by Joe Kleiman
Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is home to a massive structure, or more accurately, a “magic box”. Although its appearance and entrance may seem inconspicuous, once inside, the magic is released, and the next generation of marine life theme park unfolds in multiple stories and multiple fields.Among its many layers, the first international Ocean World garden, Ocean World® Yas Island, Abu Dhabishowcasing new innovations in technology, animal care, storytelling and education, inspiring regional and international guests – with programming specifically designed to communicate the importance of marine life and conservation to young Emiratis.
Through sliding glass doors, one enters the five-storey entry atrium, where a waterfall mimics the Wadi Arabia – a dry valley that bursts with streams and waterfalls to nourish the desert during the monsoon season. This is one of many regional cooperation projects. “There is a connection to Abu Dhabi throughout the park,” said Mitchell Magill, director of SeaWorld Entertainment Experiences – Global Theme Park Development. “We followed the path of the water, from the desert through the wadi to a port in Abu Dhabi—from which we set out into the ocean and all the coasts beyond.”
multiple discovery paths
The escalators take guests across the Wadi, past the waterfall, and turn right halfway to the second set of escalators.in plan, the vertical structure naturally creates opportunities for discovery and exploration throughout the park PGAV destination. This is complemented by multiple levels for each subject area to explore. The animal habitat can be observed from the ground, from an overhead viewing area, or through an underwater tunnel.
At the top of the second set of escalators, visitors enter Ocean Kingdom Abu Dhabi, the park’s entry plaza and local connection to our One Ocean. The area features a number of touch pools, an element SeaWorld used very successfully a few years ago at Explorer’s Reef (the San Diego park’s redesigned entrance). Reminiscent of Abu Dhabi’s historic waterfront two centuries ago, Abu Dhabi Ocean Entrance’s design showcases the country’s heritage and relationship with the sea.
SeaWorld Abu Dhabi reinterprets and revives the legacy of the North American park. “We’re paying homage to SeaWorld’s traditions with our Pearl Diving show,” explains Magill, “but here we’re also paying homage to Abu Dhabi’s century-old seafaring tradition. One is an original about a fisherman who meets a mermaid. Allegory, and through his experiences discovering even more precious treasures beneath the surface of the Arabian Gulf. The other was a pearl diving demonstration, showcasing traditional Abu Dhabi techniques.”
Unique central hub
A glass tunnel leads through the trumpet-shaped aquarium to One Ocean, the central hub of the park. Throughout the day, diverse programming and immersive media showcase the relationship between all living things and the world’s oceans on the 49-foot-tall, 722-foot-long 360-degree screen. “It was a pleasure to be on location and film,” said Robert Yordi, the park’s vice president and chief curator of zoology. “Howard Hall and Michelle Hall were involved in the filming. They had a huge nine-camera rig that was used to shoot all over the world. And, as you know, the results have been very inspiring.”
The park aims to inspire young people in a number of ways, including an interactive S·E·A Guardians game. Using RFID cards, guests can take on touchscreen challenges within each area to delve deeper into the topics presented. Completing all challenges activates physical props throughout the park, such as the lighthouse in the sea lion habitat. S·E·A Guardian characters operate many research bases and ships throughout the park, and their presence in all areas creates a coherent storyline throughout the park. Each realm has its own character and unique storyline, allowing visitors to further immerse themselves in the story of the same ocean.
Downsizing the Small Folk
From an ocean, portals lead to each themed area. “All areas are connected to other areas, except MicroOcean, the area we have for our younger guests,” Magil said. “We don’t want parents to lose their kids through the back door, so there’s only one way in and out.” In MicroOcean, young guests and their families travel through two portals. One shrinks them down to the size of a starfish, and the other shrinks them down to the size of plankton. There are interactions, characters, physical play experiences and purposeful entertainment rides, including one of the park’s two roller coasters.
desert in the tropics
Tropical Ocean Kingdom has a huge dolphin lagoon. The dolphin show takes place in the amphitheater at the far end of the kingdom, and the barrier between the show area and the lagoon is invisible to guests, creating a seemingly endless landscape. Around the stands are animal exhibits, including rays and a huge walk-up aviary. Below this kingdom, past the dolphin-watching tunnel, sits Manta, Intamin’s custom-built triple-launch roller coaster. Multiple inversion tracks run around the exterior of the building, reversing direction at the park entrance. There are multiple physical scenes throughout the layout, creating the illusion of swimming quickly between underwater rock formations and shipwrecks.
Link the presentation to the habitat
Rocky Point is where guests go to see California sea lions and harbor seals. The area is based on the US coast of Oregon, and there is a second animal display area, where the displays are similar to the ones in SeaWorld America parks – very intimate, conveying the conservation message that animals change us. “The scene was set in Oregon’s famous sea lion cave,” Jordy said. “Right now, we only have sea lions, but we’ll be adding other animals, including birds and otters.” In addition to the giant LED screens that give the illusion of looking out to sea, a piece of scrim will be dropped during the show, revealing itself on the set. Sea lion swimming in adjacent habitat behind.
north and south
The park has two polar regions – entered via an armillary sphere, and a dome display with twelve projectors overhead tells the story of the exploration and the stark differences between the north and south poles. This area of Antarctica is not yet open. Here, guests will walk through an open habitat lined with penguins. It will be similar to the attraction of the same name at SeaWorld Orlando, but the unique venue allows for some adjustments. “In Antarctica in Orlando, we had to gradually change the temperature as you approach the exhibit area because you’re coming from the Florida heat,” shares Magill. “Here, we’ve walked through a building that’s air-conditioned, so there’s much less variation in temperature.” Heat and humidity vary throughout the building—higher in the tropics, lower in the polar regions.
The Polar Regions is home to Hypersphere 360, a newly developed twin-dome immersive media ride in partnership with ATTRAKTION! and Intamin. The ride takes place inside an all-LED sphere and is hosted by the S·E·A Guardians mascot V·E·R·N·E, an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) that transports guests across the world’s oceans .
The Arctic region is home to puffins, walruses and otters. The five walruses hail from parks in Japan and Canada, and guests can get up close and personal with them through SeaWorld Adventures, which are available for a separate fee.Additional adventures are coming soon, including kayaking on a tropical lagoon and aboard a submarine for up to four guests inside the world’s largest aquarium
explore the depths
The carefully designed endless ocean kingdom is reminiscent of Jules Verne’s futuristic natural world of adventure and exploration. (His influence is also present in many other areas of the park). Here, guests can explore Seabase 4 (referring to the fourth SeaWorld park on the current list and one of the many “Easter eggs” hidden in the park for die-hard SeaWorld fans). The center is a six-story, 6.6 million-gallon habitat that houses more than 68,000 animals. After entering Seabase 4, visitors can see the sea through a huge circular window called Oculus. Elsewhere, a six-story window called “Endless Vista” allows guests to view the entire aquarium from top to bottom. I have traveled to aquariums and marine life parks all over the world. In my opinion, the Endless Ocean Aquarium is worth the ticket alone. The S·E·A exploration theme runs throughout the park, with subsea modules throughout the Endless Ocean habitat, painted to look weathered by time, as well as Antarctic research bases and Arctic research vessels in their respective domains.
Beneath the One Ocean sphere sits one of SeaWorld Abu Dhabi’s management gems – the Animal Care Centre. Here, the bizarre surroundings of the rest of the park give way to the realities of Sea Life Park operations. Based in part at Tampa Bay’s Busch Gardens Animal Care Center and SeaWorld’s Inside Look America events, park visitors are able to witness exams, surgeries and lab tests first-hand and, in many cases, interact with professionals on the other side of the glass. “Nothing is hidden, everything is open to guests,” Magill said.
“This is for Millar’, added Jordi. “The UAE is very concerned about protecting the environment and fighting climate change. We work closely with the Abu Dhabi Environment Authority, which makes government decisions about the animals in our care.Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Director of the Environment Agency and current President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature [an international body which, among other things, assesses the status of threatened and endangered species worldwide]. This lets you know how dedicated they are. “
Another area of the building is completely sealed off from the park, with separate entrances for visitors and staff. The Yas Seaworld Research and Rescue Center is similar to the Animal Care Centre, with fully visible surgical and clinical suites, dugong and dolphin rehabilitation pools and research laboratories. The facility is based on four principles: research, rescue, rehabilitation and return. School groups from across the UAE will visit the Research and Rescue Center as well as the park itself, with the aim of inspiring the next generation of Emiratis to pursue careers in science, animal care, veterinary medicine and conservation.
“We put a lot of thought and research into this facility,” says Yordi, who got his start in the industry in 1984 as an animal breeder at Marine Park of the Pacific in Los Angeles. “From our innovative lighting to medical transparency treatments, we plan to share these innovations with zoos and aquariums around the world to improve habitat design and animal welfare everywhere.”