SeaWorld Keeps Betting on Thrill Rides

SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE: SEAS) has yet to open the watery thrill ride that was supposed to be the big draw at its most visited theme park this summer, but that isn't stopping it from making plans for next year at one of its other nearby attractions. SeaWorld Entertainment announced on Wednesday that it will open a new roller coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa early next year, even as delays at getting the Infinity Falls raft ride up and running at SeaWorld Orlando continue.

When it opens in the springtime of next year, Tigris will be Florida's tallest launching coaster. It will catapult guests up a 150-foot incline before sending them barreling through a short series of inversions. It's a relatively small coaster -- taking up just 1,800 feet of steel track -- but the park is promising another potentially bigger thrill ride coming in 2020 in the area where the Gwazi dueling wood coaster has been dormant for more than three years.

It's not just Tigris that will be hitting new highs. SeaWorld Entertainment stock has more than doubled in 2018, and on Wednesday the shares hit their highest levels in more than four years. SeaWorld is doing a lot of things right these days, and Wall Street's starting to notice.

Changing the subject

SeaWorld Entertainment has turned to coasters, water rides, and other immersive attractions to draw thrill seekers. It's not necessarily turning its back on the controversial killer whale shows that have attracted guests and protestors alike to its three namesake parks, but it is hedging its bets by building out the kind of thrill rides that younger visitors susceptible to picking up protest signs after streaming Blackfish would be attracted to.

The strategy is working. Revenue has risen 8.7% through first half of the year, as turnstile clicks increased and folks continue to spend more once inside a SeaWorld theme park. Revenue through the first half of 2018 is up a hearty 8.7%, setting the stage for SeaWorld's first year of top-line growth since 2013. Attendance is rising across its various attractions, and guests are spending more once they get there.

Tigris won't be a major addition to Busch Gardens Tampa's already impressive arsenal of scream machines. It will actually be one of its smaller coasters. However, a similar ride has been credited for the surge in turnstile clicks this year at the original SeaWorld San Diego park. Opening a similar ride three time zones away won't detract from its appeal in Florida, and it will make it that much easier to make sure that it opens on time.

Infinity Falls was supposed to be drenching visitors at SeaWorld Orlando during the peak summer travel season, but construction delays and other obstacles have prevented that from happening. Park guests hoping to cool off during the hot Florida summer may not be happy, but shareholders don't seem to mind. SeaWorld Entertainment is hitting it out of the park as an investment, and now Florida theme park visitors will have two new rides to check out in the coming months.

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