SeaWorld Previews 'Rescue' Rides, New Hotels

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.

New SeaWorld San Diego ride
All concept art courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

New San Antonio coaster

SeaWorld Rescue coaster concept

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.)

Replies (9)

November 9, 2015 at 10:20 PM · I've never really been a fan of the whale shows, and these rides look really appealing to me, so I guess I'm fine with this. I just wish people still didn't believe that all these problems were attributed to Blackfish and generating bad press for SeaWorld.
November 9, 2015 at 10:29 PM · I'm liking the idea of rides themed to rescue....I hope that when the concept comes to Orlando that we get the dark ride version instead of the coaster. Seems like it would have a better chance of getting the conservation message across effectively.
November 9, 2015 at 11:10 PM · A step in the right direction.

As the previous seaworld article here at TPI mentioned, we live in a much different world than when Seaworld first opened it's doors 50 years ago plus consumer tastes and preferences have changed considerably in the last 5 years.

For Seaworld to survive and suceed in the new millennium, it unfortunately needs to abandon its signature attraction which put it on the map.

Ocean Park in Hong Kong and Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai China do not have killer whales in their lineup and make do (quite well, thank you very much) with just dolphins, Beluga whales, Sea lions, etc.

Seaworld can survive without their Signature Shamu attractions.

They can still retain their sea theme but do something else.

Ocean Park consistently beats HK Disneyland in terms of attendance despite doom and gloom predictions when HK Disneyland opened.

Ocean Kingdom has 3 Guinness world records due to the sizes of their various marine themed attractions.

Seaworld just needs to use a different gimmick to get people through the gates and this is a good first step.

November 10, 2015 at 4:41 AM · This all seems fascinating, but let's just hope it's not a disappointment like Empire of The Penguin.
November 10, 2015 at 4:52 AM · Isn't Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer in public domain? Anyone paying to use the character is a mug.
November 10, 2015 at 5:43 AM · I totally agree with James Trexen's comment re Blackfish. The orca announcement was on TV news here in the UK this morning and they used this sham as an excuse - I admit to shouting at the TV 'THAT'S NOT WHY!!'
Of course there was an obligatory Peta spokesman who wants the orca in a coastal pen - you know, so they can die due to pollution they arent used to.
Sigh... I could go on. I won't.
The rides look pretty cool - I wish we had the Rescue show in the UK!
November 10, 2015 at 8:27 AM · The descent to cheap six flag ride continues.
November 10, 2015 at 11:49 AM · I disagree with you Robert that One Ocean cut back on the theatrics. It's still a long way from the old "trainer gives a lecture about the animals while doing tricks" that the shows used to be just a decade ago. One Ocean is still hugely choreographed and has about the same education value that Believe had. Leveraging their Sea Rescue brand is a great idea, and I had always wondered why the parks did not push that concept more aside from during their behind the scenes tours.

@Ian - I think Sea World is specifically purchasing the rights to the Rankin Bass imagining of the Rudolph character, which has proven a much more lucrative property than the Polar Express IP that Sea World previously used during the Holiday season.

November 10, 2015 at 3:34 PM · I'm cautiously optimistic about the new Sea Rescue dark ride, as SeaWorld's most recent attempt at a dark ride was met with lukewarm reviews. If they can produce something that is at least on par with Voyage to the Iron Reef, it will probably be successful. However, at least in San Diego people go to SeaWorld for the animals more than for the rides so if it isn't top tier it may do very little for the park. The roller coaster in San Antonio looks like it will definitely be a win for that park, but I wish there were more details to help me decide whether to try for a San Antonio trip in 2016 or wait for the new ride.

As for the orca shows, while they may still technically have a show I doubt most of the public will feel that way. To me, it sounds like the replacement could simply be a trainer on stage with one whale in the water, and the trainer talks about the animal and behaviors that it is demonstrating on command. That's the type of thing I'd stop and watch for five minutes and then move on, not something I'd want to sit and watch for 30-45 minutes in the sun. I do hope the "show" ends up being more than that, but I'm of the opinion that a theme park show should be entertainment first, education second (at a zoo, those should be flipped) and as long as SeaWorld promotes themselves as a theme park that is what visitors will likely expect of them.

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