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3 new children's rides open at SeaWorld Orlando

Orlando Sentinel

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May 29, 2007

Take that, Fantasyland, Seuss Landing, KidZone and DinoLand U.S.A.: SeaWorld Orlando has added three more kiddie rides to Shamu's Happy Harbor, and delivered a message to crosstown rivals.

It's on.

"This puts us with probably the best children's-themed area in town," declared SeaWorld General Manager Jim Atchison.

He might not have intended a verbal challenge to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, but Happy Harbor now harbors an iron one.

With the openings Thursday of the Sea Carousel, the Flying Fiddler drop ride and the Ocean Commotion rocking boat ride, Happy Harbor now features six children's rides, two climbing structures, a music attraction and a water attraction. It's all in an enclosed area with a single, easy-to-monitor exit, and relaxation space and amenities for parents.

At the end of 2005, Shamu's Happy Harbor amounted to the climbing structures and water attractions. Last spring, SeaWorld walled off the area and added a children's roller coaster, a spinning swing ride, and a teacup-style ride, plus a satellite first-aid station and a baby-care center.

Disney officials wouldn't comment on any comparisons between what they have and Happy Harbor. A Universal spokesman pointed out numerous attractions throughout the two Universal Orlando theme parks that appeal to children, but wouldn't offer specific comparisons regarding areas dedicated to young children.

The new Happy Harbor attractions appealed Thursday to Christopher and Diamond Harris of Birmingham, Ala., complimentary guests of SeaWorld. They could really use a good children's themed area. In addition to their son Dewayne, 11, the Harrises have America's first recorded set of surviving sextuplets. Kaleb, Kalynne, Kiera, Kieran, Kobe and Kyle are all 4 now.

"I tell you what, we thought we were going to come here to wear the kids out; I think we got worn out with the kids. The kids absolutely enjoyed themselves. It's very safe and secure," Christopher Harris said. "We have not worried one time about what would happen to them."

The Harris children all agreed, though they were more succinct.

"I like spinning around," Kalynne said after riding a dolphin seat on the Sea Carousel.

Drawing on a theme all Central Florida theme parks push, Atchison and other SeaWorld officials maintained that SeaWorld always has targeted families, and that Happy Harbor simply expands that mission.

"What you're seeing here is six rides we've added, all of them where parents can ride with kids. This is a good part of our core," he said.

Yet with the additions a few years ago of legitimate thrill rides, notably the Kraken roller coaster and Journey to Atlantis flume ride, SeaWorld targeted the older children and young adults, said Jerry Aldrich, president of the Orlando-based Amusement Industry Consulting.

"I think they've kind of circled back," he said. "They have had the play area, but I just think it takes a lot more to keep them entertained."

Still, Shamu's Happy Harbor might well be the best children's themed area in town now, he said.

Steve Baker, president of the Orlando-based Baker Leisure Group consultants, agreed, particularly since the area is walled off for security.

But Baker added, "I don't think it's that big a deal. I think it's nice bragging rights. It won't make more people come. It might make more locals more comfortable, and come more often."

SeaWorld also opened a new Sesame Street-themed kids show, Elmo and the Bookaneers, this spring, and Saturday night is opening a new, nighttime, pop-music-infused version of the Shamu show aimed at teens called Shamu Rocks.

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