Saturday, May 18, 2024

PHOTO TOUR: InPark visits SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Photos by Joe Kleiman for InPark Magazine

I’ve just returned from the grand opening of SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, where I spent three days exploring the first international SeaWorld-branded marine life park. SeaWorld, Miral, and their design partners have established a new benchmark for animal exhibition. Almost everything that takes place in the park is transparent, including fully viewable veterinary procedures in both habitats and in a state of the art Animal Care Center. Through a combination of education and entertainment, the park is intentionally designed not only to wow tourists, but to inspire the next generation of scientists, animal caretakers, and veterinarians from throughout the UAE.

From a distance, the building is unassuming. Here we see it from the rooftop pool at the W Yas Island hotel. Closer up, marine animals can be seen etched on its exterior and a rollercoaster wraps around the front. AECOM provided architectural services for the building proper and exterior. Illuminated animal shapes on the exterior were designed by PGAV Desstinations.

The building also features a multi-story rescue, rehabilitation, release and research center, hermetically sealed and physically separated from the the theme park. SeaWorld Abu Dhabi works closely with Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi on its rescue and research projects. Protecting the environment and fighting climate change are important goals for the Emirate. The Environment Agency’s managing director, Razan Al Mubarak, is the current President of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and will lead the 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), which the UAE will host in the neighboring Emirate of Dubai in November.

Once through the doors, an escalator ride through a wadi takes guests up two floors, where they enter the park through the Abu Dhabi Ocean. This entry realm features touch pools, a pearl diving show, merchandise and Arabic dining in a tribute to Abu Dhabi’s longstanding relationship with the sea.

Mitchell Magill, Director, Entertainment Experiences – Global Theme Park Development at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment (L) and Robert Yordi, Zoological VP/General Curator at SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (R) introduce us to One Ocean, the park’s central hub. The area is surrounded by a 15 m (49 ft) high, 220 m (722 ft) long 360 degree LED screen, presenting a 23K media presentation, though it’s capable of presenting images at over 50K resolution if servers become available able to handle the data. Thinkwell Group produced the park’s media.

The centerpiece of One Ocean is a giant LED sphere, which is similar to the Science on a Sphere displays found in many museums and planetariums. It can display live action, animation, or even a globe, showing where scenes on the surrounding screens were shot or how the Earth’s currents work. This photo was taken one floor below, from the Animal Care Center.

The Animal Care Center is fully visible to the public and features operating suites, a CT scan machine, clinics, and labs.

Viewable from the Animal Care Center are holding tanks for animals not yet on display or under medical observation and a single kitchen facility, seen here, that services all the animals in the park. The Animal Care Center is partially modeled after a similar facility at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and SeaWorld’s Inside Look events at its American parks.

The Polar Realms share a common entryway with a full dome presentation overhead telling the stories of polar exploration. Antarctica is home to penguins, while the Arctic features puffins, sea otters, and, as seen here, walruses. The exhibits utilize innovative LED lighting systems that provide light on both the visible and invisible spectrums. Lighting can be programmed to change by time of day or even by season for the polar regions. Master planning and design of the visitor experience and animal habitats were handled by PGAV Destinations.

The park features dynamic habitats, which can be modified for enrichment of its animals. Exhibits are multi-level and can be viewed from ground level or below the water, with some offering overhead viewing as well. Many tanks are multi-species. Here you can see live fish in the walrus habitat. I am grateful to this young man for allowing me to take his photo as he watched a walrus swimming just out of frame.

Our intrepid reporter from America meets a Japanese walrus in an Emerati park. The park offers SeaWorld Expeditions for an additional charge, ranging from kayaking in a dolphin lagoon to scuba diving in the world’s largest multi-species aquarium tank. I was in the first group to experience the Walrus Encounter, which takes place in an animal interaction area thematically integrated into the habitat and fully visible from public walkways. We came away with the knowledge that walruses really suck – it’s how they take in their food.

On the first floor of Tropical Ocean is the station for Manta. This Intamin triple-launch coaster stretches across the exterior of the park weaving in, out, upside down and around a number of physical props. The park also has a Dome Ride Theater from Intamin and ATTRAKTION!, scheduled to open later this year, and a children’s area called MicroOcean, filled with play equipment, shows, interactive characters, and rides, where children are shrunk to the size of a starfish and a plankton.

Tropical Ocean is home to a dolphin presentation that includes live drummers and a tropical rainstorm effect. The main pool and holding pools all form a giant lagoon, called Coconut Bay, visible throughout the realm. To the left of the stage sits a giant aviary that stretches floor to ceiling. Both the Tropical Ocean lagoon and the Rocky Point sea lion exhibit feature wave creating pulse balls disguised as research buoys.

Rocky Point is home to both an exhibit and a show stadium, designed after the famous sea lion caves of Oregon, USA. Above the stage is a giant LED screen, and below that, a scrim that drops during the show to reveal a window where sea lions can be seen swimming underwater in the adjacent habitat. The show is corny, with an educational message about conservation, very much like its stateside counterparts. Currently, there are only sea lions in the show, but there are plans in the works to expand it with the addition of other marine mammals and birds.

One of the highlights of the park is Endless Ocean, designed as a research base built around the world’s largest multi-species aquarium tank. The tank is more than six stories deep and holds 25 million liters (6.6 million gallons) of water. At this home to over 68,000 animals, guests can sign up to scuba dive, walk the ocean floor in a SeaTREK experience, or even ride through the tank in a five person submersible, all for an additional fee.

SeaWorld Abu Dhabi joins Ferrari World, Warner Bros. World and Yas Water World as Miral continues to create a premier integrated resort for the EMEA region on Yas Island. Thank you to Miral Experiences and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi for hosting me during the Grand Opening event.

Special thanks to PGAV Destinations. Updated May 29, 2023.

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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