Writing for a travel audience one must create a fine balance between one’s personal point of view and the interests of the broader travel audience. My visit to SeaWorld in Orlando is a prime example.
Rollercoaster fanatics, horticultural travelers, live performance audiences and those travelers with a penchant for wildlife will find SeaWorld enthralling. There is something for everyone – even souvenir shoppers. [My whale fluke Santa's hat has become my absolutely favourite holiday souvenir!]
I, on the other hand, love to be inspired and educated when I travel. I want to be challenged by a different point of view. I want to compare my values to those of my destination. Do I come up short? Should I change in the light of a new point of view?
Education has been a core value of SeaWorld for nearly 50 years. SeaWorld teaches by example and through outreach programs like their animal rescue efforts. Recently the park announced it was doing away with plastic bags – shoppers you can buy some handsome reusable bags at the park. According to the information found at the park, this decision was in response to the evidence uncovered during rescues of sea turtles and other marine life that have consumed bags floating in the ocean. The consequences are deadly to the animals.
During a behind-the-scenes tour we were shown graphics on a staircase. The bottom step represented the number of people killed by sharks in the previous year around the world. 5. Each step up represented another cause of death. As we rose higher and higher, the number of deaths increased, until we landed at the top. 100,000 sharks were killed last year. That put things into perspective in a highly visual way.
One Ocean with high production values and starring a pod of killer whales was a multimedia water show that explained why we need to protect our oceans. Inspirational, factual and compelling.
Meeting the staff, however, may be the most inspirational aspect of visiting the Park. Everyone we met in a wide range of capacities had a story to tell. Most of them had visited SeaWorld as a child. They were so captivated by the experience that they set their sights on becoming members of the SeaWorld team, either as members of the Education and Conservation team or behind the scenes.
Admission to the park underwrites the rescue program. 24/7, every day of the year the rescue teams are ready to be deployed: Rescuing manatees hit by powerboat engines; beached whales; birds covered in oil from a spill. Those that cannot be returned to the wild are brought back to the park and become part of the education presentations. Reminding visitors to ease up on their outboards in manatee areas; or to pick up trash like fishing line and dispose of it. One particular moment that I found compelling was learning that beach house lights and street lamps can keep baby sea turtles from reaching the sea when hatching. They mistake the lights for the light of the moon. Turn off the lights people during hatching season.
The Antarctica exhibit will open in the spring of 2013. During construction SeaWorld Orlando’s penguins are not on display. I got to meet a Magellanic penguin on the behind-the-scenes tour, which is way cooler than watching them through glass – just saying. The tour is an additional charge, and worth every penny!
The education program for Antarctica is under development. Based on the programs already in existence, visitors to the park will come to understand how the choices we make in our every day lives impact the habitat of the Antarctic penguins.
If you equate education with boring, then you have never visited SeaWorld. Next time you visit Orlando, make sure you packed an open mind and deep curiosity for the natural world, and include SeaWorld on your itinerary.