SeaWorld San Diego has hired a new Disneyland president, which is preparing to debut a highly anticipated dive roller coaster in March, as well as a new Sesame Place theme park.
Jim Lake, who becomes the marine park’s fourth president in six years, arrives at a pivotal time for SeaWorld, which is not only still recovering from the pandemic closure of its rides and attractions, but is also two months away from opening. a new theme park. The water park, Aquatica in Chula Vista, is being transformed into Sesame Square, themed to the popular children’s show Sesame Street.
While Lake was named president of both SeaWorld and Sesame Place in November, when the late President John Dunlap was still in charge of both parks, his nomination was not announced until Thursday. SeaWorld spokeswoman Tracy Spahr said “we wanted to give him some time to settle in” before making the announcement. Dunlap, who was once director of the San Diego Zoo and joined SeaWorld last May, left SeaWorld for personal reasons and has since moved to the East Coast, Spahr said.
On the same day that SeaWorld announced Lake’s appointment, it also released a March 12 opening date for Emperor, billed as the tallest, fastest, and longest dive coaster in California. While the major new attraction was originally scheduled to debut in the summer of 2020, its opening date has been postponed a few times due to the pandemic and the need to cut costs amid COVID-19 closures.
The coaster, which will reach a height of 153 feet, will feature inversions, a barrel roll, Immelmann loop (a roll-off-the-top), hammerhead turn (a cartwheel-like spin), and flat spins along its nearly 2,500 feet. of track.
Meanwhile, Sesame Place, the first on the West Coast, will open in March, although SeaWorld’s leadership has not yet announced a specific date. The new park will retain all of Aquatica’s water attractions, though they’ve been re-themed in keeping with the Sesame Street branding, Lake said. A total of 900 people will be hired to staff the park – 300 more than Aquatica. So are singers, dancers and other performers for the theatrical elements of Sesame Place.
Lake, who has extensive experience in the theme park arena, has spent most of his career at Disney, beginning in 1989 through the Walt Disney World College Program. After ten years at multiple Disney parks, he left for Palace Entertainment, a leisure park operator, in 2003 as director of operations. Three years later, he returned to Disneyland and eventually worked his way up to general manager where he was responsible for day park operations.
SeaWorld, Lake said, has always held a special draw for him, and being able to lead the park after a 30-year tenure at Disney marks a major turning point in his career in the hospitality industry.
“I really like the animalistic aspect of this park, you can’t get that anywhere else, and I also like the theme park element of it, so it’s a combination of those two things,” said Lake, 55. place where there is something for everyone to experience, which makes it a special place.”
He noted that the biggest challenges in completing Aquatica’s makeover are similar to those faced by so many others: labor shortages and delays in acquiring parts and construction materials due to supply chain bottlenecks. More recently, hiring has gotten a little easier, and Lake said he doesn’t foresee labor problems delaying the opening of Sesame Place in March.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, SeaWorld sometimes struggled to rebuild its presence after continued criticism of the way it treated its orcas, a problem caused by the 2013 release of the anti-captivity documentary “Blackfish.” Then the pandemic hit and the marine park, like all theme parks, had to survive a lengthy shutdown that decimated revenue for its parent company, SeaWorld Entertainment, which has a portfolio of 12 parks.
Lake said the visit was strong and appears to be comparable to the number before the pandemic. Monthly revenue to the City of San Diego for SeaWorld’s leased site on Mission Bay confirms that. In June and July last year, during what would normally be the park’s busy season, the park paid the city more than $3.2 million for its lease, which is tied to permits and purchases in the park. During those same two months in 2019, revenue for the city was about $100,000 less.
One of Lake’s goals, he said, is to eventually make SeaWorld the “employer of choice” in San Diego County, though he didn’t provide details on how that will be achieved.
“I really want our employees to enjoy working here. I walk through the park every day and I know we have opportunities to make it a great experience,” he said. “Wages and benefits are important for everyone, but it’s also important for us to be a team. are that care about them and interact with them every day, and I’ve seen that earlier in my career and hope to foster that environment here.”
He noted that SeaWorld, like many theme parks, hosts a number of events throughout the year to attract even more visitors, and plans to launch a new one in February tied to Mardi Gras. An important attraction, he hopes, will be the culinary offer.
“It will be a great opportunity to showcase great food and beverage products,” he said of the celebration, which will take place over the weekend. “We want to get to a point where the guests come to try our food because it’s so good so this will be one of our first attempts to showcase some food and drink. There is a po’ boy sandwich the team put together with shrimp that is delicious.”
Lake, who also serves as an adjunct professor of hospitality and tourism management at California State University, Fullerton, plans to move from Orange County to San Diego in the coming months.