SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) is hoping a new festival will help turn attendance around at its largest theme park. The Seven Seas Festival will take over SeaWorld Orlando on Saturdays between Feb. 11 and May 13. SeaWorld has had festivals before, but this one is more along the lines of the foodie-inspired oenophile magnets that rival Disney (NYSE:DIS) hosts at its Epcot theme park throughout the year.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is the gold standard of these events. For the past 21 autumns, Disney World's second-most visited park blends haute cuisine, high-end booze, and nostalgic musical acts. The multiweek fete has proved to be so popular that Epcot has a garden-themed springtime festival and earlier this month it introduced the Epcot International Festival of the Arts.
This won't be SeaWorld Orlando's first festival. Seven Seas Festival will be the combination of Bands, Brew, & BBQ -- the music-themed festival that became notorious when several bands dropped out in light of backlash following the Blackfish documentary -- and the Latin music-inspired Viva la Musica.
SeaWorld's Seven Seas is bringing back the musical element. Bands include throwback darlings Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Commodores. A few Latin icons including Oscar D'Leon and Olga Tanon round out the final few Saturdays to keep fans of Viva la Musica close.
A big difference here is that Seven Seas is putting fancy eats and drinks in the spotlight, a trick Disney has been pulling off for years. Attracting foodies with a culinary marketplace -- and Seven Seas is promising new Asian, Latin, European, Polynesian, and Middle Eastern delicacies -- and touting 55 craft brews is a move to upgrade the park's brand and possibly even clientele.
Putting on an Epcot-esque festival is just one way SeaWorld is trying to copy Disney as a way to cash in on the theme park giant's success. Let's go over a couple of other ways SeaWorld is learning for the Disney playbook.
Keepsakes for repeat visitors
Disney's annual passholders receive commemorative Food & Wine glasses if they come back a few times during the festival's run. This fall it was an etched-glass tumbler, available to passholders who would check in three times during the nine-week run.
SeaWorld is playing the same card. It's promising a commemorative Mason jar to passholders who check in at least three times during the Seven Seas Festival. Given SeaWorld's attendance struggles in recent years, getting its biggest fans to come back more often is a smart thing to do.
Pay up for the good seats
Regional and national theme parks host music festivals all of the time, and the entertainment is typically available to park guests at no additional cost. Disney unearthed a way to cash in on the music component, offering choice seats to folks paying up for premium dinner packages.
SeaWorld has offered up the best seats for its musical acts to those willing to pay before. It has offered up packages that include samples of the festival's special treats with reserved seating. It's offering premium seating this time around, too.
And that's not the only way SeaWorld is cashing in on premium experiences. This Saturday it's offering a preview for passholders, allowing them to pay $19 to meet one of the chefs and sample some of the more than 40 international dishes that will be available next month when the festival begins.
SeaWorld has a long way to go before it can be in the same league as Disney in terms of theme-park attendance. On an average day, SeaWorld's busiest park has less than half as many guests as Disney World's least visited park. However, if you're going to copy someone, you may as well copy the leader. SeaWorld's making smart moves with this new SeaWorld Orlando event, and now it's time to see if crowds will respond to the meandering operator's push to go more upscale with the Seven Seas Festival.