Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster and the rest of the “Sesame Street” gang will be putting down new roots in Southern California in 2021: SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. plans to turn its Aquatica water slide venue in Chula Vista into a new Sesame Place theme park.
Orlando, Fla.-based SeaWorld and Sesame Workshop, the educational nonprofit behind the Sesame Street children’s television show and brand, announced Monday that the location near San Diego has been chosen for the first Sesame Place on the West Coast.
The “Sesame Street"-themed park will feature tame roller coasters, carousels and other family-friendly rides; the street made famous on TV; a parade; live shows; and character interactions, among other things, said Marilyn Hannes, park president of SeaWorld San Diego.
Slated for 17 acres, Sesame Place will incorporate many of the existing water attractions into the new park, particularly those that are appropriate for younger children.
The rebranding “is a significant investment for the company,” Hannes said. “This is the first new Sesame Place park in 40 years.
The original Sesame Place is in Langhorne, Penn. Operated by SeaWorld, it opened in 1980 and offers rides, shows and water attractions based on popular “Sesame Street” characters.
SeaWorld Entertainment, which operates nearly a dozen SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks nationwide, has a long-running licensing agreement with Sesame Workshop. As part of that deal, it committed to open a second Sesame Place theme park somewhere in the United States by 2021, according to filings with federal securities regulators.
“Sesame Street” “is such great intellectual property, what has taken them so long?” said Dennis Speigel, president of Ohio-based International Theme Park Services. “They’ve had many years to capitalize on that, and now they are.”
SeaWorld Entertainment has been pivoting away from animal shows at its parks nationwide. There was a drop in attendance after the release of the 2013 anti-captivity documentary “Blackfish,” which was critical of SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales.
SeaWorld has focused mostly on adding thrill rides such as roller coasters in hopes of mounting a comeback.
The strategy has begun to pay off this year, with attendance up at SeaWorld San Diego for the first time in several years.
The company also has tapped its “Sesame Street” partnership over the years to bolster a family-friendly image at SeaWorld parks, including holding parades and shows featuring “Sesame Street” characters alongside its marine attractions.
Sesame Street Bay of Play opened in SeaWorld San Diego in 2008, and the large new Sesame Street Land debuted recently at SeaWorld Orlando.
The addition of a stand-alone Sesame Place theme park in Chula Vista further diversifies SeaWorld beyond its animal-based heritage.
The new Sesame Place is expected to be similar to its sister park near Philadelphia, which has 18 land-based rides such as Elmo’s Cloud Chase and Oscar’s Wacky Taxi Coaster, as well as nine water rides including Big Bird’s Rambling River.
In part because it will retain most of the Aquatica water attractions, Sesame Place in Chula Vista aims to offer fun for older siblings as well as younger ones, Hannes said.
The park is set to open as a Certified Autism Center, mirroring the Sesame Place in Pennsylvania. Staffers will receive autism sensitivity and awareness training, and the park will set aside quiet areas. It also will publish a sensory guide on its website so parents can plan their family visit around their child’s needs.
Hannes declined to reveal the cost of the project. Speigel of International Theme Park Services estimated it would be at least $15 million to $20 million.
Aquatica will open as usual through summer 2020. SeaWorld expects to do the Sesame Place renovations during the offseason.
Sesame Place will join Legoland in Carlsbad as the second theme park in the San Diego area geared primarily toward children.