Cleverly disguised as a theme park -- or as SeaWorld likes to call it, an adventure park -- this popular 200-acre marine park lets guests explore the mysteries of the deep and learn about the oceans and their inhabitants, all while having tons of fun. SeaWorld combines wildlife conservation awareness, actual marine life care, and plain old fun all in one fell swoop (a concept it calls "edutainment"). While that's what Disney is attempting at Animal Kingdom, the message here is subtle and a more inherent part of the experience.
SeaWorld's beautifully landscaped grounds center on a 17-acre lagoon and include flamingo and pelican ponds and a lush tropical rainforest. Shamu, a killer whale, is the star of the park along with his expanding family, which includes baby whales. The pace is much more laid-back than at either Universal or Disney, and it's a good way to break up a long week trudging through the other parks. Close encounters at feeding pools are among the real attractions (so be sure to budget a few extra dollars to buy fishy handouts for the sea lions and dolphins, who make begging an art form).
SeaWorld manages a few thrills and chills. Journey to Atlantis is a high-tech water ride similar to Splash Mountain at Disney's Magic Kingdom. Kraken is a floorless roller coaster that sports seven inversions, much like coasters such as Montu and Kumba at SeaWorld's sister, Busch Gardens in Tampa. In 2009, Manta, the park's most ambitious (and expensive) thrill ride to date, splashed onto the SeaWorld scene. But this park doesn't try to compete with the wonders of WDW or Universal. Instead it lets you discover the crushed-velvet texture of a stingray or the song of seals.
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