Without question, as I write this, there are bloggers and ride enthusiasts ripping apart Sea World Orlando’s newest addition, saying the ride is too much of a dud. My request? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. A few people that read my last article think, perhaps, Sea World paid me to give such a glowing review. If only that were true! I went in looking to be immersed into a world of ice and be blown away by the new penguin habitat – I was. Is the ride as immersive as Pirates of the Caribbean or as thrilling as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey? No, it’s not.
The vehicle’s motion is incredibly smooth and in my opinion, it’s the highlight of the ride experience. The visuals between the ice caves, lighting and projection are very pretty – but there are no moving robotic figures or cutting edge special effects. Here is an interview I did with Mike Denninger, Corporate Senior Director of Rides and Maintenance for Sea World Parks, where he talks about how the ride system works. Special thanks to Mouseplanet.com and JWL Media for for posting this.
As I mentioned in my first article, this is a family attraction and in doing so, Sea World wanted it to not have any big scares for small kids and they wanted to focus on the natural beauty of ice sculptures and the authenticity of the computer animated penguins. Could they have spent more money on the ride’s show scenes and made it a true E-Ticket? Sure. However, if you add money to the ride, it needs to be taken away from somewhere else.
Frankly, the rest of the overall experience of Antarctica is too much of a slam dunk to trim down. The new penguin exhibit after you disembark the ride vehicle is easily the best animal habitat in the park. The area is exquisitely themed, up close encounters with the penguins are amazing and the area is ridiculously cold.
The old Penguin Encounter at Sea World Orlando featured the animals behind a huge pane of glass that ran from floor to ceiling. Guests rode on a moving walkway past the encounter and got to view the animals from a nicely air conditioned room. The other side of the glass was kept at a chilly thirty two degrees, as it should be.
Glass be damned in the new Antarctica exhibit. Very little separates guests from penguins here, just some “ice” formations and a small pond that the penguins can swim in. You are in their environment now and there are tons of them including King, Gentoo, Rockhopper and Adelia. Ice falls freely from the ceiling to make it feel like home, and while it’s a nice break from the Central Florida heat, based on how tourists dress in the summer – you will most likely move on in about 15 minutes.
Another great feature is human interaction that wasn’t as easily accessible before. There are animal care specialists walking around the exhibit with the penguins that answer questions like: What do penguins eat? Do they breed within the species? How long do they sleep?
Having children who are curious about animals get their questions answered by someone who studies them could be just enough of a spark for that kid to study biology in the future.
Beyond the chilly unload habitat and through a revolving door lies underwater viewing. This area is also massive, but is deeper than it is wide. There are two levels where you can view the penguins and again, an Animal Care Specialist is usually on hand to answer any questions.
Just across from the attraction is Expedition Cafe. The theme of the restaurant is sort of a mess hall that has been set up for researchers. Since so few scientists travel to Antarctica and no one actually lives there, the culture of visiting researchers is diverse. The food offered in Expedition Cafe reflects multi-cultural cuisines that have set up camp in Antarctica over the years.
Sea World and Busch Gardens have some of the best food in any theme park. Period. Their culinary staff takes great pride in offering quality food at reasonable prices. I have an annual pass to Sea World and one of the primary reasons I bought it is just to be able to go grab lunch or dinner. If you’ve never tried their all day dining pass, it’s well worth it if you are going to be at the park.
Which is honestly part of the brilliance of Antarctica; they are following a trend that we have seen a lot in the theme park industry – particularly Orlando. Adding a new attraction helps spin the turnstiles for a few years until the next big thing comes along. Adding new dining and merchandise experiences increases the per caps in the park, which is huge for the bottom line.
Part of this trend is adding one-of-a-kind items that you can only find not only within a particular park, but only within that land of the park. Sea World Orlando is trying a new build a cup program that you can only buy in the Glacial Collections store within Antarctica. Imagine a Mr. Potato Head type of station that is similar to what you can find at Walt Disney World. But instead of a toy, the base is a usable cup shaped like a penguin. You can then accessorize your penguin, just like a potato head, with different types of eyes, shoes and props they can hold in their hand.
After taking your cup to the register, the cashier will activate an RFID chip embedded inside the base of the container that keeps track of how many times it has been used. One dollar from each “Cup That Cares” will go to Sea World’s Conservation Fund. In addition, they claim that 27 grams of Co2 are saved by drinking out of a reusable cup as opposed to using a disposable container. Reducing Co2 is the best way to reduce the greenhouse effect, thus preserving the polar ice caps and the real Antarctica.
Taking a page from Universal Orlando’s book in being the first to create its own non-alcoholic smash hit drink that you can only find in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Sea World Orlando now has its own unique beverage – Vanilla South Pole Chill.
Coca-Cola has created its own unique concoction and it’s available in their wildly popular freestyle vending machines. The non-alcoholic drink tastes a little bit like a cream soda with a shot of vanilla and only comes out of the Coca-Cola freestyle dispensers within Antarctica, along with the 100+ other sodas that are normally available.
For me, any new area in a theme park is defined by the amount of little details that have been added to give it a touch of charm. For example, these penguins embedded into the “ice floor” of the pre-show rooms.
Or the messages left from the condensation on the revolving door leaving the penguin habitat and transitioning into the underwater viewing area.
To see the rest of the details, you need to come to Orlando and check out Antarctica Empire of the Penguin yourself. If you are a type of person who hinges everything on just the ride experience – you may be disappointed if you compare it to other trackless rides like Mystic Manor or Pooh’s Honey Hunt. Those are great rides, but the bread and butter of Sea World is seeing animals up close and personal. In this case, they deliver above and beyond. The ride is merely a way to transfer you from the queue to the main attraction – penguins.