Do you want to dine next to Shamu on your next SeaWorld Orlando vacation? SeaWorld Orlando has reintroduced the famous Dine With Shamu program and has installed changes large and small.
The dining experience returned Monday for theme-park guests after being closed since trainer Dawn Brancheau died when killer whale Tilikum dragged her in the water after a Dine With Shamu session in February 2010.
A visible alteration is the addition of clear panels on land, near the edge of the pool. They divide the whales and trainers from the customers’ tables. The trainers are not in the water with the animals.
“There was a net barrier that was there before,” says Michael Boos, vice president of zoological operations. “The glass itself offers a better view, a more unobstructed view of the animals themselves,” he says.
Restructuring one corner of the pool encourages the whales to be more playful, Boos says. A pebbled floor has been made smooth and the pool a little deeper in that area.
Far below the surface is a new “lifting floor” that could be used in emergencies. (All guests can get a good look at the vented floor at the tank’s underwater-viewing area, which has also reopened.)
“The whole floor that you see in this pool can be raised to the surface in approximately a minute,” Boos says.
The Dine With Shamu pool area is built into the Shamu Stadium complex, home of the popular “One Ocean” killer-whale show. The dining experience is less structured than a show.
“It’s not a choreographed number. It really allows us to do what we want to do and what the animals want to do. We can come out and do something different every time.” Boos says. Whales swam freely, jumped from beneath the surface, waved their tails in the air and did other maneuvers during a rain-shortened program on Tuesday.
Guests belly up to the buffet then watch whales at play during the meal. The whales, apparently without instruction on Tuesday, would rise up and watch folks dine (or take pictures). Trainers interact with both animals and diners.
“It really gives guests an opportunity to ask questions, to really get more in depth about how they work with their animals,” Boos says.
The menu and the message behind the menu have changed as well. The buffet includes roasted pork loin, rosemary-glazed grilled chicken, Black Angus strip loin, filet of cod, seasonal sides, baked goods as well as a kids’ buffet.
“All the foods that you have the capability of coming in and trying out are either natural, organic or sustainable,” Boos says.
Conservation messages are seen throughout the area, as is common at SeaWorld.
SeaWorld currently is not taking reservations online or by phone for Dine With Shamu. It’s available to guests who check in at the park ’s reservations centers at the entrance or near Shamu Stadium. The Dine With Shamu program costs $49 per person ($24 for ages 3-9) in addition to park admission.