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SeaWorld Orlando opens new Florida thrill park


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March 02, 2008

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Florida's already competitive theme park industry has a new player, catering to vacationers who want to enjoy thrill rides and see animals frolic at the same time.

SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica opened on Saturday, the first major addition in eight years to the world's leading theme park destination, featuring close-up animal encounters along with rides and water slides.

By bundling tickets to all three of its parks in one package, SeaWorld Orlando should boost its market share with Aquatica, said Joseph Couceiro, vice president of marketing for parent company Busch Entertainment Corporation, itself owned by Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos Inc (BUD.N: Quote, Profile, Research).

The opening comes on the heels of Busch's announcement of plans to build its animal-themed parks in the United Arab Emirates, with a first-phase completion date of 2012.

Couceiro said the expansion in Dubai would not hurt its Orlando business. "Dubai is in a totally different part of the world than what we typically draw from," he said.

Steve Baker, an Orlando-based theme park consultant who is also working on plans for a $1 billion Nickelodeon Marvel Comics (VIAb.N: Quote, Profile, Research) (MVL.N: Quote, Profile, Research) park in Dubai, dismissed the idea that competition with Dubai could affect business in Orlando.

"There's going to be as many parks in Dubai as there are in Orlando. I think Dubai is counting on having 15 million visitors by 2012," Baker said. "But Dubai's got to build this market. They've got to create it and it is years in the making."

He also said all Orlando theme parks would benefit from the ability of Aquatica to draw visitors to the area.

Aquatica, the first big new park in Orlando since SeaWorld opened Discovery Cove in 2000, features 36 water slides, six rivers and lagoons and an 80,000-square-foot sandy beach.

A slide called "Dolphin Plunge" goes through 250-foot-long clear tubes in the dolphin habitat. Paula Lessa of Orlando, a guest at the park on Saturday, said the slide was so fast she was unable to look at any dolphins.

Keith Miles, a guest who works as a lifeguard at rival Walt Disney Co (DIS.N: Quote, Profile, Research) water parks, said he liked what he called "parent-child interaction," especially the ability to ride on slides with his young grandchildren, rather than separately.

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