How SeaWorld Savors the Flavors at Seven Seas Food Festival
SeaWorld Orlando anchors its culinary delights this season with the annual Seven Seas Food Festival, happening on weekends from Feb. 2 until May 19. Employees at the park collaborated with multiple departments, setting up more than 18 different food booths with a variety of flavors, textures, and specialty drinks for 2024.
IAAPA News got an inside look at how the event evolved this year in tune with food and beverage (F&B) trends seen across the attractions industry, from sourcing high-quality ingredients to cashless transaction systems.
F&B as a Must-Taste Attraction
A lucrative business model, food festivals inside theme parks are a popular way to drive attendance. Seven Seas Food Festival turns F&B into a gastronomical adventure and serves as a tasty attraction, allowing guests to indulge in delicious and unique plates while visiting the theme park.
“I think the main objective for us chefs is to put out the freshest food possible,” says Frank Walason, SeaWorld Orlando’s executive sous chef. “Whether it's a cilantro oil or saffron rice, we're doing items that are classic—and bringing that classical piece to SeaWorld.”
Walason is a culinary and hospitality industry veteran with 45 years of experience across Orlando’s top destinations such as Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World—as well as Rosen Hotels and Hilton Hotels—who is developing a variety of flavors and textures for the eighth year of Seven Seas Food Festival.
For this year’s F&B offerings, Walason got together with his culinary team and selected previous menu items and crafted new dishes in what he dubbed a “one-two-three method.” This method involves coming up with two hot foods, a dessert, and alcohol drinks at many of the park’s booths.
Know Your Guest
SeaWorld also incorporated feedback on expanding options for guests with dietary restrictions with the debut of Veggie Market, one of four new booths featuring vegetarian and gluten-free items.
“This outreach has come basically from the SeaWorld guests’ point of view that we decided to take it to heart,” says Walason. Other booths may contain vegetarian and gluten-free food, such as Indian Market’s chickpea curry with gluten-free garlic naan bread.
In addition, the park offers tastes that appeal to Orlando’s international visitors. SeaWorld Orlando Sous Chef Paulo Augusto is a native of Brazil, originally from São Paulo, who spent the last year living in the northeastern city of Natal. The park hired Augusto to oversee this year's Brazilian Market menu, making sure the recipes were faithful to his native country.
“I prepare in house pão de queijo, because the correct pão de queijo in Brazil comes from Minas Gerais,” says Augusto on the origins of the cheese-stuffed bread. He also creates the marinade used for the picanha steak, a tender red meat cut with chimichurri sauce, and feijão (Portuguese for beans).
Since the first two weeks of the Seven Seas Food Festival coincides with Brazil’s Carnival dates, both Walason and Augusto pride themselves in sharing authentic flavors and textures to locals and tourists alike—especially Brazilian guests inside the theme park.
“SeaWorld has so many people from Brazil visit every day, and [they] communicate in WhatsApp, Instagram saying ‘Wow, it’s correct food, great food,’” says Augusto on comments he’s received on the Brazilian Market food.
Simplicity vs. Technology
SeaWorld Orlando became a cashless theme park in September 2023, and the tasting lanyard available for the Seven Seas Food Festival streamlines the cashless transaction process for guest flow operations.
“It maximizes the guest experience, but also you're able to get more people to come through [and] you're able to serve more guests at the same time,” says Jeannette Conrado, director of public relations at SeaWorld Orlando. She explains how the efficiency of the lanyards—with numbers on display and coordinating QR codes on the back—help cut down the service time for F&B employees.
“When you're dealing with having to do a full transaction and sign off and everything, it takes a little bit more time with that,” notes Conrado. “You simply take [the lanyard] right up to the kiosk, they scan the QR code, they punch it, and off you go and pick up your dish.”
The theme park strategized when pricing the lanyards guests purchase. Each ranges in cost from $70.00 for a 10-item sample lanyard to $85.00 for a 15-item sample lanyard. In addition, SeaWorld Orlando rewards its annual pass members with incentives, such as receiving three additional free samples for the regular purchase price of the lanyard.
“With the lanyards, you're getting a deal instead of paying the full price for each item at the huts,” remarks Conrado. “It also allows you to feel comfortable coming in, and if you don't finish it one day, [you] know that you could come back and do it again.”