SeaWorld is 50 years old today. No, not SeaWorld Orlando, which opened in 1973 on the heels of the Magic Kingdom’s debut two years prior. Rather, it’s a company wide celebration that honors the opening of the very first SeaWorld park in San Diego in 1964. That park still operates today, along with SeaWorld San Antonio. A fourth park, located in Ohio, opened in 1970 but was shuttered back in 2001.
SeaWorld Orlando remains a robust park, despite the efforts of the movie Blackfish and assaults by PETA. Regular visitors and those who know the trainers and who have gone behind the scenes take the Blackfish accusations with a grain of salt, since many are outdated or partially or completely false. I personally don’t take a movie seriously when it shows footage of one trainer, implying that it’s another, and shows an orca with dubbed in sounds, implying that it’s actual footage of Katina (who currently lives in Orlando) when one of her offspring was moved to another park.
I won’t go into all the fallacies here, as that’s a whole article on its own. You can read them for yourself on the MiceChat site in this article, which contains the perspective of a trainer involved with the film, and this article, which features an interview with Tilikum’s trainer.
In the meantime, SeaWorld Orlando is busily incorporating a variety of festivities, while will run for the next 18 months (no anniversary ever lasts a mere 12 months an Orlando theme park). I was at the opening event this morning, March 21, and witnessed the Surprise Squad handing out prize bags to excited guests. The squad will be out daily, randomly awarding prizes ranging from food vouchers, behind the scenes tours, and special show seating to trips to the other SeaWorld parks.
In the past, I’ve had some luck when other parks had similar promotions. I won Dream FastPasses at three of the four Disney parks during the Year of a Million Dreams and a front of the line pass at Legoland Florida on its first birthday. Hopefully my luck with carry through to the SeaWorld celebration.
The park has also added to mobile shows, Bubble Blowout and Splash Dance. Beware of the latter, as it’s designed to get you wet! Of course, that’s not always a bad thing in the vicious Florida heat.
The Sea Garden will be a hotbed of activity during the Sea of Surprises. Animal ambassadors will make regular appearances there, with special up-close meet and greets. On this first day of the celebration, I saw kids feeding a spoonbill, and I had a possum come right up to me as it ran around interacting with guests.
The Sea Garden also has four amazing sculptures that tie in with SeaWorld Orlando’s conservation focus. They’re all made of plastic debris and other trash that literally came out of the ocean. The sculptures, which were created by the Washed Ashore Project, may be colorful and beautiful to behold, but they represent a tragedy.
Even though most of the Sea of Surprises special features haved already debuted, there’s one that you can’t see for another three months. On June 21, Shamu’s Celebration: Light Up the Night will take the place of the long-running Shamu Rocks night show. At the moment, Shamu Stadium is closed for rehab, but it reopens on April 11 with the regular One Ocean show.
I strongly recommend getting to the park before that happens so you can see Shamu Up Close. This “mid-season replacement” for the orca show has been running ever since the rehab started, and it will end when One Ocean resumes. I love it because it gives you a chance to see how the orcas are trained and cared for behind the scenes. Have you ever wonder how the trainers teach them to do intricate jumps, twists, and turns? See how they use guide poles to tell the killer whales what they want them to do, coupled with liberal rewards. Those might be jello or ice or petting instead of fish, since the whales are well fed and prefer a variety of goodies.
The video below shows one of the training sessions, which happen approximately once an hour throughout the day. Remember, you only have until April 11 to witness these amazing interactions between human and orca, but you can enjoy the Sea of Surprises for the next 18 months.
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