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SeaWorld announces plans for a park in Abu Dhabi

December 13, 2016, 10:48 AM · SeaWorld is joining the line-up of major themed entertainment companies planning a development in the United Arab Emirates. The company announced today that it will partner with Miral to develop SeaWorld Abu Dhabi for a 2022 debut.

Miral is the developer behind several other attractions on its Yas Island site in Abu Dhabi, including the existing Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld parks and the upcoming Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, which opens in 2018. In 2008, SeaWorld announced a project for the UAE at The Palm Jebel Ali in Dubai, which also would have included Busch Gardens, Aquatica, and Discovery Cove parks. However, that project died in 2009, along with several other developments in the UAE that were cancelled in the wake of the Great Recession.

Park development is back on track in the UAE, however, with this year's debut of IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai and the opening of the separate Dubai Parks & Resorts development, which includes the recently opened Legoland Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai, and Motiongate Dubai, which opens this weekend. A Six Flags park is slated for that resort in 2019, as well. IMG Worlds this month announced plans for a second park at its development, which sits between Dubai Parks & Resorts and the Yas Island development, helping to create an emerging chain of themed attractions connecting Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

For context, the distance between Dubai Parks & Resorts and Yas Island is about 42 miles, which is the same distance between Universal Orlando and Legoland Florida.

The announced parks will establish a presence in the UAE for many major theme park and filmed entertainment companies, including SeaWorld, Six Flags, Merlin (with Legoland), Warner Bros., Sony (at Motiongate), Lionsgate (also at Motiongate), and Nickelodeon (at IMG Worlds). Even Disney and Universal will have an indirect presence, with Disney's Marvel licensed to IMG Worlds and Universal's DreamWorks Animation occupying a land at Motiongate. Yas Island also is home to a Formula 1 race track that hosts the annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and Dubai is preparing to welcome a World's Fair in 2020.

This will be SeaWorld's first theme park outside the United States, "and will integrate up-close animal experiences, mega attractions and a world class aquarium, bringing the latest technology in visitor engagement," according to a SeaWorld press release. Consistent with SeaWorld's recent announcement that it would stop breeding orcas, there will be no Shamu show or orca habitat at the Abu Dhabi park. SeaWorld Abu Dhabi also will include the UAE's first marine mammal "research, rescue, rehabilitation and return center" for injured and distressed animals in the Persian Gulf region.

Replies (11)

December 13, 2016 at 12:20 PM · If this gets cancelled, I swear...
December 13, 2016 at 12:29 PM · The problem with these parks in the Gulf regions is that they simply don't have the creative team to do anything worthwhile, and all we end up with is cheap six flag type attractions - standard roller coasters, whirlers, spinnies. That is not what makes Disney, Universal so successfull - it's about immersive experiences, the landscape, the restaurants, themeing, rides that aren't just crazy upside down full force or a slow twirler but something that pushes the boundaries in technology and gives you an experience you'll never have.

The few parks that have cropped up in Dubai all suffer from the lack of vision or creativity.

December 13, 2016 at 3:20 PM · I'm surprised that SeaWorld is making this move. They're having a bit of a branding crisis here, and the opposition is growing. It seems like it's a big gamble for a brand that simply isn't as strong as it was 10+ years ago. Then again, I think the whole Dubai region is a big gamble for future development (though I'm sure everyone thought that about Orlando back in the day as well). Though I never intend to visit, I never like to see a business fail, so I wish them the best.
December 13, 2016 at 3:32 PM · What opposition? SeaWorld is no longer pursuing Orca shows and captive breeding. Whatever Orcas that are still alive is limited to their life expectancy. SeaWorld in Abu Dhabi is Orca free. My issue is Abu Dhabi is an unproven market. SeaWorld can fail without adequate attendance and these sea creatures need to be fed regardless of park attendance.

SeaWorld will continue to be negatively portrayed with Blackfish. This will dissipate over time as their attraction mix continues to move away from live animal shows and more towards rides and high tech attractions.

December 13, 2016 at 6:53 PM · The Gulf parks are using many of the same design contractors used by Disney and Universal on their projects. It's not a lack of creative talent. If there's a limitation in the Middle East, it's budget. Almost all projects are being funded DCA 1.0 style, waiting to see if they hit before committing to A-level development budgets.
December 13, 2016 at 10:20 PM · SeaWorld is making a mistake by discontinuing their star attraction.
December 13, 2016 at 11:53 PM · "Almost all projects are being funded DCA 1.0 style, waiting to see if they hit before committing to A-level development budgets."

That's the fatal mistake right there. The indoor park in Dubai reminds me of the MGM Grand Adventures in the 90s in Las Vegas, which opened with anemic theming and closed quickly. You only have one chance to make a first impression. DCA probably would have closed too if it didn't have the benefit of being Disneyland's overflow pressure valve.

December 14, 2016 at 3:25 AM · Yet, Dubai Parks & Resorts is nothing short of great when it comes to themeing. Robert is right when comparing them to DCA 1.0. It may not be Disney Sea quality or chock full of details, but some areas are beautiful (see Riverland, Bollywood Parks or MotionGate) and for non-Disney parks, it's already great.

As for the rides, they played it safe for the opening, with proven concepts. We'll see in the future if they can innovate.

December 14, 2016 at 5:37 AM · >>>They're having a bit of a branding crisis here, and the opposition is growing.

This is the Middle East, whilst the UAE might not be Qatar, I don't think they'll take kindly to any sort of protest against a foriegn investor splashing cash.

December 14, 2016 at 8:31 AM · Wouldn't this be it's 2nd Sea World park outside the United States as there is the one in Queensland, Australia.
December 14, 2016 at 11:46 AM · Sea World (with a space) in Australia is not affiliated with SeaWorld (no space) in the United States.

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