Despair at SeaWorld


I’m on the road at the moment and would like to give updates along the way. Later today I’m off to Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, on our way up and west to our New Year’s Eve destination, New Orleans. Staying at my brother’s place in Orlando for a couple days, yesterday I made the mistake of going to the SeaWorld theme park on one of the busiest days of the year.

I didn’t want to miss the opportunity my brother so generously gave to me and my boyfriend of getting into SeaWorld for free, when tickets cost an outrageous $100. He also let us use his car for the whole afternoon and evening. So I said, why not?

We should’ve turned around and left when we realized there would be a mob, already outside in the long line of cars trying to get into the parking lot areas. But we stuck with it. Had to shell out $18 just to park, took a moment of silence to feel bad for the families who’d have to easily spend $500 to get in altogether.

After being directed – every step of the way – to the appropriate parking space, we happened to spot my other brother and his family, which we were supposed to meet at the park’s entrance. My little brother had also gotten them all free tickets. Of course, we had to wait for the little train to take us to the entrance – we could’ve easily walked, but didn’t know where the entrance was through the maze of parking lots.

At that point we were laughing and joking about the crowds and deep unpleasantness we sensed would come in trying to navigate SeaWorld. The interminable waits to get into rides. The little screaming kids.

When we were kids ourselves, none of this mattered to us. The allure of the rollercoasters and wonder whales and the adrenaline building up were enough to keep us entertained, even before finally being able to get in to see them. But for me, not this time. It had been many years since I’d been to SeaWorld, and many years since I’d been that kid.

My older brother and his wife are parents, have been for the past 15 years, with three kids now, having brought all three of them, of different ages, to the park. So for them inconveniences, discomfort, long waits and delays at theme parks and elsewhere are nothing extraordinary. But for me that’s not the case. I don’t have kids, I usually can and will avoid crowds, and I no longer see the attraction in rollercoasters.

I can appreciate how my own parents were heroes putting up with the theme park ordeal, waiting for me and my little brother and whatever other kids were with us to go on the rides while they sat around holding our things. Endless patience.

And so it went this time at SeaWorld. My older brother and his wife, pushing a stroller loaded with bags, had to wait 85 minutes in line to get in to see some penguins with their little ones. Average wait time was 70 minutes for rides with animal viewings, and about the same for the water ride Atlantis. Without the option of getting a free slip to return later like some theme parks offer.

One had no chance of getting into the Shamu show, a special Christmas show and others without waiting in line for at least 30-45 minutes. I managed to do one rollercoaster and two shows the entire day. When I wanted to do the second rollercoaster, Kraken, it had technical problems twice. After waiting an hour, I decided I wouldn’t ride it because I didn’t want to possibly get stuck in the ride like some people before us had.

It was hot. In winter. (Well, it is Florida.) My boyfriend and I had nothing to eat all day except for a tiny sandwich and apple my brother had brought along and offered us. It would’ve been super expensive to buy food at the park.

We were constantly jammed trying to walk. The crowds were oppressive. By sunset I was sitting on the curb begging to be able to go back to my other brother’s house, but people wanted to stay and feel like they had done enough and not wasted their day. I felt a deep sense of despair and anger – I know, “First World” problems. I had a bit of a meltdown. Not what you’re supposed to feel in a “land of magic.”

Imagine how the poor trapped sea animals must feel.

My older brother fittingly remarked that theme park-goers are treated like cattle: They are herded from point A to point B to point C, stations where to line up, where to get play time, where to get food and drink. And then, I add, they are given a “happy pill:” a short-lived “reward” at the end of the long wait, in the form of canned entertainment, a few minutes of jumping animals, the same 5 Christmas songs sung in strident voices, flashing colors and screens, a minute-long rollercoaster ride that leaves one (me) with a headache and upset stomach.

And what’s next? Another line, another disappointment. Psychological torture at its finest. How could I not see all this until now? I’d been to enough of them…

No thinking is really required. The Theme Park is the opiate of the masses.

I’d like to say “never again.” But I know that if I ever have kids, and if I raise said kids in the U.S., which is where I partially grew up, or even elsewhere, they are likely to be brainwashed into believing they need the theme park experience, the way I was myself. But for now, and I hope for long, I’m headed for greener pastures.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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