Years ago, I lived in Florida and SeaWorld was one of my favorite places. So when my husband and I were recently in the Orlando area, we took a day to visit the park.
I was surprised to find that the Sea is gradually being removed from SeaWorld.
Many years ago, I was disappointed to learn during a visit that the reef-aquarium building had been demolished. A flume ride was built in its stead, and a remnant of the aquatic displays was placed alongside the flume’s gift shop.
Now, half the sea lions are gone from Pacific Point Preserve and the artificial wave has been stilled. One can no longer walk around the entire ‘preserve’, since half of it is reserved for “preferred” guests (aka those willing to pay higher admission fees).
The dolphin show, which used to have a wide assortment of species performing, now has three. Much of the performance wasn’t animal-based, but consisted of costumed humans performing high-dives. We were surprised to find that the black-and-white Commerson’s dolphins that appeared in the park’s advertising materials couldn’t be found. We asked a gift-shop attendant about them. They’re in SeaWorld’s other park, Aquatica.
The manatee exhibit had disappeared behind a large barrier. I have to assume that it, too, is being replaced by a ride. Where I once enjoyed a peaceful stroll among animals, to the sound to calypso music, I now cringe as loud roller coaster cars roar above my head, the passengers suspended upside-down above the pavement.
In Shark Encounters we passed through several rooms filled with aquariums and . . . frogs? What frogs have to do with the ocean, I’m still pondering.
The Clydesdales that once represented the park’s owner, before the company was bought out, have been replaced by themed gardens. At least one was interesting — a garden of succulents arranged to resemble a coral reef.
Parking, by the way, was $14/car. For twenty-something, one could park closer to the park’s entrance, or for $30 have the car parked by a valet. Although, someone healthy enough to walk a theme park all day, can probably return to their own vehicle.
Several years ago, I’d visited the park alone and had dined at Sharks Underwater Grill, next to Shark Encounter. It was cool and quiet, and a wonderful respite after a day of hiking in the Florida sun. I enjoyed watching the sharks from the exhibit swim along a glass wall directly across from my cozy booth. The food was expensive but, once I tasted it, I felt the cost well-deserved. The meal was one I’ll always remember, and one of the best I’ve had. I was excited this time to treat my husband to a fabulous meal complete with shark T.V.
But in spite of our reservation, we had a twenty-minute wait. We were taken into the restaurant, and deposited on plastic chairs in the slop zone (sorry to offend those of you with small children, but it’s where they put the largest and rowdiest groups). I requested a booth on an upper level of the tiered restaurant, and the waitress obliged.
Things were looking up until we saw the menu. It had been greatly scaled back. The prices remained exquisitely high. When we got the food, it was barely mediocre.
So much of Florida has changed since my 1960′s childhood, and I’ve long since accepted that the home I knew and loved was swallowed by “progress.” But I was disappointed that one of my last haunts has evolved from a world-class zoo into a very loud amusement park.