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Busch Gardens possible site for second Sesame Place park

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

A new children’s theme park based on Busch Gardens’ current Sesame Street offerings could be coming to the Williamsburg park in the next three years, according to planning documents and a questionnaire sent out by the park’s parent company and confirmed by a park official Friday.

SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, based in Orlando, Fla., has sent out links to an online questionnaire, which asks people to weigh in on a proposed third park at Busch Gardens Williamsburg that would expand the park’s Sesame Street offerings into its own, full-fledged destination.

Busch Gardens senior communications manager Ron Vample confirmed that SeaWorld was surveying people to determine whether they want a Sesame Place in Williamsburg.

“We’re soliciting feedback from our guests to see if there’s any interest,” Vample said Friday.

Vample, who said the park regularly surveys visitors about its services and possible new attractions, said there was no timetable for a decision on whether Busch Gardens would be the site of a new Sesame Place.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg operates on 422 acres in James City County next to the Anheuser-Busch brewery. It introduced a new roller coaster, InvadR, in 2017 and on Friday unveiled to the public its virtual reality ride, Battle for Eire. Water Country USA is nearby in York County on 222 acres and is the largest water park in Virginia.

The proposed children’s park could be built in the current Busch Gardens’ France parking lot and would have four themed areas — dubbed The Neighborhood, Central Park, Forest of Fun and Seaside, according to concept art attached to the questionnaire.

SeaWorld operates a standalone, 55-acre Sesame Place in Langhorne, Penn., about 30 minutes north of Philadelphia, and has an agreement with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit media and educational organization behind Sesame Street, to build a second Sesame Place park by 2021.

The two companies announced the agreement last May, and it also gives SeaWorld the option of building additional Sesame Place theme parks in the United States.

The survey, which has more than 60 questions in it, seeks information on how likely people would be to visit a new Sesame Place Williamsburg, and where might people be open to visiting for leisure — the choices in the survey include Williamsburg, Myrtle Beach, Orlando or none of those areas. It asks people whether they have visited Sesame Place in Pennsylvania, or other amusement or water parks within a few hundred miles of Busch Gardens — including Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, Ocean Breeze in Virginia Beach and Kings Dominion.

It also asks whether people would be likely to visit a new Legoland children’s amusement park opening in 2020 in Goshen, N.Y., which won out over Stafford County in northern Virginia.

The survey also proposes prices of $59 for a single day entry to a Sesame Place Williamsburg, a two-park pass for $110 or a three-park pass for $130 and asks how likely people would be to visit at those prices.

“It seems like the new path forward they’re trying to focus on is the family market,” said Zachary Strader of BGWFans.com which, along with ParkFans.net, has reported news about circulation of the survey for Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

This year, Busch Gardens has expanded offerings in its children’s-themed area, Sesame Street Forest of Fun, which opened in 2009. From April 13 to May 20, the park will offer Sesame Street Kids’ Weekends, which include dance parties, scavenger hunts and story times with a different Sesame Street character each weekend. The park also will debut a new Sesame Street show, “Let’s Play Together.”

The park already has rides themed for Sesame Street, including Grover’s Alpine Express roller coaster, Prince Elmo’s Spire, the water attractions Bert and Ernie’s Loch Adventure and Elmo’s Castle, and Oscar’s Yucky Forest playground.

It is unclear how large the footprint could be for the proposed Sesame Place should it come to fruition at Busch Gardens. The children’s area at Kings Dominion, Planet Snoopy, is 14 acres, but that does not have a separate entrance or admission.

“Even the possibility of a new theme park in this day and age is a big deal,” Strader said.

Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance president and CEO Karen Riordan said she had not heard of the survey when asked, but said just its mention is a positive for Williamsburg as a destination.

“Certainly, conceptually, we’re pleased to see any company that would obviously be making a decision to invest more in a destination,” Riordan said. “Usually, it’s an indicator that they believe there’s a lot of potential in the area, and that they’re already doing well with the parks that they have.”

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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