SeaWorld Parks Update – Tough Summer but a Bright Future

Written by Eric Davis. Posted in Aquatica, Busch Gardens Tampa, Features, Orlando Parkhopper, Orlando Parks, Podcasts, SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego, Southern California Parks, The Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast

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Published on August 20, 2013 at 3:00 am with 28 Comments

On Tuesday August 13th, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment released their Q2 earnings.  In spite of new attractions, the parks experienced a 9% drop in attendance for the quarter. Today, we’ll take a look at why this summer has been tough for SeaWorld, along with the future plans at the aquatic and Busch parks. We’ve got some numbers to crunch.

The 9% Drop in attendance

With SeaWorld’s new Antarctica attraction/land, and the typically busy Summer seasons, folks might be wondering why there has been a drop in attendance.  When you look at the drop of 605,000 visitors in Q2 across 12 parks, there is no one clear-cut answer, but we believe it can be attributed to 4 main causes:

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1.  Pricing:  On June 7th, 2013 SeaWorld Orlando raised it’s 1 Day ticket price to $92 which was 12% higher than last year’s ticket price of $82, Busch Gardens Tampa also raised their tickets from $85 to $89 and what SeaWorld experienced is the ceiling of what consumers were willing to pay.  Going forward SeaWorld will be using Dynamic Pricing, where they coax guests to come and visit during less busy periods with reduced admission prices.  They have already begun this with a $50 Weekday Ticket.

2. Weather: The Florida and Virginia parks experienced a very rainy late Spring/early Summer season.  Most of the days of this year’s Viva La Musica celebration were rained out, leaving days that should have been 20,000+ days at only a few thousand who braved the intense rain storms.  Sadly, there isn’t much SeaWorld can do to prevent rain storms, and since almost all of their attractions and shows are outside, these parks are deeply affected by adverse weather.

3. Early Easter:  Easter and a lot of the Spring Break business feel into Q1 for SeaWorld, so those numbers don’t match up year to year.

With the new Dynamic Pricing that SeaWorld is going to use, and with Antarctica and Aquatica San Diego now open for the rest of the year, SeaWorld is optimistic that attendance will continue to improve.

4. Competition: SeaWorld isn’t in competition with Disney World as much as it is other local attractions, such as Universal Orlando Resort. With new parades and a mega-budget Transformers attraction, many visits likely swayed toward Universal. Especially in light of mixed online reviews of Antarctica.

A Sea Of Surprises is in store for 2014

In 2014 SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of SeaWorld San Diego.  This company-wide celebration will take place in ALL 12 of the company parks.  There will be new shows, surprise squads, street entertainment and giveaways for the 18 month duration of this celebration (does it sound a bit like Disneyland’s successful Year of a Million Dreams?).  While we have heard rumors that some of the budget has been trimmed for this event, we are hopeful that SeaWorld will benefit from the same sort of success Disneyland did in 2005.

New Attractions and Shows for 2014 and 2015

During SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment conference call they shared that capital spending for 2014 and 2015 had been locked and that would not be adjusted.  Which is great news for park fans, with some of the incredible additions that have been announced and that are in the wings.

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SeaWorld San Diego‘s main entrance is currently undergoing an incredible transformation that will give guests the sensation of entering the world of the sea, as they virtually dive under a wave, and are able to experience animal encounters within 30 feet of entering the park. San Diego is also slated for another attraction, while initially it looked like it was going to be a ride free version of Antarctica (penguin exhibit only), it seems that now they are looking into building a unique attraction for San Diego. 

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Busch Gardens Tampa will be opening Falcon’s Fury, which is going to redefine the “Drop Tower” category. Guests will be lifted into the air, their seats will then be rotated 90 degrees forward before they come crashing down face first.

Aquatica Orlando is rumored right now to be finally getting a large expansion, which can’t come soon enough, since most of this past summer Aquatica Orlando closed due to capacity in the early afternoon hours.

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SeaWorld fans have been craving some new shows and in 2014 SeaWorld will deliver on that promise.  What shows might be replaced is still up in the air; however, with a new ruling from a judge in SeaWorld’s favor with their litigation against OSHA, it has begun to open the door for SeaWorld to potentially resume working closer with it’s Killer Whales.  We will be keeping an eye on this story as it develops.

Busch Garden’s future with SeaWorld

A couple of months ago, there were some rumors about whether or not the Busch Gardens parks would stay with the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment family, and we are happy to say that Busch Gardens Tampa and Williamsburg are here to stay, and that starting this fall SeaWorld will be introducing a new TV series filmed at Busch Gardens Tampa titled “Wildlife Docs” that will feature the over 12,000 animals of Busch Gardens along with their veterinary staff, and will be very conservation focused. This will air Saturdays on ABC right after SeaRescue which will debut it’s 3rd season about how SeaWorld and other organizations work to rescue injured marine life off the coasts for Florida, California and Texas.

Update on SeaWorld’s Conservation efforts

In 2011 SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment made a commitment to remove plastic bags from it’s parks, and this Summer they did just that, preventing more than 4 million plastic bags from entering land fills or polluting our precious forests and coastlines.

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SeaWorld’s pet adoption program Happy Tails announced that in the past year they have found homes for over 37,000 cats and dogs!

SeaWorld also had a couple of incredible firsts, with the C-section of a shark at Discovery Cove in Orlando and the first penguin chicks hatched from artificial insemination – a process which will be able to be used with other critically endangered bird species now by zoos around the world!

While Wall Street might be disappointed with the drop in attendance, SeaWorld’s future is bright, and we can’t wait to see what is next!

For more SeaWorld news, check out the Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast with Eric & Mike as they take you behind the scenes at SeaWorld Orlando’s Antarctica, take you live on location for the release of 4 rehabilitated manatees back into the wild, and take on the documentary BlackFish

The Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast wants to hear from you!  Please feel free to email Eric & Mike at [email protected] or follow them on Twitter at @SeaWorldPodcast or join the discussion here on MiceChat at http://micechat.com/forums/seaworld/

About Eric Davis

By day, Eric is in Marketing and Social Media. But on the weekends, he's a theme park addict. Eric is a frequent contributor to MiceChat's Orlando Parkhopper columns and tends to focus his efforts on what's new and what's news at Universal Studios and SeaWorld.

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  • Malin

    I think both the Orca and Sealion shows need replacing… Both are very short and poor compared to previous versions. Blue Horizons is excellent and hoping it doesn’t get replaced yet!

    What SeaWorld parks needs to do is add some kind of new night-time show next year. Something new that could be presented all year round instead of just Summer and keep Guests inside the parks longer. I understand SeaWorld might face issues in regard to this from neighbours and other restrictions. But like Disney California Adventure with World of Color and Disneyland Paris has proven with Dreams there are creative ways around these issues that will result in attendance growth and higher Guests spending. Not every night-time show has to involve loud explosions.

    While the verdict is still out on what kind of financial impact Antarctica will have on the next results. The feedback for the ride itself hasn’t been very good. And I don’t think its something people will return to the park for anytime soon.

  • Freddie Freelance
    San Diego is also slated for another attraction, while initially it looked like it was going to be a ride free version of Antarctica (penguin exhibit only), it seems that now they are looking into building a unique attraction for San Diego.

    AND??? Could it be the Pole to Pole Exploration I’ve suggested, with the retheming of the outside of Wild Arctic and the addition of Wild Antarctic, glowing ice floes across the whole area, remove one of the three stores and replace it with a themed flat ride, and replace one of the other stores with a quick service restaurant?

    Maybe bring back a themed sit down restaurant between the sky ride and Cirque Stadium?

    Maybe a complete reworking of Cirque?

    They’re slowly closing down the Aquaria, maybe they have a replacement for all those?

    Maybe replace the Nautelus Pavilion with themed entertainment? Maybe replace it with a nicer flexible space for corporate functions?

    Refresh the Bay of Play?

    • Eric Davis

      I will be sharing some stuff once I get some more information.

  • TwilitWings

    As long as the new ride is better than San Diego’s disappointing rendition of “Journey to Atlantis” then I’ll definitely consider dropping by!

    • Eric Davis

      I agree. San Diego could use a nice family ride.

  • Bill

    Eric…

    Great update. But where did you hear that Busch Gardens isn’t for sale anymore? I’m still hearing the contrary. The TV show was planned long ago, and the sale of the parks wouldn’t affect the TV show. Do you have any other news or reasoning on why they won’t be sold?

    • Eric Davis

      I posted in the forums my thoughts on this topic.

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    Long term, I think the SeaWorld parks will be just fine. They are headed in the right direction and I really like their new stepped up quality for attractions and food and Beverage.

    Antarctica itself is a solid mini-land. The real star are the Penguins. Their new habitat looks great and the clever way they get you there is a lot of fun. The problem is that people are lining up for it like it’s an E-Ticket ride. And when they find that the ride portion is really just a way to get you to the penguins, they are disappointed.

    I think the ride portion could be very easily fixed by adding digital mapping projectors to make the ice appear to crack and fall around you. And perhaps add a couple of animatronics (It would be fun if there were perhaps a polar bear or two who take a swipe at you).

    But overall, I’m impressed with Antarctica. Great food, fun gift shop, beautiful penguin building, impressive rock/ice work. I even enjoy the ride portion for what it is and am blown away by the impressive ride technology.

    As for San Diego, they’ve let that park decay for far too long. It’s a shame that the whole thing hasn’t already been redone in time for the 60th, BUT the massive new entry is a big step in the right direction and I’m aware of an overall plan to remake the park over the long run. It’s needed.

    The SeaWorld parks offer a lot of value, but they are going to have to swallow their pride and NOT try to keep up with Disney and Universal on ticket prices. We are reaching crazy prices at all of the parks and I think we are just beginning to see a shakeout in the market. There are lots of folks who can simply no longer afford a trip to Orlando. SeaWorld could easily step in and be the park that folks can afford to visit.

    • Malin

      Dusty it’s been promoted by SeaWorld as a one of a kind experience using a trackless system and ride vehicles built exclusively for this ride. SeaWorld hyped it up big and have failed to provide on execution. People have been lining up expecting an ETicket because that’s what SeaWorld has been promising. This will seriously cost them in the future with new rides because people will remember how much Antarctica failed to live up to expectations. I think SeaWorld needs to hire a few of the guys at either Disney Imaginerring or Universal Creative to help if there chose to do another project on this scale again!

      • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

        You are absolutely right. They overpromoted the ride portion when they should have focused on the penguins.

    • Freddie Freelance
      (It would be fun if there were perhaps a polar bear or two who take a swipe at you).

      Maybe Leopard Seals, or an Orca?

      The ice floes crack & open, a Leopard Seal rises up with grasping jaws, your vehicle jukes to the side, and almost into the mouth of a hungry Orca!

    • Tielo

      From what I read, dear Dusty, I assume you have been to Sea World but unfortunately you haven’t learned a thing. You, silly Dusty, wanting a polar bear or 2 in the Antarctica ride. Let me explain. Polar bears live on the North Pole (or the Arctic) and penguins presented in the ride are from the (you guessed it) the South Pole (or Antarctica). So these two animals should never meet.

  • Professortango

    Also films like Blackfish can’t be ignored. A popular film touting the “evils” of Sea World doesn’t help attendance.

    • soletrain

      yes i can’t believe Blackfish wasn’t mentioned in this article. I will never go back to Sea World after watching that movie then reading more up into Orcas in captivity.

      • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

        I can’t imagine that Blackfish has had much affect, nor will it have much impact long term. Very few people saw this film:

        Total Lifetime Grosses for Blackfish
        Domestic: $1,383,226
        Domestic Summary
        Opening Weekend: $75,962
        Widest Release: 97 theaters
        In Release: 31 days / 4.4 weeks

        I’m sure that some folks were swayed by this film, but likely very few.

      • Eric Davis

        I 100% agree with Dust’s assessment that BlackFish isn’t really having that much of an impact on SeaWorld. I will hold off commenting more on this until it is shown on CNN this fall (Since CNN owns the movie).

        Beyond that I really don’t think BlackFish will have a lasting impression.

    • jcruise86

      After seeing “Blackfish,” my wife and I also said we won’t return to Sea World. I doubt enough people will see this to make much of a difference, though the L.A. Times printed an editorial inspired by the movie, and I’m surprised that three of us are bringing this up on a Sea World thread.

      I have been impressed by Eric’s tone in defending Sea World. He’s been trying to stick with the facts & not insult those of us moved my the movie, and if Sea World stops putting healthy orcas in too small tanks, I might return.

      • jcruise86
      • jcruise86

        There is a heartbreaking scene in “Blackfish” with an orca mom crying hard and long when separated from her calf. They aren’t like dogs that way, and in the wild they stick with their moms even when they’re adults, though the males can be kept to the perimeter of the family.

        Maybe Sea World could create a cool, 3D Imax killer whale show with giant, audio-animatronic killer whales that makes the whole theater a splash area. (There could be a dry area.) It could include a history of SeaWorld orca shows and show killer whales around the world.

        “Blackfish” showed that many well-intentioned Sea World employees have loved killer whales, and they’ve increased the love for these great animals, but Sea World should change now.

        I was annoyed with OSHA till I saw this movie.

      • jcruise86

        P.S. I saw Morgan Spurlock throwing up McDonald’s in “Supersize Me” on big and small screens and preferred less detail there, but “Blackfish” has grand shots of large orcas in spectacular scenery. Unfortunately, I don’t think “Blackfish” will be a DVD hit, though it may have already had some impact.

      • Tielo

        Wow, you have some internal dialog going on there all by yourself.
        I haven’t seen the movie, I don’t care. You know why? Because 1 in 5 children in the US go to sleep each night hungry. Lets do that again, 1 in 5 children who don’t get enough to eat in a country that is rich and intelligent enough (you would suspect) to not have this going in.
        I respect the work Sea World is doing for saving thousands of animals each year. My nephew came to Orlando to see the parks and to rent a speedboat to hit the Everglades. He was moved to tears seeing all these injured manatee’s Sea World is taking care of and decided that hitting the rollercoasters was enough fun. Sea World has no money to earn to mistreat their animals. Yes they could have a bigger place and I don’t care if they can jump trough a hoop but the information presented is very much coloured like your leaders are telling you you live in a wonderful country if there are still children who need food.
        http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

      • poohmeg

        I think Blackfish has had an impact far beyond the number of people who have actually seen it (as has been the case with many other successful documentaries in recent years) – and even aside from that specific film, people these days (especially kids/young adults) are much more sensitive to animal rights and environmental issues than they were in the past. Sea World is going to have to keep addressing that concern, and it will be interesting to see what direction they take with future shows and rides involving live animals.

  • eicarr

    Combined with the San Diego zoo it’s always a great overnight wildlife side trip from Disneyland. Though I’m not a fan of adding rides(especially near the animals), if it means less forced “performances” and more healthy creatures that can be kept into the ocean…. I’m all for the direction they’re heading in(aside from prices).

  • StevenW

    SeaWorld San Diego suffers from having an inconsistent experience. The best shows are Shamu and Dolphins. Then the quality goes down a lot. The Sea Lion show is pretty much the same. The Cirque show is not quite as spectacular as the Dolphin show that has divers and aerial artists.

    The rides are mostly the thrill type, while having a decent slate of kids and play area. They don’t quite have enough family rides. I was disappointed to hear that the much anticipated Penguin ride and exhibit was a bust. Another great ride concept was destroyed by poor execution. It is better to just have the Penguin exhibit in San Diego, but I hope they will bring back a dark ride of some sort in the future.

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    I’ve said it before, but I don’t understand why these places seem to set their prices relative to the cost of one day admission to a WDW theme park.

    As a tourist, I always have a WDW park hopper so probably pay closer to $50 per day. If SeaWorld priced a one-day ticket closer to what I pay for a day at Epcot, I’d be more willing to visit.

  • chjalmarson

    Even before Blackfish I vowed never to give SeaWorld a dime of my money. They need to place these beautiful animals in ocean sanctuaries and just become a theme park- it sounds like they are half way there anyways. Only then would I consider going to SeaWorld.

    And in regards to starving children–you can have a heart big enough for all living creatures. Caring about animals doesn’t mean you care less about children, or any human struggle for that matter. I don’t even understand why that subject was brought up. Spending hundreds of dollars at SeaWorld does nothing for starving children. My biggest concern in regards to children going hungry in America is how how much food waste there is at any theme park.

  • ralzap

    A graceful animal jumping for a herring is not entertainment. A great Zoo would have animals hiding where you would never see them. Education vs- Entertainment… All of us have to decide. I have mixed emotions. I can see both sides. Personally I will not be going to Sea World San Diego anytime soon.

  • Chazbo6

    Had the opportunity to visit Seaworld Orlando on August 14th. The last time I was there was about 30 years ago so things were definitely different. I enjoyed all of the outdoor shows but unforatunately did not get to see Blue Horizons due to the weather. Journey to Atlantis was closed, but I was not too disappointed because we had visited BGW several years ago and the ride appeared to be a clone of theirs. I really liked both coasters, although Manta was a little too much for me since I have a fear of heights and that horizontal suspension really got to me! Antarctica was a solid attempt at creating an immersive environment, but I will agree that the ride itself needed some more elements to better utilize all the capabilities of what is an awesome ride vehicle system. We did get stuck at one point in the last section of the ride before the penguin habitiat and sat there for almost 15 minutes before getting out. They were nice enough to give us quick passes and we re-rode to get the full, uninterrupted experience. I’ll agree that it is a nice park and cannot be compared to Disney by any stretch. One of the big deciding factors for even going there was the $50 weekday ticket since the full price day ticket was too steep for us. Unlike Uni and Disney, I could easily go another 10+ years without visiting again. Sorry, not much replay value for me.