November 9, 2015, 9:34 PM ·
Recently hired SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby spoke investors in a conference call today, outlining his vision for the company, which has been suffering declining attendance at its theme parks in recent years.
SeaWorld's decision to end orca shows at SeaWorld San Diego is getting all the headlines in the general press, but Manby didn't actually announce that. He said that the San Diego park would end its run of the current "One Ocean" show in 2016, replacing the performance with a new presentation that relied less on theatrics and more on orca's "natural behaviors."
Given that One Ocean sharply cut back on the theatrics of "Believe" and previous orca shows, due to the removal of trainers from the water, Manby's announcement reflects the next step in an already-established trend for the company. But SeaWorld San Diego will still have its orcas and they will still "star" in public showings, even as the nature of those shows change.
Update: Here is a video of the announcement:
More significantly, Manby announced some other changes for the San Diego park. SeaWorld has "signed a letter of intent with Evans Hotels Group to explore development of a resort hotel on SeaWorld's leased land in San Diego," according to its press release. Evans operates several other properties in the San Diego area, including The Lodge at Torrey Pines. SeaWorld and Six Flags Magic Mountain have been the only theme parks in Southern California without on-site hotels — features that Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Legoland California all offer.
SeaWorld also will develop at least two rides inspired by its "Sea Rescue" television show, including a roller coaster at SeaWorld San Antonio and a dark ride at SeaWorld San Diego. The concept art for the San Antonio coaster shows trains fashioned to look like personal watercraft, while the San Diego concept art shows riders in trucks and on personal watercraft driving past what looks like underwater habitats.
All concept art courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
To help pay for the "Sea Rescue" rides, Manby said that SeaWorld is diverting money it had set aside for the "Blue World Project," a massive expansion of its orca habitat in San Diego. SeaWorld will refurbish the orca habitat in San Diego as part of the end of One Ocean show, but he did not elaborate on exactly what that would entail.
Finally, Manby said that SeaWorld has obtained the theme park rights to the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer character and that Rudolph would be featured in new holiday "shows and experiences" at the parks.
(If you are in the Southern California area, I will have some additional thoughts about today's announcement in Tuesday's Orange County Register.)