Monday, August 6, 2012


This next post is my response to a question: “What if they (Blackstone Group) decided to invest a huge sum to transform SeaWorld California from a Tier II animal park to a Tier I theme park?"  (The distinction being the latter uses extensive and detailed theme-ing (architecture, landscape, rockwork, props, water features, etc.) to create a unique, out-of-the-ordinary sense of place and are typically broken up into distinct sub-areas or lands).  So that’s what I did.

Before tackling this project I had very little familiarity with San Diego’s Sea World.  But after quite a bit of research, and keeping the real-world constraint of maintaining as much of the park’s major infrastructure (i.e. attractions) as possible, I saw that the park could be broken up into five unique areas, marked by distinct oceanic realms, celebrating both the wild creatures as well as mankind’s relationship (historic & present-day) to the seas.  My plan features extensive expansion into the parking lots, so there would naturally have to be new parking structures to make up for lost capacity (and add additional spaces for what would be a higher capacity park).   Blocking outside visual intrusions is one of the first requirements of a great theme park environment, so I added a planted berm (9m).   

Here is an aerial of the actual park:

And here are my conceptual and illustrative plans of a new Sea World:

This first 'port' is an area that includes not only a substantive part of the park itself but the new deluxe resort hotel and the outside-the-gate dining and retail area.  Seaward Harbor is an amalgam of American coastal villages set in the 1880-1940 period.  This is a setting designed to evoke nostalgia, tranquility, comfort and friendliness – the MS:USA of the park.  Clapboard, dinghies under repair, ladies with parosols, natural cedar shingles, wooden lobster traps, etc… the buildings, characters (e.g., salty old seadog) and environments are drawn from the historic Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts.   The existing Rocky Point Preserve and Shamu Stadium would be incorporated into this aesthetic with only minor architectural changes. 
Tier I theme parks are destinations and thus support resort hotels.  Like MiraCosta and Grand Californian, the Seaward Harbor House is part of the show and forms the southwestern berm to the park.  It is inspired by the old, asymetric seaside hotels.
 I reconfigured the entry plaza of the park to create better flow and to add a harbor/dock area with historic fishing and sailing boats - and to open vistas to the park’s new central icon.  Replacing the skytower, this park’s “castle” would be a turn-of-the-century lighthouse sitting atop a rocky cliff overlooking the Harbor.   I drew a quick concept elevation:

Cross a bridge from the entry plaza and visitors go back millennia to a world of classical mythology.   The Sesame Street area gives way to a much more elaborately-themed and landscaped kids area, featuring a pair of sea-based spinners and an exploration zone themed to Poseidon’s ruined temple.  Animal Connections is replaced by an elaborate family boat ride (akin to PotC) based on the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts.  The superstructure & track of Journey to Atlantis remain intact, but a rockwork mountain, additional landscaping and new Atlantean ruins (enclosing show-scenes) are built around it - creating a monumental edifice from what it a now a lightly-themed water-coaster.  The southeastern berm helps minimize outside visual intrustions and creates a sense of seclusion and wilderness.

This port takes the excellent theme-ing of the current Wild Arctic habitats and blows it up to an entire land.  The buildings are themed as ice-covered scientific research stations (both Arctic & Antarctic) built into the black volcanic rock.   The Wild Arctic simulator building is given a control tower and additional rockwork.  The current penguin exhibit becomes the queue to the LPS Empire of the Penguin ride now being built in Orlando.  A craggy peak, remiscent of the geography of South Georgia Island, rises from the center of the land and houses an indoor-outdoor coaster on the scale of Big Thunder:

 The northern central section of the park is home to a port based on pelagic ocean wanderers (dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, etc.) and features Mediterranean architecture reminiscent of Monte Carlo (home to the famed Oceanagraphic Museum).  The Mission Bay Theater would be converted to house a version of Orlando’s new Turtle Trek show and the sea turtle habitat would take over the freshwater aquarium.  No sea animal evokes a primal emotion of fear more than the Great White Shark, so the Great White’s giant, supposedly extinct ancestor – Megalodon – is the subject of terrifying ‘undersea’ dark ride – an elaborate anchor E-ticket.  The current Shark Encounter underwater tube would become part of its queue. 

The final land focuses on the planet’s tropical waters and coral reefs.  Shipwreck Rapids remains mostly intact, with some rockwork  added to help conceal the Café & lift building.  Shipwreck Reef’s South Pacific environ transitions to a Balinese-Java-South China Sea locale that is home to Manta.   While Manta’s track remains the same, the very large area it covers is heavily altered with tropical lagoons and a great deal of new rockwork – inspired by the unusual outcroppings found around coastal Thailand.  
A new flagship restaurant for the park – Caylpso’s – overlooks Mission Bay, with outdoor seating available.  This area is given a colorful Caribbean design, with a whimsical carousel of sea creatures situated nearby.    The Tidal Pool and World of the Sea Aquarium are given over to tropical coral reef habitats.

That should do it.   Thoughts, comments, questions...


Anonymous said...

Great concept, as always... It's a pity that Disney doesn't have any real competition in the immersive theming department. Although Disney itself has strayed away from that ideal periodically, no other competitor has really stepped up to challenge the Mouse. While Universal has outdone Disney technologically for some time now, even their best themed Wizarding World...are full of visual intrusions and unembellished corners. A "Tier 1" Seaworld would be something special. Who knows maybe Disney itself could make this concept a reality in some country where there is no Sea World (they've already demonstrated that they can build a park starring live animals, so why not?).

- Tasman

Pastor_of_Muppets said...

Would be amazing if Sea World were willing to commit to something like this. I've always enjoyed visiting Sea World (Ohio, Florida, and the park this build-out is based on) and Busch Gardens parks, as I've always been a huge fan of both zoological parks and theme/amusement parks, so to see the two concepts combined here is really great. Nicely done.

kermitdefrog said...

I see you have finally reached the new frontier of SeaWorld on this blog. personally, I've never been to a SeaWorld before. But with your reworking of the park, I'd go there.

ProjectTurtle said...

Well Done. ive been to sea world in Orlando once and it was kinda average with theming and detailed exhibits. But yes sea world tier 1 would boost the parks story and natural terrariums etc... Especially the kraken roller coaster which should be redone if it is to be immersive in a world of luminance and mystery.

Mike said...

Very interesting that you picked a marine park for this update. If Sea World was a more well-rounded experience, sort of like how you have depicted the San Diego property, I would make sure to visit one.

The only Sea World I've been to was a very long time ago at the former Ohio park when I was a kid.

SWW said...

Thanks for the comments.

I agree there is something about a highly immersive/artful theme-ing that would draw me to such a SeaWorld park.

Dovetailing with Tasman's comment, I would love for some other cash-rich entity (here's looking at you, Oil Sheiks) to step up to Disney's level and create more adult/sophisticated/serious themed parks & resorts.

Disney owns the Disney-fan market. Why not try to get the people that normally abstain from Disney parks. I've drawn dozens of these non-Disney-but-Disney-level parks, a few of which I'll share in the future.

One of the very few real world examples is the Palace of the Lost City Resort in South Africa.

Pastor_of_Muppets said...

I've been hoping to see some more parks not necessarily Disney related, but on the same level. Have you ever thought about implementing this kind of theming and ride integration into a zoo setting?

SWW said...

^ I've drafted one original zoological park - a very large and elaborate plan - but, like Animal Kingdom, it is also a theme park with many rides/shows interspersed with the animal attractions. May post it one day...

I am definitely open to doing more zoos - particularly in the cage-less/fence-less style that Animal Kingdom did so well...

Anonymous said...

^^^ I checked out pics of Palace of the Lost City after you mentioned it. Looks similar / on par with the nicer themed Vegas resorts.

Speaking of rich Oil Sheikhs...check out pics of the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. Perhaps not so overtly intended as a "themed" property...and not in the realm of fantasy...but still very evocative.

- Tasman

Amaru said...

I don't understand why SeaWorld does not take this kind of approach. I love Frozen Realms and Mythic Shores

SWW said...

Thanks Amaru,


Dubai had/has a lot of interesting projects when it comes to entertainment design. Similar to the Madinat you linked, maybe surpassing it, is the new Old Town next the Burj Dubai.

Regarding the Palace of the Lost City, I personally would put it on the same level with Disney's best hotel efforts(MiraCosta, Wilderness Lodge, Grand Floridian, Grand Californian, etc (all pre-DVC)) (ie the best in the world) and a level above anything in Vegas. Vegas' best-themed (Paris, Ceasar's, Mandalay, Luxor, etc.)have some excellent work in the ground/lobby/retail/dining/pool areas but are burdened by the giant, blocky, out-of-scale guest room towers that dominate all of them (Aulani suffers from this exact same thing). PotLC on the other hand is designed holistically (like the classic, authentic grand hotels of the early 20th C.) so the guest wings are in proportion and in sync with the rest of the hotel.

I recommend a Flickr search to really see the myriad of detail that went into Lost City (created by the same company that built Atlantis in Dubai & Bahama)

protojimbo said...

Thanks for posting this - I love the treatment you've done.Having to keep a lot of the existing facilities must have made for some interesting challenges.I was curious about their waterfront location... It seems a shame that they are on the water yet only integrate a small corner of open water into the park and the rest is lined by a service road. Is it because of unwanted visuals across the water? I really like the transformation of the entry area with the body of water and lighthouse - a great improvement! as far as the discussion regarding all the new parks in Dubai... The boom in Tier I parks is definitely overseas these days, but Americans traveling to the Middle east as a pleasure destination is a bit of a tough sell - do you think the market in the US really that locked up? I'd love to see what you did here happen across the board to American 'amusement' parks - I'd be happy with fewer of them if they were higher level. I guess the question is - if Disney makes so much money in their parks, why haven't more companies followed suit? And, for this project, how much more traffic would these Tier I improvements actually drive to the park? I know it would work on me...

protojimbo said...

Wow - Palace of the Lost City in S.Africa is pretty amazing!

Anonymous said...

^^^ Just speaking for myself, I wasn't talking about opening any parks in Dubai...just pointing out one resort there which has a aesthetic inspired by traditional mid-eastern architecture and could be thought of as a "themed" property.

If they did open a "Tier 1" park somewhere in the mid-east, I don't think anyone would expect it to be dependent on vacationing Americans. There is sufficient wealth in the Middle East and adjacent areas to sustain a few such parks without reliance on any Western visitors. While I don't think times are right for a "Disney" park in the region, I think a more culturally neutral offering along the lines of Sea World could work quite well.

- Tasman

kermitdefrog said...

I'm soon going to post my ideas for Disneyland Rio on my blog ( I was wondering if you could do a Site Plan when I post it.

SWW said...

^ I will happily take a look, but can't make any promises as to doing a site plan.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.