SeaWorld Sends Guests Behind the Scenes
Much thought and effort goes into the show: the areas guests see from landscaping to queue lines. By design, behind the scenes areas can be industrial by nature. However, during SeaWorld Orlando’s limited-time event, Inside Look, the back of house areas are the attraction.
The special event pulls back the curtain and allows guests backstage to behold everything from the catwalk atop the shark habitat to the kitchens where their meals are prepared. The transparency allows visitors to learn more about animal care from the park’s dedicated zoological team. In addition, the SeaWorld Rescue team shares more about their lifesaving work as visitors are invited to visit critical care and rehabilitation areas that serve and care for injured and orphaned animals. The team is on call 24/7 to help animals as needed. (In 2021, the team logged a combined total of more than 50,000 miles to rescue animals in need—the equivalent of circling the Earth six times.)
“We are thrilled to be able to show our guests the world-class operations in our park and the dedication of our teams to protect and care for all our animals, including some incredible species to try to help avoid their extinction,” says Jon Peterson, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld Orlando.
Inside Look includes rare access to areas not generally available to the public. The back of house areas that support sharks, cetaceans, manatees, and pinnipeds are on full display during the event. At the Shark Encounter, guests venture up a second story exterior staircase that leads into the medical bay where animal ambassadors are waiting. They explain how an endangered sawfish receives an annual exam and show the tools needed to ensure the safety of the biologist and the animal. The tour then proceeds across a narrow catwalk (with a safety net in place) where visitors can peer below into the habitat and spot Dutch, a great hammerhead shark who recently arrived from the Georgia Aquarium.
To safely deliver the event, the SeaWorld’s operations team needed to map how guests could navigate employee-only areas. Much like a Halloween season event, where guests access haunted attractions built backstage, Inside Look takes place behind gates and fences. The park uses towering flags and custom signage to denote the special entrances. QR codes on the signs allow guests to scan them on their smart phone and be redirected to websites with additional information on the animals they are about to see. And those phones are welcome at each location, as photos are encouraged backstage.
At Pacific Point Preserve, guests descend a staircase into the husbandry areas of the sea lion and seal habitat. Care specialists allow guests the opportunity to safely view sea lions up-close while hearing stories of how the park fosters maintains an enriching sea lion social group.
“At SeaWorld Orlando, we are always looking for ways to inspire guests to be advocates for animal conservation,” says Kyle Miller, Park President of SeaWorld Orlando.
In what many consider the premier experience, guests are allowed behind the stage at Orca Encounter to meet and learn from the parks dedicated killer whale specialists. Visitors watch safely from behind a fence that safeguards the health and well-being the orca pod. Guests observe feeding, playtime, and how the animals play a role in their own wellness checks by performing learned behaviors that lead to health examinations. A dedicated orca handler shares with the crowd that salmon is the treat of choice for the whales and many like to be splashed with a hose, much like children on a warm day. The enrichment and access leaves visitors with a better understand of the dynamics of caring for SeaWorld’s largest residents.
At many locations, like the Orca Encounter stadium, an operations ambassador is stationed at each entrance to answer questions, place guests in groups, and pass out timed entry tickets. At venues in high demand with limited capacity, members of the operations team will pass out tickets for a specific tour time. This way, guests need not spent hours waiting in line.
While the event is included with paid admission during the first two weekends in January, a scavenger hunt for adults and children costs $10 for a map and sticker kit. Guests will follow the map and answer questions along the way that correspond to the education provided at each stop backstage. Once all the answers are correct, visitors receive a SeaWorld cup and reusable bag that can accompany them on future grocery store visits.
Inside Look also allows SeaWorld’s ambassadors the opportunity to grow. By inviting guests into their work areas, animal specialists are allowed to share of themselves, their roles, and how their efforts contribute to the animals overall welfare.
“Inside Look is a way to showcase the hard work our animal care specialists do behind the scenes and educate future generations about how they can help protect endangered species and marine habitats for years to come,” says Kyle Miller, park president.
Several park ambassadors from animal care to the entertainment department participate in the Seal of Fortune theater show. Presented like a television game show, the program pulls children from the audience as asks them to team up with SeaWorld staff to answer questions about animal husbandry and the environment. Totally unscripted, the live show can produce hilarious results, as animal caretakers and park entertainers work with the children to win points and perform stunts. Prizes include everything from stuffed animals to a day at Discovery Cove.
Even roller coaster lovers get a behind the scenes peek at Manta, SeaWorld Orlando's flying coaster from Bollinger & Mabillard. The Inside Look location at Manta takes guests right into the coaster's elevated transfer track—home to a dizzying array of pipes connected to filtration equipment—before going inside the exhibit.
The transparency of Inside Look reveals how SeaWorld Orlando is regulated by various government authorities in the U.S., from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries division to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. The USDA performs unannounced visits to the park to ensure adherence to federal regulations and standards. These visits include inspections of records, husbandry practices, veterinary care, animal handling procedures and even the physical premises of the animal habitat. The visits ensure that SeaWorld meets and/or exceeds the required standard of care. SeaWorld is also accredited by third party organizations, including the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA).
Inside Look also takes place at SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas and SeaWorld San Diego in California on select winter weekends.
- Scott Fais is IAAPA's managing editor of global communications and digital content. The Emmy Award winning journalist loves aquariums and attractions of all kinds. Reach him at [email protected]