The wonderful world of Justice and Mommy aka Mary!
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Christmas Miracles with Shamu
We’ve had annual passes for Sea World for over three years now, so we’ve done and seen just about everything there on the average day; however, holidays always seem to offer something new, something more. This particular Christmas, Sea World pulled out all the stops, transforming their Wild Arctic simulator into The Polar Express Experience. The Polar Express has quickly become a new classic Christmas movie since it’s release in 2004. Justice and I were fortunate enough to see it in 3D IMAX 3 years ago and the effect was quite exhilarating. We had felt as though we were really racing up and down the railroad tracks, so I was especially excited to see what Sea World had produced.
Because we had been at the Magic Kingdom so late the night before, I was in no rush to get to get there when the park opened. It was around noon when we finally made our way into the park and we decided to watch Clyde and Seymour, the sea lion and otter show, before making our way to the main holiday attraction. The show involves a pirate ship, marine life and a-lot of slap stick comedy. It is never quite the same show no matter how many times we see it, because they are dealing with live animals. Sometimes they miss their cues or do things before they are supposed to. It only adds to the comedy and usually gets the audience laughing even louder.
After the show we made our way to the back of the park to get in line for The Polar Experience. I could tell from the line that we were in for a long wait. Luckily we had Pal Mickey with us to keep us entertained. They had redecorated the outside of the building with large picture scenes from The Polar Express and installed a few oversized, flat screen TV’s which were playing carefully edited montages from the movie.
It took 45 minutes for us to reach the end of the line and we were brimming with excitement by then. Upon entering the building, I noticed that all of the walls had been repainted in soft, pink stripes and every door had been faux finished, to resemble old fashioned, beveled, wooden doors in a dark, mahogany stain. They looked so real that I had to run my hand over them to see for sure if they were flat or true old fashioned doors with ridged edges. They were in fact flat which made my jaw drop to the floor. The lights had been dimmed in the corridors and it really felt as though we were walking through a hallway from 50 years ago.
Quickly we were ushered into a large room, with the same, alternately stripped, pink walls. On one wall there was a large green curtain, that had been pulled back, revealing a movie screen. At the base of the screen was an oversized radiator. I realized that we were standing in boys room. The movie had begun in his bedroom, so it seemed only fitting that our journey would begin there too.
As soon as we had all settled into place the show began. The boy was onscreen sleeping in his bed. His parents were musing over the fact that this might be the last year for him and Santa. As he drifted into slumber land, he was suddenly awakened by a shuddering thunder. Then, all at once a train whistle blew deafeningly into the charcoal sky. At the same time the radiator seemed to be overheating at an alarming pace then, a shrill sound burst into the air- WHOOOOOOOO WHOOOO! The whole audience jumped back as an actual rush of steam and noise blew from the oversized radiator. “OH!”, we all screamed and Justice snapped onto me like a rubber band that had been pulled just a little too far apart. He looked up at me with a sheepish grin as I pat his back to reassure him that everything was ok.
The movie ended and we all moved to the next queue area. It was here that I was really overwhelmed by how much Sea World had done to recreate the Polar Express. Fog machines pumped thick low lying blankets of smoke around our shins and ankle. The floor resembled a blanket of gaseous snow and overhead white trellises were draped with boughs of pine. The scent of fresh pine needles consumed our nostrils and in front of us, we were faced with the Polar Express in all it’s glory. The whole wall and all the doors were repainted to look like an exact replica of the train complete with shadows of passengers in the windows. The effect was almost like 3D without the special glasses.
After a few minutes, the doors opened and the conductors led us to our seats. Once we were in our cars, we were overwhelmed by detail all over again. Overhead plush green and yellow curtains hung to form an ornate ceiling . The walls were painted with windows, careful to include the metal hardware surrounding each pane of glass. In front of us, even the brass grate that the elusive ticket had flown out of in the movie, was painstakingly recreated via brushes and strokes for us to stare at with gaping jaws. It was everything I had hoped for and more.
The conductor instructed us all to fasten our seatbelts, checked to make sure we had and then we were off. The screen opened and we had begun our journey to the North Pole. Gently, we shook back and forth as the train moved along the tracks at a steady pace. Back and forth, back and forth, almost like a lullaby we swayed predictably. Then, things began to heat up with the story. As the boy traveled across the top of the train, trying to find his friends lost ticket and the pin to the breaks sprung out of place, we were jolted all around. Soon, the train sprung out of control, we were flung back and forth like rag dolls as the car raced up and down the peaks and valleys like a roller coaster. We slid across the polar caps flying left, then right, then left again. WHOSH, we went far back in our seats as we climbed the last leg of our journey to the North Pole.
Once we reached the North Pole we fast forwarded to the point in time where the boy see’s the bell fly from the reindeers elaborate harness. BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE we all went at the bell sprung up and down on the cold ground. UP went our heads as Santa loomed over us, ready to give the first gift of Christmas. The boy whispered in his ear and he murmured, "yes…." With one decisive movement he held his large arm overhead and announced “The first gift of Christmas!” SHEEEEEEEEW, we were catapulted up, up, up as the elves flung their hats high into the night air. We were the hats high in the sky. SHAAAAAAAW, we fell gently back down to the ground. A voice warned us about the dangers of loosing the sound of the bells with age, then the ride came to an end; but, the experience did not.
We exited down another hallway, then all at once, we found ourselves in the middle of the North Pole and Santa’s city. Up in the sky the northern lights were dancing like ballerinas in a Picasso. Below beluga whales were swimming about in their habitat. The lights were lowered to dusk like levels. In the middle stood a large tree with strands of garland lit by white bulbs, just like in the movie. Off to the right there was Santa himself sitting on his magnificent slay topped by a ginourmous, bulging, red felt sack, full of presents, enough for every child in the world. Above him were store fronts, lined with brilliant white lights. We were in the North Pole.
Justice was not terribly interested in meeting Santa; but, I thought that our experience would not be complete without a picture with the North Pole Santa. After a short wait it was our turn. Justice ran up to him and whispered in his ear. I’m pretty sure he asked for the coveted skateboard; but, he wouldn’t tell me for sure. “If I tell you, it won’t come true mommy, that’s how it works.” I decided not to press him for more information and shatter his dreams.
We explored the rest of the area for a while, saw some polar bears having a snack, then ran off to see the rest of the park. Because we had been here so many times before, there was no rush to get everything done. We skipped most of our usual shows and hung around the back of the park most of the day. I noticed the time was slipping away and we decided to ride the Polar Express one more time before the sun set. The ride would revert to it’s original theme after Christmas and I didn’t want to have to wait another year to be transported into the movie again. This time we waited over an hour to have our experience.
As we exited the ride I noticed that the time was six o’clock. Shamu, Christmas Miracles was going to be taking place in one hour at Shamu Stadium, which was directly in front of us. Because there was only one showing I knew the seating would be filled up long before the show, so we made our way over to the stadium to claim our spots. Justice wanted to sit in the splash zone and I was not very thrilled about that. It was in the 50’s which is down right cold for south Floridians. I knew the water in the killer whales tanks was around fifty two degrees and I was not looking forward to the prospect of being both cold and wet while watching the next show; but, my love and desire to please my son won out over my own wants and needs. We sat in the splash zone.
About twenty minutes after we took our seats the large screens at Shamu Stadium flashed with welcoming words…..Christmas Karaoke. Now, I’m not much of a singer myself; but, I do like to sing with a crowd and that’s what this was all about. The crowd was happy to have something to do and all 5,000 of us joined together, caroling the night away. For forty minutes we were all united by songs and words. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know each other or that we came from varied backgrounds. We were all the same and nobody was different.
"Oh Night Divine" was resonating through the crowd as we were waiting for words to appear on the screen, then something made me look to my right. Maybe it was because the music was just a little too perfect or perhaps I had caught a bit of movement from the corner of my eye, out of my peripheral vision. Nevertheless my eyes were drawn to a man in a brilliant blue shirt and shinning saxophone. As he blew into the rounded mouthpiece made of brass his heart and sole erupted from the wide cylindrical opening, pouring out, into the audience and my heart all at the same time.
It was the perfect opening to the dazzling show we were about to see. Like most shows at Sea World the main stage was made entirely of water as the marine life are the focal characters. Huge, intricate lights hung from the rafters of the amphitheater, lighting the stage in a multitude of colors. Below there was a small platform just above sea level and another longer, skinnier platform one story above. Attached to the upper platform there were a series of four large, rectangular movie screens designed to move back and forth and rotate a full 360 degrees creating a visually stunning show.
The show was really something to behold. Shamu rushed across the water at alarming speeds and sprung from the water at a moments notice spinning and swirling in the brightly light night sky. Trainers surfed the water aboard Shamu’s back and were jettisoned high into the sky from the snout of the vertically jumping mammal. At times the great whale rushed up to the crowd swishing it’s slick tail upwards as the audience roared jubilantly contrasted by graceful movements, turning about, in the ever changing water.
Towards the later half of the show a beautiful black woman dressed in a shinning gold shirt erupted onto the scene belting out a vibrant song. She had a powerhouse voice and wasn’t afraid to use it. The trainers flanked her sides in black and white wet suits and fireworks sprung from the sky behind. Shamu wowed the crowd by flipping his enormous tail in such a way that he sprayed the crowed with quick showers of icy water. OOOOOH, AHHHHHH, we all screamed as the water hit our skin. Then, in an instant, when everything seemed to reach a height of an unknown longitude it was all over. They say it’s always best to go out while your still on top and I’m sure the creators of the show took advantage of that advice.
We left the stadium with high expectations. It was seven thirty and the last show of the night, Christmastide was about to begin on the waterfront. We rushed to the front half of the park to ensure a good viewing area then settled in for what I thought was going to be a great show. Let’s just say I was a bit disappointed.
Now let me be clear, Christmas tide is by no stretch of the imagination a bad show; however, when compared with Shamu Christmas Miracles and other nighttime fireworks shows in Orlando theme parks, it left a-lot to be desired. Christmas music erupted from speakers all around the harbor and dancing fountains burst up and down in unison to the notes. The plumes of water were matched with sprays of color from high powered lanterns. The timing was perfect and the effect was really quite pretty. Unfortunately I have seen so much more and knew Sea World could have done better. In their defense I will say, the cost to put on a killer night show is astronomical and while they do try to wow their crowds, they also are very committed to rehabbing and rehabilitating both marine life and animal life. Believe it or not Sea World saves more birds each year than any other animal! With that in mind, I can easily forgive one less than stellar night show. I know their “excess” money is being spent in better ways.
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