After a nearly yearlong search for a permanent chief executive, SeaWorld Entertainment has announced Gustavo “Gus” Antorcha will take over the CEO post on Feb. 18.

“I am excited to join the SeaWorld team,” Antorcha said in a press release. “SeaWorld has an irreplaceable portfolio of incredibly valuable assets and brands and provides guests with highly differentiated and inspiring experiences. The organization has an outstanding group of dedicated employees who, together, have a clear focus on improving execution, enhancing the guest experience and growing revenue, profitability and free cash flow. I look forward to working with this talented group to enhance and accelerate these efforts and to help realize the full potential of this business for all stakeholders.”

Antorcha is coming off an eight-year tenure as chief operating officer of Carnival Cruise Lines.  Before that, he was a partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, consulting clients in the travel and leisure industries. He graduated magna cum laude from Duke University and earned his MBA at Stanford University.

SeaWorld board chairman Yoshikazu Maruyama said Antorcha has a “unique combination of strategy, operations and leadership skills make him the right person to lead SeaWorld through its next phase of growth.”

“Gus helped deliver strong financial results and improved guest satisfaction at Carnival by leading efforts to optimize pricing, improve onboard marketing and communications, introduce new guest experiences and drive capital and cost efficiencies – all core to SeaWorld’s current strategy,” Maruyama said.

Since the departure of Joel Manby in February 2018, the company has been led by interim CEO John Reilly. Despite speculation Reilly would be named permanent CEO after overseeing a year of steady attendance and revenue improvements across SeaWorld’s parks, he’s instead been appointed chief operating officer.

“We thank John for his significant contributions,” Maruyama said. “He is an outstanding leader and we look forward to him working with Gus to drive operational excellence across the Company.”

SeaWorld hopes to keep that momentum going in 2019 with new additions like the Sesame Street area at its Orlando park and the new Tigris coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. It has not entirely escaped controversy over the remaining killer whales used in its parks; the Jan. 28 death of 30-year-old orca Kayla at SeaWorld Orlando drew two days of protests from animal rights group PETA.

Photo credit: SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Gustavo Antorcha (SeaWorld)