Controversial Florida Theme Park Announces Free Entry (But Only For Some Guests)

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Two guests look at a dolphin underwater in SeaWorld Orlando

Credit: SeaWorld

One of the most controversial theme parks in Florida has revealed that guests can get into the park for free from next month – on one condition.

For decades, SeaWorld Orlando has generated controversy with its use of orcas and dolphins for entertainment. Whales such as Tilikum – the killer whale subject of the documentary Blackfish (2013), who was involved in three of the four known fatal orca attacks on humans – have long been used as evidence of the psychological toll captivity takes on marine mammals.

Killer whales during Orca Encounter at SeaWorld Orlando
Credit: SeaWorld

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Since the release of Blackfish, attendance has taken a major dent at all three of SeaWorld’s U.S. theme parks. While it started to recover in 2018, this decline has continued since the COVID-19 pandemic.

To mitigate the impact on its reputation, the past few years have seen SeaWorld majorly shift the focus of its parks. Once the main attraction, killer whales now star only in educational presentations known as Orca Encounters. Instead, SeaWorld has pushed its thrill attractions – adding multiple new roller coasters and rides to its parks each year.

Aerial view of Florida theme park SeaWorld Orlando, featuring the park's high-speed coaster Mako, and its oldest roller coaster, Kraken.
Credit: SeaWorld

It’s also leaned heavily into other events and celebrations, such as the Seven Seas Food Festival (which recently underwent a controversy of its own), Viva La Música, Howl-O-Scream, and SeaWorld Spooktacular, as well as honoring occasions like Military Appreciation Month, which means one thing for some guests: free tickets.

This year, SeaWorld Orlando is offering free admission to U.S. military veterans and up to three guests for one day. Veterans have until May 12 to register and must use their free park ticket by July 7.

SeaWorld is notoriously generous to its guests who participate in the military. Active-duty military members and their guests can enjoy one-day complimentary SeaWorld tickets – as well as admission to Busch Gardens – all year round as a part of United Parks & Resorts’ Waves of Honor program. This also offers other promotions throughout the year.

Military member couple holds child
Credit: Busch Gardens

Related: Is SeaWorld Getting Rid of Its Killer Whales?

“We are proud to honor active-duty military, veterans, and their families with a complimentary visit to one of our parks,” said Marc Swanson, CEO of United Parks & Resorts (the new name for SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. as of February 2024). “We are incredibly grateful to all members of our military for their commitment and dedication to serving our country. The Waves of Honor program extends a small token of our appreciation to those who are serving or who have served. We look forward to welcoming military service members, veterans, and their families for a fun-filled day in one of our parks.”

Veterans have previously claimed that they feel let down by other Florida theme parks. In April 2023, several veterans banded together on Reddit to claim that Walt Disney World’s decision to permanently close the walkway between Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Shades of Green – Disney’s veteran and active-duty military-exclusive partner hotel – was both “disappointing” and “awful” as it would no longer give residents an alternative to waiting for the slow and sparse busses that serve the resort.

Are you a veteran who regularly visits Florida’s theme parks? Let us know your favorite in the comments!

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