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SeaWorld San Antonio Review of SeaWorld San Antonio

Discussion in 'United States' started by geomorph, 21 Apr 2010.

  1. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member 10+ year member Premium Member

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    SeaWorld is a theme park mostly focused on aquatic animals, located on the edge of the large San Antonio, Texas metro area, about 13 miles from downtown. There are two other SeaWorld parks, one in San Diego, California and one in Orlando, Florida; a fourth was located in Aurora, Ohio but was sold and altered and eventually mostly demolished. The three remaining parks are not identical to each other, although they certainly have much in common. This park is the newest (1988) and is located on a gently sloped rise of central Texas about 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The layout of the park features one entrance which leads to either a short dead-end path with a few attractions or a large loop path around a central lake with all the other attractions. The park is not really subdivided into themed areas; rather, each attraction leads to the next with a common thread of minimally landscaped passages featuring the low forest landscape of native oaks and shrubs. This preservation of much of the existing flora is a major difference between this park and the other two, which feature far more manicured subtropical landscapes in defiance of their sites. This park also has a common design theme of rough rocky ground treatments near many of the walkways, from which large glazed urns erupt filled with flowers.

    Entrance Archway:
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    There are many features at this large park, and I will focus on those with live animals later, but I will summarize all the features first. Rides have become more important features over the years, and there are 6. This includes 3 rollercoasters; 2 are terrifying (Great White, Steel Eel) and one is a beginner’s track (Shamu Express). There are also 3 thrilling water rides: a waterflume/rollercoaster called Journey to Atlantis, a log ride called Texas Splashdown, and a rapids ride called Rio Loco. Unique to this park is a large waterpark area called Lost Lagoon with waterslides, a lazy river, and wave pool; it is included with admission when it is open in the warmer busier months. There is also an extensive childrens play area called Shamu’s Happy Harbor. An indoor venue called Sea Star Theater shows 3D films. 4 live shows are the most famous features of the park, and each is housed in its own large covered outdoor arena. One of the shows only features human performers (Cool Vibrations in Ski Stadium), and three feature marine mammals that I will detail below. Animal exhibits include 2 complexes for marine mammals (both outdoor), 1 complex for fish (indoor), 3 complexes for birds (2 outdoor, 1 indoor), and 2 complexes for reptiles and amphibians and invertebrates (1 outdoor, 1 indoor). In addition, there are some small scattered birdcages. Many shops and restaurants are also scattered around the park, mostly in rather bland modern buildings.

    The three marine mammal shows are quite different from one another. The smallest arena is Sea Lion Stadium, currently housing ‘The Cannery Row Caper’. It is pure entertainment, following a decades-old formula of two California sea lions with the stage names of Clyde and Seamore in a humorous themed stage environment, performing tricks that serve the story alongside a river otter and another sea lion and their costumed trainers. There is little educational value to this show. The arena itself has a curved narrow tank running the entire front length of the Monterey-themed stage set which the animal performers occasionally dive into for aquatic tricks. A larger separate arena called Beluga Theater has a show called Azul, with Pacific white-sided dolphins and beluga whales in a deep tank with windows into the depths facing the audience. This show also features several species of parrots occasionally flying above the audience, as well as cirque-like aerialists suspended from the arena structures and aquatic divers and swimmers. Its bright stained-glass backdrop on the stage set and musical fantasy atmosphere creates a more serious tone than the sea lion show, interspersed with earnest trainer interactions with the marine mammals. Yet more serious is the largest and most famous arena show, Believe!, starring the killer whales, always including one with the stage name of Shamu. This immense stadium also has several visible large holding tanks behind the show area. The show tank is even larger, and features windows into its depths along the entire length facing the audience; this theater is unique because the audience is on each side of the oblong tank, facing each other. The show highlights the characteristics of the whales and their interactions with trainers exclusively, with generic new-agey music and touchy-feely messages rather than a concrete story. As such, it is the most educational of the shows, and the undeniable power of the whales is best highlighted by this approach.

    Azul in Beluga Stadium:
    [​IMG]

    Behind the themed stage set area of Sea Lion Theater is Rocky Point Preserve, a complex of 4 exhibits for aquatic mammals. The complex is a hybrid of naturalistic rocky walls interspersed with multicolored modern angled walls for containment and railings with occasional glass sections. Modern open-air shelters with metal roofs are also located on the edges of several exhibits, and a feeding station matches these. The feeding is for the largest exhibit only, and it is a decent habitat for California sea lions and harbor seals, viewed from almost its entire perimeter. Next to this are two small outdoor yards contained in more angular walls, each with a waterfall and swimming area as well as raised earth areas for Asian small-clawed otters. Both exhibits appear to have been small pools for seals at one time, with underwater windows that are no longer used or accessible; the habitat details inside are rather basic. The final exhibit is a fairly large pool habitat with a backdrop of rocky walls and a dry shelf; this one is viewed from three sides and is for Hawaiian monk seal, apparently the only place that regularly exhibits them. For such a special species, the habitat is bland. When I visited there was one on display, although I think they have a few in off-exhibit areas just behind it. This complex is probably a little better than the sea lion and seal habitats at the San Diego park, but is far inferior to the Orlando park equivalent.

    California Sea Lion and Harbor Seal Exhibit in Rocky Point Preserve:
    [​IMG]

    Dolphin Cove is the other marine mammal exhibit here, and is simply an elongated undetailed large open-top tank for Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, covered by a modern canopy structure. All sides of the tank can be viewed, and visitors can walk right up to the edge of its railing-height walls to reach in the water and touch dolphins. One side is reserved for visitors who are paying to feed the dolphins, and that area is used in shifts so that there are frequent breaks for the animals from crowds and fish-overload. This exhibit should be renamed Dolphin Pool since it resembles a large backyard pool more than any cove I have seen. The other two parks have far superior, larger, complex, and naturalistic versions of this basic exhibit.

    The only fish exhibit complex is a nice one with a slightly clumsy name: Sharks/The Coral Reef. It is an indoor complex housed in an attractive modern building with 2 large tanks, 2 medium tanks, and 8 small tanks, all with average identification graphics or monitors. The first room entered is a round mirrored-wall room with a medium round column tank with tropical fish in its center. Next are 4 small tanks for giant clams, moon jellies, and others small salt water fish. The Coral Reef is one of the large tanks and is a tall floor-to-ceiling spectacle of tropical fish and spotted eagle rays that makes two 45-degree angles to form an enveloping wall with a simulated coral backdrop, an excellent exhibit. Next is the other large tank, this one not as tall but a long tank with multiple angled viewing windows with rocky outcrops on its bottom, filled with sharks and some large fish. The species include nurse, blacktip, wobbegong, zebra, lemon, and others in an exhibit filled with an impressive number. Next are 4 more small tanks for piranha, saltwater fish with defensive adaptations, cardinalfish, and a terrarium for poison dart frogs. Lastly, a medium round coral reef tank is viewed around ¾ of its circumference before exiting the building. While this complex does not feature a tunnel through the large tanks (featured in the other two parks’ Shark Encounter equivalent complexes) its main Coral Reef exhibit is good enough to put this complex at the top of the list for fish exhibit complexes in the SeaWorld parks. (Collectively, the other two parks have far greater numbers and quality of exhibits in separate areas).

    The Coral Reef tank:
    [​IMG]

    The indoor complex for birds is Penguin Encounter, an excellent one. Housed in a modern building, it features a 30-degree habitat with 6,000 pounds of snow daily for hundreds of Antarctic penguins from about 5 species. Visitors view the long rocky shelf habitat through windows that are floor-to-ceiling, separating them from the cold, with both above and underwater views into the 45 degree pool that forms the front of the exhibit. A moving walkway slowly takes visitors past the front of the window, while those who want to linger can view it from a few feet higher in a roomy dark viewing area directly behind the walkway. It is a delight and one can spend an hour lost in watching all the activity! There is also an adjoining room with large educational graphics about the birds before entering another nice though smaller similar exhibit for their Arctic counterparts, common and tufted puffins and common murres, again a delight to watch. This complex is nearly identical to the ones at the other two parks.

    Penguin exhibit in Penguin Encounter:
    [​IMG]

    Unique to the San Antonio park is an indoor exhibit complex for small reptiles and amphibians and invertebrates called Animal Connections Conservation Center. It is housed in a larger building that serves as the exit to one of the rides and houses some games, but this exhibit area is in a separate large room with 13 small terrariums. There is also a small stage for occasional keeper talks. Two of the exhibits are in the middle of the room and are octagonal columns for speckled mousebird (the only bird) and Philippine sail-fin water dragon. Two more are larger plain pedestal tanks for black and white tegu and Burmese python. The rest are imbedded in a simulated rocky wall backdrop and include habitats for American alligator (young), emperor scorpion, Chilean rose hair tarantula, California kingsnake, Madagascar hissing cockroach, ornate horned frog, inland bearded dragon, pink zebra beauty tarantula, and blue-tongued skink. It is a nice set of easily viewed exhibits and has the advantage of being in a large room; similar types of exhibits are often in small echo-filled chambers that become unpleasant when crowded.

    Terrariums in Animal Connections Conservation Center:
    [​IMG]

    The other animal exhibits in the park include an average flamingo pond, a large but bland American alligator pond called Alligator Alley, a rather stark Lorikeet feeding walk-through aviary, and about 5 or 6 small bird cages scattered around the property for birds like parrots and aracaris. There is also a barn with a horse and Texas longhorn and a bald eagle.

    SeaWorld San Antonio is inferior to the other two parks and fans of them will be disappointed here in many ways. Foremost is the lack of many exhibits, resulting in the theme park aspects being more important here, yet those aspects are far less themed than the features of the other two. This park lacks Wild Arctic, the immersive polar adventure and habitats (some will applaud this due to their confining polar bear and walrus exhibits especially); Manatee Rescue (although recently San Diego lost its manatees and now has large freshwater fish instead); smaller excellent aquariums like Manta or Atlantis; a sea turtle exhibit; a sea otter exhibit; and extensive ray touch pool or environment like Forbidden Reef. The overall environment of the park also seems bland and spread out, unlike the manicured and more intense feeling of the other two. At least the live animal shows are equivalent, although this one lacks a pet show…no big loss. Of the 40 aquarium facilities I have visited, I rank this one (exhibits only, not the other attractions) at number 17. None of the marine mammal habitats make my top individual exhibit list, but the Coral Reef tank in Sharks/The Coral Reef is number 24 in my top 25 individual fish exhibits. General adult admission is $58.99 and is about $35 overpriced for anyone who is only interested in the animal exhibits and shows. Ride enthusiasts will find this price more fair, while waterpark and ride enthusiasts will find this priced right. I have posted additional pictures in the gallery.
     
  2. kc7gr

    kc7gr Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Another good review, geomorph, thanks!

    I still can't help but come up with nicknames for the current whale and dolphin shows, though. The current ones (they change as the show names do) are "Deceive" and "Blue Delusions," respectively. This is, to my mind, primarily reflective of SeaWorld's ongoing habits of using stage names, and their obsession with being politically correct even to the point of omitting some of the most critical information about the animals (such as the threats they face in the wild).

    As it turns out, I was at SeaWorld San Antonio in the early 90's, as they were the host facility for the IMATA conference that year. Oddly enough, IMATA's members were treated with more respect at the park, during that conference, than at any other SeaWorld location since.

    Happy travels.
     
  3. zoomaniac

    zoomaniac Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Another excellent review, geomorph. Thanks.

    One question: I remember that there were Greater hammerheaded sharks (mokoran?) in an indoor exhibit in the left corner of the area. What's happen to them?
     
  4. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member 10+ year member Premium Member

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    zoomaniac, I did not see or hear about great hammerheads there; but there is an unused indoor round entry pavilion to the rollercoaster called Great White which I suspect may have had an aquarium inside for sharks, perhaps the hammerheads were in there...this is only a guess, does anyone know more?
     
  5. jbnbsn99

    jbnbsn99 Well-Known Member

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    Another excellent review. Do they still have the Hawaiian Monk Seals?
     
  6. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member 10+ year member Premium Member

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    jb, yes they still have them!
     
  7. jbnbsn99

    jbnbsn99 Well-Known Member

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    They are the only reason I've been tempted to make a visit. I just cannot justify the high cost of getting in just to see those seals.
     
  8. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member 10+ year member Premium Member

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    Correction:
    Waikiki Aquarium on Oahu, Hawaii has a habitat for two Hawaiian monk seals so SeaWorld San Antonio is not the only place with them on display regularly.