By Susan and Simon Veness
SeaWorld kicked off its 50th Anniversary celebration on 21 March, with a wave of excitement and a boatload of new experiences throughout the park. For the next 18 months, guests will experience a Sea of Surprises, some of them educational, some just plain fun, and all in world-class, family-friendly style.
Sea of Surprises began under a shower of bubbles, taking guests ‘under the sea’ as we made our way toward the stage and two big-screen monitors in the entrance plaza, showing highlights from each decade in the park. The first dolphin rescue in 1974; the opening of Bayside Stadium in 1976; the first Shamu Celebration show in 1984, and the first baby killer whale born in 1985. Visitors munched on cupcakes and ice cream, the perfect breakfast for a day ‘on holiday’.
As it does each morning, SeaWorld began with the National Anthem and a call to honour our men and women serving in the military. Then Terry Prather, President of SeaWorld Parks Orlando, took the stage, saying, “This represents fifty years of a good relationship with the natural world, and fifty years of caring for the natural world. We’ve done a lot over those fifty years.” Part of what SeaWorld has done is to have rescued 23,000 animals, and we think that’s pretty impressive.
SeaWorld’s animal ambassadors and their handlers paraded next, followed by representatives from each of the park’s shows, with our favourite entertainer, the mime from Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island, standing front and centre. The standing ovation they received was a lovely testament to the quality of the park’s shows.
A highlight of any day at SeaWorld are the encounters with the park’s Animal Ambassadors, and they’ll be out in greater numbers during Sea of Surprises. Yesterday we met Bella, an opossum who was one of three babies saved from their mother’s pouch when she was killed by a car. Baron the miniature horse grazed in a new pasture in Sea Garden, while Owlfred the great horned owl, rescued from Tampa when he was released by his owner but unable to fend for himself, perched on his trainer’s arm. Under SeaWorld’s care, the resident Kookaburra has reached the ripe old age of 17 (they usually only live until age 15), and is still going strong. He serenaded us with his full repertoire as an amusing parade of flamingos galloped by.
Sea Garden, where many of the animal encounters take place, also has 4 new sculptures—an octopus, a seahorse, sea anemones, and a parrot fish—all made from rubbish picked up along U.S. beaches by the environmental group, Washed Ashore, Art to Save the Sea. The octopus included materials washed up across the Pacific from the tragic 2011 Japanese Tsunami.
As guests wander, they’ll come upon various Soak Zones throughout the park. Worried about your camera getting wet? Don’t be. The soak zones are actually bubble zones, and they’re only interactive if you want them to be. But if you come across a wacky Inventor, volunteer when he asks and you might be the one to create the perfect bubble. Splash Dance slapstick street show may be a different story, so watch those juggling water buckets!
Want even more excitement? The Surprise Squad will roam the park, handing out surprises every day, including gifts, vouchers, and even trips to SeaWorld’s other parks. But the main goal is for guests to experience the animals up close, then take their appreciation for these beautiful creatures into daily life. Terry Prather said it best: “From Day One, the mission has been to entertain and inspire our guests, and to have them leave with a greater desire to care for and protect the natural world.”
Check out the Attraction Tickets Direct range of SeaWorld tickets and be swept off your feet by the park's 18 month long Sea of Surprises celebration!