SHORTAKES: The clues behind Sesame Place’s Westward Ho

In 2017, I began predicting that the second Sesame Place park would be an overlay of the existing Aquatica San Diego. At the time, my prediction was tied in with a plan developed by management in 2013 that, if implemented, would close the San Diego SeaWorld park over a five-year period. After the closure, the new park would use the strong Sesame IP to maintain a company presence in the San Diego market. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but there still were plenty of clues that Aquatica San Diego was destined to be the home of Sesame Place #2.

So far, the park has gone through three incarnations. It started as White Water Canyon, which had a Gold Rush theme, in 1997. Two years later, a lender foreclosed on the property, after which it was purchased by Cedar Fair. The Gold Rush theme had been replaced by a beach party when it reopened in 2000 as Knott’s Soak City San Diego, under the management of Cedar Fair’s newly acquired Knott’s Berry Farm.

Cedar Fair sold the park to SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which rethemed it yet again to a tropical paradise and the moniker Aquatica San Diego, which opened in 2013. Unlike the other Aquatica parks in Orlando and San Antonio, which feature dolphins and rays, respectively, Aquatica San Diego fell under a provision of SeaWorld’s Mission Bay lease with the City of San Diego. Under this non-competition clause, SeaWorld is prohibited from operating another park with marine animals in any other city within a 560 mile radius of SeaWorld San Diego (SeaWorld’s purchase of Marineland of the Pacific is a much different story for a different time).

Not only does Aquatica San Diego fall within the 560 mile limit, but it’s also in a different city – Chula Vista. With the legal prohibition on showcasing marine animals at the newly acquired waterpark, Aquatica San Diego’s animal showcase was limited to birds and freshwater turtles.

It’s also telling that the last new attraction the park received was in 2014. Every year since, its parent company has announced new rides for four of its five waterparks, but San Diego has consistently been left off the list.

From a business and marketing standpoint, Sesame Place’s location in Chula Vista is perfect, with large Hispanic populations in both South San Diego County and North Mexico, which tend to visit parks such as this in the three generation model (grandparents, parents, children all visiting together). The distance between the new Sesame Place and SeaWorld San Diego is just under the distance from SeaWorld to LEGOLAND California. There’s one important factor, though – it’s in the opposite direction. With dual park ticketing and passes, this could pull a small share of attendance from the Merlin operated park to the north.

The cross-marketing opportunities between the two parks are fantastic as well. With a “Bay of Play” at SeaWorld, children will now be invited to visit the other park to meet the Sesame characters where they live. Going the opposite direction, Sesame Place will act as a gateway to SeaWorld, encouraging families with young children to visit the “other” home of the Sesame Street characters, bringing them into SeaWorld at that impressionable age when they’re most susceptible to corporate branding.

The new Sesame Place is also located only a few miles from the new 1600 room Gaylord Chula Vista, being built on the city’s waterfront. The $1.13 billion project will also feature a 400,000 square foot convention center. If there’s something to be learned from the Orlando and Anaheim markets, it’s that if there’s family friendly parks to be had in the vicinity of a convention, conventioneers will bring their families.

Of course, there’s going to be that weird shift in attendance from teens to families with younger children. But families with younger children tend to have more money to spend and bring more mouths to feed.

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