Theme Park Insider

Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review

'Ocean Explorer' Will Take Visitors Under the Sea in 2017

February 16, 2016, 6:23 PM · Southern California theme park fans are about to get another submarine ride.

While Disneyland has featured subs in its park since 1959, SeaWorld San Diego will be introducing its new submarine ride next year. But, unlike Disney's submarines, which now repackage characters from Pixar's Finding Nemo and even before the Nemo overlay at included several fictional elements, SeaWorld's new ride will offer a more realistic view of life beneath the ocean's surface.

The new Ocean Explorer attraction will include the submarine ride as part of a new pavilion including additional rides and multiple aquariums, where visitors can learn more about ocean habitats.

"Embarking on these mini subs, visitors will become researchers on a mission to collect data and learn how they can help animals," the park announced in a statement today. "This three-minute experience will include an onboard digital navigation dashboard, as well as a few other surprises along their journey, enhancing the riders' understanding of the ocean ecosystem."

Ocean Explorer
Concept art courtesy the park

During their time in the attraction, "park guests will trek through sea-base stations, make special connections with incredible animals and discover how they too can take action to protect the oceans," Brian Morrow, SeaWorld's vice president of theme park experience design, said.

In addition to the submarine ride and the aquarium exhibits, Ocean Explorer will include three other family rides, include a wave swinger ride where visitors will ride in chairs "suspended from the tentacles of a giant jelly."

Construction begins this summer for a 2017 opening. The Ocean Explorer pavilion will be built on a three-acre site now occupied by the Circle of Flags and the Animal Connections exhibit.

Replies (27)

February 16, 2016 at 6:41 PM · If SeaWorld wants to compete with the big boys, Disney and Universal, than they're gonna have to do a lot better than this. What SeaWorld San Diego needs is more immersive attractions. Currently, they only have a handful of attractions and 2 of them are thrill rides while one of them is a river rapid ride. While fun, these rides don't really offer anything that Disney, Universal, Knotts, or Six flags already offer. What Sea World really should be focusing on is building more attractions that allow park guests to go under the sea and really feel immersed in the environment. Maybe a ride system similar to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey would best suit this park. With the rides motion, they could use a mix of practical sets and digital effects to really enhance the expirience. But sadly, this new "ocean explorer" ride is just not cutting it. The ride sounds like it'll be at best cheap and gimmicky.
February 16, 2016 at 6:52 PM · Glad that they're aiming towards the kids and trying to compete with Legoland rather than Disney, Universal, Knott's and Six Flags, as Sea World's height limits restrict them from being one of So Cal's best parks.
February 16, 2016 at 7:13 PM · I'm assuming this is instead of the previously announced Sea Rescue ride. Personally, I think this looks like a better concept, and with the whole pavilion as well this is exactly what SeaWorld San Diego needs right now. The park doesn't need to compete with Disney and Universal, they just need to offer more attractions and maintain the "marine park first, theme park second" approach the others in the chain have somewhat abandoned.
February 16, 2016 at 8:02 PM · Is this a ride through an (real) aquarium or just a simulator?? I was excited thinking this might be a ride through an aquarium where you might be able to see some things up close without having to fight the rest of the crowds looking through the glass. Now I'm wondering if it just pre-narrated movies.
February 16, 2016 at 8:42 PM · SeaWorld San Diego is not a competitor of Disney or Universal, Legoland, most common. It's great to see them grow again, I'm excited for the new attractions myself. In the end all parks benefit from each other, 2012 saw CarsLand come, but new attractions also opened at Universal, Six Flags, Discovery Kingdom and Magic Mountain, it made the state a great destination for visitors in general.
February 16, 2016 at 9:08 PM · A three minute ride experience for a dark ride is rather underwhelming. Unfortunately, this sounds a lot like The Living Seas at Epcot and not in a good way (a great idea that should have been more). It's the right direction for SeaWorld but it seems that it will come up short, like Antarctica at SeaWorld Orlando. I'm worried for SeaWorld.
February 16, 2016 at 10:26 PM · It actually sounds like the Antarctica ride without the expensive vehicles and the penguin encounter at the end.
February 16, 2016 at 11:21 PM · I wrote on Twitter that this sounds a lot like "SeaBase Beta." But if SeaWorld wants to position itself as "what Epcot used to be," I think that might actually work very well for them.
February 17, 2016 at 2:23 AM · I think if you are trying to compare Sea World with the "big boys" theme parks you might be missing the point. Sea World San Diego is hurting and needs to reinvent itself as more than just a theme park that exploits sea life solely for entertainment. It needs to present itself as an edutainment park. Also I actually think being next to the ocean creates a different expectation for the San Diego park than it does in Orlando.
February 17, 2016 at 4:56 AM · LOOK AT THAT CONCEPT ART!
February 17, 2016 at 5:01 AM · Hmmm why are other parks taking sub rides out while SW puts them in? Long load times and a 3 minute ride. Meh.
February 17, 2016 at 5:42 AM · Legoland Windsor has a ride called Atlantis. You get into a submarine like Disney, except the track is above, so you can sit in it and get a 360 degree view all around. It goes through 2 large(ish) tanks packed full of sharks, stingrays and other fish and is pretty good (if a little short). This SeaWorld ride seems like the same idea but not done as well. And if you're not doing rides as well as Merlin you've got to take a long hard look at yourself!
February 17, 2016 at 8:36 AM · SeaWorld shouldn't try to outdo Disney or Universal for they will lose. SeaWorld should position itself as better than LEGOLAND although this is hard since LEGOLAND is on a roll with their new hotel expansion, a new 4D movie attraction, another dark shooting ride, and a Friends area for girls.

I guess this means the new Shamu holding tank is not going to happen. Way into the future, the killer whale and the dolphin shows will be deemphasized and maybe gone forever. They'll need more traditional theme park attractions to take their place.

February 17, 2016 at 8:54 AM · Everyone's complaining, but I personally am rather excited. So what if it's not Disney/Universal quality? All that matters is that they won't repeat the same mistakes as Empire of the Penguin and make this ride good enough for people to look past the Blackfish controveresy.
February 17, 2016 at 11:42 AM · Can't we all agree that based on the concept art, this is not intended to be an E, or D, but at best a SEA ticket?
It looks like the ride, and the rest of the newly announced additions are aimed directly at young kids giving them a fun underwater adventure.
I don't think SeaWorld San Diego has any illusions of going after Disney, Knott's, Universal or LEGOLAND. I think they are making a play for the San Diego Stroller Mommies who fill up the World Famous San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park on weekdays, at least with this new addition. SWSD is limited to what they can build due to the Coastal Commission. Since massive Makoe style coasters will not be in the future, they are taking a different approach. I can't say I'm excited about this new attraction for myself, but I can see where it is a very smart business decision.
February 17, 2016 at 11:59 AM · In order for this sub ride to be a success, it must be immersive. Disneyland's subs take you right into the water, even though you're not completely submerged. Nemo and the Living Seas takes you in a tube through an aquarium tank, so it's not really a convincing sub ride. Dry for wet is not really convincing either, although with a lot of detail, it might work. I seem to remember a dry for wet sub ride at Tokyo Disney Sea, which I've seen videos of, which look decent.
February 17, 2016 at 4:37 PM · The length is a little concerning, but the ride looks brilliant and I hope to see more like it across the board for SeaWorld.
February 17, 2016 at 5:56 PM · The first thing I thought of was Seabase Alpha too!

No complaints here if they want to make their own "Living Seas". It worked for EPCOT, it will work for them!

February 17, 2016 at 9:41 PM · Disney had to back down on the educational (and boring) aspects of EPCOT. SeaWorld was always more show than education. Now, SeaWorld is backing down on show (Shamu) and going slightly more kids and education. They're going to be a more traditional theme park although much less elaborate than Universal's attempt. This is good all around.
February 18, 2016 at 12:15 AM · Sea World may not think they are competing with Disney but they certainly are competing with Universal, Six Flags, and Knott's. Have we all forgotten what happened in Orlando? After Harry Potter opened at IOA Disney barely skipped a beat, but Sea World attendance was decimated.

SFMM and Knott's have opened some of their best stuff in years recently, at least in part to combat the Potter effect. When was the last major addition at Sea World? Manta in 2012? If Sea World thinks this is going help them stay afloat in this competitive market I believe they are in for a rude awakening.

February 18, 2016 at 9:40 AM · Not really. Universal is going after Disney so the other minor parks have no hope to compete at that level. They must try their best even with dark rides that are not very ambitious.
February 18, 2016 at 10:49 AM · SeaWorld competes with Six Flags in San Antonio only. There is no Six Flags in Orlando and Six Flags Magic Mountain is too far away to be considered their competition. Both parks are geared towards different demographics and the Six Flags demographic is not what SeaWorld is after or needs for on-going success.

Knott's is only in proximity to the San Diego park. SeaWorld also really only directly competes with Disney and Universal in the Orlando market.

If a Los Angeles or Orange County local is considering SeaWorld they're probably going to go there since Disney and Universal offer no equivalent experience. Having grown up in Los Angeles my family only visited SeaWorld as part of a vacation to San Diego. It was never considered for a day trip. It's just too far. Some areas of South Orange County areas are within a day trip, but most of Los Angeles, especially considering traffic, are not.

bobcat let's get the facts straight. SeaWorld's attendance was not decimated by Harry Potter. It was down and then rebounded slightly the following year (2011). But the fact remains that even after the media bashing, all of the new additions by Disney and Universal, and the complete lack of investment in new attractions for them self they are still one of top 10 parks for attendance in North America. That's a position that any theme park operator would love to be in. It's comical how some define 4.6 million in attendance as failing.

The fact is SeaWorld is not Disney, and they don't need to be like Disney to run a successful operation.

February 18, 2016 at 12:56 PM · You cannot use Orlando as a valid comparison for California due to distances involved. In Florida, SeaWorld is within a half hour drive of the destination parks, which means they are competing for the same audience. In California, except for Legoland the other big theme parks are all 2-3 hours away (depending on traffic). They are not trying to siphon people away from Disney, Universal, Knott's, or Six Flags. Instead, their primary competition is Legoland California and the San Diego Zoo/Safari Park, so they are trying to target the audience that attends those places and present an alternative. This attraction is perfect for that demographic, as it is family friendly and has an animal component. As for tourists, many visit LA and never venture to San Diego, so the park doesn't care about those. Instead, they go after those who are already planning to visit San Diego and this type of attraction has much less influence on that market.

As for the length of the dark ride, while it is on the short side it isn't unusually short. SeaWorld is really a regional park and most regional park dark rides are 3-4 minutes long. It is rare to find a 5+ minute dark ride outside of the destination parks.

February 18, 2016 at 5:27 PM · Because of LA's enormous population its residents make up a huge proportion of Sea World's guests. I grew up in LA and we always considered Sea World to be a local park. San Diego itself is not nearly large enough to support the millions of annual visitors at Sea World, the SD Zoo and the Safari Park.

And yeah, I'd say "decimated" is a pretty good word to describe a 20% drop in attendance at Sea World Orlando, particularly when everybody else in the theme park industry has been doing gangbusters.

February 19, 2016 at 10:47 AM · Bobcat- SeaWorld may in your mind be a local park to Los Angeles, but in fact it is not for the majority of Los Angeles. It is for parts of Orange County.

San Diego is the 8th largest city in the United States. If you don't think that is adequate population to support that park then I don't know what to say. Furthermore, the park isn't relying solely on the local market. San Diego is a large convention and tourism market, drawing millions to the city annually, which greatly benefit the local attractions like SeaWorld.

Trust me, thousands of folks from Los Angeles are not piling into their cars to make a day trip to SeaWorld. Most of those who come from are staying for more than just a day. Without any traffic SeaWorld is a two hour drive from downtown Los Angeles.

Also, I don't know how you calculate your attendance, but in the year 2010 attendance was off 12.1%, but in the following year it was up 2% and the year thereafter up 3%. Attendance fell again in the two latest years, but not 20% in any one year or even two combined.

The fact is Harry Potter and Universal are not the exclusive reason for the decline. Much of that can be blamed on SeaWorld them self for the lack of reinvestment in new attractions and infrastructure that keeps guests on property. It's the old industry adage… if you don't build something new you're not going to give them a reason to keep coming back.

February 20, 2016 at 3:08 PM · Los Angeles is an enormous city. But San Diego has been California's #2 city for decades. To say it can't support its local attractions is ludicrous, but more than than, incorrect. We're not talking opera here. No offense to opera lovers.
February 23, 2016 at 5:01 AM · San Diego is #2 in California only by municipal boundaries. SD County's population is only 3.2 million--far behind the SF Bay area in terms of population.

Sorry but if you look at the numbers, San Diego really shouldn't be able to support its theme parks. Sea World, Legoland, and the SD Zoo/Safari Park together draw in excess of 7 million guests annually. If you look around the country there are larger metropolitan areas (Miami and Houston, for example) that don't even have a single major theme park. Why aren't the big theme park operators racing to get into these markets? Because they are already adequately served by existing parks in San Antonio and Central Florida. And the distances between Houston and SA, and Miami and Orlando, are considerably larger than the distance between SD and LA.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

© Theme Park Insider®   About · Rules · Privacy · Contact
YouTube Facebook Twitter Instagram Theme Park Insider T-shirts and Hoodies Email Newsletter