SeaWorld’s first theme park outside the United States, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, will open in the United Arab Emirates next year with six marine environments, five floors of indoor attractions and zero killer whales.
John Linn, SeaWorld’s vice president of global theme park development, said the park is the culmination of more than 50 years of SeaWorld’s theme park experience and will include “all the exciting things we wanted do and for which we never got approval”.
“We’re not going to have to work very hard at all to differentiate ourselves. [from similar attractions]”, Linn said. “Frankly, the problem I’m going to have personally is how to explain to our board of directors that this phenomenal product that we have in the Middle East – why don’t we do it in the United States ?”
speaking monday At the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions exhibit in Orlando, Linn declined to reveal details about the park’s contents, but said it would rank among the best aquariums and marine attractions in the world. world.
“Although I cannot reveal any secrets, I can say without hesitation that what we are doing, what we are about to achieve, will surprise everyone,” he said. “It will be something different and unique.”
Abu Dhabi developer Miral, which is partnering with Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment on the project, said in September it had reached 90% construction completion on the Yas Island development. and planned to open in 2023. SeaWorld CEO Marc Swanson recently confirmed this general opening schedule during an earnings call on Nov. 9.
SeaWorld Abu Dhabi was announced in 2016 with an initial target opening date of 2022. When it opens, the park will feature one of the largest aquariums in the world, with over 6.6 million gallons of water and 68,000 marine animals, plus interactive exhibits, rides and a conservation-focused search and rescue center.
Since the park’s announcement, SeaWorld has said the park will not include orcas, also known as “killer whales” for their natural hunting habits.
SeaWorld has worked to break away from its orca-laden past over the past decade. The backlash grew after the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” used the story of SeaWorld Orlando’s orca Tilikum, which caused the deaths of three people, including trainer Dawn Brancheau, to highlight the difficulties of the orcas living in captivity.
In recent years, SeaWorld has ended its killer whale breeding program, phased out its entertainment-based orca shows, and emphasized its longstanding focus on marine life conservation.
“Although killer whales are not part of the theme park, we will provide opportunities to educate the community and raise awareness of this inspiring creature alongside other species of sea life,” SeaWorld Abu Dhabi’s website says. .
In an unsigned statement, SeaWorld said the park will include the UAE’s “first dedicated center for the search, rescue, rehabilitation and return of marine life” which will specialize in ecosystems of life. native marine in the Persian Gulf and will work to advance global conservation efforts.
Swanson said the park “truly showcases what the next generation of SeaWorld could and will be” as it extends the SeaWorld brand to an international level spectators.
The park’s habitats will be entirely indoors, which Linn said he was initially “frightened” by because of the attraction’s emphasis on the natural world. But Miral helped the project exceed expectations, he said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way we executed it,” he said.
One of the challenges of the interior decor was recreating natural lighting for its resident sea creatures. Linn said SeaWorld teams created innovative lighting technology to mimic the full spectrum of sunlight.
“I can’t share numbers, but you could buy a minor attraction, maybe even a major attraction for the amount we invested in this project and the lighting for our animals,” he said.
Theme park companies have chosen Abu Dhabi to expand their brands in recent years. Warner Bros. opened the world’s largest indoor theme park, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, in 2018 and this week announced a Harry Potter-themed addition to the park.
SeaWorld has been trying to expand into the Middle Eastern country since 2006, Linn said. The company’s first attempt, the defunct Worlds of Discovery Dubai project, was canceled after the 2008 financial crisis.
He said SeaWorld was also looking to build an attraction in China, but ultimately “the UAE really felt like the right place for us,” he said during the panel titled “The ‘future of entertainment and leisure in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi’. ”
It turned out to be a lucky move, Linn said, as China’s “zero COVID” policies have closed theme parks such as Shanghai Disney several times during the pandemic.
“I’m glad we landed where we did,” Linn said. “I can’t imagine having worked on a project like this…anywhere but Abu Dhabi.”
The property only scratches the surface of SeaWorld’s expansion plans. As the company completes this project, it is already planning future international properties elsewhere, Swanson said Nov. 9.
“We continue to push forward discussions related to other international opportunities and expect to have more to share over the coming quarters,” Swanson said.
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