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The long-rumored takeover of the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme park chains by the Blackstone Group has been confirmed.

Blackstone will pay current owners Anheuser-Busch InBev $2.3 billion in cash upfront for the parks, with up to a further $400 million to follow.

The deal gives Blackstone 100% ownership of ownership of all of Busch Entertainment's parks, including SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove, Aquatica, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld San Antonio, Sesame Place, Adventure Island and Water Country USA.

Blackstone already owns Merlin Entertainments Group, which runs the Legoland theme parks and major UK theme parks including Alton Towers and Thorpe Park. It also owns 50% of Universal Orlando, alongside NBC Universal.

Guests are unlikely to see major changes at the parks in the short-term. However, Blackstone may in future seek to exploit synergies between SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and its existing properties. Given that NBC Universal is not involved, this may be limited to Merlin parks such as Legoland rather than the Universal Orlando parks.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the brewing giant, acquired the Busch theme parks following the merger of InBev and Anheuser-Busch. It has been looking offload the parks ever since, in order to pay down the debt that was required to fund the merger.

Anheuser-Busch beverages will continue to be sold throughout the parks under the terms of an existing sponsorship deal. However, the Budweiser Clydesdale horses will no longer be used at the parks.

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