Getting Soaked at SeaWorld
On a recent Saturday, my wife and I drove to visit our son and his girlfriend down at the small college they attend just north of San Diego. After a relaxed al fresco breakfast with a side of great conversation, the four of us headed out to spend the unseasonably warm, early fall day at the SeaWorld amusement park in nearby Mission Bay.
Over the years our family has been to this popular Southern California attraction many times as our kids have grown. We’ve always enjoyed the many live shows featuring killer whales, dolphins, sea lions and even a comedic walrus and sea lion duo. The corny, slapstick jokes (think Benny Hill with flippers) haven’t changed in decades but they’re still just as funny and goofy to see.
One big change we noticed on our latest visit, however, is the trainers in the Shamu “One Ocean” show no longer get into the water with their 12,000 pound, black and white stars – an obvious reaction to the tragic whale-induced drowning of a SeaWorld trainer in Florida last year. Now, rather than having the tractor-trailer-sized whales launch them out of the water while standing on their noses, or riding rodeo-style around the tank on the creatures’ backs – the wet-suit-wearing trainers stay safe and dry on the platform doing a silly, side-to-side shuffle. While they do this nautical line dance, a saccharine-sweet audio track blares its green-world, blue ocean environmental evangelism message about one planet, one ocean, one people, one chance – blah, blah, blah. I started looking for one barf bag as the trainers sang about becoming one with the whales (I could be wrong but I think you have to get into the water with them to do that), one with the lobsters and crabs, sea urchins, clams, jelly fish, seaweed, sand – you get the idea.
The other change we noticed are the many new and ingenious ways SeaWorld has devised to separate guests from their economically challenged, hard-earned dollars. I mean, holy anchovies, don’t these people know there’s a recession going on?
At $14, it’s expensive just to park your car, unless you actually want to park in the same zip code as SeaWorld, in which case it’ll cost extra for “preferred parking.” But the fleecing has only begun, because the cheapest general admission is now almost $70 per person. That’s a lot of clams.
True, the many delightful animal shows are included with the entrance fee. However, a costly new wrinkle is the availability of an annual “Platinum Pass” which allows you to sit in the better seats at every performance. So what if you planned ahead and showed up a half hour early to get a good seat. Tough tuna. If you don’t pony up (or porpoise up, I suppose) extra cash for the privilege of sitting in the reserved Platinum Zone seats – the majority of which were empty the day we attended, thank you very much – you’re stuck with the proletariat riff raff high up in the stands or far off to the side. Take that, you huddled masses!
SeaWorld has also taken a page from those Master Marketers in Mouse Ears just up the freeway in Anaheim who place souvenir stores in every conceivable location. For example, it’s physically impossible to exit SeaWorld’s Wild Arctic, Turtle Reef, Penguin Encounter or Shark Encounter attractions without being funneled like cattle through a stockyard chute through the middle of a store brimming with plush toys, T-shirts and other silk-screened crapola. Forget the kids. Hold on tight to your wallets.
Oh, and if you get sopping wet (the signs guarantee you will) on the Shipwreck Rapids ride, don’t worry – there are ingenious walk-in drying stations available as you exit. How convenient. How thoughtful. How mercenary. To dry off will cost you another $5 a person. Talk about getting soaked.
I’ll have more thoughts about our SeaWorld experience next week – but don’t worry, there won’t be an extra fee to actually read them. I’ll see you ‘round town.