Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

A Disney World Rival Sets Its Sights on 2020

By Rick Munarriz - Updated Apr 15, 2019 at 11:27AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

SeaWorld is clearing the way for some big thrill rides in Florida next year. There's no point competing with Universal Orlando this summer or Disney World later this year.

SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS 2.94%) is putting the finishing touches on the new Sesame Street area for young families that it plans to introduce at SeaWorld Orlando next week, but the country's third largest theme park operator has bigger plans for 2020. It's the right approach for SeaWorld at its biggest park in its most financially significant market.

This year, it isn't going to be able to keep up with Disney (DIS 3.30%) or Comcast's (CMCSA 1.52%) Universal Orlando. The chain may have carried momentum coming out of 2018 -- beating its rivals in attendance growth as well as stock gains last year -- but its better-financed peers are making big investments that SeaWorld can't and won't match. The opportunity to turn heads will come next year, and SeaWorld Entertainment will be ready.

Manta roller coaster at SeaWorld Orlando.

Image source: SeaWorld Entertainment.

It's a gap year for Shamu

The back-in-favor theme park chain filed several building permit applications with the county earlier this week, according to the Orlando Business Journal. There aren't a lot of details here beyond an estimate of the early work setting SeaWorld back at least $7 million. However, the permits do address modifications for lockers, all but guaranteeing that this will be a thrill ride requiring guests to stow their belongings outside. 

SeaWorld Orlando will need to come up big after settling for a Sesame Street makeover as its major addition for 2019. It has also struggled with keeping last year's new ride -- a river raft ride called Infinity Falls -- consistently in operation. It's just as well, since Disney and Comcast are investing in bar-raising attractions. Universal Orlando is set to open Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, a one-of-a-kind family-friendly roller coaster with immersive theatrical elements. Disney will counter two months later with the first phase of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the resort's most ambitious expansion in 21 years.

It also doesn't help that SeaWorld is breaking in a new CEO. Cruise line industry vet Gus Antorcha was tapped as the chain's new helmsman last month. Earlier this week SeaWorld announced that John T. Reilly -- the interim CEO who retreated back to his COO role after Antorcha was hired last month -- would be leaving the company by the end of this month.

It's understandable why Reilly would step down after not being chosen to be the chain's permanent CEO. Attendance at SeaWorld's collection of parks rose 8.6% in 2018, more than any of its larger or even smaller peers. The stock soared 63% last year, also outpacing all of the publicly traded theme park and regional amusement park operators. 

Check out the latest earnings call transcripts for SeaWorld Entertainment, Disney, and Comcast.

There are no guarantees that the coast will be clear in 2020. Disney has several new rides and attractions that have been announced to open by 2021, and a few will likely debut next year. Universal Orlando is more tight-lipped about its pipeline, but it is starting to clear land for what many believe will be a Jurassic Park-themed roller coaster. 

SeaWorld has already gone official with its commitment to making its mark in Florida -- home to nearly half of its dozen theme and water parks -- in 2020. It's promising to build a record-setting coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa that will open next year, and now it seems as if it will provide another thrill-packed bookend to SeaWorld Orlando. Taking a breather in 2019 after all the momentum and credibility it regained last year may seem like a gamble, but it will have plenty of chips on the table come next year.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$121.57 (3.30%) $3.88
Comcast Corporation Stock Quote
Comcast Corporation
$40.00 (1.52%) $0.60
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. Stock Quote
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.
$54.24 (2.94%) $1.55

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 08/15/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.