It's been said that "You only get one chance to make to make a first
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And given that visitors to SeaWorld San Diego have been
entering that theme park by strolling past the same old, boring, blocky set of
ticket booths since 1985 ... Well, the designers at SeaWorld decided to use
this theme park's 50th anniversary as an excuse to reinvent its entry
Mind you, it took five years to come up with a design that everyone liked. And
then an additional 16 months to tear out SeaWorld San Diego's original entrance
plaza and build this theme park's new
entry portal (Before construction began, SeaWorld San Diego threw together a
temporary gate to the right of this theme park's original entry way).
Photo by Shelly Valladolid
But this Thursday night, ahead of the official kick-off of SeaWorld's 18
month-long 50th anniversary celebration, the media was invited down to San
Diego for a special preview of this new three acre area. And while it's not
often that you get the chance to hang out with a sloth ...
... and to knock back cocktails as someone takes an African
Crested Porcupine out for a stroll ...
... the real highlight of my trip to San
Diego was to get the chance to check out this new entrance
experience. You see, the conceit that SeaWorld's designers came up with is --
after you've parked the car -- you're now supposed to feel like you're arriving
at the beach. Which explains the planters full of sand & swaying sea grass
Then -- as you walk up to the actual entrance to this theme park-- you notice
that, directly over the turnstiles, there's this stylized wave sculpture. This
30 foot-tall, 100 foot-long wave is supposed to give you the sense that -- as soon
as you enter SeaWorld San Diego -- you're now diving right into the ocean and
entering "The World Beneath the Waves."
And what re-enforces this design concept is that -- as soon
as you come through those turnstiles -- you then immediately find yourself in SeaWorld San Diego's new
Explorer's Reef area.
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Given that I've been following the Explorer's Reef project
since SeaWorld first began design work on this San Diego enhancement back in
2011, I have to admit that it's kind of startling to see how close the finished
product came to the original concept painting.
I especially liked how SeaWorld's designers used translucent materials &
artfully carved pieces of steel to give you the sense that you really were underwater
exploring some colorful, over-sized coral reef.
But the really ingenious part of Explorer's Reef is that it allows SeaWorld San
Diego visitors -- just seconds after they've come through the turnstiles -- to
have an immediate hands-on animal experience at this theme park.
As part of this reimaging of SeaWorld San Diego's entrance, four 24,000-gallon
touch pools were built & then stocked with brown-banded & white-spotted
bamboo sharks as well as more than 4,000 smaller fish.
As I explored this 3 acre area on Thursday evening, the
horseshoe crab pool was a real hit with this cutie.
After Explorer's Reef officially opened on Friday morning, following the kick-off
of SeaWorld's 18 month-long 50th anniversary celebration, visitors crowded
around all four of these new touch pools. As they each tried to get up-close with
the sharks, skates, horseshoe crabs, rays and cleaner fish that were on display
People also made a point of checking out the nearby SeaWorld Store. Though this
retail shop has actually been open since January, for many theme park visitors,
yesterday was the first chance to experience this store for some. This store borrows a lot of
Explorer's Reef's design conceits (i.e. the large coral formations) to create the feel of this open-air marketplace where you can then find all of SeaWorld San Diego's very best
retail lines when it comes to gifts, souvenirs and collectibles.
And as part of yesterday's kick-off of SeaWorld's 50th
anniversary celebration, we were treated to a performance by the Sea Street
... not to mention meeting a member of the SeaWorld
"Surprise Squad." Who will wandering through all of the SeaWorld parks on a
daily basis over the next 18 months giving away prizes and special gifts.
As I walked around the theme park itself on Friday, I noticed that there were
all of these fun & informative signs that talked up SeaWorld San Diego history ...
... not to mention SeaWorld's animal rescue and conservation efforts.
On Thursday night, the media also got to see a performance of the Sea
of Surprises Shamu Show. Which is
this brand-new nighttime killer whale
show which will be rolled out at SeaWorld San Antonio next month and at
SeaWorld Orlando in June. (I'll be discussing the Sea
of Surprises Shamu Show in greater detail
in a future JHM article).
And as much fun as I found those larger-than-life sea-themed
sculptures that environmental art group Washed Ashore had created for
SeaWorld's 50th anniversary celebration which were scattered throughout this theme
... in the end, what truly impressed me was SeaWorld San
Diego's new Explorer's Reef area. Which does such a nice job of reinventing the
arrival experience at this theme park that it really has to be sea-n ... sorry,
seen to be believed.
Kids love SeaWorld, for adults it's a nice distraction, but not like going to a Disney theme park. Don't get me wrong, there are some nice shows, but the park is haphazardly arranged, and without any discernible lands. Maybe every dozen years we do the Vacation Village (Paradise Point)/Sea World thing.
SeaWorld isn't like going to a Disney Park, because it's not a Disney Park. That said, Disney's Animal Kingdom did use the same concept of "wander and explore" that SeaWorld presently uses. SeaWorld is, actually, broken into named, themed sections like Shipwreck Reef and Calypso Bay, but they're not marked very well, which is a shame. I seem to have spent more time checking my map to see if I was *still* going in the right direction! We go about once a year, but might be going more often, because the food is light years better than years previous, the service has improved vastly, and the experiences are more entertaining and with a decidedly zoological/ichtheological bent that wasn't as obvious before. I'm glad to see it. I also learned that the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute came a year BEFORE the theme park (it was originally intended to be a tiki-style restaurant!) and that the park was opened by the four UCLA students responsible for the Institute as a way to raise money for the animal rescues they were doing on a regular basis. So, you're right...they totally came about "backwards".
I went last summer when the temporary entrance was up, so it probably wasn't as good an experience. I do like the food at SeaWorld, I remember having an eggplant parmesan at the Italian restaurant that was good. The polar bear exhibit is definitely the best I've ever seen.
Mission Bay was dredged a while back with the express purpose of putting in a resort Paradise Point (Vacation Village), and a marine zoological park (SeaWorld), the land has to be used as a marine zoological type park, and is leased from the city, this explains why a marine zoological park.