The opening-day line on May 24 took four hours to get through, as it weaved past the dolphin theater and looped twice around the seal habitat. The draw was Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, the newest attraction at SeaWorld Entertainment’s Orlando theme park. The promise of 6,000 pounds of faux snow falling daily and up-close encounters with 230 penguins persuaded thousands to queue up in the Florida heat.
America’s passion for amusement parks is white-hot these days, driven by elaborate new attractions, sophisticated pricing schemes, and a desire to get out of the house—but not too far from home. “You would think that a business whose proposition is selling entertainment that requires disposable income would not do well” just now, says SeaWorld Chief Executive Officer Jim Atchison. “The reality is consumers have found great value in these kinds of experiences.”