It might feel like a strange new world. The hot ticket to see a theme park concert, nearly one year into the pandemic? It’s not Disney or Universal. It’s SeaWorld.

The smaller SeaWorld Orlando is the first theme park to begin a concert series following last year’s theme park closures and reopenings, starting Saturday to coincide with the Seven Seas Food Festival.

It’s a move the company’s interim leader Marc Swanson touted as part of the park’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

“That’s one more step to kind of getting back to normal,” Swanson said Friday in a phone interview with the Sentinel. “I’m just really excited that we’re able to do this.”

Saturday’s show features Air Supply, and other acts scheduled to perform this year include Vanilla Ice (is an “Ice, Ice Baby” a good tribute to SeaWorld’s soon-to-open Ice Breaker coaster?) and Night Ranger (you know them from the “Sister Christian” power ballad).

SeaWorld’s full 2020 concert schedule was upended last year as the pandemic forced all of Orlando’s theme parks to slash events and shut down.

In its return, Swanson said the roughly 4,500-seat Bayside Stadium will fill every other row. The park’s policy is to keep three empty seats on either side between separate groups.

“It’s a big venue,” Swanson said. “There’s going to be plenty of room for people who want to come and see this great lineup of concerts that we have.”

Masks will be required just like in the rest of the theme park, and a plexiglass shield on the front row separates the band from the crowd. At the end of the show, people will be dismissed at staggered times to limit crowds gathering.

In addition, SeaWorld plans to play the concert on speakers throughout the park for others to tune in from afar.

Like many tourism-related companies during the pandemic, SeaWorld was been hit with layoffs last year. The company disclosed it permanently laid off 1,900 furloughed employees in September.

Having the show goes on means SeaWorld depends on extra staff to work the stadium, set up the show and produce the concerts. Plus, higher attendance in the park from special events and more food/beverage sales means the company needs even more workers to run the park, Swanson said.

“It’s good for the economy... Without this event, we would not need those positions,” Swanson said, declining to provide specific figures on how many employees could return. “That’s furthering the process of getting back to what the theme park experience was like pre-COVID, and that’s obviously what we all want to get back to.”

Since reopening, Swanson said the company has adjusted and learned its safety measures as it hosted several events, including the Christmas festivities in Orlando, where the stadium became the site of an ice skating show, and its July 4 holiday fireworks show.

“It’s all outdoors,” Swanson said of the newest event. “It’ll be safe. It’ll be fun. And right now, more than ever, I think we need that, to be able to get out and enjoy time with our family and our friends.”

Seven Seas Food Festival, included in regular theme park admission, runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through May 9 plus Monday, Feb. 15, Presidents Day.

The upcoming concerts include:

Chris Janson — Feb. 21

Luis Enrique — Feb. 27

Easton Corbin —March 7

Vanilla Ice — March 13

Jeremy Camp — March 14

Scott McCreery — March 21

Night Ranger — March 27

Blue Oyster Cult — March 28

Craig Morgan — April 11

Joe Nichols — April 18

Edwin McCain — May 1

Jesse McCartney — May 8

Kansas — May 9

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