BY BRYCE GUERRERO
Underwater World Guam, an aquarium attraction in Tumon, does business alongside its sister company, Sea Grill Restaurant under Tumon Aquarium LLC. The business began in June 1999, after exit interviews from tourists highlighted demand for a local aquarium.
Jeffrey Schindler, general manager for Underwater World and Sea Grill, said, Erik Pedersen, CEO and president, initially did not think Guam was a suitable site for an aquarium. Upon his visit, however, Schindler said Pedersen’s outlook changed after observing all of Guam’s natural resources and proximity to the ocean, among other benefits, and thought it best to open a restaurant next door to complete the entertainment and dining package.
“Strategically you’ll see when you exit out of the second floor, you’re actually right at the bottom stairwell to Sea Grill Restaurant,” Schindler said.
Originally, the restaurant attached to Underwater World was Sam Choy’s but was rebranded into Sea Grill in 2009.
“When we rebranded and went with Sea Grill, we really wanted to go to a more elegant sort of display as far as the food that we were going to put out, and we also wanted to be conscious of the health factor, knowing that right now, that’s a pretty big thing within the market — having good food, but also having healthy food coupled with good food,” Schindler said.
When the aquarium portion opened in 1999, it boasted the longest tunnel aquarium at the time comprised of 319 linear feet under 800,000 gallons of water.
Schindler said the aquarium likely holds the most diversified group of sea animals within one space, listing off giant groupers, sea turtles, assorted species of sharks, assorted species of rays and tropical fish all living together. The animals have come from places across the globe like Japan and Australia, along with animals from Guam’s own waters.
A challenge that Schindler said Underwater World faces is competing with the expectations of huge aquariums around the world and being innovative with the limited space it has considering that the aquarium was built inside a pre-existing facility.
“We’re always trying to ask ourselves, ‘How do we stay different here at Underwater World to deliver the same experience?’”
In tackling those challenges, Underwater World has implemented several different attractions that have proven very successful thus far. In the evenings, the aquarium is transformed into the Ocean Lounge, a “unique experience where high-quality service and exotic cocktails blend with the rare ambience of music and beautiful colors amidst the scenic vistas found in the sea,” according to the aquarium’s website. A fine-dining experience catered by Sea Grill is also provided in the aquarium’s tunnel, which Schindler said is an extremely popular attraction, especially with couples.
On Valentine’s Day, Schindler said the aquarium becomes a go-to for couples wanting to do something different.
“Once you make your reservation and you pay, essentially we take care of the flowers. We take care of the chocolates. We take care of the perfume. We take care of everything. We have divers in the tunnel, and if you give us a love message, our divers will go up to the table and give the love message to the girl or to the guy.”
Schindler said the aquarium has even seen a number of marriage proposals in the tunnel and that the company always tries to pair promotions with holidays, such as giving mothers a free pass on Mother’s Day.
Along with the dining and lounge experience, Underwater World offers a Sea Trek, where customers are fitted with a helmet allowing them to breathe and explore underwater.
“The thing that I really like about it is the shared experience. You can have grandma and grandpa on the dry side, and you could have the grandkids on the wet side. […] It’s just really cool.”
Underwater World’s innovation continues to bring positive results, with the aquarium seeing an abundance of tourists and locals alike come through every year. Roughly 160,000 visitors are expected to visit in 2015.
“We don’t want to be considered a museum. We always want to be considered a place where people can come to get educated, where they can learn about the environment, where they can kind of grow up with Underwater World.”
Schindler said that the aquarium serves the community with a three-pronged purpose: education, environment and entertainment.
In an expression of this commitment, the company gives presentations free of charge at schools, with the aim of educating students of their stewardship of the environment and responsibility of providing a healthy inheritance for future generations; the company also takes part in International Coastal Cleanup, spearheading the project at Tanguisson Beach.