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SeaWorld Making Big Move to Take on Disney, Universal Theme Parks

The second-tier theme park operator wants to compete with its much bigger rivals.

When it comes to theme parks, Walt Disney's (DIS) - Get The Walt Disney Company Report Disney World and Comcast's (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Common Stock Report Universal Studios Florida set the golden standard. Disney's Florida resort offers four theme parks, two water parks, a huge shopping area, an endless sea of restaurants, and countless adjacent hotels. Universal has two theme parks, a water park, as well as its own shopping area, restaurants, and hotels.

The two companies' theme parks have world-class attractions with high-level production values. Both Disney World and Universal Studios are built so visitors spend at least a few days there, ideally a week.

The two rivals have made it so it's possible to get dropped off at an on-site hotel, then never have to get into a car again. You can spend a week at Disney World or Universal Studios without ever needing to (or maybe even wanting to) leave company property.

SeaWorld (SEAS) - Get SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. Report -- a Disney and Universal competitor in the Florida market -- does not offer anything beyond its namesake park and the nearby Aquatica waterpark. It's a clear step below what its rivals offer, but the ever-evolving theme park company plans a big change that would bring it a little closer to its larger rivals.

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SeaWorld Has a Big Change Planned   

In recent years, SeaWorld has pivoted away from its "killer" whale shows featuring "Shamu" to becoming more of a thrill park like its sister-brand Busch Gardens. The Florida park has added numerous world-class roller coasters and the company has essentially been adding one major new ride each year.

SeaWorld, of course, had to change its parks operational focus after the "Blackfish" film led people to question its focus on having captive animals. specifically whales, perform shows. The Florida park still has some sea life-based shows and a penguin habitat, but its core focus has definitely shifted to thrill rides.

Now, CEO Marc Swanson has shared plans to make its parks more like Disney and Univeral's integrated resorts. He shared those plans during the company's second-quarter earnings call, Travel Weekly reported.

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"We continue to make progress with our plans to design and build hotels to complement our park offerings," he said. "We have engaged multiple consultants and industry resources to evaluate a number of site and facility concepts as we further develop our strategies."

The CEO did not offer any specifics, but he did make a promise that he would.

"More details are forthcoming," Swanson said.

SeaWorld Keeps Expanding in Florida

Even with the pandemic, SeaWorld has maintained an ambitious plan to open 11 new rides across 10 of its theme parks in 2022. That includes one new attraction each at SeaWorld Orlando and the adjacent Aquatica waterpark.

The company's new Ice Breaker roller coaster offers the steepest vertical drop in Florida, according to a press release.  

The ride offers"four airtime filled launches, both backwards and forwards, culminating in a reverse launch into the steepest beyond vertical drop in Florida – a 93 feet tall spike with 100 degree angle."

SeaWorld actually has more roller coasters than any other single theme park in the Orlando area.

Aquatica opened Reef Plunge this year, a ride that sends "guests on a splash, twist, and turn adventure through more than 330 feet of eye-catching translucent cutouts and rings. Guests can zoom past a dynamic new underwater habitat that’s home to a vibrant array of marine life, including Commerson’s dolphins, leopard sharks, sardines, and other cold-water fish," the company shared.