Theme Park fans and stans rejoice! Amid the most difficult and bizarre time of our lives due to just about everything in life getting cancelled due to a virus that no one truly understands, theme parks have slowly been peeking out of the darkness and welcoming guests back inside. While many have considered this controversial, if done responsibly, it can afford some fun for families while also giving people their jobs back. Universal Orlando already opened earlier in June (with accolades galore) and Sea World decided to take the plunge as well ahead of Walt Disney World who will start slowly opening on July 11, 2020. We were excited to get back to theme parking, so we decided to visit an old friend and sea, I mean see, how they operated with new restrictions in place. So, without further ado, here is our admittedly disappointing experience, broken down by experience:
Reservation System: 2/5
As of right now, you need an online reservation to visit Sea World Orlando. I had a bit of trouble getting one from the beginning as it kept adding people to my reservation, and if you do not have tickets for each person, you cannot go through with the transaction. However, I was finally able to figure out how to delete what I had after a lot of fighting with it. The reservation is for the entire day, so there is no particular time that you have to arrive or leave. I was a bit surprised I was able to get a reservation the same day I planned to go, so I was encouraged about going. However, when I arrived to a very full parking lot and saw summer crowds, I doubt that the reservation system worked at all! If it does work, it seems futile, because they honestly allowed too many people into the park. They do require masks, but most people had them around their chins, foreheads, or under their noses, making them useless. We did hear a team member telling people to wear their masks correctly, but one person enforcing proper mask wearing is clearly not getting the job done. The ride queues were all extremely long like a 2019 summer day (more on that later). Most of the restaurants were closed, so the ones open were fairly crowded and people were not respecting the social distancing stickers in line. I also had a lot of trouble getting into the park with my “reservation.” Getting hassled really seemed more like a lack of training on what guests are supposed to show for the reservation. Honestly, I think they need to revisit this reservation system and try again because today felt like a fail.
Sea World was grossly understaffed for a day that they frankly should have had more staff to put on. During our time in the park, we hardly saw any team members anywhere. This was a problem as some things were a bit confusing and merited a question or two. We noticed this right away in the parking lot after trying to find preferred parking (it comes with some of the annual passes) and getting no direction whatsoever. A friend who was there earlier said they were social distancing cars in the morning when she arrived. However, we arrived in the afternoon, and it was all free game for where we parked. We definitely parked between two cars. Once we got in, the kiosk did not work for my pass. It seemed like a lot of people were having issues because the line for ticketing was atrocious, which is confusing because you had to have a reservation and existing ticket to attend. It seemed like each person took 15-45 minutes at each window, with only three of the eight windows open. Of course, I took five seconds, but others seemed to have problems getting their tickets. I waited in a “social distanced” line for no less than two hours to get my ticket. Once I had my ticket, I had to wait in a long line to get into the park, and was hassled about my reservation because I took a screenshot that did not have a bar code. Once inside, I had to walk some narrow paths with people wearing masks on their chins, which was a bit uncomfortable. One guy sneezed and I just had to walk through his mist, we were too close since they closed the main thoroughfare for construction they did not have a chance to finish before suddenly reopening. These things need to be addressed to promote safety. The worst thing was eating at the restaurant. They were so understaffed that we had to eat at one of many dirty tables. Again, if they are not ready to open, they should wait until they have enough staff to address these cleanliness issues. Another note is that many of the staff members we did interact with seemed snappy and uninterested in us at all.
Hand Sanitizer Availability: 5/5
The sanitizer was everywhere. You really felt good about it, even before and after a ride (which they wipe down between guests). The dining room we dined in also had them everywhere (albeit the dirty tables). If you cannot get your hands on some beforehand, feel good about the fact that you will have it at your disposal all over the park.
Open Readiness: 3/5
I really think Sea World jumped the gun in opening today. They really did not seem ready. From dirty tables to closed exhibits to closed attractions, I got the feeling that this was a swift decision that was not well-thought out. For instance, the dolphin area was closed as well as the stingray area. According to a wandering staff member (yay!) that we happened to bump into, it is due to the lack of knowledge about how Covid can be passed to the marine life or even from marine life. You can still see the dolphins from far away, and there are some stingrays in the Shark exhibit. Many rides were down so the ones that were operational had nightmare lines. The simulator was down as was the penguin encounter ride – but there was a 45 minute wait to do the walk through, which is really crazy.
Ride Experience: 2/5
We were able to ride one ride today. In all fairness, we had some weather to wrestle with. However, when we passed by Mako and saw a 10 minute wait (It actually went from 15 to 10 while we were standing at the entrance) we were overjoyed. The line was spaced out with social distancing stickers. For the most part, people were pretty good about spacing out. However, you had the people with the passes skipping the line, instantly filling each train for the coaster. They were only allowing two people in every other row, which meant eight people max could ride. This took forever. Every 5-10 minutes we moved up one social distance circle. Unfortunately, we trusted the wait time out front and then we got into the sticky situation of either waiting or leaving. Ten minutes quickly turned into 30 which turned into 55 which turned into 75. After waiting 75 minutes, they closed down the ride for “inclement weather.” However, we were so close, we decided to wait even longer. After over two hours, we boarded the ride. Another thing we noticed was the colony of angry hornets at the top. That again should have been addressed before reopening. I will say that they were good about wiping down the ride between each guest. This takes a bit longer. Really, I wish they would take notes from Disney who is planning on virtual queues. This would really help this situation because it is just not enjoyable to wait two hours.
Dining Experience: 3/5
The food was good, but the experience needs work. From reusable mugs being passed back and forth to dirty tables, they need to work on this. The people in line were not following the social distance circles. I had to verbally ask the girl behind me to not get so close. Someone in front of us backed up near us and coughed. However, the food was good. There was a lot of sanitizer as well. However, they no longer have the sauce bars, which was annoying because the lady at Voyager asked if we wanted condiments to which we replied, “yes.” But she gave us ketchup and no barbecue sauce. I had to go back later to get some and got yelled at by a staff member that I needed to go back through the line. Again, it seemed like a lot of confusion and a lack of training.
All in all, we had a good day. However, I am not interested in riding rides until they try to address those issues with the queues. I appreciate Sea World welcoming back guests, but I think looking at day one can provide a lot of adjustments that will make the experience better for guests. I do plan on returning soon. My favorite thing was seeing the animals, well, the ones I could see. While you cannot feed the animals (yet) it was just nice to be able to see them again. I think Sea World will probably address these issues so that future visits will be even better for all.
Have you visited Sea World since it reopened? What was your experience? Write it in the comments!