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Is SeaWorld planning to reshape itself for the future?

Sesame Place elmo

Last week, SeaWorld’s interim CEO, Marc Swanson, made a comment to investors about the company’s future plans that raised more than a few eyebrows.

By Lance HartScreamscape

SeaWorld logo

According to Marc Swanson, SeaWorld may be looking to use some of the cash it has been borrowing and storing away in order to survive the pandemic to pick up a new property or two in the future. Swanson said that SeaWorld is looking into opportunities where a competitor isn’t “able to weather the storm.” Cases where an existing property may become available that could be a good fit for the company.

He said that they could be looking at “a waterpark, a hotel, or something like a park that we could look at and convert to a Sesame Place, for example. Those are the type of things we’re talking about.”

SeaWorld’s future plans

It is interesting that he mentioned the Sesame Place brand as the possible focus for SeaWorld’s future efforts. Sesame Place turned 40 years old in 2020. But it would not be a surprise if you have never heard of it.

The small park has long been overshadowed by the bigger parks in the SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment portfolio. The existing Sesame Place park is a very compact property, only 14 acres in size, and located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The unique property is a mixture of small rides, a physical playland, character experiences and a small waterpark. This is all themed around the Sesame Street characters.

Sesame Place

Sesame Place logo

Sesame Place only really rose to the forefront of the chain’s headlines in 2017. This is when it was announced that the company had signed a deal to create a new Sesame Place theme park somewhere in the US. This was set to open “no later than 2021”.

In 2019, SeaWorld revealed the location for the future park. It was announced that Aquatica waterpark in San Diego would be converted into a new Sesame Place park for 2021.

This small waterpark in San Diego is of a similar size to the original Sesame Place. It sits on a roughly 67-acre piece of property. However, the existing waterpark is only about 17 acres in size. Here, the company will likely get rid of select waterslides to make room for a small collection of kid-friendly rides.

In addition to this, Sesame Street-themed kids areas have been added to both of the chain’s Busch Gardens theme parks (Virginia and Florida). There are also Sesame Street-themed areas at all three SeaWorld parks (California, Texas and Florida). With these locations in mind, the possibilities of growing the Sesame Place brand in the US seems limited.

Walhalla Wave Aquatica San Diego future Sesame Place park SeaWorld
Walhalla Wave. Mike Aguilera/Aquatica SeaWorld’s Waterpark

Assuming SeaWorld was looking to move into new markets to grow the Sesame brand of parks in the future, and looking to pick up a very inexpensive waterpark in the process the first item on my list would be the closed former Schlitterbahn waterpark in Kansas City, MO.

Transforming this relatively unthemed and closed waterpark property into a themed experience would be a lot of work. But it would also expand the chain’s reach into a brand new territory. Doing so for the first time since the company built SeaWorld San Antonio in the late 1980s.

Indoor parks and hotels

Swanson also mentioned that beyond waterparks, SeaWorld was also looking into “a hotel, or something like a park” that they could convert in the future. Think about the early days of indoor waterpark resorts. Many came about by the addition of indoor waterpark infrastructure to a previously existing hotel that happened to have the room to grow.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Water Country USA
Fun at Water Country USA

Similarly, it would be interesting to see a year-round indoor version of a Sesame Place park experience. One that offered both wet and dry attractions experiences. Could this appear in a previously untapped northern market, if the right existing hotel property could be found?

I’d like to think of it as a Kalahari-style waterpark resort experience. This operator offers a collection of dry rides and experiences to its guests, alongside the waterpark.

SeaWorld’s future is in flux

It is worth remembering that the design of the SeaWorld brand of parks is definitely in flux right now. It has existed for decades as a marine animal only park experience. But we have recently seen the parks evolve and change. The brand has now added heavily-themed new ride experiences as well as some world-class roller coasters into the mix.

This is a reaction to the fact that the concept of the “marine park” has fallen out of favour after the premiere of the film Blackfish.

While the American SeaWorld parks have been focused on adding thrills to those parks, an entirely different SeaWorld park experience is also under construction in Abu Dhabi right now.

SeaWorld Abu Dhabi will offer a thrill ride or two. However, the majority of the park experience will be indoors and will more closely resemble mega-aquarium style experiences, like the world-famous Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, GA.

Keeping the unique design of this new international SeaWorld park in mind, I do wonder if there are any other similar mega-aquarium attractions located around North America that could also find themselves under consideration for purchase to be expanded into something new in the future.

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Lance Hart

Lance Hart

Lance has been running Screamscape for nearly 20 years. Married and a father to three roller coaster loving kids, he worked for SeaWorld (San Diego and Orlando) in Operations and Entertainment for 19 years.

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