NOTE: Special thanks to Michael G. for covering this event for Orca Action Network. All photos belong to Michael G., do not use.
The SeaWorld Orlando Town Hall took place this past weekend and definitely gave much-needed closure and answers to many SeaWorld fans. This event took place at Nautilus Theater (adjacent to the soon to open Mako roller coaster) and was exclusive to SeaWorld Orlando Pass Members who reserved a free ticket to this Town Hall in advance.
Nautilus Theater is a large theater. With enough space inside to fit 1000 people, the theater was less than half full with about 200-300 people at the Town Hall. The people there consisted of very passionate SeaWorld fans who have been visiting the parks for years, general SeaWorld fans/Pass Members who were interested in attending, and a few people who cover theme park news.
The theater was filled with SeaWorld executives and employees. From the way they treated us (giving us free cookies and bottled water and being so kind), you could see that they truly appreciated our loyalty and support.
We were given pens and cards for us to write our name and questions. We then gave them to an employee in there who then sorted them out and then got read aloud during the Q&A.
The Town Hall started with a presentation from Joel Manby, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s CEO. He began by reviewing SeaWorld’s three main recent announcements (ending orca breeding program, ending orca theatrical shows, partnering with HSUS). He worded most of this the same way he did since they were originally announced in March and the way he started off the online Town Hall a few weeks ago. He referred to the large amount of questions asked (over 800) at the online Town Hall multiple times implying to us that there’s plenty of interest and that similar online and on location Town Halls will happen in the future. Three videos were shown: a video talking about the planned killer whale “encounters” that will replace the theatrical shows, a commercial for the new Mako roller coaster, and a national SeaWorld commercial with the tag-line of “REAL. AMAZING.” Joel officially announced plans to open a Sea Rescue Coaster at SeaWorld San Antonio in 2017 with educational experiences along the queue for the ride. In addition, Joel Manby shared SeaWorld’s plans for the “SeaWorld Global Rescue Network” which includes “SeaBases on each of the Seven Seas” and “BaseCamps on every Continent [including Antarctica?].” This will probably be in partnership with the Humane Society as previously mentioned by Joel Manby. Joel revealed plans to open a SeaWorld Rescue Center in the Middle East before even the opening of a theme park there but refrained from revealing any further details of their Middle East expansion plans. Throughout the presentation Joel referred to SeaWorld’s purpose of “Explore > Inspire > Act” and he even quoted Jack Hanna when saying “touch the heart to touch the mind.”
Donnie Mills, SeaWorld Orlando’s Park President, also took the stage to talk about upcoming SeaWorld Orlando Pass Member benefits, including ways to be one of the first to ride Mako, plans to add a Pass Member “Area” to Aquatica Orlando (but not to the extent of the Pass Member Lounge at SeaWorld Orlando), and more.
As a surprise to the audience, Dr. Chris Dold, who’s SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s Vice President of Veterinary Services and is frequently seen on Sea Rescue, and Donnie Mills joined Joel Manby on stage during the Q&A. A SeaWorld employee had a stack of cards with the questions that we wrote on them so he just went through the pile reading the questions. All of the animal-related questions were answered by Chris, the general SeaWorld-related questions were answered by Joel, and the SeaWorld Orlando specific questions were answered by Donnie.
Here are some of the highlights of the Q&A (note that every response is paraphrased and does not necessarily represent SeaWorld Park & Entertainments opinions as a whole and that any announcement or opinion shared is subject to change)
- When asked about Tilikum’s health Chris said that Tilikum is “making small incremental improvements” and is “on the mend”
- When asked about moving Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium to SeaWorld Chris said that it’s “An interesting case…she’s a very healthy whale…she’s thriving there” and said that moving her could be “detrimental to her health”
- When asked about any additional SeaWorld Orlando Pass Member benefits Donnie said that they are considering making a separate entrance for Pass Members to speed up the exit entry process on busy days. This entrance would probably be at the pathway adjacent to the Pet Care Center
- When asked about bringing back the water ski show back to SeaWorld Orlando Donnie said that there aren’t plans to bring the ski show back but they’re working on bringing something more to the lake
- When asked about bringing back the popular mimes at SeaWorld Orlando Donnie said that he plans on talking to the head of entertainment at SeaWorld Orlando about potentially bringing back the mines in 2017
- When Joel was asked about why he decided to leave Herschend Family Entertainment for SeaWorld Joel said that he loves SeaWorld parks and the first theme park he went to was Busch Gardens
- When asked about future animal exhibits coming to SeaWorld Donnie said that they are working on more animal exhibits and to “look for something new next to Wild Arctic’s” outdoor seating area
- When asked about when work on Mako started Joel said that before joining the company Mako had already been planned and all he had to do was approve it. Donnie said that the development of any attraction lasts 2-3 years
- When asked about the development of new attractions/dark rides Donnie said that they’re looking into new attractions and that they are working on lots of great attractions for the new Middle East park
- When asked about bringing back free beer to the SeaWorld parks Donnie said that they don’t have plans to give away free beer on a regular basis but will continue to give away free beer on select days for special events
- When asked about HSUS’ horrible reputation when it comes to charity Joel didn’t deny it but instead said how SeaWorld just focuses on how they spend their own money and not on what HSUS does with their money
- When asked about HSUS saying that the ending of killer whales are just the beginning at SeaWorld Joel said that SeaWorld and HSUS have conflicting opinions on some things and that will never change and that PETA “may have had a victory on orcas” but kept reiterating that both PETA is completely wrong on many of the things that they share and that SeaWorld has a lot in common with HSUS in terms of helping certain conservation causes such as the ending of commercial whaling and shark finning
Following the Town Hall’s presentation segment and Q&A segment, Joel Manby, Donnie Mills and Dr. Chris Dold came down from the stage so anyone in the audience could meet them personally and share with them anything that they wanted to say. Employees standing around said that if you wanted to get in contact with them further, to write down your name and email address on one of the cards where we wrote the questions, give it to one of the employees at the Town Hall, and they would get back to us.
The Town Hall at SeaWorld Orlando was well worth attending, especially for any big SeaWorld fan and hopefully SeaWorld will hold more events like these in the future.
NOTE: Theme park news website behindthethrills.com recorded the town hall in its entirety and posted the video in two parts. You can watch parts one and two below.