SeaWorld is a world-class theme park that combines unique opportunities to see live animals and their trainers, marine-life exhibits, and entertaining shows, along with the ability to experience thrill rides that aren’t just for the fish-and-whale crowd. Here are five must-see attractions at SeaWorld.
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, at 4 acres, is the largest expansion project in the park’s history. It encompasses shops, a restaurant, and a beverage station, as well as a dark ride and an extensive penguin viewing area, all carved into a canyon of faux ice and rocks. At the Empire’s center is, what else, the South Pole, here represented by a sort of barber pole with a reflective globe on top. Pleasant enough during the day, the area is particularly compelling after dark, with the white and periwinkle-blue hues of the ice peaks illuminated both from within and without.
The centerpiece of the theme area is the combination Empire of the Penguin dark ride and live penguin exhibit. The experience begins with a preshow introducing Puck, a newly hatched gentoo penguin. Next you board an eight-person “Antarctic saucer” and begin to drift through a convoluted ice cavern while following the story of Puck. All ends well, of course, and you disembark from the ride to enter the penguin habitat, housing almost 250 birds, including gentoo, king, rockhopper, and Adélie penguins.
You can view the tuxedoed residents either above or below water. The habitat is by far the highlight of the overall experience.
Clyde and Seamore’s Sea Lion High at the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium
One of three headlining shows at SeaWorld, the signature sea lion production is an absolute must. Before the show starts, a comical crossing guard warms up the seated audience with physical shtick while “helping” seat arriving guests.
The show proper puts guests inside Sea Lion High just before graduation, with our sea lion stars Clyde and Seamore set to flunk out and lose their scholarships unless they can pass four finals before day’s end. One at a time, the pair tackle drama class (re-creating scenes from Jaws), chemistry (learning that drains lead to the ocean), dance (doing the tango with roses in their mouths), and gym (featuring a climactic high dive).
The goofy story line features a hysterical lunch-lady cameo and copious kid-friendly bathroom humor, while taking some clever pokes at teen movie tropes that parents raised on movies directed by John Hughes will appreciate. It also takes a self-aware and self-deprecating stance by winking to the audience when (not if) the sea lions make mistakes.
Due to the strong ensemble work between trainers and animals—including the supporting otter and walrus cast members—as well as the better-than-average script that showcases the animals’ talents, this show is one of the funniest and fastest paced performances at SeaWorld. A word of advice: Choose your seats carefully. Rows marked ‘splash zone’ will get you drenched!
The king of SeaWorld rides, Manta is a steel coaster on which riders are arranged four across, lying facedown beneath the expanse of a giant manta ray–shaped carriage. The coaster soars and swoops through a pretzel loop, a 360-degree in-line roll, and two corkscrews—not to mention a first drop of 113 feet. There are four inversions while Manta reaches a height of 140 feet and speeds of more than 55 miles per hour. But don’t worry—lying facedown puts you in the perfect position to throw up.
Actually, the ride is relatively smooth, though the action seems nonstop. If you get sick, it will be from the bugs you pick out of your teeth (keep your mouth closed at all times—you’re supposed to be a ray, not a bat). The queuing area passes aquarium windows displaying rays and vividly colored fish.
One Ocean has as many as six orcas at one time in the tank, fronting the 6,000-seat Shamu Stadium. Usually performing in pairs and the occasional foursome, the mighty mammals swim and leap and even soar from the water for a full somersault. Typically, at least two orcas are simultaneously swimming past fountains, through curtains of water, and under shooting jets of water.
Beware of the splash zone—the half-dozen or more rows of seats closest to the tank—because it’s a gonna-get-wet area. Depending on which whales are doing the splashing with their tails, gallons and gallons of chilly 55 F salt water are flung into those first rows. When the largest of the orcas performs that trick, it is a real crowd-pleaser, with the audience howling and cheering as folks get splashed.
If you or the kids think you’re up for it, you might want to bring some extra clothes to change into after the cold shower. You should leave your cameras with someone out of the range of the corrosive salt water.
Gliding into the park like a shark silently stalking its prey, Mako made its debut at SeaWorld in summer 2016, barely a year after construction began, as Orlando’s tallest and fastest roller coaster—or at least until I-Drive’s Skyscraper Polercoaster gets built. This latest Bolliger & Mabillard–manufactured scream machine is the first in town to reach a height of 200 feet, and the 28-passenger trains hit speeds of up to 73 miles per hour along the 4,760 feet of track.
Mako’s design emphasizes out-of-seat air time over upside-down inversions, with nine distinct moments of weightlessness in the course. In addition to the physical thrills, guests get to explore ancient shipwrecks as they approach the ride and experience 48,000 watts of surround sound effects as the coaster cars dive over pedestrians’ heads near the ride’s finale. With no dangling legs or loop-the-loops, Mako is less intense than Manta and Kraken, though it still packs quite a bite. Ride first thing in the morning or immediately after experiencing Manta and Antarctica.
For a complete review of all SeaWorld attractions, check out Beyond Disney: The Unofficial Guide to SeaWorld, Universal Orlando, & The Best of Central Florida by Seth Kubersky.
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