SeaWorld gets rejected by Cedar Fair, but the future of the chain still seems bright

click to enlarge Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando - Image via SeaWorld Parks
Image via SeaWorld Parks
Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando
After a two-year delay, SeaWorld is now welcoming riders on its two highly anticipated new Florida roller coasters.

Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa rises from the remains of the former racing wooden coaster, Gwazi. At SeaWorld Orlando, the bright orange tracked Ice Breaker now brings a new level of excitement to a previously quiet corner of the park.

The two rides were both initially slated for opening in 2020, but the pandemic greatly delayed their opening, with the Orlando-based theme park operator holding off on opening the rides until pandemic-related safety protocols and labor shortages were more adequately addressed.

These projects all began prior to the pandemic, and with their opening, we’re now in a new chapter for the chain. After years of constant battles, SeaWorld has seemed well prepared for the historic challenges it faced since early 2020.

After taking the helm just weeks into the pandemic when CEO Serge Rivera abruptly left, Marc Swanson dropped the interim from his title of CEO a year later. But with nearly two years at the helm, not including a former short stint ahead of Rivera’s selection as CEO, Swanson has yet to give any firm indications of what the future holds for the company.
click to enlarge A slide from a 2015 investor presentation showing potential development sites on SeaWorld's Park Orlando resort. - Image via SeaWorld Parks
Image via SeaWorld Parks
A slide from a 2015 investor presentation showing potential development sites on SeaWorld's Park Orlando resort.
A comment made during an August 2020 investors call may give us the best indication of what Swanson has planned for the company's future. “There might be situations where there's market dislocation or competitors in the industry who aren't able to weather the storm,” explained Swanson. “So whether it's a water park, 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.”

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel near the time of his move into the permanent position, Swanson reiterated his desire to grow the brand via acquisitions and continued investments in the existing parks. He also indicated the company was looking to revive plans to add hotels and other multi-day amenities to their parks.

click to enlarge A previously proposed Africa-themed hotel at Busch Gardens Tampa. The concept was developed by Hetzel Design. - Image via Expedition Theme Park | Twitter
Image via Expedition Theme Park | Twitter
A previously proposed Africa-themed hotel at Busch Gardens Tampa. The concept was developed by Hetzel Design.

Since that interview, we’ve seen SeaWorld publicly attempt one major acquisition, with their failed $3.4 billion bid for Cedar Fair. Prior to Cedar Fair’s rejection of that takeover bid, some analysts were already looking at the next steps for SeaWorld should the deal not go through. While the possibility of SeaWorld acquiring Six Flags or another major player in the industry remains possible, the company has so far not indicated if they plan to go down this route. Instead, they may recommit to acquiring smaller operations, allowing for half-day midway style attractions, something the park has looked off and on since the late 1990s.

Along with the major thrill rides opening across SeaWorld’s five major U.S. theme parks, they’re also readying to open their first international expansion. The mostly indoors SeaWorld Abu Dhabi will reimagine the SeaWorld experience with greater emphasis on smaller marine animals and just a handful of attractions. A large rescue facility will also allow the chain to bring its world-class rescue efforts to a brand new region.
click to enlarge SeaWorld Abu Dhabi Aerial Render - Image via PRNewsfoto/Miral, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Image via PRNewsfoto/Miral, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
SeaWorld Abu Dhabi Aerial Render
At SeaWorld Orlando, during the grand opening ceremony for Ice Breaker, SeaWorld officials again reiterated their commitment to connecting stories of marine life with thrills. That will likely continue with the next wave of new attractions coming to the stateside parks.

Active public documents point to a new roller coaster filling in a quiet spot between SeaWorld Orlando’s front gate and its central lake. The location is the last prominent spot in a more than a decade long plan that has seen the park’s central lake getting multiple new attractions. While multiple documents that look accurate have been shared online, so far, SeaWorld hasn’t commented on the new attraction, likely to open in 2023 or 2024. In public documents, we see it referred to as a coaster with the project name of “Penguin.” Initially believed to be a flying coaster, the most substantial rumors now point to it being a compact launch coaster using a slim-styled ride vehicle. The term penguin may be a play on how rides look in the coaster, with some rumors now pointing to this being Orlando's first standup coaster. The area where the new coaster is planned saw construction walls beginning to encircle it starting in the third week of February.

The park's Wild Arctic simulators are also likely to officially close in the coming year with the attraction's clone in San Diego closing in early 2020.
click to enlarge A Screamin' Swing at Cedar Point in Ohio - Image via S&S Worldwide - Sansei
Image via S&S Worldwide - Sansei
A Screamin' Swing at Cedar Point in Ohio
San Antonio will see the chain’s second major Screamin’ Swing, made by S&S. A third one was rumored to be heading to Busch Gardens Tampa, with it being the first in a multi-year refurbishment to the former Rhino Rally ride area. It’s unclear if those plans are still happening with a Screamin’ Swing now rumored for SeaWorld San Diego. If it does end up at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, it will be the first major non-coaster attraction added to the park in nearly a decade. Similar to how SeaWorld has added new attractions near existing animal habitats, Tampa’s Screamin’ Swing would be added near animal viewing areas, including the park’s massive elephant habitat.

Swanson has previously commented on his interest in adding resorts to the Orlando and Tampa parks. The company has previously identified areas for future resort development and produced some blue-sky concepts for what resorts at the parks could look like. With the chain’s quick bounce back from the pandemic and its impressive landholdings in some of the hottest real estate markets in the nation, those previous plans are likely to be receiving new interest.

Less than eight weeks into 2022, SeaWorld has already made it clear this will be a historic year for the company. With many of its pre-pandemic projects now open, it won’t be long until we know more about what the company’s future will entail.

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