At twice the size of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., this is a place where it's hard to imagine getting bored. But if you do, you'll be able to head to a nearby collection of water attractions situated on an island the shape of a killer whale -- all planned by Busch Entertainment, the masterminds behind SeaWorld.
Twenty-five years after Walt Disney Co. began moving overseas, U.S. companies like Six Flags, Universal Studios and DreamWorks are marching rapidly to the Mideast and Far East seeking new revenue streams and an increasingly global audience.
Major U.S. companies have at least 13 parks in the works in South Korea, Singapore, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In every case, developers are fronting millions of dollars to buy land and build parks, while the U.S. businesses reap licensing fees for attractions featuring the likes of Spider-Man and SpongeBob SquarePants without financial risk.
"The phenomenon overseas is the perfect storm, basically," said theme park consultant Gary Goddard. "A lot of factors are coming together at the right time."
Eight theme parks outside the U.S. posted attendance increases of more than 10% from 2006 to 2007, according to a recent report by Economic Research Associates and the Themed Entertainment Assn. Only one U.S.-based park, Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va., had double-digit growth last year.
"This is the natural evolution," said Christian Aaen of Economic Research Associates.
"There is growth in certain markets in the United States, in Orlando in particular. But in Southern California it's very competitive, and unless you do a major reinvestment, you don't really get a lot of growth. What they're looking at is Asia and the Middle East on an increasing basis."
Among the confirmed overseas projects:
* Six Flags recently announced its first foreign project in Dubai.
* Busch Entertainment trumpeted its four-park Dubai project as "the most significant news" in company history.
* Universal Studios has parks planned in Dubai and Singapore. It hopes to complete a deal in South Korea by year's end.
* Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation are opening parks in South Korea and Dubai, respectively.
* MGM Studios is building entertainment centers in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi.
* Warner Bros. Entertainment is planning a theme park, hotel and movie theaters in Abu Dhabi.
Some parks will closely model their U.S. counterparts, with nods to local food and culture. Six Flags promises that its Dubai park will have the world's tallest, fastest coaster. Executives with other companies said they were planning full-scale parks to meet the expectations of sophisticated globe-trotters.
For U.S. companies, the deals can include annual licensing royalties as well as a cut of attendance, food and beverage and merchandise revenue, Aaen said. For heavyweights such as Disney and Universal, this could mean tens of millions of dollars annually.
"This is cash flow coming in basically to your bottom line . . . without any significant risk factors," Aaen said.