ORLANDO — In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was president, the Vietnam War was just starting, “Bewitched” and “Gunsmoke” were hit TV shows, and the best picture of the year award went to “My Fair Lady” rather than “Mary Poppins” and “Dr. Strangelove.”
Something else happened that year. In March 1964, the original SeaWorld park opened its gates for the first time on Mission Bay in San Diego.
Not surprisingly, as SeaWorld Orlando Resort gets closer to that date, the theme park giant is planning a big anniversary bash. SeaWorld announced today that it’s 50th Celebration is going to feature a “Sea of Surprises,” starting March 21, 2014, as SeaWorld parks in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio shift into birthday mode with an 18-month celebration that puts a spotlight on some memorable moments in SeaWorld history.
“For nearly five decades, SeaWorld has surprised and amazed guests with unique entertainment, thrilling rides and up-close encounters with marine animals,” the theme park noted as it announced the anniversary celebration. “During SeaWorld’s 50th Celebration visitors will be invited to take part in the celebration through new interactive experiences, shows and pathway performances, even more up-close animal encounters throughout the park and the SeaWorld ‘Surprise Squad’ treating guests with prizes every day.”
The announcements comes just a few weeks after SeaWorld opened Antarctica Empire of the Penguin on the Memorial Day Weekend, as a new ride that aims to take guests to the South Pole — complete with live penguins imported from Antarctica, and a room where temperatures are kept at a nippy 30 degrees. That ride offers visitors a close up encounter with more than 250 penguins.
Although SeaWorld plans to release more details on next year’s celebration in the fall, some of the plans announced today include:
• SeaWorld San Diego is going to celebrate 50 years of entertaining crowds with a new interactive entrance plaza, an area that will be called Explorer’s Reef. It opens in March for the celebration kick-off.
“The 16-month construction project will transform the existing front gate area through sculptural and design elements inspired by waves crashing over a reef, as well as up-close encounters with marine life,” the theme park noted. “The new front gate concept will replace existing ticket booths with a beach-themed, concierge-style ticketing area that will provide guests with a single location to purchase admission, as well as sign up for tours, animal interactions and dining experiences.”
From the moment they enter the park, guests will be able to connect with the sea through multiple touch pools featuring shark pups, stingrays and cleaner fish. Explorer’s Reef is going to encompass more than three acres, including new and innovative retail and culinary shops.
• Animal ambassadors, including a pair of Magellanic penguins, a lemur, and a parade of flamingo, will be new visitors at all three SeaWorld locations.
• SeaWorld’s new “Surprise Squad” will roam the parks to give away prizes and special gifts — including exclusive access to rides or behind-the-scenes experiences, celebration t-shirts or Shamu-themed merchandise.
• Park pathways will feature performers, and to underscore SeaWorld’s commitment to the environment, a series of giant sea life sculptures will be displayed throughout the parks.
“SeaWorld commissioned environmental art group Washed Ashore for the large-scale art created from ocean debris,” the company noted. “The works serve as a reminder that our animal friends need healthy environments.”
• As part of SeaWorld’s 50th Celebration, the parks will be launching a variety of interactive apps providing new ways to experience the park.
The fun is now nine months away.
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