third row from the pool and honestly we didn't get more then a drop of water on us. I, also noticed that "SHAMU" didn't perform at all. Which made me wonder why. I do think the park if beautiful and even though there wasn't much in the "performing" department it was a great family day

From Bruce Lane
Posted October 21, 2006 at 8:57 PM
Quoting from Joe Lane...

"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.

Happy travels.

From Erik Yates
Posted October 22, 2006 at 5:58 AM
Different Strokes I guess. We are platinum passholders, and go to SW quite often. We love it. You have to understand that these are animals and they have minds of their own. What do you want them to do, use cattle prods to get the animals to perform?
We love the shows, we love the animal interactions and the exhibits. They could do with a few new rides, but for the most part what they have is great. If you dont like SW, then go back to disney....they'll be happy to keep taking your money.

From steve lee
Posted October 22, 2006 at 11:53 AM
The Shamu Show (Believe) is temporarily closed. One of the orcas recently gave birth, and they're waiting until the mother is comfortable to resume daily shows.

From Erik Yates
Posted October 22, 2006 at 3:30 PM
The Believe show was up and operational yesterday. With two mama's and babies swimming around before the show. They were not in the show, but they did swim around before hand.

From steve lee
Posted October 23, 2006 at 9:44 AM
Excellent. My understanding was that they weren't leaving the main show area and the staff didn't want to risk angering the mother. We're there next weekend, and Believe was on my list of things to do.

From tara M
Posted October 2, 2007 at 8:43 AM
I, also noticed that "SHAMU" didn't perform at all. Which made me wonder why.

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.

From Bruce Lane
Posted October 9, 2007 at 10:05 PM
I question the statements that Keltie Byrne was "tossed" from whale to whale. My own sources from inside the field say that Tillikum simply took her down to the bottom and held her there (which, I will grant, does not make for anywhere near as sensational an image in modern news media).

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...

Happy travels.

From tara M
Posted November 12, 2007 at 10:35 PM
Whether or not the trainer was "tossed" or "dragged under", the reality is that this woman is dead. My response wasn't to help relay some so-called "sensational image" that the media is feeding everyone. It was to simply inform you that this whale has killed somebody. Meaning that woman did not come back to work the next day to entertain another audience.

It is at least in my opinion quite appropriate that these trainers are taking the proper precautions regarding their safety around Tilikum.

From Bruce Lane
Posted November 13, 2007 at 7:36 AM
No offense meant, and you won't get any argument from me about Tillikum in any case. I don't blame the Sea World trainers a bit. Heck, you couldn't pay me to get within fifty feet of that particular whale.

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.

Happy travels.

From M Holtsclaw
Posted November 13, 2007 at 6:09 PM
"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."

The Sky Tower was at the park long before Busch got involved...I remember riding it as a kid.

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