Dear SeaWorld: Why Do You Keep Shooting Yourself In The Foot?

As many of you may know, SeaWorld has not had a good few years. There was the Tilikum thing where a SeaWorld trainer was killed by a killer whale  (his stage name was Shamu but his real name was Tilikum). There was the Blackfish movie thing that claimed animals at SeaWorld are not treated well. There was the annual pass “EZ Pay” charging thing, where AP holders who paid for their passes via a monthly plan were automatically renewed and charged without consulting the pass holders. There’s the recent different daily parking charge mystery thing. And now there’s this.

SeaWorld Orlando opened its second park, Discovery Cove in July, 2000 as a place for guests to be able to interact with a range of marine animals. The park contains a coral reef where people can swim with thousands of tropical fish, sting rays and an underwater shark and tigerfish tank (the latter two are located behind protective glass). It also has a free-flight aviary, with over 250 tropical birds including parrots, toucans, and over 30 other species of exotic birds. The heated Tropical River runs through the aviary and circles the park, allowing guests to float past an assortment of the Discovery Cove’s beaches, waterfalls, and rain forest landscape. The Tropical River runs into the park’s heated freshwater resort pool. Discovery Cove also includes the Grand Reef, which features a white-sand beach, palm-lined island and underwater grottos filled with moray eels, reef sharks and scores of other tropical fish. Activities range from snorkeling with eagle rays to crossing a rope bridge over a shark-filled lagoon. The park also offers an opportunity for guests to be able to “talk, touch, play and swim” with bottlenose dolphins.

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Discovery Cove is a smaller park than SeaWorld, with less activities, but a significantly larger gate price (as of July 2018, a single day ticket to Discovery Cove was $149, plus $50 for the Dolphin swim if you buy the tickets online in advance. A single day ticket to SeaWorld is $79.99 if you buy it online in advance. Those prices also don’t include the hundreds of dollars you can spend on options like photo packages, private cabanas, feeding animals, private tours, swimming with sharks, etc.). However with limited entry each day, it’s a more exclusive experience, breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks (including basic alcohol – if you want the upgraded drink package, that costs more) are included, and attendance is capped at 1200 people per day, so there are much fewer crowds.

Since 2012, SeaWorld had offered a great deal wherein if you bought a day at Discovery Cove, you also got unlimited free admission to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica water park for 14 days. “This new offer is incredible for guests because it allows them to explore Discovery Cove for the day and also enjoy SeaWorld and Aquatica during their Orlando vacation, so they can experience the amazing animal connections that all of our parks deliver in their own way.” said Toni Caracciolo, at the time the marketing vice president for SeaWorld Parks & Resorts. “It also solidifies the Discovery Cove reservation as a true, all-inclusive package,” she added. Welp, apparently, solidifying Discovery Cove as a true, all-inclusive package isn’t important to SeaWorld anymore, because as of not very long ago, if you paid to visit Discovery Cove for the day and want to have access to SeaWorld and Aquatica for 14 days, that’s now going to cost you extra. $21 extra per person. And if you want to add Busch Gardens Tampa into the mix, you can add another $25 per person on top of that.

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Paying extra for admission doesn’t include parking, by the way. So expect to pay anywhere from $22 to $34 per car per day (but you won’t find anything online that tells you how much parking will actually cost on any given day. It’s apparently a surprise.).

If you get Discovery Cove’s “Trainer For A Day” package for $455 per person, that still includes free admission and free parking to the other 3 parks. Because I guess if you’re paying nearly $500 per person for one day, they’re too embarrassed to charge you any more.

For now, at least.

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Now, don’t get me wrong – paying less than $30 per person for 2 consecutive weeks’ worth of 2 or 3 parks is still an excellent deal. But for the past 6 years, it was free. And it’s not as if Discovery Cove’s entry fee has gone down any to make up for the new fee. But for a park whose CEO recently stepped down as the company struggles with slumping sales and declining attendance (SeaWorld Orlando’s attendance has dropped from nearly 6 million in 2008 to just shy 4 million in 2017), and that’s still reeling from the Tilikum and Blackfish backlashes, and that’s confusing and/or annoying their day pass guests who don’t know how much they’re going to wind up paying to park, maybe they want to spread some good will, instead of nickel and diming their guests who are already paying a premium to experience Discovery Cove? Just sayin’.

Joe and I really enjoy SeaWorld and go once or twice a year when we can get half price tickets on Daily Getaways. We even went to Aquatica a few weeks ago for the first time since its opening year (Groupon has 1/2 price tickets) and really enjoyed ourselves. So besides worrying about the people who work there, we hope the parks stay open just for our own enjoyment. We hope the suits at SeaWorld/Aquatica/Discovery Cove don’t make too many more decisions where a few dollars in the short term will result in more problems in the long term.

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