The cold brew was welcome refreshment amid the crowds, warm morning sun and wailing children at SeaWorld Orlando on Friday.
"My husband loves free beer," said Charlena Spicer of Tampa, as she waited for her spouse, Jason, who was first in line just before 11 a.m. as the theme park kicked off a summer of free suds.
Jason Spicer sipped a 7-ounce Mako Red Ale, a SeaWorld brand, and said it was good. Bud Light was available as well.
Also joining the line was Matt Feaster, a Winter Garden resident celebrating his 35th birthday.
"There's nothing like cold beer on a hot day," he said.
The giveaway is a nod to SeaWorld's history, back when the company was owned by Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser. At one point, the Orlando park also operated a hitching barn that was home to the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales that paraded through the theme park twice a day.
Free beers were popular for years at SeaWorld's sister park Busch Gardens in Tampa, although the tastings at the "hospitality centers" didn't come to Orlando until around 1992.
Free beer was such a hit at Busch Gardens that some tourists changed clothes to disguise themselves or stood in different lines to get another sample.
Someone even asked during a shareholder's meeting: Can we get free pretzels with the beer, too?
Last call came in January 2009 when SeaWorld Orlando and the other parks stopped serving free beer, a move that angered annual passholders and thirsty visitors.
Even the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board weighed in.
"Too bad," penned an editorial at the time. "The cups of beer might have been small, but for a lot of visitors, they were a gracious and welcome touch."
Later that year, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced it was selling SeaWorld Orlando's parent Busch Entertainment Corp. to the Blackstone Group.
Now known as SeaWorld Entertainment, the company has faced challenges with declining attendance, although it's still ranked the ninth biggest theme park operator in the world, bringing in nearly 21 million visitors annually, according to a report by Themed Entertainment Association and the global management firm AECOM released this week.
The start of 2018 has brought an uptick in revenue, attendance and people spending more at the park — which is something SeaWorld executives likely hope the free beer can help continue to grow.
But if you want to the free beer, you'll have to visit SeaWorld Orlando by Sept. 2.
The company does not have plans to make the two-per-customer 7-ounce pours permanent, a spokeswoman said.
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