Even as SeaWorld Orlando prepares for Wednesday's grand opening
of the new Sesame Street area, the park isn't slowing down with its dramatic reimagining of the park.
Aquariums have made way for thrills as the park continues to add more rides and focus less on animals. It now looks like the new focus will continue through 2020 and beyond.
The shift has seen the park's shows take on a more educational focus while new attractions, like the roller coaster Mako and Sesame Street, have no live animals. This is a dramatic change from earlier attractions, like Manta, Antarctica, and even Kraken, where live animal habitats were built in, either as part of the queue or on the ride itself. Even Journey to Atlantis had a small aquarium alongside the attraction. Only a small pre-existing flamingo habitat was integrated into the opening scenes of Infinity Falls.
Photo via AmusementLeaks/Twitter
One of the leaked images that was part of a larger leak of SeaWorld plans. The company later confirmed the leaks were authentic.
A PowerPoint slide deck leaked last year
showed plans for a launch coaster concept for SeaWorld Orlando that would feature airtime and banked turns. The slide pointed to a 48-inch rider height – six inches shorter than the park's other thrill rides, but taller than the 42-inch minimum height for Infinity Falls. The company later confirmed
the leaked images were authentic. Since then, both SeaWorld San Diego and Busch Gardens Tampa plans have been announced by the company, while the Busch Gardens Williamsburg plans have been confirmed via permits.
An image from the leaked slides showed a coaster that looked somewhat similar to SeaWorld San Antonio's Wave Breaker roller coaster. That coaster, which also has a 48-inch minimum height requirement, is themed to SeaWorld's Sea Rescue
television show and has ride vehicles shaped like jet skis.
Photo via SeaWorld San Antonio
Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster at SeaWorld San Antonio
The unique ride vehicles could prove to be SeaWorld's answer to Disney's Tron coaster and Universal's new Hagrid coaster, both of which feature motorcycle-themed ride vehicles. The leaked image also looks similar to Busch Gardens Tampa's Cheetah Hunt coaster, which also has a 48-inch height limit.
Both Wave Breaker and Cheetah Hunt were designed by Intamin, a thrill ride manufacturer that SeaWorld has a long history with. Infinity Falls is also from Intamin, as are many of Busch Gardens Tampa's rides.
The new SeaWorld Orlando 2020 coaster will likely see an updated theme since the television show that the San Antonio ride is based on is now canceled.
On the leaked slide, it states that the location in the park is still to be determined, but insiders are now pointing to the area along the lakeshore between Bayside Stadium and Shamu Stadium as the likely location. New permits
filed with Orange County confirm that SeaWorld is moving forward with a 2020 project that will entail building some new buildings and retrofitting old ones, though specific details on the project are still sealed.
This likely location also aligns with two other rumored changes coming to the park. Mango Joe's, one of the park’s oldest restaurants, is rumored to be closing. The Mango Joe's buildings would become the new coaster's queue and exit gift shop area.
Just across the pathway from Mango Joe's is the Wild Arctic attraction, which includes both an animal habitat and simulator ride. The simulator is the park's second oldest ride, next to the Sky Tower. The simulators originally hosted a Bermuda Triangle-themed ride for a few years before Wild Arctic opened in 1995. It was one of the nation's first simulator rides, and it hasn't aged well. Cabins creek and moan as the jerky ride goes through its motions while a blurry video with dated computer graphics plays.
Rumors and speculation of Wild Arctic's demise have been around for years
, but this section of the park has felt dead while the company focused on adding new attractions to other areas. Now with Infinity Falls and Sesame Street, this area is already one of the park’s busiest sections.
With Mango Joe's and Wild Arctic both likely receiving significant overhauls, it looks like this very dated section of the park is the next to earn some much-needed TLC. This aligns with the park's recent enhancements, slowly moving around the lake beginning with Mako and Shark Wreck Reef in 2016, then Infinity Falls last year, then Shamu's Happy Harbor being replaced by Sesame Street this year.
The updates have so far paid off
with attendance and revenue up in recent quarters.
SeaWorld San Diego has confirmed
that its version of the Wild Arctic simulators will be replaced by a new attraction by 2021. With San Diego's version of the attraction closing, rumors of Orlando's version also closing look more likely, but it's unclear if the same attraction that is replacing the San Diego version would be coming to Orlando.
The flying theater concept, possibly themed to the Arctic, could be coming to Orlando while a smaller attraction that fits within the height restrictions found in San Diego could be coming to that park.
, most notably Dan Leavelle of Midway Mayhem
, have noted that the new 2020 coaster will stretch along the lakeshore, similar to Wave Breaker, before crossing over the pathway near Bayside Stadium and having a large section in the area where the park's Sea Harbor events venue
is currently located. The Sea Harbor venue isn't open to regular park guests and is located next to Wild Arctic.
This special events area may be integrated into the park itself. This would allow for Bayside Stadium to also receive some much-needed crowd flow improvements, eliminating one of the worst bottlenecks in all of Orlando theme parks, while also reworking this entire area to better suit the multiple festivals and events that park now hosts throughout the year.
It's unclear if the 2020 coaster in Orlando would use any of the Wild Arctic building. It's thought that this new coaster would be built beside Wild Arctic, then once it opens next year, Wild Arctic will close. The animal habitats attached to Wild Arctic may see some updates during this time as well. After the park's polar bears passed away, it was confirmed no new polar bears would be headed to the park. Instead, seals were placed in this area.
The improved section of the park will also likely include a new name of Shamu Stadium, though those plans will be far less expansive than what is happening across the pathway at Wild Arctic and Mango Joe's. The Shamu Stadium in Orlando is the last remaining remnant of the Shamu brand
. Both are expected to renamed in the coming years.
With construction for the new 2020 coaster likely beginning soon, an announcement confirming the coaster is expected within the next few months. The 2021 or 2022 Wild Arctic plans are still possibly some time away with the park possibly postponing that project if the Sesame Street area doesn't draw in the crowds it is expected to have.
Of course, if the masses do show up, then the park will not only greenlight the 2021 plans but will also move forward with other projects, including a likely expansion to the Sesame Street area, though that project is still some years away.
For now, all eyes are on 2020 for the park's first major family coaster and the beginning of the Shamu Stadium area redo. But unlike Shark Wreck Reef and Infinity Falls, this area will take require several years to be fully updated via a piecemeal approach.
In the meantime, the park is rumored to also be looking at upgrading other areas, including the Key West-themed section and the festival pathway.
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