As eyes slowly turn towards reopening a post-COVID-19 world, we’ve been inundated with one question over and over again:
“Will Pantheon and/or Aquazoid Amped open in 2020?”
Obviously, until Busch Gardens Williamsburg makes an announcement one way or the other, we’re unlikely to know for sure. What we do know, however, is that there is a very real chance we won’t see either of those additions debut this season.
In SeaWorld’s first quarter conference call earlier this month, Marc Swanson, the chain’s acting CEO, stated the following regarding the possibility of 2020 project delays:
Depending on when we are allowed to reopen, we will make the decision as to whether or not the unfinished projects are completed for the 2020 season or pushed into 2021.Marc Swanson, Q1 2020 Investor Call Transcript
Delays this substantial seem unlikely for many of the chain’s major 2020 attractions. SeaWorld San Antonio’s new wooden coaster, Texas Stingray, already opened. Busch Gardens Tampa’s enormous hyper hybrid, Iron Gwazi, was already well into testing when the parks closed. The same is true for SeaWorld San Diego’s new dive coaster,
Mako Emperor. Over at SeaWorld Orlando, we haven’t seen any evidence of full cycles, but we know Ice Breaker was going through transfer track programming/testing prior to the shutdown. Now for the contrast: Pantheon.
As far as we know, Pantheon has yet to do any actual coaster testing. Evidence emerged showing some pull-through clearance testing before Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced they would be delaying their 2020 season, but that’s the last indicator of progress we have observed.
Furthermore, we have yet to see any evidence that Pantheon has a full train installed on the track or even simply on-site. The pull-through only used half of a train; and the official photos Busch Gardens Williamsburg shared in early March seemed limited to the the same two cars.
Making matters even worse, thanks to court documents dug up by ParkFans member and friend of the site, Jahrules, we now have reason to believe construction may have ceased even sooner than previously thought.
On March 13th, Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced that the park would be unable to open on March 14th (one day later) due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in America. Within a few days of that news, we heard from multiple sources familiar with the park’s ongoing construction projects that worksites across property had fallen silent. At the time, we assumed work was suspended following the park’s delayed opening announcement. That said, the civil court case Jahrules uncovered suggests otherwise.
On March 11th, Henderson Incorporated—a long-time construction contractor for Busch Gardens Williamsburg—filed a mechanic’s lien against SeaWorld in the Williamsburg/James City County circuit court. Though the online details of this particular civil suit are slim, considering the Orlando Sentinel’s recent reporting regarding SeaWorld Orlando’s refusal to pay contractors on time in the wake of COVID-19, it’s easy to imagine what Henderson’s lawsuit likely entails.
In responding to the Orlando Sentinel’s piece, SeaWorld made it clear that while they intend to pay these debts, funds would be delayed due to the impacts of the coronavirus.
Our vendors, suppliers, contractors and subcontractors remain extremely important to us and we greatly appreciate their understanding and patience during this unprecedented time. We have communicated to them that during the temporary closures in which 90% of our employees are furloughed, payments may be delayed. We have every intent to fulfill our obligations and will work individually with them to address concerns.SeaWorld’s Statement to the Orlando Sentinel
That said, for Henderson to have already filed a lien against the park by March 11th, it seems likely that SEAS 2020 construction in Virginia was experiencing issues and/or interruptions days before Busch Gardens Williamsburg admitted any doubts about their scheduled opening date publicly and, hence, before we had any reason to believe work would have been affected.
Regardless of the exact timeline, what do the inevitable delays resulting from this construction shutdown mean for Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2020 projects?
(Photo from our Late January Aerial Pantheon Construction Update)
We have heard that Pantheon was likely a month or so from being ready for the public, when work ceased. Given that estimate, even if work were somehow able to resume early next week (unlikely) at a pace equivalent to pre-COVID progress (unlikely), we’d still be lucky to see Pantheon open before the end of June.
Even if work does manage to resume early enough in the season to allow Pantheon to be completed before the end of the summer, there are legitimate questions about whether or not it even makes sense to open a major new attraction in this environment. When Busch Gardens Williamsburg reopens, we expect substantially reduced capacity with strict attendance caps and heavily modified operations procedures across property.
Pantheon is a major addition for Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Arguably, it’s the most important attraction debut for the park since Griffon opened in 2007. Does it really make sense to push for a mid-to-late summer opening during a time when the marketability and potential impact is this low? I don’t know the answer, but I imagine SEAS is doing a lot of number-crunching to try to figure out how their investment can be best maximized.
Pantheon may currently be adrift in some choppy seas, but from what I can surmise, the situation over at Water Country USA is downright treacherous.
For anyone who hasn’t kept up with our reporting, Water Country USA has a still-yet-to-be-officially-announced 2020 project for which construction has long been underway. Aquazoid, the park’s largest family raft slide, went under the knife over the off-season ahead of a really substantial reimagining (previously known as Aquazoid Supercharged, but now believed to be Aquazoid Amped) scheduled to debut this year.
The last time we saw Aquazoid back in late January (photo above), the attraction’s entire tower and some of its slide pieces had been demolished. From what I understand, when the project came to a halt in March, there was still a ton of work to be done. Assuming the project was slated to be ready to open with Water Country USA for 2020, Aquazoid Amped could very reasonably have had another two months worth of work needed prior to its completion.
If that estimate is correct, even if work somehow resumed next week and progressed at the same pace as it did pre-shutdown, we’d probably be lucky to see Aquazoid Amped reopen by mid-to-late July. Considering the comparatively short Water Country USA operating season, even with this really optimistic timeline, it would only leave Aquazoid Amped less than two months of 2020 operation.
We’re trying to remain hopeful here so we’re not going to say we think Aquazoid Amped will be a 2021 project just yet, but be aware that the outlook for a 2020 opening isn’t exactly rosy.
It’s not just SEAS’ 2020 Virginia-based projects that are affected here either. Regardless of whether or not Pantheon is delayed until 2021, it becomes more and more likely by the day that the multi-launched shuttle giga coaster we’ve been reporting on for ages now (plan pictured above) will be delayed until 2022. Frankly, though we currently don’t believe it’s super likely, there is always a real risk the project could even be shelved entirely before crews actually break ground in Festhaus Park.
There shouldn’t be doubt in anyone’s minds that these are dark days for the amusement industry. The fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak in America will be felt for years to come—not just through capital expenditure cuts and delays, but through the inevitable budget cuts throughout other parts of the park experience as well.
Don’t get me wrong, the cuts are going to hurt. That said, they will be necessary and we should be mindful of that in the months and years ahead.
Might one of your favorite shows be cancelled in the wake of this? Yes. Might one of the new attractions you’ve been looking forward to be delayed for a while? Yep. May park improvement efforts take a backseat to post-COVID stabilization efforts? Definitely. Accept that things are going to be rocky for a while because they will be.
Instead of petulantly complaining about the cuts on Facebook (yes, we’re talking about you, “Stand with SeaWorld”), if you can afford to do so, help prevent them.
How? Keep your passes active. Consider upgrading your membership, booking a tour, or buying some Quick Queues to use later in the season. Hell, jump aboard the pin trading bandwagon and buy some Busch Gardens pins from the SeaWorld online store. They have an amazing new collection of Nanocoasters too—including one for Pantheon.
Anyway, all that said, I’m sorry if things took a preachy turn there at the end. To answer the question in the title for this article, we don’t know if we’ll get to experience Pantheon or Aquazoid Amped in 2020, but we do know that more sad news is likely on the horizon before things get better.
To stay up to date with all things Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA though this unprecedented time, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! I swear we have less depressing content in the works! ?
BGW Project 2020
BGW Project 2021
WCUSA Project 2020