One of Orlando’s largest theme parks, SeaWorld is an aquatic-themed park filled with marine animal shows, roller coasters and up-close sea-life encounters. However, the park’s biggest draw is controversial: live shows featuring trained dolphins, sea lions and killer whales. Since the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, SeaWorld’s treatment of its captive orcas has come under intense scrutiny and the company has been hit by falling visitor numbers and negative PR.
The film is a damning portrayal of the effects of keeping killer whales in captivity and charts the life of Tilikum, an orca at SeaWorld Orlando that was involved in the deaths of three people, including one of its trainers during a live show. Since its release, many animal welfare groups have come out in support of the film arguing that it is harmful and stressful to keep such sensitive, complex creatures inside an enclosed tank. SeaWorld issued a statement accusing the filmmakers of giving false and misleading information. Since then, much of the controversy has died down.
SeaWorld Orlando also features two of Florida’s most adrenaline-pumping roller coasters. Kraken is a whiplash zip of twists and turns in carriages with no floor so your feet dangle free. In 2016 the ride was retrofitted with virtual-reality headsets for an added thrill. On Manta you lie horizontally, face down, several to a row, so that the coaster vaguely resembles a manta ray, and dive and fly through the air in this position, reaching speeds of almost 60mph. There are also many attractions for the under-10s.