Sea World was originally founded by Keith Williams as the Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens. The main attractions were "water ski shows that combined sos, aqua ballet and action". In 1971, the Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens moved to land on the Spit. Major dredging works were required to build the new ski lake. A year later, the Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens became known as Sea World with the introduction of dolphins, marine displays, a replica of the Endeavour, a swimming pool, licensed restaurant as well as a gift shop.
 Extra additions over the next decade included the purchasing of competitor marine park, Marineland, and the transfer of animals and exhibits to Sea World as well as the addition of more shops and food outlets.
In 1984 Keith Williams sold the park to property development group Pivot Leisure. Later in 1988 Pivot built the 400 room Sea World Nara Resort. In 1991 Pivot Leisure, Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow jointly developed and opened Warner Bros. Movie World, a Hollywood theme action park, at Oxenford on the Gold Coast. Also that year Pivot Purchased Wet n' Wild Water park located next to the site of Warner Bros. Movie World. In 1993, Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow jointly acquired Pivot Leisure's interest in Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World and the adjoining Sea World Nara Resort.
In 1975, the Sea World train opened. "The train is a two-third scale replica of Queensland's famous number 6A10, which is now on display at the Queensland Railway Museum. The ride was designed and built by Sea World."
In 1981, the park's first roller-coaster opened. Originally known as the Wild Wave Rollercoaster, it was accompanied by the Pirate Ship and Carousel. The Wild Wave Rollercoaster changed its name to the Thrillseeker and closed in 2002.
In 1982, the Corkscrew rollercoaster opened. The ride is an Arrow Dynamics Sitdown Looper and features three inversions.
In 2003, Pirates in 3D was replaced with Planet SOS in 4-D. This film features an environmental message presenting the issues of global warming, ocean habitat destruction, and deforestation.
In 2004, the park opened "Shark Bay". This system of artificial lagoons allows sharks to be viewed from both above water and underwater. Sharks exhibited include large and potentially dangerous tiger sharks and bull sharks.
In 2005, the ski show received a makeover and became Waterski Wipeout. Also the water park got a makeover with the relocation of The Plunge from Wet'n'Wild Water World.
In 2006, the Sea World Eye was introduced for a limited time. Swiss manufacturer CWA Constructions built the 60-metre high wheel which featured 42 air-conditioned gondolas.
In 2007, Sea World introduced Sesame Street Beach. Sesame Street Beach replaced Cartoon Network Cartoon Beach with the addition of a new stage show and a new ride.
In 2008, Jet Rescue opened. Jet Rescue is a motorbike launch coaster made by Intamin which features jet-ski cars. It is themed to a sea-lion rescue. Also 'Ray Reef' opened featuring over 100 rays 'flying and gliding' under the water. It is Sea World's first new wildlife exhibit since 2004.
In 2009, Sea World updated and renewed several things. In early 2009, the Pirate Ship attraction closed and removed from the park. Waterski Wipeout performed its last show on 20 July 2009. Pirates Unleashed opened on Boxing Day as a replacement. In September, Sea World announced the opening of Ocean Rescue, a new film for their theatre replacing Planet SOS in 4-D. A new educational exhibit also opened in 2009 titled Shark Attack which replaced Dugong Discovery. The Corkscrew rollercoaster was rethemed and renamed to become the Sea Viper.
In 2010, the park closed Shark Attack, the Sea World Aquarium, Ocean Rescue, Bermuda Triangle and part of the Water Park to construct new attractions. In September, Castaway Bay opened in former location of the water park. It is a children's area featuring Sky Fortress (a climbing structure), Sky Climb (a set of high ropes) and Battle Sails (a water battle). Also in September, Ocean Rescue was replaced by Happy Feet 3D Experience. In October, Sea World closed the Bermuda Triangle for routine maintenance before closing the ride permanently. Its replacement was expected to be open by late 2011, but ultimately it was replaced in 2013 by the Storm Coaster. Sea World also opened Penguin Encounter, an Antarctic penguin exhibit where Shark Attack And Sea World Aquarium once stood on 26 December 2010. During the summer school holidays Sea World ran Jet Stunt Extreme as a temporary jet-ski-based stunt show located on the Sea World lake. It operated for a limited season until 23 January 2011. Sea World has noted that it could become a permanent addition depending on the overall success of the show.
In 2012, Sea World announced that they would be launching Dinosaur Island, an interactive dinosaur exhibit. The exhibit opened to the public on 16 June 2012. In December 2012, Sea World announced a "wild" attraction, set for a 2014 opening. Although the attraction was initially promoted in-park and construction began, Sea World has since removed all promotion of the attraction. A 2013 report in the Gold Coast Bulletin suggested the attraction would be a multimillion-dollar African jungle exhibit, including gorillas, hippos, and crocodiles.
In 2015, Sky High Skyway was closed and Beach Break Bay was replaced with Nickelodeon Land.
In 2016, Viking's Revenge Flume Ride was closed permanently.
In 2017, Dora's Best Friends Adventure was replaced with Paw Patrol on Holiday.
In May 2019, Sea World announced The New Atlantis precinct, which will feature three new rides:
Vortex is an 18-metre (59 ft) HUSSTop Spin and was originally projected to open in December 2019. The ride now has an opening date of December 2020, due to delays associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Leviathan is a wooden roller coaster manufactured by Martin & Vleminckx and designed by The Gravity Group; in a world-first, its Timberliner trains will feature two backwards-facing seats. It is projected to feature approximately 909 metres (2,982 ft) of track, and reach a maximum height of 27 metres (89 ft) and top speed of 85 kilometres per hour (53 mph). Vertical construction of the coaster began in September 2020, with plans to open in late 2022..
Trident is a 42-metre (138 ft) SBF Visa Swing Tower and is projected to open in Late 2022 alongside the Leviathan rollercoaster.
Nickelodeon Land is a themed zone featuring several rides specifically designed for children. The area was originally themed to Cartoon Network when it opened in 1999 before being rethemed to Sesame Street in 2007. In late 2011, it was rethemed to have the generic theme of Beach Break Bay. The area features 6 attractions including the Carousel and Beach Ball Bounce. In 2015 it was refurbished into Nickelodeon Land adding a Zamperla roller coaster and 4 new rides.
Castaway Bay opened in September 2010. It is contains a new children's area featuring Sky Fortress (a climbing structure), Sky Climb (a set of high ropes) and Battle Boats (formerly Battle Sails, an interactive water battle). It is located at the northern half of the Water Park.
The Reef opened in December 2017. It is a splash zone expansion to Castaway Bay with over 80 water cannons, spouts and an array of oversized marine animal sculptures.
Jet Rescue is Sea World's only dry roller coaster. The ride is themed around the journey of a Sea World Rescue Team on a mission to save marine life. Riders board a jet ski and race at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour (43 mph) around a highly twisted and banked track.
Sea World Monorail System was the first monorail system in Australia. It allowed guests to travel between three stations throughout the park. As of May 2022[update], the monorail carriages have been dismantled and scrapped. It is unclear whether the monorail system will be recommissioned.
Vortex is a Top Spin ride from Hungary-based HUSS Park Attractions. It was announced in May 2019 as the first phase of The New Atlantis project, and flips riders at speeds of 30 kilometres per hour (19 mph). The attraction was originally slated to open in December 2019, but various constructions issues and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the attraction's opening until a full year later, in December 2020.
Paw Patrol on Holiday is a live stage show featuring Chase and Marshall from Paw Patrol at the Nickelodeon Stage. It began in December 2017.
Affinity is the latest incarnation of Sea World's dolphin show. The show features similar tricks to previous shows with only the storyline and music changing. The show is set in Dolphin Beach which is the largest sandy bottom lagoon ever built for dolphins containing five different pools and more than 17 million litres of water. Each show caters for 2,500 guests.
Jet Stunt Extreme is a live jet-ski-based stunt show located on the Sea World lake. It previously operated for a limited season over the summer of 2010–2011. Due to the success of the show it replaced Pirates Unleashed and became a permanent addition from September 2011 onwards.
Seal Guardians is the latest incarnation of the sea lion presentation, which began showing twice daily in early 2018.
Turtle Power is a live show shown on a stage adjacent to Nickelodeon Land featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters.
Our World of the Dolphin is an educational presentation on Sea World's dolphins and conservation and rehabilitation efforts. This show takes place at the front dolphin pools of Sea World daily.
Polar Bear Shores
Dolphin Nursery Pool is part of Sea World's highly successful dolphin breeding program which has resulted in dolphin births. The exhibit allows guests to see young dolphins develop under the protective watch of their mothers.
Penguin Encounter is a 96-square-metre (1,030 sq ft) Antarctic penguin exhibit featuring a 220 cubic metres (7,800 cu ft) pool with under and above water viewing.
Penguin Point is an exhibit featuring little penguins. Unlike Penguins on Parade, the previous penguin exhibit at Sea World, Penguin Point has a larger, more open style. It contains a variety of substrates including gravel, rock and grass as well as a large pool. The exhibit can house up to 60 penguins.
Polar Bear Shores is Australia's only polar bear exhibit. It was one of the most technologically advanced exhibits for polar bears when it opened in 2000. Guests can view the polar bears from three viewing platforms: ground level, underwater and above ground. As of 2020[update] there are three polar bears in Polar Bear Shores: Hudson, Nelson and Mishka.
Ray Reef allows guests to meet, feed and learn about one of the ocean's most misunderstood inhabitants. The exhibit features over 100 rays.
Rescue Point Lighthouse showcases the achievements of Sea World's Research and Rescue Foundation.
Seabird Rehabilitation Aviary is designed to house birds under care and rehabilitation. According to the official website, "many of the sea birds housed in this area will never return to the wild due to severe disabilities which have been caused mostly by mans' ignorance and careless ways. For example, we have received pelicans that have had a broken wing from being caught in fishing line. Their wings have since been amputated. Those that recover from their injuries are free to leave at any time."
Shark Bay is the world's largest man-made lagoon system for sharks. The exhibit consists of four zones allowing for viewing and interaction. The zones include a touch pool, an inter-tidal zone, a reef lagoon and a shark lagoon. Four 10 x 3-metre windows allows all guests to see the sea life featured in these pools.
A Sea World helicopter landing at the park's helipad.
Animal Adventures: for an additional fee, guests can take part in Animal Adventures where they can swim with Sea World's marine life.
Sea World Books is Sea World's latest franchise. The franchise offers educational children's books about various marine animals.
Sea World Cruises and Sea World Whale Watch make use of Sea World's "luxurious cruiser". During the winter months (when whales are travelling up and down the Gold Coast), Sea World operates whale watching tours. For the rest of the year, Sea World takes guests on a ride around the calm canals of the Gold Coast.
Sea World Helicopters allow guests to choose between 5 different tours of the Gold Coast ranging from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. For a further additional charge, guests can purchase a souvenir DVD of their flight.
Sirens of the Sea Photography is available during the run of the Sirens of the Sea show in the 2017-2018 Summer school holiday season. This upcharge allows you to get up close and personal with the mermaids, and have photography taken with Sea World's mermaids 5 times a day after their show times.
Sea World Resort and Water Park
As the name suggests, Sea World Resort and Water Park is an adjoining Resort and Water Park to Sea World. In 2008, the Sea World Water Park became part of the resort with regular park guests having to pay an additional fee to make use of the water park. In 2010, part of the Water Park was demolished to make way for Castaway Bay.