Aquatica water park reopening in Chula Vista after nearly 2-year hiatus
This year will be the final season for Aquatica, which will be transformed into a new Sesame Place theme park that will still have water attractions
It’s been a long wait, but on Memorial Day weekend, SeaWorld’s water park, Aquatica, will reopen for the first time in nearly two years.
The Chula Vista park, which shut down after the 2019 summer season and was then closed for all of 2020 because of the pandemic, will mark its final season this year when it begins welcoming visitors back on May 29. After it closes following Labor Day weekend, Aquatica will be undergoing a major transformation into a new theme park — Sesame Place, slated for a 2022 opening.
In the meantime, Aquatica will operate under current COVID-19 health and safety regulations, which means reservations are required, and occupancy will be limited to 25 percent. Facial coverings are still required, although not on the water rides and in the wave pool.
News of the long-awaited reopening comes the same week that SeaWorld announced that it has a new president leading its marine and water parks — John Dunlap, who had been Director of the San Diego Zoo from 2008 to 2013 before forming his own attractions management and advisory company.
A hospitality industry veteran, he was president of his Iconic Attractions Group before joining SeaWorld last month. Among his projects with Iconic were the opening of the Dubai Safari Park and the transformation of the Jungle Island theme park in Miami.
He replaces former park president Marilyn Hannes, who was promoted to a new role of senior vice president of strategic relationships for parent company, SeaWorld Entertainment.
Dunlap takes over as SeaWorld gradually reopens its rides and attractions amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. It just opened back up its Manta roller coaster on Thursday, and there are only a few remaining rides to reopen, including Sky Tower, Journey to Atlantis and Riptide Rescue.
The park’s latest coaster, Emperor, has yet to make its debut. It was supposed to open last year, but the arrival of the pandemic canceled those plans. It was to have been the park’s third new coaster in three years, as many of the SeaWorld parks began introducing more thrill rides in hopes of boosting lagging attendance. There is no firm date yet for the opening of the Emperor ride.
“SeaWorld’s roots are in conservation of the world’s oceans,” said Dunlap, whose work history includes a number of leadership roles in the hospitality industry, including hotel manager of the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. “While there may have been a focus on enhancing the attractions, I wouldn’t say that it was any greater than the focus on animals and conservation. We will forever be committed to the animals in our care.
“Since reopening, we have been focusing on getting all our attractions open, hiring thousands of new ambassadors, and making sure all our restaurants are open.”
Like many other businesses in the leisure and hospitality industry, SeaWorld San Diego is facing challenges finding workers but the park has already hired 1,300 since resuming operations earlier this year and is recruiting 700 more, Dunlap said.
“In general, hiring in hospitality is a tough priority and now it’s a really tough priority,” Dunlap said. “Even if we had an abundant supply of qualified people, it still takes time to learn the organization and become extra proficient, so we are taking our time to make sure we hire the best people and open our rides deliberately. We are quite encouraged by the pipeline but hiring great people still takes great effort.”
In his new position, Dunlap will also be overseeing the eventual opening of Sesame Place at the Aquatica site. The new park is part of SeaWorld’s strategy to capitalize on its licensing deal with Sesame Workshop, the producer of the popular Sesame Street show.
The new 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. Occupying a 17-acre site, Sesame Place will incorporate many of the existing water attractions into the new park, particularly those that are appropriate for younger children.
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