SeaWorld celebrates 50 years with a Sea of Surprises

SAN DIEGO — Celebrations kicked off at SeaWorld to commemorate its 50th anniversary, after first opening its gates to the public in 1964 in San Diego’s Mission Bay. And visitors can expect 18 months of celebrations ahead at all three SeaWorld marine park locations in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio.

“Our mission is helping animals — it’s education, research, conservation. We’ve been doing that for 50 years (and) we’re rededicating ourselves to it today,” said SeaWorld San Diego president John Reilly at the kick-off event in San Diego last week.

“We believe that by bringing people to SeaWorld they can connect with animals and see animals up close that otherwise they would have no context for, and leave here inspired.”

SeaWorld San Diego launched into the next 50 years with the unveiling of Explorer’s Reef, its new arrival experience. And all three parks will offer a ‘Sea of Surprises’ over the next 18 months, from surprise encounters with animals to surprise squads, spontaneous entertainment and even culinary treats such as birthday-themed cupcakes.

“Explorer’s Reef is really a transformation for us,” said Reilly. It allows visitors to connect with marine life as soon as they enter the park — by reaching into multiple touch pools to touch shark pups, rays, stakes, horseshoe crabs and cleaner fish.

The arrival experience is designed to look like visitors are walking on a beach and entering into an undersea oasis beneath a sculpture of a wave crashing into a reef (complete with concierge-style service for ticketing and reservations). “This theming is meant to create the impression that you’re actually on the ocean floor,” said Reilly.

All three parks will offer new interactive experiences and pathway performances, including up-close animal encounters. The ‘surprise squad’ will roam the parks on a daily basis and randomly give away prizes, including front-of-the-line ride access, beluga whale interactions and Shamu stuffed toys.

“SeaWorld has always been known for those animal encounters but we’ve really increased it to make it more of a celebration over the next 18 months,” said Aimée Jeansonne Becka, director of marketing communications with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. “You might see a flamingo parade that suddenly comes across you as you’re coming into the park.”

There will also be spontaneous entertainment along the pathways, such as the Bubble Blowout — a whimsical vehicle creating bubbles of all sizes and shapes — as well as pop-up performances like splash dances and musical beats by the Sea Street Band.

“So in addition to the scheduled shows people can see on the map, they may be walking along and suddenly see the Bubble Blowout team,” said Jeansonne Becka.

There will also be more surprise encounters with the parks’ animal ambassadors, who rehabilitate orphaned and injured animals, as well as recycled art installations made from the billions of pounds of garbage that end up in oceans.

And starting this summer, a new evening show will debut in all three parks. Shamu’s Celebration: Light Up The Night will feature new original music and new killer whale behaviours, according to park officials.

The Canadian market is important to SeaWorld, said Jeansonne Becka. “Canada is in our top three international destinations, and growing,” she said. “(The 50th anniversary) is a great opportunity to talk about what’s new and remind people what SeaWorld is all about.”

Travel agents can find out about upcoming specials and promotions that vary by park (such as discounts on ‘celebration’ tickets) through their tour operator partners and the SeaWorld travel agent training website.

This is one of the few times that all three SeaWorld parks will be marketing in unison, with a goal to amplify the campaign’s reach. SeaWorld plans to run Sea of Surprises for 18 months (until approximately U.S. Labor Day 2015), which will allow it to stretch the campaign through two spring breaks and two summers.

As part of this, SeaWorld is also launching new ways for visitors to connect with the parks through mobile devices, such as interactive apps, games and video content.

“Our goal is to educate guests about the environment — what better way than to make it fun,” said Maria Valdes, tour supervisor at SeaWorld San Diego. “We try to inspire kids and all our guests to care for animals … it is a theme park but we’re trying to make a difference.”

For more information about SeaWorld’s 50th anniversary celebrations and the Sea of Surprises visit


Travel Week Logo

Get travel news right to your inbox!