Man the harpoons and grab your nets, friends. We’re going to SeaWorld!
Some number of years ago now, I posed a question to the website, asking if anyone was interested in coverage of the neighborhood theme park. There were some amusing responses.
I will admit SeaWorld’s handling of sea creatures does not bother me. I’m not sure if it should. In the comments section, several people asked if I had seen “The Cove,” a “documentary” about dolphin hunts in Japan. I have and it is appalling. On the other hand, we live in a country that slaughters 10.5 billion land animals every year for food. Living as a vegetarian or vegan does not necessarily mitigate the extreme loss of animal life. In fact, there’s a study that argues 300 million fewer animals would be killed annually if everyone adopted a beef and dairy diet rather than a vegan one. Just think of all the animals that get ground to death during wheat cultivation. We live in a country where animal shelters euthanize 2.7 million cats and dogs a year because they don’t have homes. I’m not an expert, but I can’t imagine being neutered is particularly pleasant. Nor would it be pleasant to be a mouse, gerbil, snake, etc. living in a four square foot cage in a seven year old’s room. Nearly every marine mammal at SeaWorld was born there. They haven’t used a dolphin caught in the wild for over 25 years. Animal Kingdom preaches about poaching and I’m sure the animals there were “humanely” captured, but it’s still rare animals in captivity. Animal Kingdom trains birds. Epcot has dolphins. It’s true that a trainer was killed by a whale at SeaWorld in 2010. It’s also true that since 2007, twice as many people have died working on Primeval Whirl at the Animal Kingdom theme park.
And you could argue SeaWorld does a lot more to help animals than they do to harm them.
Anyway, we live in a really, really messed up world. A world where 15 million children die each year of starvation. A country where over 40 million people live in poverty (many of them Disney employees). I’m not sure if dolphin shows should really be on our radars.
Arriving at SeaWorld is much like arriving at a Disney World theme park. The entrance is all the way down on the left side of the parking lot. You sort of expect there to be clear signage indicating that fact, but I thought it was confusing the first time I visited.
Purchase your tickets ahead of time online at http://seaworldparks.com/seaworld-orlando/Book-Online/Buy-Tickets-and-Passes?from=Top_Nav. You’ll bypass this ridiculous line and save $10/ticket. SeaWorld also offers a “Fun Card.” For the regular one-day ticket price of $92, you’ll receive a ticket good for admission every day until the end of the year. This is obviously a better proposition on January 1st than June 11th, but if you’re planning to visit more than one day it’s definitely the way to go. SeaWorld also offers annual passes for $149/year or $229 for two years. Clicking this McDonalds (of all things right) promo link will get you an extra three months added. You can also check MouseSavers for additional discount options. Annual Passes include parking (normally $15) and come with additional perks like a 10% savings on food and merchandise. If you’re going the Fun Card route, it may be worthwhile to purchase one annual pass for a member of your party to receive free parking and the additional discounts.
When you purchase your tickets online, you’ll receive a voucher sort of similar to this one. This is actually a front-of-the-line ticket to Empire of the Penguin that Passholders can register for online through June 30th. You take your voucher to one of the many self serve will call voucher station place things at the front of the Park and scan them. And out pops a real life ticket.
Bag check is similar as well. While it might seem congested, it’s pretty quick. As usual, head all the way down to the right to find the shortest line. They just want to make sure you left your dry ice bombs at home and have your firearms securely attached to your body. And remember to carry all alcoholic beverages on your body. Then you scan your finger into the NSA database that Barack Obama and Richard Nixon personally oversee.
Assuming you passed the background check and your bottle of The Macallan isn’t sticking out of your cargo shorts, you’re in. Guest services, information, reservations, stroller rentals etc. are right inside the entrance. It’s best to Google the answer to your questions prior to arrival.
You’ll take a right and Manta will be directly in front of you.
This ride is literally insanity.
There is no capturing it in an image.
These people are laying parallel(?) to the track laying upside down at speeds of 56 miles per hour.
Because of its insane nature, wait times tend to be lower than the other major rides. This visit is on the Tuesday following Memorial Day. While the wait at Kraken was 60 minutes, Atlantis was 50 minutes, and Empire of the Penguin (which we’re getting to, I promise) was 120 minutes, Manta was a whopping 15 minutes.
Single rider is also available should other members of your party be sane enough to skip it.
SeaWorld offers Quick Queue Unlimited, which is like Express Pass over at Universal. It runs $14 to $29 per person depending on anticipated crowds and demand and works at Manta, Kraken, Journey to Atlantis, TurtleTrek, Sky Tower, and Wild Arctic. Note that it does not include the new Antarctica ride (we’re getting there, really). The Quick Queue line is basically the FASTPASS line where you’ll receive priority boarding.
If you’re interested in riding each attraction one or two times and arrive prior to Park opening, you don’t really need Quick Queue. It does offer flexibility, particularly if you prefer to enjoy a champagne brunch and show up at the Park at 11am in the summer. It may also be worthwhile if you just want to spend your day riding roller coasters. During the “off-season,” when the overall crowd level on the Disney World crowd calendar is a three or below, SeaWorld should be pretty much dead, much like Universal. I noticed some odd pricing on Quick Queue when I was looking over the calendar. Christmas Day is $14 for example, whereas August dates are $24. So I’m not sure you can look at the price and simply conclude that it’s never worthwhile to purchase if the price is $14.
Quick Queue is also available at SeaWorld’s Partner Hotels, which also include:
Our On-Site hotels, the Official Hotels of SeaWorld® Orlando, are all within walking distance of our parks. These properties offer their guests exclusive benefits including:
- Complimentary transportation to SeaWorld, Aquatica, SeaWorld’s WaterparkTM, Discovery Cove® and Universal Orlando*
- Complimentary Quick Queue (front-of-the-line access) at SeaWorld*
- Exclusive access to the “SeaWorld Rescue Tour” at SeaWorld on Early Entry dates and every Saturday all year long**
- Free shuttle to Busch Gardens® Tampa on the Busch Gardens Shuttle Express (Busch Gardens Ticket and shuttle reservation required)
Stauing at a Partner Hotel may be worth researching if you’re planning a vacation that includes area attractions. The shuttle to Busch Gardens is always available for free if you have a paid ticket and can be scheduled here.
Antarctica is located more or less smack dab in the middle of SeaWorld. The entrance to Kraken is located to the left with Journey to Atlantis behind it. From the main entrance, you walk toward Manta, pass it, and then continue walking and take a right.
You can also enter from the opposite side.
In my experience, Kraken doesn’t begin operating until 10am.
It’s similar to The Hulk over at Islands of Adventure, but the lift is slower, like a traditional roller coaster. It has a top speed of 65mph (67mph for Hulk), drop of 144 feet (104 feet for Hulk), and duration of 3 minutes 36 seconds (2:15 for Hulk).
While The Hulk’s launch is fun, I think there’s something to say for the slow, brooding lift of the conventional coaster. I have ridden Kraken exactly one time, immediately after Manta in the morning. Compared to Manta, Kraken “feels” like The Barnstormer.
Journey to Atlantis is the Park’s prototypical flume ride.
The 60-foot drop here puts it more in line with Splash Mountain than Jurassic Park.
There’s also Turtle Trek 3D, Wild Arctic Ride, Shamu’s Happy (BUT IS HE REALLY HAPPY????) Harbor, and Sky Tower to discuss. And the shows, sharks, restaurants, quick services, etc. Which we may or may not do in the future.
Antarctica is made up of three or four pieces. The first is obviously the ride, Empire of the Penguin, which will also transport you into the penguin viewing area. At the moment, there is no way to view the penguins without waiting for and riding the attraction. Across the way is the store, which stocks a surprising number of items. Expedition Cafe is the quick service, offering a wide assortment of fast food options in a food court format.
I’m really bad at theme park touring. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this fact. Although in my defense, I really was not sure what to expect from Antarctica because it had only been open for three days. I arrived at the entrance at 9am and was back here at 9:10am.
This is the line. Note the disapproving Nikon camera guy. Sorry I use Canon.
Unless you’re among the first 100 or 200 or so people inside the Park, do not go to Antarctica first. Everybody else is going to and the attraction loads horrendously slowly. With just 500 or so people in front of you, you’re looking at a 75 minute wait.
The queue is almost entirely outdoors.
You’re aided a bit by fans, misters, and umbrellas, but it’s still hot.
One plus is that it winds by the sea lion, or seal, or walrus, or whatever they are pen. There’s a Louis CK joke in there somewhere.
Uhhhhh seals? I don’t know. I’m really confused at zoos.
Haters gonna hate. I’m sure this cute little bugger would much rather be struck by a cruise ship out in the wild than hanging out here on his rock.
Winding. In some ways, Antarctica takes a page out of the Harry Potter World playbook. Parts are extremely detailed, while show buildings are occasionally left out in the open.
There are exactly two props in the queue.
Now you’ve seen them.
Almost. The sliding doors into the preshow are just ahead. If you have a Passholder Front-of-the-Line ticket or you’re a Wealthy Manhattan Mom, you’ll queue up on the left. From this point, it will be about 30 minutes until you board the ride.
Once through the doors, you’ll be hit with air-conditioning that makes it feel like the temperature has dropped 319.4 degrees.
And watch a 3-minute video.
In the next room, you choose whether you want the “mild” or “wild” “expedition.” There is not much of a difference and unless you’re seriously prone to dizziness or motion sickness, you might as well go for the “wild” adventure.
You’ll be assigned one of four rooms depending on which version you choose. Any of the vehicles can be programmed to be mild or wild, so a shorter line doesn’t necessarily mean the wait will be shorter. For example, if there are 20 people for mild and 30 people for wild and three of the four vehicles are programmed to be wild, the wait for mild would actually be longer. Other than some brief spinning, almost all of which occurs in the first 45 seconds, the two rides are identical.
This is your ride vehicle. The “wild” version spins similar to Mad Tea Party at Magic Kingdom if nobody is actively turning the spin thing in the middle of the cup. There’s also an additional bump or two.
This is a video of the wild expedition.
And you can compare with the mild expedition.
My initial reaction to the attraction was disappointment in how little there was to it. If you’re ever going to disembark a ride saying, “That’s it?” I think this would be that time.
SeaWorld hyped the Antarctica addition as their biggest ever and used the concept art above to market the ride. While the attraction does use “trackless technology,” the experience is basically limited to the first 30 seconds of the attraction where the vehicle moves inside of the first room. Then it’s a horizontal transfer to a room with a screen that plays a short video and then a second room, where another short 2D video plays. Then it’s over. There are no live penguins during the ride. And really no physical effects other than some blown smoke early in the attraction.
But life is an expectations game. Lower yours to the floor and you might be impressed.
The penguins at the end are tres adorable though.
The ride drops you off in the middle of the penguin habitat.
It’s “literally” freezing in here, which is part of the reason why there’s “literally” nobody here looking at the penguins. It seems kind of silly to pack a jacket to spend a few extra minutes with the penguins, but I did and felt like a boss while the peasants shivered.
Five minutes of penguins for your enjoyment.
You can spend as much or as little time in here as you like. It’s going to become uncomfortably cold for most people in shorts and a tshirt within ten minutes.
The headless ones (top right) are a little strange. Disney would have made sure they all had heads.
Hopefully SeaWorld didn’t get the penguins from the Japanese. Actually, I have it on good authority that all penguin peddlers are Canadian and they’re raised on sunshine and rainbows.
The next room offers a warmer climate to watch the penguins swim underwater. Up on the left side of the frame is an area where you can look out at the habitat and stay warm.
The view from in here.
Lower your expectations and Empire of the Penguin should meet them. I was expecting some sort of free flowing, trackless attraction where I was going to be gliding through water and ice surrounded by penguins. What we get is a pretty lousy simulator with no animal interaction during the ride.
If you’re among the first people inside the Park, heading to Empire first makes sense. I would not get in line between 9:10am and noon when lines are longest. Once the shows begin at noon, wait times drop. The second best time to visit would be an hour before close. During the summer, expect actual wait times from 2pm – 6pm to be 35 to 60 minutes.
Lens transition from 30 degree temps to 90 degree temps. A few large lockers are available outside the ride.
You should be able to stow whatever you need on the attraction. I had no problem with my JanSport and camera. 50 cents is cheap though – I think I paid $4 for 90 minutes at Jurassic Park at Universal last week.
Of course, it’s impossible to do anything in the theme park sphere without your own exclusive beverage. Maybe I can partner with Macallan to bring you an exclusive flavor.
I have no idea what they’re talking about with this CO2 saving nonsense.
Anyway, I bought one.
“South Pole Vanilla Chill” is the name of the “exclusive beverage” here. It tastes almost exactly like A&W cream soda. But they get bonus points for the exclusion of a marshmallow foam topping.
The idea here is that you can refill your cup for 99 cents whenever you want on the day of purchase and during future visits. These cups also work at Busch Gardens and vice versa. The $9.99 Antarctica cup is the most expensive of the bunch. You can use the $6.99 mug purchased elsewhere and fill it with the South Pole Chill or any other Freestyle beverage if you like. Refilling at the Freestyle machines is probably wisest because you control the amount of ice and can probably guzzle while nobody’s watching. You know…to taste your creation before committing.
For an extra six bucks, you can create your own cup in the shop.
Totes cute. Just don’t drop one or all the pieces will fall off. And it may not be the most practical thing in the world to carry around. But as a non-functional souvie cup, it’s tops.
There is merch involved, of course of course.
The other side.
A lot of it was amusingly similar to Disney offerings.
Some of it is too precious.
Is this shoe thing a thing?
This is somehow a wine bottle holder.
This is a bank.
These are cell phone holders. I don’t know what the dilly is. Do people really use cell phone holders that look like shoes?
Anyway I can post more merch pictures if anyone cares. In true website fashion I have a picture of every product.
There is a lot of stuff.
Expedition Cafe is the quick service arm of Antarctica. One thing I do like about it is the unassuming facade.
The theme here is clever: Expedition Café is a marketplace style mess hall featuring food from all different corners of the world that will satisfy even the hungriest explorer. The fare features cuisine from three of the countries involved in the original treaty and include American, Asian and Italian cuisine. Grab-and-Go coolers stocked with assorted deli sandwiches, salads and desserts are also available for the scientist on the run.
Apparently Asia is a country.
They seemed to be ready for a crowd. This looks like an extended queue.
But this is more Fast Food Boulevard than Be Our Guest. It’s set up similar to a Disney resort food court where each location offers a different menu:
Kirin Ichiban. Just my luck. They should theoretically have Yuengling and Peroni in addition to the Kirin.
Being 100% American, I went for the 3-Piece Fried Chicken, Potato Wedges, and Biscuit. I was surprised how good it all was. The chicken is kind of luck of the draw. A number of pieces were much larger than what you see, but I was only charged for a 2-piece. So there’s that. I liked the deli-style potato wedges over your typical french fry. They were thick, hot, and seasoned well. The chicken was crispy, juicy, and not particularly oily. The biscuit was as good as anything you’d get from KFC. I was impressed and it was a ton of food for the money. A vegetable might have rounded out the meal, but vegetables are for losers. And there are no Mickey Checks here.
The seating area is themed extremely well. You’ve got outdoor picnic tables with umbrellas in the center.
Covered seating in the Penguin Hall on the left.
Inside, you’ll find information about how to dress for your Antarctic expedition.
In the back is where most people are going to want to sit, whether it be outside at these less popular tables or inside the air-conditioned Sub-Zero Recreation Center (When the Going Gets Tough, the Touch Play Checkers).
More picnic tables. One potential problem I did notice is that the tables are sort of set up “communally.”
I felt sort of awkward taking up a picnic table for eight people by myself, but there are really no tables for two or four people specifically. Or one sad blogger as the case may be.
So that’s Antarctica and a few of the things you’ll run into as you walk to the area. We may or may not take a look at what else is there, but I do have 632.0 more photos.
I enjoy SeaWorld. For about the same price as a one-day ticket to Animal Kingdom or Universal Studios, you can visit a theme park for up to a year. For another $60 or so, you get admission, parking, merch/food discounts, etc. for 365 days + another 90 days through the McDonalds link. The Park offers several top tier attractions, including two coasters that position themselves well versus the other options in Orlando. While I personally found Empire of the Penguin disappointing, it’s better when you aren’t expecting much. And the penguins are adorable.