After going to Universal Orlando’s reopening last Friday, we were eager to go to SeaWorld Orlando. While Universal wowed us with clear signage, compliant guests, short waits and an updated app, SeaWorld appeared unprepared.
Numerous attractions, like the Manta roller coaster, were down for multiple hours. Many guests did not listen to mask or social distancing rules, and the rules were not enforced. In addition, the SeaWorld Orlando app contained broken links and incorrect information.
We went today hoping to jump on a few rides, grab some food and see a show. While, yes, we did technically do that, it was certainly a different experience than expected.
We arrived and went through the same temperature process that has been implemented by Universal and Disney. This process was simple and well-organized. Guests were assigned to select areas, waited, and then got their temperature scanned. Afterwards, we went along with the queue toward the security checkpoint. This area was slightly altered with more social distancing markers and a SeaWorld ambassador helping to control the queue.
SeaWorld Orlando had signage everywhere about the rules and the new procedures. From going to Universal Orlando and to Disney Springs, I can also state that SeaWorld had more safety announcements and rule boards than their competitors. But signage and announcements are not a replacement for enforcing rules.
This is where we noticed a major error in the system. There was simply no one enforcing the rules. Guests are allowed to take off their masks to eat, drink, and smoke in designated areas, as well as in Face Covering Relaxation Zones.
We counted any guest we saw today that had no excuse to fully take off their mask—these are guests that did not have a snack, weren’t in a dining location, or weren’t adjusting their face covering. In total, we counted 106 guests who fully removed their masks without reason. We also counted six SeaWorld ambassadors who had their mask below their nose. Two of them were working in a quick service dining location.
This photo was taken during the 4:00 p.m. Sea Lion High: The New Class animal show. Once the show began, over 40 percent of the crowd took their masks off. Despite this, I will admit that guests were good at staying six feet apart. There were also markers on the seats to show distance.
The show’s performers added in light-hearted jokes about being closed for months and needing masks. They even called out a guest and told him to put his mask back on. But, after sitting down, the guest took his mask back off; only one member of his family was wearing a mask during the show. When the show ended, guests were dismissed in groups to diminish crowding.
In the Sesame Street land, some attractions were open. But others, like the water play area, were closed to help make guests stay safe.
This photo, taken in the load area of Super Grover’s Box Car Derby, showcases how the ground markers work. For every attraction we went on, SeaWorld ambassadors also told us a specific row to head to.
Throughout the park, there was plenty of free hand sanitizer. There was also a station at the entrance and exit of each attraction. SeaWorld Orlando asks that guests use their hand sanitizer before riding, unlike Universal who had team members specifically give it to guests before boarding. While hand sanitizer was plentiful at rides and dining locations, we saw very few guests actually using it.
While many high-contact areas were closed, one area stood out to us: the ice touch area inside of the Wild Arctic exhibit. Not only were most of the guests touching this ice without using the hand sanitizer, but guests were actually encouraged by SeaWorld ambassadors to feel the cold temperature of the ice. As seen in the photo, many guests were not wearing masks.
We also checked out the other icy-cold themed area of the park, the Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction. The ride was not running today, but guests could still come in to see the penguin exhibit. The line was estimated at 20 minutes, but we got inside in 10 minutes.
Inside we were greeted by the most energetic penguins we have ever seen. In fact, all of the animals that we saw today were full of energy. It seems as though they missed the guests as much as we missed them. The penguins swam, squawked, dove and jumped more than any time I personally have ever witnessed. The animal ambassadors in the exhibit also seemed delighted to be back.
While the QR code located on signage around the park did make it easy to pull up a map, the SeaWorld app left us a bit confused. The app had showtimes that were different than what was posted in the park.
We also were unable to load wait times in the app after numerous tries throughout the day. We tried using our cellular service, the in-park Wi-Fi and a different phone to help fix the issues to no avail.
Upon arriving to rides, we often learned that the rides were closed or had wait times that exceeded 50 minutes. Now, we do understand that social distancing and cleaning will affect the wait times on rides. It is natural for fewer riders on a vehicle to equal higher wait times. But that didn’t appear to be the case when visiting Universal Orlando’s theme parks. In fact, we note in that article how the wait times were exceedingly low.
Our best assumption is that even though less guests were admitted today, there was also a cap on ride capacity and less things to do than normal. With all three major coasters going down at one point for weather, the park was full of guests looking for others things to do. When weather was not an issue, the park was offering only half of their normal attractions.
Throughout the day, guests could not ride Manta, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, Journey to Atlantis, Big Bird’s Twirl ‘N’ Whirl, Cookie Drop!, Sky Tower, or Wild Arctic. Many interactive areas were closed, like the Stingray Lagoon seen above.
On a different note, we were very happy with how SeaWorld presented the Sesame Street characters. They were brought out on their floats from the daily parade (the parade is currently put on hold to diminish crowds gathering). The characters and their attendants were full of energy and did a really good job interacting with everyone from afar.
SeaWorld also had new merchandise inspired by social distancing and the park’s reopening. Guests were encouraged to use contactless payment methods at merchandise locations, but cash was still accepted.
In my opinion, I feel that SeaWorld had good ideas, but didn’t commit fully to them. There was plenty of signage and hand sanitizer, the new safety procedures were played over speakers in multiple places in the park, there were ground markings and pre-built queues ready for large crowds—but I think they opened too early. The park appeared understaffed and some employees didn’t even listen to the mask rules.
Overall, it appeared that the face mask and social distancing rules were not that important. We noticed very little compliance to these rules and even less enforcement. Ride capacity was down, and numerous big attractions were closed. This resulted in longer lines with more guests in the areas that were open. It also did not help that inclement weather plagued the park sporadically throughout the day. I am a passholder and brought a guest today, but, had I been a single-day ticket holder, I most likely would have headed to guest relations for a refund or a ticket for a later date.
I am hopeful that SeaWorld can take lessons learned from their first day and improve. They have the means set in place to succeed and many ideas are good. The first move, in my opinion, is to increase the amount of SeaWorld ambassador’s in high-contact areas and to begin enforcing the rules. This was only the first day and lots can change overnight.
Some guests may take the relaxed rules as a bonus, though. In a recent article, we spoke about what it was like to wear a mask all day at the theme parks. Hundreds of comments poured in about not liking masks and not wanting to endure them in the Florida heat. Being in a park that doesn’t enforce the rules may come as a positive to guests who do not like the mask requirement.
We want to hear your opinions: Do you prefer a park that seems to relax the experience like SeaWorld Orlando, or one that sticks to it like Universal? In what way do you want to experience the theme parks? Let us know in the comments below.