You would have to go back a few years…seems like ancient history…but you used to be able to get free beer.
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?
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.
“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.
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.”
“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?
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:
Online: seaworldorlando.com. ###