SeaWorld Orlando today announced plans for an expansion of its theme parks during 2012 and 2013, adding three new attractions with themes that span the globe. While Discover Cove will receive a new “flooded” rainforest area, the SeaWorld Orlando park itself will feature a new “hyperreal’ 3D movie as well as a whole new area and ride inspired by the frozen climates of Antarctica.
The announcements were made during an elaborate media event, which took attending press (myself included) through multiple rooms, immersed in themed lighting, projections, and even an icy tunnel.
The expansion reveal took place at SeaWorld Orlando’s Ports of Call, beginning with the announcement of Turtle Trek, a new 3D movie set to debut at the park in Spring 2012, located at the existing manatee rescue facility.
Video: SeaWorld Orlando announces Turtle Trek / Interview with creative director Brian Morrow
SeaWorld will utilize new technology, projecting the 3D film on a dome that guests step into, allowing lifelike images to appear not only around but also above viewers, who will don 3D glasses and stand (with optional lean rails) throughout the experience.
The movie itself, which represents the life journey of the sea turtle, will feature “hyperrealistic” computer generated imagery, offering saturated visuals shown at 13 times HD resolution. Behind the scenes, the six-minute movie will be shown via 34 projectors that seamlessly join images together using 368,000 lumens of light. A 3D sound system will bring surround sound to a new level, placing sound effects throughout the room using 22 discrete audio channels played back at 32,00 watts. But in the end, guests won’t see the technology behind it all, instead witnessing an immersive surround 3D movie experience like no other in Orlando.
But the movie itself is only part of the Turtle Trek experience, which begins with up-close encounters with manatees and sea turtles and ends with an interactive retail area, where purchases will trigger special effects within the store. From beginning to end, the whole experience will last around 18 minutes.
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin
Stepping beyond the stage in the round, press attending today’s announcement were surprised by an indoor icy environment, introduced by a frigid tunnel. And on the other side sat SeaWorld Animal Ambassador Julie Scardina, playing with a group of penguins.
Inside, the biggest announcement of the day was made as the major expansion of SeaWorld Orlando with a new area called Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. This new “realm” (other area parks often call them “lands” or “islands”) is said to be an expansion on the scale and scope of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando or New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
Video: SeaWorld Orlando announces Antarctica expansion / Interview with creative director Brian Morrow
Few specifics are released about SeaWorld Orlando’s Antarctica yet. It will open in 2013 and take the place of the existing penguin encounter, offering a much more complete and modern experience in its place. SeaWorld feels the stories of Antarctica are largely untold and the warm climate of Florida is a perfect place to offer guests an escape from the heat into an encompassing frozen region. And they say they have plenty of land to work with to help tell those stories, on the existing penguin encounter site as well as surrounding areas currently unused.
With icy peaks stretching as high as 55 feet in the air, guests entering into Antarctica are meant to feel as if they have stepped out of SeaWorld and have arrived at the south pole.
Amidst the sparkling terrain will be shops, dining, and a new ride – but SeaWorld isn’t saying much about the ride just yet. Guests will sit down and ride through what is being described as the world’s coldest theme park attraction. They decline to say just how cold it will be, but guests should get an authentic feeling of what it’s to be in Antarctica. And penguins will be involved, somehow. The ride will be thrilling, but also family-friendly, and will use state-of-the-art interactive ride technologies that haven’t been detailed yet. More information is promised as 2013 draws nearer.
Down the street from SeaWorld Orlando park, the Discovery Cove water park / day resort is also receiving another new attraction. When the Grand Reef recently opened , the park’s former saltwater reef closed to make way for what was today announced to be the Freshwater Oasis.
Video: SeaWorld Orlando announces the Freshwater Oasis for Discovery Cove / Interview with creative director Brian Morrow
Themed as a flooded rainforest trail, guests will wade and swim through the Freshwater Oasis, encountering creatures along the way. Though Discovery Cove features an elaborate aviary, this will be the first time the park combines land animals with a water experience.
Asian otters will swim side-by-side with guests, with the ability to “pop up” in surprising places, though still safely separated. Marmoset monkeys will swing through the trees that create an overhead canopy above the waters.
What’s a marmoset? Well, these cute little critters are:
In addition, an in-water “relaxation station” will offer refreshments and a chance to rest in the sun.
SeaWorld Orlando Expansion
Under the banner of “Waves of the Future,” over the course of 2012 and 2013, major changes are coming to SeaWorld Orlando and Discovery Cove, offering new experiences unlike anything else in Orlando’s many theme parks. Signs of construction will begin to appear as soon as January, with opening dates for Turtle Trek and Freshwater Oasis scheduled for Spring 2012. More Antarctica details are soon to follow, with no opening timeframe offered other than some time in 2013.
With the competitive climate producing major attraction expansions throughout Orlando, there’s never been a better time to be a theme park fan than now.
More photos from the SeaWorld Orlando expansion announcement: