Okay, you might say, it’s only a counter-service offering, what’s the big deal? Well, just to start with it is not ‘just’ a counter-service option, as it is far more imaginative than most and it provides a nice complement to SeaWorld’s other dining locations.
It also builds on the success of the impressive Pretzel Tails café at sister park Busch Gardens, which opened with the new Pantopia area of the park last year. If you’ve had their famous Bacon Pretzel Fury, then you know what to expect from Mama’s.
The other thing it does is continue to move theme park food away from the typical burger-and-hot-dog image, which is now distinctly old hat. Yes, 20 years ago it was hard to find anything interesting to eat in most parks, but that is definitely not the case now, and Disney, Universal and SeaWorld have all played a role in that.
In recent years, SeaWorld has given us the excellent full-service dining and seafood flavours of Sharks Underwater Grill, as well as the full-on barbecue experience of Voyagers Smokehouse and the variety of The Spice Mill, all of which are light years removed from the traditional fare usually associated with them (although you can still get a good burger at The Spice Mill!).
Now, to add more of that ‘something different’ factor comes Mama’s Pretzel Kitchen, which opened last week with a full media preview, and we were lucky enough to be invited along.
Just to start with, the location of Mama’s is ideal. It is in a quieter area of the park but close enough to Shamu’s Happy Harbor – the big children’s play area – to be a welcome alternative for a quick lunch or snack if the kids are suddenly in need of something more substantial than ice-cream or popcorn.
It is also near to Shamu Stadium so, if you are looking for a tasty snack to take to the One Ocean show, it is ideal for that purpose, too. The only thing we could fault it on was that there are currently only a handful of outside tables and chairs, and it could use a few more, as well as a bit of shade in summer.
The essential offering of Mama’s is, of course, pretzels; nice, big, doughy, soft ones, in seven main varieties, including a dessert selection and their signature item, Mama’s Meatball Pretzel Twist. Yes, that’s right – SeaWorld has combined a pretzel with a meatball sub and come up with a unique little delicacy that is sure to please the palate of most park visitors.
The herbed meatballs – three big, fat ones – are interwoven into the pretzel and dusted with cheese and salt for a decadently over-the-top taste, a true holiday treat. All the savoury pretzels are also comfortable enough for a lunch-sized helping (they come with crunchy fresh-made kettle crisps) and, at $7.99-$8.49, they make for a budget meal option, too.
Next up on the pretzel hall of fame is the Bacon Pretzel Twist. Like its cousin at Busch Gardens, this has a long, juicy strip of cherrywood-smoked bacon woven into the pretzel dough for a deliciously salty flavor and remains one of Simon’s favourites (and he’s just so glad he doesn’t have to go all the way to Tampa for one now!).
The Pepperoni Pizza Pretzel is also just what it sounds like: a big square pretzel covered in pepperoni and mozzarella cheese to make it a pizza/pretzel hybrid that is neither one thing nor the other, but plenty delectable to the bite.
Another winner with most of the assembled media – including us – was the Jumbo Pretzel Dog, with a hot-dog completely sealed inside a thick pretzel wrapper, not to be confused with the Bratwurst Pretzel Dog, which replaces the hot-dog with – ta dah! – a nice juicy bratwurst sausage.
The Mustard Pretzel Roll is also as the name would suggest, a mustard-infused pretzel twisted into a roll shape, while, for something sweeter, the Jumbo Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel makes the perfect dessert. Alternatively, the Cinnamon Sugar Nuggets are a nice plateful the whole family can share and are almost like mini doughnuts.
For those who prefer their fare a little plainer, there is the straightforward Jumbo Pretzel and Pretzel Nuggets, while you can also kick things up a notch with one of six special dipping sauces, including a Beer-Infused Cheese and Beer-Infused Mustard, with a sweet-and-spicy approach, or the Marinara, which pairs well with both the Meatball and Pizza pretzels.
The other neat aspect of Mama’s is the beer – proper craft beer, with selections that change seasonally and provide the perfect accompaniment to all the salty deliciousness on offer. Our samples included the Bimini Twist IPA and Beach Blonde Ale from the 3 Daughters Brewing company of St Petersburg on the Gulf Coast, as well as an Organic Red Ale from the Orlando Brewing Co.
Other current offerings are Blue Moon, Woodchuck Summer Cider, both a Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, and a Shock Top Twisted Pretzel Wheat for a wonderfully imaginative choice.
SeaWorld’s Executive Chef is Hector Colon, and he was also on hand to explain some of the creative process behind Mama’s. He told us: “We wanted to give people some things they might have seen before but with a little bit of a unique twist.
“The Meatball Pretzel is our signature offering, putting the two things together with the meatball in the middle. It is a little bit of creativity, mixing and putting things together and trying different combinations. We just said ‘Let’s give it a try!’ We had seen the success of the Busch Gardens version and we wanted to build on that here.”
Chef Hector steered us around the menu and pointed out some of their little ‘extras’ – a little more salt here, a fresh ingredient there – and definitely left us with a good appreciation of the culinary side of the park. The ride and show designers may have their art, but there is also a strong creative streak from the kitchens, too, and we will definitely be back for a pretzel and a beer on our next visit. We probably won’t be the only ones!
Talking of rides, we finished our visit to the park with a wander along the site of the forthcoming new rollercoaster Mako, which is due to open in summer 2016. There still isn’t a lot to see going vertical just yet (although all of the 91 pieces of what will be Orlando’s longest, tallest and fastest coaster have now been delivered), but the foundation work is quite extensive and it’s clear this is going to be a major attraction.
We are huge coaster fans and, while Mako is definitely going to change the look of this corner of the park (between the Shark Encounter and Nautilus Theater) it is going to be extremely dynamic and eye-catching.
But don’t just take our word for it – check out SeaWorld’s new POV video for a preview of the full Mako ride experience:
Have questions on this story or anything to do with Orlando or Florida? Be sure to join Susan and Simon on the fabulous ATD discussion forum here!