SeaWorld Antarctica opens with trackless ride and up close penguins

Posted on Jun 2, 2013 | Comments Off on SeaWorld Antarctica opens with trackless ride and up close penguins

SeaWorld Antartica

Sarah SekulaNBC News contributor

May 30, 2013 at 8:46 AM ET

Besides the penguins, SeaWorld Antarctica features a unique trackless ride.

Meet Brian Morrow. He’s slightly obsessed with icebergs, wind patterns and cold-weather penguins. All for good reason, too. For the past three years, he’s been part of the creative team that conjured up SeaWorld Orlando’s latest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, which opened last week.

As the senior director of attraction development and design at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, it’s his job to make this new “realm” feel like a tantalizing tundra, from the shimmering faux glaciers to the 2,500 handblown icicles made of Pyrex.

“We wanted to take guests somewhere that they might not go on their own,” he said. “And there is no greater adventure than a journey to the bottom of our planet.”

It’s an elaborate adventure, indeed, that includes a first-of-its-kind family thrill ride, an expansive penguin habitat, underwater viewing area, gift shop and restaurant. With a footprint of nearly 4-acres, it is the largest expansion project in the park’s history.

First up: the newfangled high-tech ride. But before hopping aboard, guests shuffle through rooms where the temperature gradually drops, preparing them for extreme temps at the end of the ride. Meanwhile, an animated pre-show introduces the star, a baby penguin named Puck. Then, guests choose their level of adventure: “wild” or “mild. ”

“The ride had a sensation of gliding over ice just as a penguin would,” said Lake Mary, Fla., resident Susie Guyers, who experienced the ride at a preview event. “We didn’t know which direction was next; it wasn’t a set path.” That’s all thanks to a trackless system, which allowed engineers to create 32 different ride scenarios.

Even cooler, though, is what comes next. The ride exits into a 30-degree penguin palace with varied levels of fake rocks, a swimming area and a 2-foot wall that serves as the only barrier between guests and birds. The 6,125-square-foot habitat is home to 245 Gentoo, Rockhopper, Adélie and King penguins, which were the main attraction for Guyer.

“We were so close we could have gotten splashed,” she said. “The penguins were really active; they were diving up out of the water and back in. It truly felt like we were no longer in Florida.”

Her only complaint was that the queue was not interactive.

Once you exit the habitat, Expedition Café is a few steps away. Here, it’s easy to imagine being a research scientist fueling up for the next big excursion. The menu includes American, Asian and Italian-inspired meals ($5.99 to $11.99) and regional and international beers.

Overall, Orlando is set to lure in crowds this summer.

“Antarctica will pull in a huge number of families,” said Duncan Dickson, who teaches theme-park management at the University of Central Florida. “Transformers 3-D [at Universal Orlando] will appeal more to the 16-34 demographic. But don’t discount Enchanted Tales with Belle and Be Our Guest [at Walt Disney World]. They will continue to draw as well.”

And it doesn’t end there. Universal Studios Florida will open a new Simpsons-themed area this summer and “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley” in 2014.

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