My wife and I recently visited Sea World in Orlando, perhaps for the 6th or 7th time, and had a reaction that we have experienced after visiting several other once favorite destinations -- that this may be last time we ever come here. Maybe we're just getting old, but I thought it might be interesting to express my thoughts in the forum to "compare notes" with others out there.
First, it just seems overall that the emphasis of the park is changing from that of a true marine mammal and sea life facility to that of an amusement park with sea life as a background theme. True, this has always existed to some extent, but in the past we could ignore the roller coasters, rides, and silly gift shops and still spend a full, satisfying day in the park just going to the animal habitats. On this last visit, it seems like we completed our day very quickly. This may have been due to a number of exhibits being closed for renovation (notably the penguin encounter), but is just seems there is less to see. The underwater viewing area for the Orcas appears to be permanently closed, quite a disappointment as well.
Also, there seems to be more of a glitz factor -- rather than educational emphasis -- in how the animals are presented. We were appalled that the dolphin show now seems to be something similar to a Cirque du Soleil spectacle. Not a word was said about the animals during the performance -- the species, their behaviors, conservation concerns, etc. -- just Vegas style entertainment to be consumed by the approving masses. The Orca (Shamu that is) show was a little better as far as the trainers actually conveying some information about the whales, but the style and format of the show was similar.
A very troublesome observation this time, is how Sea World is creating different classes of visitors -- with different privileges -- depending on how much money one is willing to pay. We noticed in many areas -- dolphin cove, the sea loin/seal habitat, and the dolphin nursery among others -- that the viewing areas are now quite crowded and cramped because sections have been cordoned off for those who are paying for the "behind the scenes" or "VIP" tours. We have done a couple of these tours ourselves in the past, but they used to be conducted in such a way as to not be a nuisance and inconvenience to other guests. That however is now very much the case.
Related to this is the long waiting in line to get into exhibits while others who have paid for "quick queues" or who are pass holders are allowed to zip right in ahead of you. We had actually made the effort of coming back for a second day (as allowed by our one-day admission) because we were interested in visiting Turtle Trek, which was not opened on the first day we were there. After standing in line for what must have been 45 minutes, and seeing a continual parade of people, being let in ahead of us, we gave up and left. Fortunately we could still see the turtles and manatees in an open air area, but this experience put a bit of a negative taste on the day. I am sad to think that this is probably the kind of thing they will be doing for the new penguin exhibit, now under construction, which use to the place we enjoyed the most at Sea World. I do realize all major amusement parks are doing this kind of thing, but given how much a basic one-day admission costs, around $70 at a minimum, it is becoming most offensive and -- I would think -- quite the recipe for some significant social tension. I keep expecting to hear a news report of a riot breaking out in one of the parks when those who can only afford regular admission reach their breaking point as the privileged class is allowed to keep cutting in line ahead of them.
Of course the short answer for us is just not to go to Sea World anymore, which I'm sure a lot of people also conclude. But it is unfortunate, as this is something we really used to look forward to. I would be interested in the thoughts and perspectives of others.
And another thing, the Anheuser-Busch hospitality center -- with free beer samples -- is no more since the change of ownership!