SeaWorld offers Sesame Street light parade drive-through-style

SeaWorld San Diego debuts Sesame Street Parade of Lights.
SeaWorld San Diego debuts Sesame Street Parade of Lights as a drive-through experience while the park itself remains closed because of the pandemic.
(Courtesy of SeaWorld)

While closed because of the pandemic, the theme park is recycling its holiday decorations — plus Elmo and the Cookie Monster — to generate some revenue as it continues to care for its marine mammals


Although closed for the foreseeable future because of the still raging pandemic, SeaWorld San Diego has found a new way to lure guests to the park with the help of a drive-through light show and a cast of favorite Sesame Street characters.

Every weekend through Feb. 15, the park is staging what it’s calling the Sesame Street Parade of Lights, which allows visitors to drive their cars through the park while viewing colorfully illuminated trees and passing under SeaWorld’s Skytower lights and through kaleidoscopic light tunnels

The drive-through experience is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Valentine Day’s weekend, and the park has added Monday, Feb. 15 as the final day. Along the vehicular route, costumed Sesame Street characters atop parade floats will make appearances so that passengers can view them from both sides of the cars.

The new event comes at an especially difficult time for the San Diego park, which has been largely shut down since March, except for a few months last year when it was able to reopen as an aquarium but at much-reduced capacities and without access to its rides.

The San Diego park is an outlier within the SeaWorld Entertainment theme park portfolio. Its parent company last year was able to gradually resume operations at parks outside California but still has taken a huge financial hit due to COVID-19. The most recent earnings report for the Orlando-based company, released in November, revealed that attendance across its 12 parks was down by more than 80 percent and that revenue plunged by nearly $368 million.

Major theme park companies across California have been pressing Gov. Gavin Newsom to ease his requirements for eventually reopening the shuttered venues but to no avail. They even suggested the possibility of legal action to force a showdown but in the meantime, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surged, forcing even tighter rules governing businesses in general.

Of SeaWorld Entertainment’s three namesake marine parks, San Diego’s is the only one that has introduced a drive-through parade and light show.

While largely a reprise of SeaWorld’s Christmas displays during the holidays, the drive-through attraction offers an experience not likely to return once theme parks are allowed to reopen.

“This is an exciting new way for families to experience SeaWorld’s Sesame Street Party Parade and an incredible winter wonderland of lights from the safety of their own cars,” said park president Marilyn Hannes. “As we continue to promote our enhanced health and safety protocols, we are thrilled to offer this unique opportunity so our guests can enjoy SeaWorld like never before.”

The price for admission is $49.99 per car, although annual pass members will receive a 50 percent discount on their tickets, which must be purchased ahead of time and for specific time slots.

While pricey, the attraction makes sense as a way to raise revenue during exceptionally lean times for amusement parks, said theme park blogger Todd Regan of the Disney-focused

“This will help them pay some staff and keep things going,” Regan said. “Their expenses are enormous compared to other theme parks because you have to keep maintaining the animals. I thought it was brilliant to come up with a way to raise money other than begging for donations. And it’s a clever way of recycling the holiday lights with the addition of characters on parade floats. In a year of continuing lockdowns, this is a safe activity, which will be fun for the whole family.”

The park also is picking up extra revenue by selling snack food that guests can enjoy in their cars, such as hot chocolate and cotton candy. In addition, there are special event souvenir packages, including Sesame Street character plush toys and superhero character capes.

Normally, SeaWorld, which leases its Mission Bay site from the city of San Diego, is obligated to pay monthly rent that is based largely on the percentage of revenue they collect from admissions and sales of food and souvenirs. For months, the theme park did not pay rent in keeping with deferred payment protection that the City Council allowed under the eviction moratorium. That, however, ended on Sept. 30 for all commercial lessees, said city spokeswoman Tara Grimes.

Earlier this month, Grimes said, SeaWorld made a payment of $1.6 million, which reflects a percentage of rent for revenue the park collected over a 10-month period between February and November of last year. That compares to nearly $8.7 million in rent SeaWorld paid for the comparable period in 2019, a drop of 81.4 percent.