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A detailed guide to the SeaWorld entertainment parks of Central Florida, including SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica in Orlando itself and Busch Gardens in nearby Tampa. There is also a chapter covering nearby hotels including several luxury options. This is the only guidebook devoted exclusively to this family of theme parks and the only one that devotes so much space to describing the various rides, attractions, restaurants and shopping venues in them.
Dive Right In!Before we wade into SeaWorld and its sister parks, let's get our toes wet with some Orlando theme park history: Orlando's transformation into a tourist mecca began with the arrival of Walt Disney World, which opened near Orlando in 1971 as a new, improved version of California's Disneyland. With the luxury of 43 square miles in which to expand, the new park quickly eclipsed its West Coast namesake. Three more theme parks followed the Magic Kingdom - EPCOT, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. For good measure, Disney threw in a couple of water parks, a slew of themed resorts, and a sprawling shopping and entertainment district.In 1990, Universal Studios opened Universal Studios Florida. Like Disney World, it was an outpost of a California original. It quickly became Orlando's number-two attraction. In 1999, Universal Studios Florida almost literally exploded, adding another theme park, a nighttime entertainment district and three superb resort hotels; in the process, it was renamed Universal Orlando. For the first time, Walt Disney World had competition worthy of the name and Orlando had its second multi-park, multi-resort, multi-activity, all-in-one, never-need-to-leave-the-property vacation destination.Now something similar is happening with a trio of water-themed Orlando parks - SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, and Aquatica, owned by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. These are not all new parks, of course. SeaWorld opened in 1973, Discovery Cove in 2000, and Aquatica debuted in 2008. What is new is a growing awareness by the traveling public that these parks, along with another SeaWorld park, Busch Gardens Tampa, offer yet another opportunity for a multi-park, themed vacation experience. Each park is different, each has its own particular allure, yet all of them fit comfortably within the same brand personality. Consumers see Disney and Universal as single brands comprising multiple parts; they are looking at the SeaWorld parks in much the same way. â€¦What makes SeaWorld and its sister parks in central Florida special and distinct from Disney and Universal? In a word: animals. At SeaWorld and the other Orlando parks, that means marine animals and the watery world they inhabit. At Busch Gardens Tampa it means the magnificent beasts of the Dark Continent.In other words, the SeaWorld parks of central Florida celebrate the natural world and preach a subtle message about preserving it. (Animal conservation is a major beneficiary of the company's corporate philanthropy.) That's not to say that they neglect the fun, fantasy, and thrills aspects of the theme park experience. The parks in this book offer some of the best thrill rides in the state, indeed in the entire Southeast. Yet it is the animals and the imaginative, often unique ways in which they are displayed and celebrated that set the tone. â€¦The book first looks at the three Orlando parks - SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, and Aquatica - then examines hotel options near them. Finally, I cover the two Tampa parks, Busch Gardens Tampa and Adventure Island