Traveler Contributing Editor Chris Elliott and his young associates filed this report from SEA LIFE, the brand-new Legoland underwater theme park, where taking a theme park vacation no longer means leaving your conscience at home:
Everything about SEA LIFE, from the types of fish on display to the way in which it recycles waste, exudes social responsibility. When I got a sneak peak of SEA LIFE earlier this week, I found myself standing next to a bin for recycling park tickets. I'm a regular at all of Orlando's theme parks, and I've never seen a recycling bin of any kind, let alone for tickets.
Last year, the family theme park quietly sponsored a company-wide initiative called the "Green Wave Committee" with the goal of creating a cleaner, more eco-friendly park. The result: over a year, Legoland saved 212 tons of materials from going into landfills.
Legoland already recycled water, used environmentally-friendly pest control and had transitioned to sustainable packaging for food items made in the park. The Green Wave upped the ante by aggressively encouraging park guests and employees to recycle (departments within Legoland competed to see who could recycle the most cans). The park also teamed up with San Diego Habitat for Humanity and its Cans for Habitat program to raise funds to help build an 11-unit condominium complex in Carlsbad.
Thankfully, all that social responsibility doesn't translate into a boring theme park. SEA LIFE is pretty exciting. All of the freshwater fish living in the aquarium can be found in California lakes and streams, and its cold-water marine animals are all native to the California coastline. (Alas, the aquarium wasn't fully stocked when we visited, but we were promised lots of exciting fish, including sharks.)
My boys Aren, 6, and Iden, 3, loved the clear diving "bells" that
allowed them to surface inside the aquarium for a close-up look at the
marine life. The tanks were being cleaned by scuba divers, who took a
break from vacuuming algae to wave to the kids.
Legoland is hardly the first theme park with a green initiative. Last year, Universal Studios Orlando said it had gone green with a program called Green is Universal that included using alternative fuels in 100 percent of its service vehicles and mobile equipment.
It also claimed to have a "green" theme park ride when it launched The Simpsons Ride this summer. (If nothing else, The Simpsons was recycled, since it use the same infrastructure as the legendary Back to the Future).
But Legoland goes far beyond Universal's efforts. If you're serious about having an environmentally-friendly theme park vacation, SEA LIFE will float your boat.