Last week, news broke that SeaWorld would be suspending dividends for stockholders, with money instead being deployed into "opportunistic" share repurchases as part of an aggressive stock buyback program, implying that SeaWorld's cash reserves were dangerously low.
Obviously, this was very bad news for the company, but SeaWorld is fighting back, announcing a $175 million plan to help bring the brand back from the brink. And unsurprisingly, much of the focus will once again be on SeaWorld Orlando, which will be introducing a number of new experiences in the coming months, including a new deal that actually made its debut yesterday...
1. Introducing the guest and host pass
SeaWorld introduced a new, unprecedented type of annual pass yesterday that gives annual passholders the opportunity to purchase a special "guest" pass which can be transferred to anyone they would like. It works like this: guests can purchase a full-price annual pass for $168 and will then have the option to immediately buy a second transferrable "guest" pass at the same time for $208 that will be tied to the "host pass" that it was first purchased with. Once the purchase is finalized, the "host" will then be able to transfer their special pass to anyone they want for the life of the passes.
Of course, there are a few caveats, as the holder of the host pass must accompany the person using the transferrable one when entering the park, and only one guest per day can use the transferrable pass (so no mid-day switching). However, on the whole, this seems like a very unique new style of pass, and it will be interesting to see whether or not this is a success. You can learn more about this new pass system here.
2. Kraken gets a virtual reality upgrade
Though a new ticketing option is interesting, SeaWorld Orlando's biggest initiative will be the addition of a virtual reality element to the existing Kraken roller coaster, making this attraction Central Florida's first VR-enhanced roller coaster. Beginning next summer, guests who climb aboard Kraken will have the option to don special headsets that will cover their eyes and ears, giving riders the chance to hear music composed for the ride as they embark on a deep-sea mission alongside the fictional Kraken as well as other mythical and prehistoric creatures.
Now while this will be the first VR-enabled roller coaster for central Florida, this new innovation has rolled out at other parks around the world and one of the frequent criticisms of this type of attraction is that the VR headset element slows down the loading process, as employees have to sanitize headsets after each ride and help new guests fit these devices around their heads. However, speaking with the Orlando Sentinel, SeaWorld Orlando Park President Donnie Mills said that the park is looking into running more vehicles to compensate for any loading slowdown issues, and will also be adding more employees at the ride as well to make the loading process as smooth as possible. In addition, the queue will be redesigned to include interactive elements to make those long waits feel a little shorter.
3. A new seasonal event
Though SeaWorld Orlando already has a number of food-based special events, (including Bands, Brew & BBQ as well as Viva La Musica) the park will be introducing a new food festival next year. Named the Seven Seas Festival, this food extravaganza is already a mainstay at SeaWorld's San Diego and San Antonio parks and will bring local foods and drinks to SeaWorld Orlando for a few weeks next year. Specific dates and themes have not been revealed yet, but we should learn more very soon.