The location of my hotel for the conference was fantastic. It was across the street from the Orange County Convention Center, next to a steakhouse, and most importantly, just a 15 minute walk from SeaWorld. While my coworkers were more intrigued by the steakhouse, I was more interested in the fantastic B&M collection once the workday concluded.
In total, I visited SeaWorld four separate days. Three of those visits didn't span more than 2 or so hours while the final visit was an entire day. After filling the abridged visits with just coasters, it was refreshing to devote an entire day to SeaWorld.
For most of the park's patrons, Shamu is the crown jewel. For most coaster enthusiasts, I am guessing Manta is the crown jewel. I thought the same after my visit last year. Manta is still its same excellent self (and I'll get to that shortly). However on this visit, Mako was the shiniest pearl in the sea.
Mako is somewhat of an odd B&M hyper. One, that finale completely breaks the mold from all the other B&M hypers (which is a good thing in my opinion). Two, it is the only one that I prefer in the front seat. Without hesitation I will pick the back row on every other. Quite frankly, I could even skip the front row and I wouldn't shed a tear. But Mako is different. The front is the definitive place to ride.
The back row still has the prototypical floater airtime throughout the first half. But instead of the gentle (but sustained) floater air you get on the front of Apollo or any of the other B&M hypers, the airtime was stronger. I'd put it on par with the intensity of the airtime on the final few hills of Fury. So not quite the force of an Intamin hyper, but the fact that it's sustained with such a comfortable restraint system makes it extremely enjoyable and reridable.
After the MCBR, many of B&M's hypers seem to lose a step. In terms of speed, Mako is similar. But instead of slowly cresting hills a Segway in San Francisco, Mako sneaks in some wonderful overbanks. The first one in particular is surprisingly wild and really throws you to the side, catching me off-guard every ride. Then the final turn over the water is extremely picturesque but also a tad funky. It's hard to describe, but the banking seemed prolonged. It's almost like what happens if I hit autocomplete on something I'm building in Planet Coaster.
I probably rode Mako nearly 30 times. It wasn't hard to do since the line was never more than a 2-3 train wait. If you ride up front, Mako is probably the best B&M out there after Fury and Shambhala. 10 out of 10
Overall SeaWorld's operations are fantastic, but there was one ride that left something to be desired- Manta. While the ride did have one train operations at points, that wasn't what bothered me. It was the seating policy. For the first two days I visited, SeaWorld was assigning riders towards the front of the train. Yes the back row is arguably the back seat, but the really frustrating part was that the park was having people wait 1-2 trains rather than allowing them to fill empty rows towards the back. Hershey is the only other park I've seen do something similar.
Thankfully I was able to get the back row to my heart's content on the last two days I visited. Manta is yet another one of SeaWorld's B&Ms that stray from the norm.
On Superman and Tatsu, the front is the money seat for the view. While the front has superior visuals, the back is significantly more intense. Up front, I'd describe the first drop and the inline twists as graceful. The whole train may be one manta, but the back rides like an entirely different animal. Then that pretzel loop feels like it's going to pants me with its intensity in any row.
I'll still take Tatsu over Manta, but it's close. Manta definitely has better landscaping, but there's something both awesome and unsettling soaring around atop a mountain. 9.5 out of 10
Last but not least is the park's oldest B&M, Kraken. Unlike last year when I had to make a beeline to this attraction at park opening to avoid the capacity black hole known as virtual reality, Kraken's line moved ridiculously fast all-day long. Unfortunately the absence of VR only seemed temporary if the park map is to be believed. The park also kept the "Please remove your headset audio" active on the brake run. That's honestly something I'd expect more from a Six Flags park.
Outside of SFFT's Superman, I'd be hard-pressed to name a better floorless coaster. Kraken kicks the ride off with an unusually straight, but excellent, first drop. I really wish more B&M loopers had these. The straight drops are a highlight on this, Medusa, and Wild Eagle. The rest of the first half is the standard fare- vertical loop, dive loop, zero-G roll, and cobra roll. All the elements are glass smooth and enjoyable.
But it's the second half that differentiates Kraken from the other floorless coasters. The MCBR doesn't slow the train even a shred, so the resulting dive into the trench gives some great air in the back. The resulting vertical loop is more intense than the first and the final corkscrew is everything you'd expect from an older B&M looper.
This is how Kraken should be ridden, no VR. I can dream that the VR headsets fell into the water or were eaten by a kraken, but I do think they'll be back someday. It's still shocking to me that such a big, excellent coaster like Kraken would need VR to attract riders, but that's the park's call. 9 out of 10
The next "coaster" can be debated among the community. Yes it's 90% a flume, but that final drop is makes it a coaster in my opinion. Journey to Atlantis was down the first day. I was worried it was due to the "bitter cold" weather Florida was experiencing (60-65 degrees) causing some locals to bundle up in winter coats and hats. With the thermostat not even reading half of that back home, I was definitely in the mood for a soaking journey to the sunken city.
Fortunately it was open the next three days. For the most part, it was a walk-on, but it did post a 30 minute wait by mid-afternoon on the final day. However, I was able to grab three walk-ons by riding near park opening and close.
The "story" is entirely up to the rider to interpret. Thankfully SeaWorld has a musical score to guide you. The whimsical music at the beginning leaves you in awe at the wonders of Atlantis before SeaWorld ran out of budget. The ominous music is the middle is a catchy ear worm that tries to distract you from the vast nothingness you are looking at. I'm guessing we took a wrong turn in Atlantis to the backside of the building? Then the finale transitions to a booming song fitting for the end of an epic war movie. So I'm guessing we escaped?
As for the "coaster" elements, they're very well done. The main drop is outstanding. It's even taller than it appears since it's partially enclosed and even provides a really nice pop of air towards the back of the boat. I don't know if you get that pop in the front of the boat since I won't dare ride there because of the dastardly second drop. Then the curving coaster drop isn't overly thrilling, but it sure does beat your typical flume drop. If you avoid the front, you'll come off with the perfect wetness. If you ride up front, let's just say I hope you can swim. 9 out of 10
Antarctica, like Journey to Atlantis, feels like SeaWorld trying to emulate a Disney quality attraction. The outer facade and plaza look outstanding. But again it feels like the budget was cut after an impressive start.
For Antarctica, the trackless ride vehicles alone are a major wow. The movement is pretty random, but a few of the spins have the force of a tilt-a-whirl. If you're concerned the spinning will distract from the theming, don't worry. There's barely any outside of giant, rainbow-colored icicles. There's not a single animatronic along the journey and just 1-2 screens if I remember correctly. Still it's enjoyable for the ride system. 6 out of 10
And the penguin exhibit the attraction dumps you into is arguably better than the ride. 90% of the penguins are standing as still as statues on the elaborate rock work, but the other 10% are speeding through the water like a torpedo. I honestly never knew penguins could move that fast. It's like watching a turkey fly. Those birds can move when they want to despite their pudgy appearance.
Honestly I think Wild Arctic is the superior dark ride. Yes the ride is 20-25 years older than Antarctica, but it's a better attraction. While the film is dated and not quite as visually appealing as a Star Tours or (insert your choice of Universal simulators, there are a ton), the movement on this one blows me away. It's significantly bumpier and wilder than any other simulator I've been on. While I can see that as a detriment for some, it's a major plus for me. It really makes the flight through a winter storm an intense experience. 8 out of 10
And like Antarctica, the exhibit after the attraction is excellent as well. This one (fittingly) has a series of cold weather animals such as mantees and seals. I really love how the attraction ties into the animal exhibit. SeaWorld did a wonderful job subtly theming the animal exhibit to an arctic base without distracting from the wildlife in the exhibit.
The last attraction I rode (this visit) at Sea World was one I missed last year, the Sky Tower. Does this ride often close? It was closed last year and only open 2 of the 4 days I was at the park. I'm certainly glad I was able to get two rides on this colossal attraction since the views are exemplary.
I knew Florida was a mostly flat state, but the Sky Tower really put it into perspective. I saw a few mountains atop the attraction, and all of them were located at Walt Disney World. Florida really doesn't have any hills, does it? The views were breathtaking. Not only could I admire the park's B&M collection, but you could see every other Orlando park- Disney World, Universal, Fun Spot, etc. It was also the perfect opportunity to check out the park's progress on Infinity Falls.
On a final note, I sure am glad that I'm a season pass holder. I was pretty shocked to find the Sky Tower was an upcharge attraction. But that $2 fee was waived with my pass. Even if I wasn't a passholder, I think that's a fair price, especially since the nearby Orlando Eye charges $25-30 per ride. 10 out of 10
SeaWorld is more than just rides. Honestly I think most people are shocked to discover that SeaWorld even has rides. My coworkers sure were when I mentioned it to them. They were more interested in Clyde, Seamore, and Shamu. Ultimately I saw all but one show. The one show I skipped was One Ocean.
I skipped the Shamu show? Yes, but it was for two reasons. The first is that I saw the One Ocean show a few years ago at the San Diego park and it was by far the weakest show of the lot. The whales barely performed any stunts. Not sure if I caught it on a bad day, but that's my experience with the show. Instead of giving it a second chance, I took a slightly different approach to get my Shamu fill. I took a route that involved the iconic whale and an all-you-cat eat/all-you-can drink buffet.
Dine with Shamu is an incredible deal. With my pass, it came out to $26-27 if I remember correctly. For an all-you-can eat and all-you-can drink (yes you read that right, alcohol included) buffet, that's an incredibly good deal. The buffet had roast beef, chicken, pork, pasta, and basically anything else you'd find at the Disney buffets. And there was bottomless Budweiser and Bud Light (you knew that'd be the beer selection).
For the first half hour of the meal, the trainers circulated around the patio checking if anyone had questions about the whales. For the second half hour, the trainers gave a little demonstration in the pool adjacent to the dining area. These whales weren't actually the killer whales (I forget the breed), but they're an incredibly rare whale.
Ok I probably should clarify. It's all-you-can-eat and drink in an hour. Because after that hour, they move you to Shamu Stadium to see the real Shamu family. Don't worry, you are able to bring that one final beer to go.
I didn't realize the meal included this private show in the stadium afterwards. The demonstration was much better than the One Ocean show I saw a few years ago. The whales did a few stunts and the trainers provided some information how they care for the beloved whales. I'll take that over a pop infused show that focused more on the dancing trainers than the whales. The meal alone and private show alone are great deals, so putting them together makes this a no brainer in a visit to the park.
Clyde and Seamore's Sea Lion High was my favorite of the shows. I loved their show at the San Diego park, so I was excited to see the Florida version. This is without a doubt the funniest of the shows. While that's partially attributed to the energy and performance of the human cast, it's more because of the sheer awkwardness of the sea lions. Those animals are incredibly clever and impressive, but they also look quite goofy as they slide across the stage.
For anyone who has seen the show, is the female actress supposed to punch the science teacher in the face? Based on the out-of-control laughter of the cast, I am guessing it was accidental, but they played it off very well after the initial shock and even joked about it for the rest of the show.
I also loved the Dolphin Days show. Dolphins are one of my favorite animals (just behind weenie dogs and corgis), so I of course was a big fan of the show. The show was basically non-stop jumps, flips, and high speed maneuvers by the dolphins, which is exactly what I want to see at an animal based show. There was the obligatory conservation and recycling message towards the end of the show, but it didn't distract at all from the performance since it was brief and to the point.
Along with the dolphin show, there was also the Dolphin Nursery exhibit near Manta. And I think this was my favorite exhibit at the park. Not only were there dolphins in the tank, but they were ridiculously photogenic. Now a dolphin swimming on the far-side of a pool would be photogenic in its own right, but these dolphins were attracted to cameras like ACErs are attracted to a buffet. Once they saw someone whip out their phone, they swam over as a pack took better selfies than any of the Kardashians.
Speaking of weenie dogs, SeaWorld actually had a show with them. But aren't we at a sea based park? Yes, but the Pets Ahoy show uses creatures many of us have as pets- dogs, cats, birds, etc. I saw a similar show a few years ago at Busch Gardens (Pet Shenanigans) and I'm pretty sure this is a carbon copy of the show, albeit with different animal actors. And honestly that isn't a bad thing. I loved Pet Shenanigans and this show is no different.
I also counted three different wiener dogs. They of course popped out of
Beyond the shows, I also made sure to hit some of the animal exhibits. The two that stand out in particular are the shark and turtle exhibits.
The shark exhibit (Shark Encounter?) is the first time that I've ever encountered one of those moving walkway, 360 degree aquariums and it was definitely a cool experience. There was something exhilarating and magical seeing sharks all-around me as I safely moved along. Meanwhile all I did last time was pay $5 to feed the sharks some shrimp.
The turtle exhibit was actually part of the queue for Turtle Trek. Turtle Trek was a 3D, 360 degree show about the life of a turtle. It's a simple concept and the visuals were almost exceptional. I say almost because the movie was very dark. It was pretty tricky to see parts of the film, but the parts I did see were very good. I was particularly amazed by the 3D. Usually the 3D in movies is a throwaway gimmick in my opinion and just a waste of $2. On Turtle Trek, I really did feel the creatures coming off the screen.
Yes I went to an all-you-can-eat buffet. But I couldn't visit a Busch/SeaWorld park without having those addicting pretzels. Unlike Busch Gardens which has a consistent menu, SeaWorlds seems to mix their menu up. While I can see that as a positive for many, I have to admit that I was disappointed that the selection was missing the bacon wrapped pretzel. I had to settle on a cheeseburger pretzel as an alternative. While it will never beat bacon, it did still beat an Auntie Anne's or Wetzel's Pretzel.
I also have an assorted array of creatures grabbed walking around the park. Not quite sure where I encountered all of these.
Though one of the most memorable animal encounters was a squirrel. As I was passing by Pets Ahoy, I saw this mischievous little squirrel clawing through the back of a carriage. I was stunned the squirrel didn't run off as I approached. Outside of the black squirrels I saw in Canada which actually would actually let people touch them, I've never seen a squirrel ignore humans like this. But this particular squirrel gave as many hoots as your local park when they hear enthusiasts complain about them adding a clone 99% of their population base has never ridden.
It's a shame the park's attendance has been suffering from the Blackfish backlash since it truly is an excellent park. Honestly, I would take SeaWorld over all the Disney parks except Magic Kingdom. The combination of top-notch coasters, exemplary theming, and animal shows makes SeaWorld a fun and unique park.