On the day that I brought my family (wife and 2 daughters, daughters are ages 14 and 11), we were slightly pressed for time so I was a bit nervous as to how much of the park we were going to be able to see. When our girls were younger, we used to have annual passes and would frequent the park fairly often, but that was years ago so we were curious to see if SeaWorld Orlando was going to be able to keep their interest.
The parking situation wasn't bad. We paid $20 for general parking and were directed where we needed to go, which seemed like we were far from the entrance. But, I was incorrect. Nearly every spot in the parking lot is maybe a 5-7 minute walk to the main entrance of the park. There were a lot of people and it looked like chaos trying to get in -- but when I looked down at my ticket, it instructed us to proceed to 'Zone C (Park Entrance and Bag Check)'. The zones were clearly labeled, and we were finished with security and inside the park in another 5 minutes only!
We grabbed our park map and there were several employees readily available to direct new guests as to wherever they needed to go. A few steps beyond them we saw one of our first photo opportunities for the day with one of the costumed characters (I think he was a shark... not sure, but he looked cute), as we posed in front of the SeaWorld Orlando backdrop. A few steps further and we walked into this cool-looking aquarium display immediately next to Manta. The entrance of the aquarium made it feel like we were walking into some lost ancient world. Entering the aquarium you would need to set your camera to a low light setting and turn the flash off, but with fish and Mantas swimming around you 360 degrees, it felt like you were part of this underwater world amongst the marine life. Further into the aquarium, there was another cool photo op within the clown fish display. The girls liked this one alot!
My 14 year old is the adventurous one. As we exited the aquarium, she took on the first roller-coaster of the day: Manta. Manta is a 3300+ foot long steel coaster wherein riders are harnessed onto the attraction, but complete the ride in a prone-position (facing the ground). Imagine hang-gliding... with top speeds of this attraction topping out close to 60 mph, my adrenaline-junkie daughter was ecstatic! We dropped her off at the entrance of the queue, and she was back to us at the gift shop entrance in less than 10 minutes!!
Our next stop was 'Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin'. The visuals in this 'land' were pretty neat. With soaring snowscapes surrounding you, it felt like you were in the arctic. Approaching the ride-portion of this area, once inside riders are confronted with a decision to make: experience the ride with lesser motion (go to the left), or experience the 'wild' version of the ride (go to the right). The left side (lesser motion) did appear to move much quicker than our 'wild' side did. But all in all, we maybe waited 30 minutes in the queue. When we got to the attendant, (since I have a heart condition) I asked to exit and she politely directed me to the side door, and then directed my family where to wait. So at the end of this attraction, you are treated to seeing penguins... penguins live on ice. So... keep that in mind when you enter this area, likely dressed to take on the Florida heat (completely opposite how you should be dressed in here! So, I waited in this room with the penguins for about 7 minutes before I my family finished the ride and we were rejoined in here, in front of the penguins. It was so cold, so my wife waited for us outside while I took some photos of the girls in front of the open penguin exhibit (with playful penguins swimming and hanging out in the background).
My 14 year old then saw her next challenge: 'Kraken Unleashed'; ie, 'Roller Coaster #2.' Kraken Unleashed is a steel floorless coaster. In fact, it is the 2nd longest floorless coaster IN THE WORLD (at just over 4100 feet long), and hits a top speed of 65 mph!! For whatever reason, my daughter was able to walk directly onto this ride (no queue) and was back to us at the exit not even 10 minutes after she entered the queue.
We made a brief detour into the 'Shark Encounter Aquarium & Feeding' area. This is a very neat and unique experience, whereby park guests proceed through a glass tunnel lining the bottom of a 700,000 gallon aquarium filled with massive sharks swimming all around!
As we exited, the 14 year old saw her final coaster challenge of the day: 'Mako'. Mako opened in 2016, making it SeaWorld Orlando's newest steel coaster. At the time of its opening, it was marketed at Orlando's tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster. With a maximum height of 200 feet, a track length of nearly 4,800 feet, and a top speed of 73 mph, I was very happy that my daughter was able to experience this one. Queue length? She again finished her 3rd thrill ride at this park in not even 10 minutes!!
We were now approaching lunch time, and we made our way over to Voyagers Smokehouse, located next to the park's Sky Tower. Meat lovers or salad enthusiasts will be satisfied here. Wait time was fairly quick (about 15 minutes), and you pick your food cafeteria-style (grab food from counters as you slide your tray toward the cashier at the end).
We found our way over to Sesame Street Land. I'm not sure who was more excited to be in this colorful play area: my 11 year old who liked all of the business and bright colors, or me who was going through a nostalgia-filled remembrance of my childhood. This was actually the most densely packed area of the park, with kids EVERYWHERE. There was a water-play area where most of the kids were. We found ourselves inside one of the buildings taking photos with Elmo and Cookie Monster. There was a Sesame Street parade going on when we arrived (if you want to watch this, I'd strongly encourage you to arrive early so you can be close to the street / action of the parade). My girls loved the little mini-roller coaster ride here. If we had more time, we would have spent more time in this part of the park. Spatially, it isn't big in terms of square footage, but I would have liked to have spent more time looking at all the buildings as everything seemed to tie to the TV show in some way. Also, there are more characters who make appearances throughout the day. This is the newest area of SeaWorld, and it is a TON of exciting fun!!
We did make our must-see visit to Shamu Stadium to watch the always-impressive whale show, watching new visitors sprinting out of their front-row seats toward the back of the stadium once they realized that the powerful orcas were willing and able to splash water all over them. We were fortunate to take a photo with the whales after the show, by heading over toward the Whale Feeding observation area immediately adjacent and toward the back of the Stadium following the show.
It should also be noted that there were a lot of candy-getting opportunities (we visited toward the end of the park's Halloween festivities called 'Spooktacular'). In years past, they reserved the candy distribution until the evening hours. It was nice to see that SeaWorld has extended these fun activities into the morning / daylight hours (I believe they started handing candy out on the day of our visit just before 11 am).
Today's visit demonstrated to our family that SeaWorld is successfully transforming and redefining itself as a top-tourist destination again, readily able to compete against the other major theme parks of Orlando in the thrill-ride category. Truth be told, the 3 coasters in this park easily rival the thrill rides of the other parks in central Florida in terms of adrenaline rushes and speed. SeaWorld is set to open a 4th coaster sometime in 2020, and when it does it will attract the teenage demographic, and it will be difficult at that point for the other central Florida parks to be able to compete in the roller-coaster space. With existing big ride 'Journey to Atlantis' and the new 'Infinity Falls' attraction, SeaWorld would be well-poised to continue its focus and development toward the adrenaline seekers. Quite frankly, the other theme parks in Orlando seem to be shying away from actual big rides and disappointingly focusing on too many ride-simulators.
With that, we eagerly await what SeaWorld does next, and would strongly encourage you to visit the park and see what's new. You might be very surprised. Just make sure you also say hi to Shamu when you do visit!
--by Bailey Guinigundo