Old School Zoo: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom opens as the Marine World Experience


With California still being months away from opening its theme parks, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom came up with a creative way to welcome its guests. With the Marine World Experience, the park is rolling the clock back to 1986, when, before the rides, it moved to its current location in Vallejo as the combination zoo and oceanarium known as Marine World/Africa USA.

Be forewarned, if you visit in July or August, you could experience temperatures in the high 90s. You’ll also be doing quite a bit of walking, some of it uphill, so make sure you have comfortable walking shoes. The shuttle buses are operating, but they’re limiting passengers to those needing mobility assistance.

The walk to the main entrance from the parking lot is just under half a mile. Along the way, you’ll pass many of the park’s iconic coasters and thrill rides, which will all be closed during your visit. Along the path, you’ll see signage explaining “The Six,” Six Flags’ pandemic-era policies for staying safe and having a great time within the park.

Once you reach the end of the path, there’s a booth selling a great collection of DC and Looney Tunes face masks, along with face shields. The masks look great, feel great, and at $7.00 each, are a bargain.

To enter the park, you go through three checkpoints. The first is a tunnel with a thermal scanner. At the second checkpoint, your reservation, which needs to be made online before visiting, is confirmed. Finally, at the the third checkpoint, your tickets or passes are scanned at the gate.

We felt extremely safe within the park. Everyone was wearing masks, both staff and guests, and social distancing. Everywhere we looked, staff were wiping down surfaces and there was always a bottle of hand sanitizer within reach for guests to use.

Once inside, you can visit the seas to the left, the land to the right, or go straight ahead to the realm of air. We recommend proceeding straight into the air zone and making a right once you reach the lakefront. After passing two closed ape-themed rides, you’ll encounter the butterfly exhibit. We recommend you visit this exhibit first because it’s inside a hot ans humid greenhouse, which you don’t want to visit when the outside temperature gets hotter. Because of the staggered reservation times and the attendance cap for the park, there’s a very good chance you might have the butterflies to yourself. We took advantage of this unique opportunity, taking our time and enjoying the vibrant colors of the many different varieties that make up the exhibit.

It is possible to go through the park in just a few hours, but Discovery Kingdom has planned a full day for its guests, with animal shows, including both dolphin shows, and curator talks spread throughout the day. One of the highlights of the Marine World Experience is Cain’s Lion Cub Island, where you can see the park’s three one year-old cubs play and frolic in the water. On maps and park signage, Lion Cub Island is listed as Tiger Island. You will find tigers here earlier in the day, which are later switched out with the lion cubs. Tigers can also be found at Odin’s Temple of the Tiger.

One of your best friends during the trip will be the Six Flags app. Not only can it store your tickets and reservation, it also gives you times for shows and curator talks and can be used to order food for many of the park’s fast dining locations. The only issue we had during our visit is that it took close to half an hour for our food to be ready, but in all honesty, we ordered at the window. Next time, it will definitely be on the app.

Because of the heat, make sure to keep yourself hydrated. A bottle of water will cost you around $6.00, but the park also now has drinking fountains designed to refill water bottles, so it’s an investment that can go a long way.

This year, Discovery Kingdom was scheduled to open its new spinning coaster, Sidewinder Safari. The tract of land it’s planned for, where the elephant ride trail previously stood, remains bare as the ride’s opening has been pushed back. But the snakes that will line its queue are currently on display in a beautifully updated reptile exhibit near the lake.

On the Sea side of the park you’ll find pennipeds, rays, and penguins. At the time of our visit, a state order to close indoor zoo exhibits has placed the sharks off limits. Things may be different during your visit.

Without the rush of trying to get to a ride or having to avoid frantic kids barreling down the pathway to get to theirs, you can take the time to enjoy the beautiful landscaping, which is among the best in the Six Flags chain. As you wander through the park, there are educators and docents located near each exhibit, ready to answer any questions you might have.

The Marine World Experience proved to be a great opportunity to go back in time and enjoy what the park’s always been about – the animals.