Turtle Trek Opens at SeaWorld

Turtle Trek, the new attraction that replaces “Manatees: The Last Generation” has opened, perhaps prematurely. It is not ready for prime time.

The new attraction reverses the crowd flow of the old one. We now enter a series of underground rooms offering picture window views into, first, a manatee pool and then, as closed doors open and the Turtle Trek portion gets underway, a salt water pool with sea turtles and a thousand or so colorful tropical fish.

In this curved chamber we hear a spiel about the life cycle of the sea turtle and its endangered status. Then it’s into the final chamber, a domed 3D theatre, for the attraction’s piece de resistance. Using knock your socks off CGI technology, SeaWorld presents a turtle’s-eye view of the entire 20-year life cycle of a sea turtle crammed into seven minutes. The movie is undeniably striking and earns well-deserved applause.

Unfortunately, in this case the medium is just the medium and the message, such as it is, gets lost in the clutter.

There are many problems with Turtle Trek as it now exists. One major problem is crowd control. Guests are pulsed through the attraction in groups that are large enough to fill the circular theatre but too large for the antechambers. Unless you find yourself right up against the windows looking into the manatee and turtle tanks, you will not be able to see much.

In the curved chamber where guests are treated to the lecture on sea turtles half of the audience can’t see the speaker, which may be one reason the crowd passes the time chatting loudly amongst themselves. The language barrier might be another. If you actually want to pay attention to what’s being said, lotsa luck.

While the film is engaging, I doubt that many people get a clear picture of what’s happening to the  turtle protagonist or that twenty years have elapsed by film’s end. For that, you would have had to pay close attention to the hard-to-hear lecture in the previous room and have almost total recall.

The piece ends abruptly when the turtle returns to her native beach but before she lays her eggs. And the “Be An Everyday Hero” fanfare that ends the film comes out of nowhere and is just plain confusing. I consider myself a card-carrying tree hugger, but the connection between what I’d just seen and smiling kids planting trees was lost on me. Even worse, it’s the sort of ham-fisted, rah-rah propaganda that the anti-environmentalist lobby loves to jeer at. In this case, they’d have some justification.

The now-gone Manatees: The Last Generation was subtle and persuasive. It packed an emotional wallop. Turtle Trek left me cold.

To its credit, SeaWorld is making what seems to be a genuine effort to solicit guest feedback and I saw several people lined up to give the Customer Service guy, who was scribbling frantically on his clipboard, a piece of their minds. I was told that changes are being made on a daily basis.

Hopefully, they will be able to solve the major issues. But unless that happens SeaWorld will have spent several million dollars to turn a five-star attraction into a two-star one.

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