No More Free Beer…And Worse

You would have to go back a few years…seems like ancient history…but you used to be able to get free beer.

Yes, free.

At SeaWorld Orlando.

Served up in Dixie cups. Budweiser. Light.

But the flow stopped when owner Busch (famous for beer, of course) sold the park.

You can still get beer there but now you have to pay for it.

But worse news followed.

In more recent times, PETA has been publicly loud in urging you to feel sorry (and/or guilty) for the performing animals at SeaWorld Orlando.

But maybe your sympathy should go to the owners and the poor people who work there.

It can’t have been a very good Christmas for them, news-wise.

Right around Christmas Day, they faced a boycott-protest. And people got stuck on a ride, too.

Bad news for you, too

Does any of this affect you as potential theme park-goers?

Of course.

SeaWorld is one choice for visitors to the Orlando area.

A good choice for some…and perhaps not for others.

But a clear choice.

All of which brings us to the question of what is happening at the not so wild…but mildest…major theme park in Orlando?

And why or why not you might want to visit it yourself….instead of or in addition to the area’s two other major theme parks.

Let’s look back at what happened three days before Christmas:

A protester dressed as an orca climbed atop a baggage carousel at Orlando International Airport.

He was arrested on a charge of trespassing on property after a warning.

He was one of two costumed people staging the demonstration on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) during the busy holiday travel season.

One protestor (who left before being arrested) held a sign saying:

SeaWorld: Orcas Deserve Better.”

Why the arrest?

“Their presence caused both a safety hazard, and a public disturbance impacting airport operations,” according to the Orlando Police Department.

“For safety reasons, the baggage carousel had to be shut down as they were sitting on top of the baggage belt system, behind the moving belt.”

Airport officials told police they wanted to prosecute.

Reasons for the protest

In a news release, PETA said the protest was meant to dissuade tourists from visiting SeaWorld Orlando.

Their protests: the park was forcing whales to swim in tanks of “chemically treated water.”

“PETA’s protester may have to spend a night in a jail cell, but that’s nothing compared to the lifelong imprisonment of orcas at SeaWorld, who are without freedom, family, or anything else that’s natural and important to them,” said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.

He added:

“Nobody with a heart should never buy a ticket to SeaWorld, not during the holidays or any other time of the year.”

That’s a pretty strong anti-endorsement.

But Merry Christmas Sea World: bad news continued.

Then, there was another unnatural act.

The story reported in the media found visitors stranded inside SeaWorld Orlando’s 400-foot-tall Sky Tower.

It took 15 firefighters from the Orange County Fire Rescue team to get them out.

Ouch, again

No one was injured.

They all returned to more solid ground.

If you have not seen it recently, the Sky Tower is an enclosed, double-decker capsule rotates around a tower.

Hardly as exciting as something like Disney’s “Tower of Terror.”

All this tower does is offer a view. A 360-degree view of the area (nice and quiet and a slow ride, but it can get old and even boring after a couple of hours).

SeaWorld PR types would rather you were reading news headlines about Mako.

That (as you know if you have or heard about it) is the   upcoming shark-inspired roller coaster.

It is definitely a thrill ride. It makes SeaWorld   more competitive with the other theme parks where roller coasters have been   running for years.

As an attraction, Mako will be the tallest roller   coaster in Central Florida.

Other Mako numbers: It will be among the fastest, 73   mph on a track (exceeding the 65 limit on many major area highways).

SeaWorld also has touted the amount of air time that   the hypercoaster’s design will give riders.

Mako is scheduled to open this summer. An exact date   has not been announced.

SeaWorld’s annual passholders were told in a flier   that there will be ride previews for them in June.

In the real world, there’s little doubt that the   ongoing PETA protests have gotten far more publicity and impacted SeaWorld   with much more hyper speed than the   fastest coaster.

No, we’re not going to take a position (right or   wrong) and discuss this in any lengthy detail. But briefly…

New accounts say:

“SeaWorld has struggled financially after the 2013   documentary ‘Blackfish,’ which suggested the stress of captivity could have   caused an orca named Tilikum to kill an Orlando trainer in 2010.”

They added:

“SeaWorld has taken on increased marketing and   lobbying costs to sway public opinion back to its favor and fend off   legislation targeting its business.”

The staunch, take-no-prisoners attitude of PETA   following the documentary has added to watery woes:

“We urge SeaWorld…to phase out orca acts at all   of its facilities, to end its breeding program and to work with us on a plan   to put the orcas in suitable environments,” spokesman Pacelle said.

Suitable environments? What does that mean?

Not   defined.

SeaWorld’s performing animals are probably best   known for this:

They leap out of their pools, flip over, spit water,   nod in acknowledgment of their viewers, and wave with their tails.

SeaWorld   ambition: evolve like Whole Foods

Briefly, and oversimplified, SeaWorld’s strategy to   appease PETA and documentary film critics is to transform the company farther   away from entertainment to practical uses.

To become natural, ala Whole Foods.

SeaWorld wants to also be known for conservation and   animal rescues.

It should be noted that they already do this but its   new initiatives are to expand those programs, and make the public more aware   of them.

SeaWorld has announced other changes that include a   more simplified pricing structure and a philosophy of expansion that includes   adding more of its own hotels, ala Universal and Disney (which is the   remaining champ in this area).

SeaWorld Entertainment has started a new   pricing system, including $79 online tickets that visitors can use any day of   the week.

SeaWorld previously had charged $70 for advance   purchase of tickets used on weekdays. Tickets used on the busier weekends had   cost $89 online.

SeaWorld’s one-day price at the gate remains $99.

SeaWorld also now has a “length-of-stay”   ticket allowing people access to four of SeaWorld’s Florida parks for two   weeks. The ticket also covers SeaWorld’s water parks, Aquatica in Orlando and   Adventure Island in Tampa. It costs $139 a month.

The cost of annual passes has gone from from $13 a   month — $156 for the year — to $14 a month, or $168 annually.

New   prices, new perks

New perks for pass holders include a new reward each   month. The rewards will include discounts, ticket offers and free gifts

SeaWorld’s price changes are a clear acknowledgment   that they can’t continue to compete with their rivals.

That is a sound judgment. And a positive sign for   their future.

So what are early signs of the new theme park?

A recent visit shows changes even in the parking   lot.

Its sections are labeled with headings such as   “Inspiration” and “Conservation.”

There’s also a “Rescue” section to help visitors   find their cars (and as a reminder of the new focus, of course).

Inside, the lands are now divided into seven seas.

They include such names as the Sea of Shallows   (Manta coaster, TurtleTrek, Dolphin Encounter), and the Sea of Power (Shamu   Stadium, and Wild Arctic), among others.

Other guests remarked this new organization was   practical and helped them find various elements.

So another plus, though a small one.

It’s almost too late because it’s over Jan. 31, but   SeaWorld added Wild Days themed weekends this month.

They feature various themes, including rescue   operations and killer whale presentations. They also include talks by various   experts and “animal meet-ups.”

The cost is included in regular admission.

So who visits what is evolving as the new SeaWorld?

For you…or   not

It’s common for SeaWorld   visitors to do the park as part of a visit to Walt Disney World Resort or   Universal Orlando, or even both.

Unlike those parks, SeaWorld is   just one theme park.

Unlike them, it does not have   its own hotels but does partner with seven “official” hotels around the   property.

Like them, there are various   benefits for visitors staying there including early access and front of the   line passes.

Like Disney and Universal.

Major differences, too

Some things are obvious.

If you are a teenager or have   that thrill-seeking mindset, you are probably most likely looking forward to   a visit to Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Not only Harry Potter, but also   long-established popular coasters and thrill rides such as The Incredible   Hulk Coaster and the Dragon Challenge.

Hard to beat them, even with a   Mako shark.

OK.   SeaWorld does have coasters already there (without making you wait for the   famous shark).

Kraken is   said to be Orlando’s only floorless coaster.

If you   like to have your feet dangling in open-sided seats, riding to a height of   about 150 feet in the air, this may be for you — whatever your age.

But true   to its sea themes, the best-known semi-thrill ride here is Journey to   Atlantis. Which fittingly combines roller coasters and water.

Fast drops   that are also wet, too.

Epcot cuts across age   preferences

Both teens and   adults alike might prefer Epcot above all Orlando parks. It’s obviously   the most non-traditional experience among all parks.

It really is a chance to see the world and its   culture right within a few miles radius   — without even the slight   inconvenience of a passport.

Food and drink items are the most diverse found   anywhere.

The entertainment is adult.

And more diverse than found anywhere else.

And even non-shoppers find a chance to look at   some items not found outside of the world showcase shops.

Yes, even teenagers often appreciate the chance to   see the world in one single day at one location.

The kid vote is for Disney

Disney is also high on kids of   all ages, of course, and even the very littlest ones.

But SeaWorld also   is a strong contender for smaller ones. Despite the protestors, the kids can   still feed the sea lions and dolphins.

They can   also touch and feel real creatures of the sea, mainly sting rays.

An entire section of the park, Shamu’s Happy Harbor,   is devoted to small kids with rides like gentle tug boat excursions.

While we recommend “Antartica:   Empire of the Penguin,” for kids, you would have to have the coldest adult heart   to resist melting in the icy home of the always-charming penguins.

You get to see them up close.

Wow, real penguins

One of the major attractions of SeaWorld is its   educational elements.

Out of all Orlando’s parks, both big and small, this   is obviously one of the most educational.

This was the case long before the killer whale   documentary and PETA protests.

Simple tests of guest knowledge of aquatic life   abound throughout the park.

SeaWorld is also known for its entertainment of   its shows, particularly One Ocean and Blue Horizons.

Blue   Horizons is like much of SeaWorld: a quiet attraction that combines two   elements not normally found together: dolphins and exotic birds but also a   cast of divers in elaborate costumes.

Ala   Disney, it also tells a story.

One Ocean   might be described as a “whale of a show.” Which it really is: it educates   visitors about just what is out there in the sea (besides whales).

Why SeaWorld is   different

SeaWorld is different because the focus is on live   animals (a visitor lure that Disney in   recent years turned to when they introduced Animal Kingdom).

A visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom is more similar   to SeaWorld than other major parks   — at least when it comes to   viewing animals.

If you figure this just in the cost of viewing   animals (x+y price for each animal), there’s a simple answer.

It’s not in the admission price, however.

This varies so much we’re not inclined to compare   but measured just in admission, SeaWorld traditionally has kept its rising single-day   prices several dollars less than the other parks.

More animals at   SeaWorld

Animal Kingdom has a lot more sprawl or size, 500   to about 200 acres.

But SeaWorld also has a lot more animals: 2,000 to   170, according to the last figures we read.

SeaWorld wins in numbers of species: with more   than 500 species, it more than doubles Animal Kingdom numbers (though these   figures are hard to get and not always up to date).

In general, there are more animals to see at   SeaWorld, and more different types of animals, too.

So if that is your own criteria for going to a   park, you have one quick answer to where you might want to be headed.

In more general terms…

The focus both at Disney and Universal is more   inclined to be movie characters, themes and rides based on those elements.

The biggest difference in SeaWorld is the live   shows in large-scale theatres over ride-based attractions elsewhere.

Generally, you might agree:

Changes here are in the right direction.

And while there’s no free beer, you might find (as   we did) free Coca-Cola drinks.

Not quite beer.

But better than nothing.

For more information, contacts include:

Phone:   407-351-3600

Online: ###