Sea World San Diego - May 23, 2004 trip report

We had gotten a flyer from Sea World San Diego announcing annual passholder preview days for their new attraction, Journey to Atlantis, and since the first preview day was on a weekend, we decided to make a rare Sunday trip down to San Diego, particularly since it had been a while since our last visit to the park.

We arrived about noon and found that the parking lot was quite full. Preferred parking was being offered to platinum passport holders, but there were no signs to clearly mark the area, so we only knew where to go because we'd been to preferred parking before. From the parking lot, you could see part of the roller coaster section of Atlantis, so we stood and watched for a few minutes before heading in. We noticed that the annual passholder entrance was open, but the line was fairly long, so we headed for a regular entrance line instead. We noticed that they had removed the metal detectors, but there were still employees doing bag checks. As we waited in an entrance line, a few of the people in front of us had to put their hands down to have them scanned on some kind of new machine. We figured it must be some sort of new entrance media they had introduced. We supposed we might find out more about it the next time we renew, if it involves the platinum passport in any way. We then headed over to Atlantis, with me noticing that the day's map hadn't been reprinted to include the new attraction yet, which I found odd. There were employees stationed at the outer walkway to check that people had annual passports before allowing them entrance into the area. As you walked up to the ride, you could see the flume drop and some other parts of the attraction. We got in line and were in line for about 10 minutes before we noticed that the ride had stopped. We stayed in line while numerous announcements were played that the attraction was delayed, but when they finally played an announcement that the attraction was closed and asked everyone to exit the queue, we complied.

The flyer had announced that there would be a "special commemorative gift" distributed during passholder preview days, and as we'd heard that was being done in the gift shop, we headed there. We joined the line, and when we got to the front of it, an employee stamped our hand and handed us each a beanie of a Commerson's dolphin, which are a part of the overall Atlantis attraction. The beanie is really cute and includes a tag that reads "Journey to Atlantis 2004 Passport Member Preview". (BTW, the Sea World San Diego website indicates that beginning on opening day of the attraction, May 29, 2004, the first 5,000 guests to ride the attraction will also receive a complimentary Commerson's dolphin plush toy.) We looked around the store a bit and were surprised at how sparse the merchandise was. The only things we saw that were really themed to the ride were a couple of t-shirts, but they were generic, probably taken from the Orlando stock. They also had two or three different sizes of the Commerson's dolphin plush for sale. We also noticed some new apparel and other items with a new Sea World logo, but I was again disappointed that they were generic, with just the words "Sea World". I prefer merchandise that's specific to a particular location rather than merchandise that can be purchased in any of their parks. The other side of the store is where the exit of the attraction is, and further past the store is the Commerson's dolphin exhibit. They're in an Atlantis-themed enclosure, and with several large glass windows, it's fairly easy to get a good view of them. I love that they're available to see again. Since they closed the Commerson's dolphin exhibit several years ago, they've just been kept backstage and not available for public view. The old exhibit was also not designed very well for viewing nor for the dolphins themselves. This is a much better location.

We then headed to get some lunch and decided to try the re-named barbeque place, now named Calypso Bay Smokehouse. I'd eaten there a few times before but hadn't much cared for it and so hadn't been back in quite some time. A friend and fellow Sea World annual passholder had told us the night before about the change and that the food was pretty good now, so we decided to give it a try. They've remodeled the place, though they don't seem to have thought everything through, as the cashier on the side of the line we were in had no way to get into and out of her spot without squeezing past customers and climbing over chains. The line of customers waiting to get food also passed much closer to her and her cash register than I would think would be preferred. The line moved a bit slower than we expected, so it took a while to make our way through. Sea World restaurants have this maddening habit of not including the price of all the items that are available. They list the prices of the main items and drinks and some other items, but things like the desserts and side salad have no prices listed at all. You either have to ask one of the servers (if they know) or wait until you get to the cashier to find out, which I think makes no sense at all. Once we got our food, it took a few minutes to find a table that wasn't in the sun, and we finally managed to find an empty table in one corner. The food was indeed very good. We both had the combo, which included barbequed chicken and pork ribs. Both were tender and flavorful. The combo came with fries, corn on the cob and a roll.

After enjoying our lunch, we headed back to Atlantis to see if it had reopened. We found that it had, and the line was a bit longer than when we'd joined it earlier, so we got in line again. We'd noticed earlier that once you got to the shaded area of the queue, there was a sign for single riders. We tried to go that way this time but were informed by an employee that they had discontinued it at that time because they were instead allowing people to go through who had been on or almost on the attraction when it had broken down earlier and who had been given front-of-the-line passes. The employee also promptly then took down the "single rider" sign that was posted. All in all, it took about 40 minutes for us to make it all the way through the line and into a boat. We noticed that they had a good method of loading disabled guests. A boat can be pulled into a separate platform, thereby allowing guests as long as they need to load the boat. Once the boat is fully loaded, the boat is then subsequently put back into the queue. The system is similar to one that we've seen on a raft ride at Disney's California Adventure, and I think it's a great system.

My spoiler-free opinion of the new attraction is that it's ok. I'm glad I went on it once, but I don't see myself going on it often. I've been on the version of the attraction in Sea World Orlando once, almost five years ago, and I have to say that this version is far inferior. There is one thing that's very different about the San Diego version, but I don't think it makes up at all for all the missing elements. One of the things I absolutely loved about the Orlando version is that if you just walk up to the ride without knowing anything about it, it just looks like a flume ride. You can only really see the main drop, and when you get on the ride, it even feels completely like a flume ride. It's not until you've finished the drop that the boat is taken to the back, and it gets hooked onto a track, and the roller coaster portion of the ride begins, totally unexpectedly. In this version, you can see the roller coaster section from the parking lot, so there's no mystery at all. This is perhaps one of those instances when I can't fairly judge the attraction on its own merits. Having been on the other version, I have no way of knowing how I'd feel about this version if this had been the only version I knew about. The ride is a bit short, and while it's worth a 30 to 40 minute wait on a first ride, I don't think it's worth more than that, nor is it necessarily worth that for a second or subsequent ride.

Following are spoilers about the ride. If you wish to avoid spoilers, please skip to the next section:

















You load into a boat that seats 8 people. You are immediately taken up and then round a bend and then you plunge down the flume that's visible from the front of the ride. The drop seems much shorter than the drop in Orlando, but I don't know the exact measurement differences. You are then taken to an area in the back, and the part that's really different in this version is that the entire boat gets taken on an elevator. It's a really weird effect. As you ascend, there are projected pictures of Commerson's dolphins around you. When you get to the top, you go through a few turns and that's pretty much the portion of the ride that you can see from the parking lot. At the end of it, you get a little more of a splash, and then you're back to disembark. I think the ride suffers greatly from missing the beginning portion of the ride in Orlando, when you go through a little town and get a bit of information about the story of the ride. I don't recall the story making all that much sense, but it's a nice ride and gives you a little more time in the boat. During this version of the ride, there are voiceovers being played in various parts, presumably telling some kind of story, but it's very difficult if not downright impossible to hear, so you really don't get any of it.

















As we exited the attraction, we noticed that the line had grown extremely long, using up all the marked queue and just extending in a line far past that. We knew that it was possible to get wet on this ride, so we had brought a change of clothes. We hadn't gotten terribly drenched, and in warmer weather, we might have not bothered changing. After heading to our car, heading to change in the outer restrooms and then putting our old clothes back into the car, we headed back into the park and to Wild Arctic.

When we arrived, all three of the polar bears were out, attracting quite a crowd. Charlie, the male, was seated near the far left window pane, and the two girls, Senja and Snowflake (aka Flake) were playing in the enclosure. They had been given a number of floating devices and even a large ball, which they were having great fun with. After watching them for a while, we noticed them all heading to the back dens, and we figured they were being called in for some reason. We waited a while, and sure enough, five animal care employees came out, pushing a huge plastic container. They turned the tub upside down, and huge block of ice fell out, and you could see that carrots and other goodies had been frozen into the water. The handlers often make up these kinds of toys/treats for the bears. We were also pleased to see that one of the handlers was one of the main polar bear caretakers, whom we had previously gotten to know. When he looked up, we waved at him, and after recognizing us, he waved back, gestured to the frozen treat and smiled. We smiled and laughed in return, to let him know that we were indeed looking forward to seeing the bears with their new toy. After a little while, Senja and Flake were let back into the enclosure, and they had a great time pawing at, biting and licking the ice block, trying to get to their goodies. We watched them for quite a while.

We then stopped by the Penguin Encounter and looked in on the penguins for a few minutes. Since it's almost summer here, it's winter in their homeland, so since winter was being simulated in their enclosure, it was very cold and dark. We then headed over to the other side of the park and on the way, stopped in at Rocky Point Preserve. We watched the sea otters for a little while and then watched the dolphins for a bit. We noticed that a portion of the pool was cordoned off, and they were just about ready to start the next scheduled sale of fish to feed the dolphins. Those who purchased fish (the cost of which has raised to $4 per tray) were allowed into the roped-off section. I thought that was kind of odd, and the chances of being able to touch a dolphin without buying fish seems to be much diminished now. But you can still see them through the underwater windows, and I even noticed a young dolphin. When I spoke to one of the employees, I was told that there were two young dolphins in the pool, both of whom were 11 months old.

We arrived at our destination, the killer whale pools, soon after a seating of Dine With Shamu had started, so a few of the whales were involved in interactions. We looked around at the various pools but were puzzled that all of the whales weren't accounted for. Out of the 10 whales housed at San Diego, we could only find 7. Two (Kasatka, the dominant female, and Orkid, her adopted daughter) were in the pool near the Dine With Shamu customers. Ulises (the largest male) and another whale were in the main showpool in the empty stadium, and three whales were in the other side pool. No one was in the Shamu Close-Up area, so with three missing whales, we went on a hunt for information. We finally managed to find a Sea World employee who had the information we were looking for. Sea World San Diego now has only 7 whales, with 3 whales having been sent to other Sea World parks. The three relocated whales are Keet, a male who had been brought to San Diego after the closing of Sea World Ohio and who is now at Sea World San Antonio, and Takara (the original Baby Shamu at Sea World San Diego and Kasatka's firstborn) and her two-year-old daughter Kohana, who had been billed upon her birth in May of 2002 as Grandbaby Shamu, both of whom are now at Sea World Orlando. I was very disappointed that Takara and Kohana had been sent away, especially since they, together with Kasatka, Nakai (Kasatka's almost-three-year-old son) and Orkid had formed a family unit. However, I would expect that the move was mostly for breeding purposes, since having almost half the whales in one location be blood-related would probably not work. Still, I was sad that they were gone. We learned that the other whale in with Ulises was Splash, a male whose dorsal fin has bent, which was a surprise because there was no sign of that the last time we saw him. The three whales in the other side pool turned out to be Corky (the oldest female, acquired many years ago from Marineland), Nakai and Sumar (another male transplanted from Ohio), and we noticed that even at his young age, Sumar's dorsal fin was starting to bend as well. We stayed and watched them all for a while before then heading out of the park.



In response to the information about the three whales having been moved, someone sent me the following information that was printed in the "ShortWaves" Sea World San Diego Employee Newsletter at that time.


"Killer Whales Move to New SeaWorld Homes"

Keet, Takara and Kohana, long-time residents of SeaWorld San Diego, were moved to other SeaWorld parks on April 24 as part of our long-term zoological management plan. Keet was flown to SeaWorld San Antonio, and Takara and Kohana to SeaWorld Orlando. Movement of these killer whales is important in maintaining appropriate social groups, and in consideration of future breeding successes.

Keet, now weighing 5,300 pounds and 17 feet in length, returned to the park in which he was born on Feb. 2, 1993. During 2000 and 2001 he also resided in the former SeaWorld park outside of Cleveland, Ohio.

Takara was born here in San Diego on July 9, 1991, and now weighs 4,300 pounds and is 17 feet long. She has been a part of our Shamu show for more than 10 years. Her offspring, Kohana, was conceived through artificial insemination and was born on May 2, 2002. Now weighing 1,800 pounds and 11 feet long, Kohana was known as grandbaby Shamu during shows here.

With the departure of Keet, Kohana and Takara, the killer whale population at SeaWorld San Diego is now seven.


Thanks to the person for forwarding me that information.


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