July 22, 2014

SeaWorld opened in March 1964, so 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this educational theme park on Mission Bay in San Diego. To highlight and help commemorate the milestone, the park has created a series of special new things to look out for when you visit.

Explorer'€™s Reef

Immediately upon entry, visitors will experience the fruits of a massive 16-month project that all but completely transformed the marine park's arrival space into a '€œworld beneath the waves.'€ It's called Explorer'€™s Reef and it encompasses the entire open area located just beyond where your tickets are scanned. Walking beneath a giant wave sculpture, guests can immediately begin to experience a series of compelling touch tanks containing both salt and fresh water." 

Cleaner Than Ever

As far as what you can touch, there are approximately 450 white spotted bamboo sharks, 150 brown-banded bamboo sharks, 10 epaulette sharks, 25 round rays, 15 horseshoe crabs, five guitarfish and nearly 7,000 cleaner fish. As beguiling and hypnotic as all of these creatures are, for our family it was the cleaner fish that stole the show. Placing your hands into the freshwater pools, dozens, sometimes even hundreds of the small Middle Eastern fish will begin gently nibbling along your palms and wrists. They are actually snacking on you in a sense, cleaning off old skin cells. The effect is both ticklish and soothing, once you get used to the sensation. Warning though, it can be addicting and we found ourselves returning to these pools several times throughout the day.

Still on a Mission in Mission Bay

As part of SeaWorld'€™s 50th celebration, the park has also created more surprising encounters throughout the park with a variety of brand-new Animal Ambassadors (look for a pair of Magellanic penguins, a sloth or even a parade of flamingos). There are many other surprises as well, many of which are designed to do what SeaWorld has always done best: educate as it entertains. It helps remind visitors that SeaWorld San Diego has rescued more than 7,000 animals since opening 50 years ago, and their park uses every opportunity possible to help explain and define why it's so important to help conserve, preserve and take care of the sea and its creatures.

Signs of the Past

As someone that writes a great deal about history, I was completely wowed by what SeaWorld has dubbed their '€œMemory Marker'€ program. It's a series of just over a dozen specially created engaging and informative historic markers located throughout the entire park, which identify and commemorate exactly what has taken place at the various chosen sites over the years.

Like any good theme park, SeaWorld has evolved a great deal over the years and for everyone that remembers growing up nearby and visiting this park since its opening, they will no doubt be thrilled as they are reminded of classic bygone attractions including the Underwater Theater, the Japanese Village, the Hydrofoil, that Shamu ride and others. The original park entrance is also marked, and once you see where it was, you will truly get a you a sense of just how much this place has developed and grown over the years.

To my knowledge, SeaWorld is the first Southern California theme park to create such a marker program that embraces the past in such an interesting and unique way. The Memory Markers put SeaWorld'€™s history in context, whether you this is your first or 50th visit, and the signs create an interesting timeline to march across the decades and re-experience pieces of the past. We set out and found the markers as sort of a scavenger hunt, but you can also download the free SeaWorld app, which will lead you to them more directly.

Either way, whenever you visit the park this summer, keep your eyes peeled for a series of colorful signposts that will allow you to experience some of the marvelous history that this dedicated park has created over the years. And whatever else you do, leave plenty of time for those cleaner fish.

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