SeaWorld was once the Jewel in San Diego’s glittering Entertainment crown and a reason on its own to visit the City. It is not Secret in recent years the SeaWorld Brand has been struggling. Public Perception of the morality of keeping Killer Whales in captivity has shifted from the fringe to the mainstream. Seaworld themselves have admitted that keeping the whales is no longer acceptable and have stopped their captive breeding program (They stopped taking whales from the wild years ago) This means their trademark Orca Shows are on borrowed time.
We went back to the Park to see if the Brand can Survive the Orce Controversy and if it has a future once the Orcas pass away or are rehomed. The Park has been busy rebranding and rebuilding with a host of new rides and attractions to get people through the gates and into the park. We took a trip to see if this can cut it and if it is still worth visiting SeaWorld San Diego. Our Seaworld San Diego Review 2021 will take you through everything you need to know to get the best out of your trip to Seaworld and let you know if it is still worth visiting and what the future holds for this iconic attraction.
SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld is an Aquatic Based Themepark Right in the Heart of Misson Bay in Prime San Diego Realestate and has been the Center Piece of San Diego’s Tourism Industry for Years. It built its name and brand on its stunning and captivating Killer Whale Shows Featuring Shamu and people flocked.
As competition Grew it diversified more and more before beginning to introduce more and more theme park-style rides along with its aquarium Displays and Sea Life Shows. In 2016 the Park announced an end to its Orca Breeding Program and a Phased end to its Live Orca Shows. However, The Shows continue to the is day albeit in a revised Orca Encounter Format and more reminiscent of natural behaviors they are Still live Orca Shows. Recently a few Big Name businesses have Severed Ties with Seaworld and refused to sell tickets, how much this affects the business remains to be seen. So has the demise of SeaWorld been made inevitable or is there life in this Icon of entertainment yet?
How Much Does SeaWorld Cost?
Weekday Ticket – $95.99 Gate – $59.99 Online
Weekend Ticket – $95.99 Gate – $75.99 Online
Front Of The Line Pass – From $25
Where to Buy SeaWorld Tickets?
After Reviewing Most of the different Resellers, many of which we happily recommend for a lot of attractions, There does not seem to be huge scope for saving money on Sea World Tickets. This leads us to mainly recommend just going direct.
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Undercover Tourist – has the best prices, and is one of our top picks for USA Attractions, However, they largely just mirror SeaWorld’s own Pricing. There is however a modest saving as they do not charge the $9.99 Booking Fee that SeaWorld adds to their orders!
Go San Diego Pass – A great way to save money on San Diego Attractions is with the Go San Diego Pass. All Go Passes over 3 Days give access to SeaWorld for the Duration of your Pass. We really love the Go Pass and had a great time using it on our recent trip to San Diego, but it isn’t for everyone. Check Out our full review here.
We are going to get this out straight away as you need to make a conscious decision on the morality of visiting the park. Writing this Article has not always been easy as we are a little unsure of our position if we are honest.
In recent years the popularity and attendance of the SeaWorld parks have fallen dramatically. This is in part due to negative media representation and the Netflix movie Blackfish. These have all resulted in a collective and cultural shift in acceptance of keeping Orca in Captivity and forcing them to perform tricks for the public. These sorts of shifts in public perception are nothing new, and what was once acceptable is no longer considered palatable. We once used to gather for public hangings and kept circus animals in horrific conditions. Our culture evolved and our tolerances changed.
This, however, has left SeaWorld with a predicament. What to do with the current animals they no hold in captivity. Even the most ardent environmentalist accepts that these animals, most bred in captivity cannot just be released. As nice as Free Willy is, it’s not a realistic prospect for animals so habituated into captivity. This leaves 2 options.
1 – Continue as we are. The tricks and shows the aminals are forced to perform are pretty essential for their wellbeing. It allows access to vets to help keep them healthy and staves of the inevitable boredom caused by being in captivity. So if they are to remain in the parks as far as we are concerned Seaworld should continue the shows.
2 – The other option is a sea pen somewhere along the coast. Maybe a cove fenced off somewhere, where the whales can live and play and act in a partially natural way. Here they can live out their lives away from the tanks used o cage them for so long. It isn’t a perfect option as they are still caged, a bit akin to allowing prisoners a garden rather than freedom. There are other BIG issues. The Protective and sterile environment in SeaWorld means the Whales Immune systems may just not be able to cope with the wild. The real Free Willy died not long after a transfer to a Sea Pen due to pathogens
Here is where you need to make your own personal choices. We are not wanting to preach, either way, just lay out the facts. To be honest we are partially torn. We wish the animals could be safely released to the wild but this would almost certainly lead to their rapid and untimely demise. The Trainers, doctors, and SeaWorld staff all love and cherish their animals, and seeing them in action did not seem like they were unduly stressed. We tend to apply human emotions to animals too often and it’s impossible to know how they feel.
But let’s be honest the main reason SeaWorld won’t move them to Sea-pens is money. It would cost an awful lot and they would lose a large piece of what attracts people to SeaWorld. But there are issues with the pens and overall the whales are fairly happy as they are. We tend to think of this as just another sad chapter of human history and our interactions with the environment. We don’t judge SeaWorld too harshly as judging actions of the past based on modern sentiments is foolhardy. But we do praise their decision to Phase out the shows. It is an understanding of the shifting of our cultural position and helping us make the future brighter.
Honestly, we saw our visit as the last chance to see the way things used to be and get a glimpse of the future of the Park. SeaWorld is not going away and we wanted to see what the park could offer once the Giant Ampiatheatre has shut down and the whales moved on, one way or another.
But we believe in free choice and would not encourage people to go who are just unhappy with the way Orcas are being kept, you should make your own decision and act in a way that makes you feel happy.
For Further Reading on the Subject, we suggest you head to neutral sources. Anything by PETA or the like has an obvious bias and again, SeaWorld’s own defense is naturally biassed towards themselves. Wikipedia is a great place to start and has a detailed article about Captive Orca.
Conservation and Research
SeaWorld’s Counter-Argument to the negative criticism is they are heavily involved in research, conservation, and rescue of injured and sick animals. We don’t really accept this. While It is of little doubt the company does some great work, and we commend them for that. It is no defense against animal cruelty, however. You cannot simply keep animals in inhumane conditions but say “oh it’s ok because we help other animals!”
That is not to say SeaWorld DO keep Animals in inhumane conditions. Yes, the tanks are tiny compared to the vast oceans, but the picture painted by the extreme environmentalists is not obvious upon visiting the parks. The point we are making is that is for YOU to decide. And if you do come to that conclusion, then all the good work in the world cannot justify that. It is true their efforts possibly cannot continue without the financial muscle the parks provide, But it is still not OK to be inhumane to some to save others.
The Fact is SeaWorld has begun the complex and difficult process of retiring all their Orca’s. It is a problem that should never really have been faced but while Millions of people queued up to see the whales the blame can not really be levied on SeaWorld alone but on collective cultural acceptance.
With that out of the way let’s look at what is actually still available at Sea-World and what you can expect from your day out!
As Seaworld San Diego moves from relying on the Orca shows they are diversifying and adding new attractions to the park, mainly in the form of rides, and vying to become a regular theme park. However, their unique selling point is still the many sea creature exhibits and shows at the park.
The Current Orca show is very different from the circus-like shows of the past and we did get the impression the Whales genuinely enjoy the performance. The Trainers all show real love and devotion to the Animals and the show now focuses on natural behaviors and is an exhibition of the animals rather than the tricks they can be made to perform.
The show is highly enjoyable. It is seriously hard to not be mesmerized by these wonderful creatures. They playfully jump, wave, and splash the audience as the video presentation explains a little about the Orca’s behaviors in the wild. Being up close to a full-sized Male is awe-inspiring and simply seeing the displacement as he prepares for a jump highlights the enormity and power of the creatures. While seeing them in the wild would always trump a show, it is hard not to be captivated by their sheer magnitude!
Remember the Whales are encouraged to interact with the crowd, and they do this by way of splashing. Do Not assume you will only get a little bit sprayed, in a playful manner. It is quite possible, if sat in the splash zone, you will end up drenched head to toe. Some of the splash antics send gallons of water into the crowd in a random and unpredictable way. Get this wrong and there will not be a dry inch on you. Take extra care with any non-Water Proof electricals as they could potentially be destroyed by the water ingress.
If staying dry is important, just avoid the splash zones. We found sitting front and center in the splash zone kept us pretty dry while still getting the best view. But don’t count on it. If a whale wants you wet, you are getting wet!
It is really not hard to see why the Orca shows have been so successful for SeaWorld. They are a creature beyond compare and one that is so clearly intelligent. You feel them looking at you, understanding what is happening. This truly magical intelligence is exactly why the shows must end. But we still think they are worth catching while a permanent solution is found. The Orca Really do not seem under any duress during the performance, and even looks to relish some tricks, especially ones that end up with the crowd wet. And the Trainer’s love and respect for the Animals is beyond doubt. It really is hard to reconcile the Blackfish Story with what we saw at the Park!
Dolphins Days Show
SeaWorld’s Dolphin Shows are another big draw to the park and the Daily displays are filled with impressive tricks. Dolphins are hugely playful and show genuine enjoyment in performing their tricks. The Show is far more Circus-like than the Orca Show with more interaction between the Animals and Trainers with a series of Pushes and Rides that get the Trainers interacting with the Dolphins.
As part of the Show, you are also introduced to the Pilot Whales at the Park. Pilot Whales are a Large Species of Dolphin but their appearance in the show really ups the ante and they are mightily impressive and great to watch.
While the show is fun to watch there are still the nagging doubts about keeping intelligent animals in small tanks. However, it should be noted that SeaWorld no longer takes any Whales or Dolphins from the wild. These are all bred or rescued Animals.
Sea Lions Live
The Sea Lion Show is more of a quirky comedy show with the Animals performing all kinds of tricks and stunts for the crowd. The Park is definitely conscious not to make any of the shows too Circusy or exploitative and this actually makes the show a little drab. The focus is almost more on the human actors to add the laughs with the Sealions taking a more peripheral role in proceedings. It is a shame as the Selions have so much more to offer but this kind of show is clearly kinder on them.
Honestly, we could take or leave the show it’s not the best SeaWorld has to offer. However it is a BIG hit with younger guests, it really is a live-action Kids show with sea lions and it goes down a treat. A special mention to the Otters though, If you got rid of the Sealions and the humans and just had the otters this would be a HIT!
We actually much preferred Sealion Point where the Sea Lions frolic and play on their own time and you can buy small fish to feed them with, assuming the cheeky egrets don’t get there first!
Show Time Tables
There are at least one of each of the shows every day the park is open and more during peak times. SeaWorld lists its full schedule on its website for every day.
We adore Sea otters and while it’s never great to see them in captivity it would be highly illegal to take them from the wild so these are all rescue animals. The Habitat is fairly poor, however. The Glass is badly scratched and the otters have excellent hiding holes meaning it’s pretty hard to see anything. This is obviously better for the otters but not for visitors. Try and catch them at feeding time or if they are out playing.
The Turtle Exhibit was a highlight for us. We are huge Turtle fans and have spent a lot of time in the Oceans of Hawaii observing turtles in the wild. Any chance we get to see turtles p close is a bonus for us. There are many really large adult turtles of several varieties in the exhibit. Green Sea Turtles (Honu), loggerhead, and hawksbill Turtles. All are in great condition (better than a lot of the turtles we have seen in the wild!) and gently floating around their habitat.
On Top of this the Habitat, in general, is a great one, filled with a huge array of large tropical and marine fish. Golden Trevally, Yellow Snapper, Rainbow Runners, and more. It is a great display.
The Artic Exhibit is seriously impressive. This was home to the Wild Arctic Motion Simulator Ride, now removed, and also the incredible Beluga Whales and Walrus Exhibits. The walk through the exhibit gives multiple opportunities to observe the animals and it’s hard not to get pretty overwhelmed by the stunning and majestic Belugas.
The Beluga Tank is pretty huge and the majority is underground, simulating the under-ice habitat of the wild. You will need to be patient to catch a glimpse of them but when they do appear, their white shapes coming from the gloom like a ghost, it is all the more spectacular.
The Walruses are seriously big as well. We never really appreciated just how huge these animals are. Giant bally of blubber with huge tusks, Amazing.
However, There was a touch of sadness. There is so much focus on the Orca’s and the Beluga are just as majestic but seem ignored by the campaigners. There is little information on their source but most appear to be captive-bred or wild-caught a long time ago.
The Emporer Penguin Exhibit was another great Exhibit. As the Penguins hail from the Antarctic and their biorhythms are out of sync with the northern hemisphere lighting is kept to the Antarctic schedule. Meaning for most of spring, summer, and autumn Guests will be visiting at their night time. This adds a whole new layer of cool to the penguin exhibit as you watch the meter high Birds frolic about in the Tuxedo’s
The Shark Exhibit is always a big draw but we were a little disappointed. The Tank was large and well-stocked, and there was a nice tunnel walkthrough but the sharks themselves were all quite small bottom-dwelling type sharks, Lemon Sharks, nurse sharks, and such. We much prefer to see the typical Ocean going sharks. But We guess it’s not a terrible thing these are out in the ocean rather than in a tank. It is not a bad shark display but nothing out of the ordinary and not a reason to visit SeaWorld, but a good addition and obviously a big hit for the kids.
There are also many other smaller aquariums and displays, some pretty typical such as Reef Tanks and Tropical Displays other much more niche and to us very interesting. There were Large Spider Crabs, Octopus, and a good number of Moray Eels, and even the Prehistc Nautilus and Horseshoe Crabs were on display. We have visited aquariums all over the country and some of the displays here, in obscure and overlooked corners, were actually some of the most unique we have come across. And we nearly got eaten alive by cleaner wrasse in the touch pool!
Overall the Animals on display were far more diverse and impressive than we envisaged or remembered from childhood. Obviously, everyone is painfully aware of the Orca, Dolphins, and Sea Lions used in the Shoes, but there is SO much more on offer. We would struggle to justify the entry fee for just these if you ignore the shows and the rides, but it would rank as one of the better aquarium exhibits we have visited, not on the Monterrey Bay, Georgia, Or Shedd Aquarium level, but not that far behind.
SeaWorld San Diego Rides
Seaworld seems to be opening almost a ride a year at the minute with Electric Eel in 2018, Tidal Twister in 2019, and Emperor coming in 2021, It’s clear the direction Sea world is taking to recover from the damage of its Orca breeding program.
We take a brief look here at all of SeaWorld’s Rides, but we take a closer look at the Ride Line-up here as SeaWorld is starting to look more and more like a Ride Based Theme Park.
Electric Eel – Review
Opening in 2018 Electric Eel is the biggest and fastest coaster in the San Diego Area. However, this coaster would hold up at any location and is a serious beast of a machine – Our Rating – 4.0 – Read More…
Manta was Seaworld’s first foray into the rollercoaster world and began their transformation into a full theme park rather than a glorified aquarium. Manta is a launched coaster with very few big drops and instead gets its speed from the twin LAunches the ride makes as it works its way around the park.
It is a fairly decent coaster, not overly scary and it is a low-level coaster, and 42mph top speed makes it pretty family-friendly. There are no inversions but a 48in height limit means it’s still not for the younger kids. It is a very enjoyable coaster and the long track length that covers a large part of the park is very appealing. – Our Rating – 3.5
We were really psyched about Tidal Twister. The hype and the promo around the ride made it seem like a serious new ride. The Futuristic track design the dueling nature and the continuous loops with a Zero-G roll all looked very promising. What we seem to have got is a glorified fairground ride.
In the Promo the track appeared to be some kind of electrified rail and something from the future but the reality is nothing of the sort. As the ride clunks and bangs its way around the track it seems more reminiscent of carnivals of yesteryear than the future.
Yes, the ride has a Zero-G Roll which elevates it slightly above a Carnival attraction but the whole thing looks like it could fit on the back of a truck … complete with shoddy announcers and powered along by rotating car tires. The initial response from most people was “Is that it?” It isn’t fast, it isn’t scary and it’s not even particularly fun.
It seems a poor choice to us and not what the park needs to get back up to the old days. To be fair the Park is opening a ride a year and last year’s ride, Electric Eel was a corker, and we hold high hopes for Emporer, but this was oversold quite a bit. We get rides are expensive and this is clearly a “Cheap” Option, but they could definitely have added something more exciting than this for the budget. – Our Rating – 2.6
Journey to Atlantis
Journey to Atlantis is Seaworld’s Boatacoaster! If you don’t know what that is we are not surprised as, as far as we know, we just made that up. But it is a very odd but surprisingly effective cross between a roller coaster and a boat ride. It starts off as a typical theme park water ride. You climb up the lift hill before a big drop into a water splash. You then float around on the waterway before entering a building. After a shot Dart ride segment, the ride is lifted vertically on a lift system before heading out onto the roller coaster segments. These are not the greatest ride sections but the very fact you are in a boat makes them more thrilling than you would expect. – Our Rating – 3.4
No theme park is complete without a river Rapids ride and SeaWorld is no exception. The Shipwreck Rapids is a fairly standard river rapids ride and only features Rapids and not any real drops. You can expect to get fairly wet but not Orca Splash Zone standards. The ride is actually pretty well-themed something not seen on most SeaWorld Rides where they normally just get a nautical name and that is about it. – Our Rating – 3.1
A spinning ride themed around lifeboats/rescue boats. This is the standard fairground ride where the outside rider gets awfully squashed as the G-forces mount up as the ride car’s momentum slows at the edge of each spin.
Emperor – Coming Soon – 2021
Emporer is a Bolliger & Mabillard Floorless Dive Coaster, hopefully, similar to Kraken (but with added 90°drop!) over in Orlando (Regular in the Golden Ticket Tp Rollercoaster awards). Bolliger & Mabillard make all our favorite rides and we really have high hopes for this…but the Penguin theming raises a few eyebrows!
For the Life of us, we can’t tell you why but there are a couple of attractions at Sea World San Diego that requires additional Purchase. We know ThemeParks Charge for everything but we have never experienced them charging for RIDES…That’s why we are here after all!
Bayside Skyride – $6
The Skyride is a scenic cable car ride along the bayfront. It is a very beautiful roundtrip with some incredible views. We so no logic in charging extra other than pure profiteering and keeping numbers down? The Ride no longer goes anywhere and you simply get 12-minutes of relaxing and stunning views for your $6
The Sky Tower is another charged ride here the capsule rises slower to the height of 320ft, rotating as it goes giving the most incredible views of the surrounding area. It would ordinarily be something we would recommend to everyone, however, we don’t know if you noticed from our tone, but charging extra for rides at a theme park really pisses us off!
There are also a host of small-scale family-friendly and kids rides. These are all nothing special, but appeal to young kids and can keep them entertained for an hour or so while you wait for a big show.
Sesame Street’s Bay Of Play
Abby’s Seastar Spin – A small Tea Cups Style Ride
Elmos Flying Fish – Spinning ride where the height of the Ride car is controlled by the riders, similar to Dumbo at Disney.
Oscars Rockin Eel – A large spinning, sliding side to side thing…hard to explain but actually quite fun!
Sea Dragon Drop – A drop tower ride, but child-sized and very kid-friendly
Aqua Scout – a really small-scale spinning ride where the cars bump up and down randomly.
Octarock – A small powered swing-set ride
Tentacle Twirl – A Twirling Swing ride themed around jellyfish
SeaWorld’s sister park in Orlando has some serious rides, rides that rank highly in the Golden Ticket Awards and are simply some of the best rides in Orlando, against some stiff competition. SeaWorld San Diego has a long way to go to match these.
The Rides at SeaWorld San Diego are a mixed bag. Some are really good top-quality rides others are a little average. The Park has a long way to go to make it worth visiting the park without the Main Attraction – The Orcas. 2021 sees the addition of the Emporer, A B&M Floorless Coaster. This promises to really up the ante as B&M does not make bad rides!
Dining At Seaworld
Dining options a limited at best. It’s all Cheap Fast food with very limited healthy options. So expect Burgers and Chicken Tenders and Fries with Everything. We ended up in the Caylyso Smokehouse that did average Smoked meats for around the $15 mark. It was ok for Themepark food.
Other Options are really just more of the same and there is no one stand-out option. Really we recommend a hearty breakfast, making it through the day with snacks and stopping somewhere afterward. San Diego has such great dining options we struggle to recommend the SeaWorld options. They are not bad, just not great.
There is the all-inclusive Dining option for $39.99 but then you will be stuck dining solely, all day at SeaWorld and really that is not an appealing thought.
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Sea World Going Forward!
Apart from the Incredible, but Controversial, Orca Shows there is no one thing at SeaWorld that makes it worth your time or effort. Just about everything could be found elsewhere. But the combination of all the rides, exhibits, and shows really does make it a fantastic day out. We seriously enjoyed our day here far more than we expected. We kind of came to say goodbye to an icon of the past and home to some childhood memories but found a Park desperately trying to rebuild and rebrand for the Future.
Signs are good, and while some rides are clearly not “hits” with us, others are, and we will be back to Ride Emporer as it promises a lot. If the Decision came to “can” the Orca Shows overnight and rehome the Whales to Sea Pens then it’s hard to imagine how the Park would continue, but really with the addition of one or two more top rides it becomes a serious theme park with a host of really good Aquaria based attractions. We think SeaWorld knows this and knows the Orca Show days are numbered, but is reimagining itself for years to come.
One thing that did stand out to us was the general appearance. Maybe we have spent too long at Disneyland and Universal Studios but the once Jewel in San Diego’s crown looks just a bit shabby. A touch run down. It has the feel of a park in its twilight years, not one that is on the up and rebuilding for the Future. Some Serious TLC and, sorry Disney, but, Imagineering is needed.
We Certainly think SeaWorld can Survive, which will be great news to those with fond Childhood Memories but not to the Strong Environmentalists who think the company deserves to shut down for its treatment of Whales. We are somewhere in between, The Orca Situation no longer sits well with us, but demanding the immediate release or rehoming is not necessarily the right choice too. A Slow Phased end to the shows is the best option as long as that is a genuine target and not just an appeasement by the company? If they work to that aim and the park can re-establish itself and continue the excellent conservation and research it carries out and funds then we would like to see that happen.
2018 saw a rise in attendance and 2019 looks to be shaping up to be a good year so we Imagine Sea World will be the Centre of San Diego’s Entertainment world for some time!
Have Your Say
We hope to raise a little debate about this review in the comments. We may in the coming days strip out the controversial parts and address these in a separate article. But we do feel if you are thinking of visiting some thought should be taken on the ethical side of the park. Some people are adamantly against the park’s treatment of Orca and while we welcome your input we won’t tolerate any abuse or Trolling. So while we often give suggestions as to what to leave in the comments for this article we leave it open, just fire away on anything you have to say about the Article or SeaWorld in General.