Sesame Place San Diego debuts, becomes year-round destination
AT: Tim Baldwin
CHULA VISTA, Calif. — To rewrite an old adage: the fourth time’s the charm. A water park known by multiple names has finally hit its stride by transforming into a Sesame Street-branded children’s wonderland. California has no shortage of theme parks, but the latest appears to have struck gold.
Sesame Place San Diego opened in late March, and crowds have flocked in to see all the changes. To fully understand the transformation, one must turn back time to 1997 when the water park known as White Water Canyon opened to the public. The San Diego suburb welcomed the water park, but for whatever reasons, it was soon sold to Cedar Fair after three seasons and renamed Knott’s Soak City U.S.A., a sister park to the one in Buena Park. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment found success with its Aquatica water parks in Orlando (2008) and San Antonio (2012). While 20 minutes from SeaWorld San Diego, the water park still made a viable cross-marketing option, and SeaWorld purchased the facility from Cedar Fair and gave it its third identity as Aquatica in 2013.
Announced in 2019 — and delayed one year as a result of the pandemic — the transformed Sesame Place San Diego now brings a synergy of the Sesame Street brand and dry rides to the former water park.
“All the water rides that were previously here are all still here,” said Jim Lake, park president. “When we put in the dry rides, we lost some seating areas for our food and beverage spaces, but we have recaptured that. An area that used to be a sand beach is now a grassy area.”
In the transformation, new relaxation spaces were created in addition to a retheme of all existing attractions.
The waterslides have all been freshened visually with new colors and new signage, most of which was done in-house.
“They’ve all been rethemed and now have the bright colors of the Sesame palette,” said Lake.
Because the former Aquatica had attractions to fulfill all tastes, even older kids can continue to enjoy the park.
“We believe there is something for everybody,” he said, even with the beloved children’s characters taking the spotlight. “That’s our hope. When we move into the summer season, we’re hoping to broaden that audience. The older siblings have a couple of thrill rides they can go on, and the younger siblings have things they can do.”
One complex saw alterations that broadened the audience. “We worked with the manufacturer to make modifications in order to take the height requirement out so anyone can ride,” Lake told Amusement Today. “With our transformation really focusing on young kids, we wanted to create as much capacity for them as possible.”
3dx Scenic was tasked to bring many of the iconic scenes from the program to life.
“Sesame Street is such an iconic brand that’s been a part of the childhood of so many generations. Being able to create a world where kids can go and experience the lessons the show teaches in real life was very special,” stated Rachael Claxton, 3dx’s scenic charge artist. “We hid a few fun Easter eggs throughout the park, which was cool to observe guests discovering them. Every paint treatment was meticulously planned and crafted. This is easily the most rewarding project I have taken part in.”
“The teams at SeaWorld Parks and Sesame Workshop are some of the most professional partners the team at 3dx is privileged to work with,” said Nate Thieme, 3dx’s vice president of scenic experiences. “They have a very defined vision as to what the final product is to be which makes delivering the vision a joy and pleasure, both here and at SeaWorld parks across the country.”
3dx created the floats used in the wildly popular parade held twice a day.
“We relish opportunities to work closely with our clients to bring their plans to reality. Over two years in the making, the rebranding of Aquatica to Sesame Place San Diego saw all of 3dx’s various disciplines in action as we fabricated a full set of character sculpts, scenic flats, the incredibly detailed Sesame Neighborhood and Elmo’s sandcastle,” said 3dx’s Senior Account Executive Mark Rosenzweig. “From fabricating the first Sesame Parade float for Sesame Place Langhorne back in 2017 through this incredible park transformation, the entire 3dx team is thrilled with the results.”
Several new dry rides complement the existing water attractions from ProSlide and WhiteWater West.
Zamperla provided a Crazy Bus, Samba Balloon and Midi Family Swinger, all themed to the Sesame IP. Chance Rides provided the Sunny Day Carousel, which it had done in several SeaWorld parks. Elmo’s Rockin’ Rockets was supplied by IE Parks.
“Although traditional horses are fun, a new and specific theme allows our team’s creativity to flourish,” said Jay Aguilar, vice president of marketing, Chance. “When working on custom projects such as the Sesame Place carousel, our artistic wings expand, and we get to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on something new and enchanting. We also enjoy the challenges that come with bringing our customers’ visions to reality.”
Interaction is key and lets kids burn off energy on Cookie Climb, manufactured by SunKid.
“Much of my career involved overseeing rides for the SeaWorld parks. The projects I worked on with Sesame Workshop were some of my favorites,” said Tim Viox of Leisure Labs LLC, which represents SunKid. “The characters are so iconic, so timeless, and so endearing … you can’t help but smile when you see them transformed into amusement rides! The trademark of the Sunkid product line is ‘unique and interactive family rides.’ The Sunkid Tower is perfectly designed to encourage parents to enhance their child’s experience by becoming part of it. The active participation by child and parent results in more and longer lasting memories for both.”
Parents also eagerly ride the roller coaster, Super Grover’s Box Car Derby, with their kids. It was supplied by Zierer.
“Zierer has had a long standing relationship with the SeaWorld group going back to various rides such as coasters that range from Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg to our kids coasters at SeaWorld and now Sesame Street,” said Bill Olsim, North America sales, Zierer. “This coaster hits the spot we were looking for when working with the SeaWorld design team. I had an opportunity to ride this coaster during the Grand Opening event. The kids I saw riding that night looked a little apprehensive while loading but transformed into a celebrating, conquering kid that wanted to ride again and again.”
Because the transformation was from a water park to a theme park, Sesame Place created a Know Before You Go video so that people had a better understanding of what to expect.
“At every attraction there is a sensory guide, and it rates every ride from one to 10 for each of the senses,” said Lake. The park is a certified autism center. “We also have two quiet rooms to offer decompression areas for those who need that.” There is a special viewing area for the parade for those with autism.
Employees receive training for autism, as well as the traditional SeaWorld impressions at orientation and the Sesame brand training.
“I had no idea how many Sesame Street fans there truly were,” laughed Lake. “People have come in with their Sesame Street shoes and everything they wear. The retail is very popular.”
Sesame Place is the second park by that name, with the original being in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Lake said that management from that property came over to help open the California property. “It really confirmed what we had learned from them,” he said. “[That team] helped advise on managing tight spaces of the parade.”
With an operational calendar stretching far beyond the typical summer “water park season,” the park is planning kid-friendly Halloween and Christmas events. The lazy river, island play area and wave pool have heated water and can potentially remain open off-season.
Compared to the seasonal nature under which the park previously operated, the year-round aspect of the new Sesame Place San Diego can create growth like never before.
“We have unused space we’re already talking about,” said Lake.