Preview: SeaWorld Orlando sets Antarctica opening date as May 24, offers first look behind the walls in construction tour

in Entertainment, SeaWorld Orlando, Theme Parks

“Welcome to the bottom of the world.” It’s the tagline that says it all for Antarctica, the new themed area under construction at SeaWorld Orlando that was announced today to have its grand opening on May 24, 2013.

Beyond the opening date, new details about what will be included in this new “realm” were revealed during a construction tour led by creative director Brian Morrow.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

When it opens, Antarctica will feature icy rock formations housing a unique trackless ride, closer-than-ever encounters with penguins, specialized dining, and, naturally, a gift shop.

Today it’s very much still under construction, though entirely on schedule according to SeaWorld. Paths that will one day appear as ice are currently covered in gritty dirt and scaffolding hides half of what will become glowing white and blue snowy structures. Nothing is complete in Antarctica quite yet, but enough has taken shape to warrant SeaWorld showing it off, pairing under-construction views with scale models in their on-site “war room.”

Let’s take a tour of Antarctica…

Video: Construction tour of Antarctica at SeaWorld Orlando with creative director Brian Morrow

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

The scale model that sits on the construction site aids workers as they build Antarctica, surrounded by walls lined with real-life reference photos of snowy terrains. The new area will have an entrances/exit at each end of a linear path, forcing guests to become engaged in the story SeaWorld is telling.

The larger of the two entrances will be marked by a grand icy archway and a sign welcoming guests into Antarctica, as seen on the model below.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

Today that entrance is hub of activity as workers shape rocks to form the arch.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

It’s the other side of Antarctica, across from SeaWorld’s “Atlantis” ride, that’s far closer to completion, offering a better glimpse at what the new realm will look like when completed.

First the scale model:

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

And here’s what it looks like today:

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

But the white coat of paint is just a primer. Ultimately SeaWorld’s goal is to realistically recreate the glistening look of Antarctica with multiple layers of a variety of materials that will shine in the sunlight and glow under special lighting at night.

Just a hint of this ice-like material is currently being installed:

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

The contrast between freshly-sculpted rock and the freshly-painted version can be seen passing through that entrance area:

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

There’s obviously still much scenic work to be done before the grand opening.

But the visual highlight moment of the entire area is nearly complete, the entrance of Antarctica’s signature ride, Empire of the Penguin:

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

Morrow explained these are more than just nice looking rocks. They’re meant to resemble a mother penguin embracing her baby. Can you see it?

It’s through that opening that guests will enter Empire of the Penguin, a trackless ride that will offer take guests on a journey through Antarctica at a penguin’s eye view. In fact, the ride will follow one particular penguin character named Puck, a new mascot for SeaWorld who will not only be in the ride but also in the area for meet-and-greets.

The exact details of the ride itself are still a bit of a mystery, but guests will roam freely from scene to scene on round vehicles that will offer a smooth ride at times, but also some thrills throughout courtesy of moving motion simulators built in. Different thrill levels will be able to be selected when boarding to allow all guests to enjoy the attraction together.

Most importantly, the ride is being designed with fun in mind. SeaWorld’s most recently-opened attraction Turtle Trek is a bit heavy-handed with the preachy conservation message it prominently features. But Morrow insists that while educating SeaWorld guests about conservation and other important topics is important, that will be taking place after the ride for those who want to continue the experience in an interactive post show area.

The ride will rely on a variety of visual elements, most of which are still a secret. But SeaWorld is revealing that it will pass by the enhanced penguin encounter, which will also be a walking portion of Antarctica. Glass will no longer separate guests from penguins, allowing a better view of these creatures than ever before.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

A separate scale model shows the new penguin encounter area. Note the proximity of the little figures representing a visitor and the penguins.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

And for the first time at SeaWorld Orlando, there will be an underwater viewing area showing how agile penguins are when swimming, a stark contrast to their slow waddling on land.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

Beyond Empire of the Penguin, Antarctica will also feature a restaurant themed as a scientists’ “mess hall.” The exact menu has not been revealed, but Morrow said it would feature a variety of cuisines, indicative of what happens when groups of researchers traveled to the bottom of the planet and a handful become the “chefs” for the rest.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

The restaurant will feature both indoor and outdoor seating.

Nearby, a gift shop will sell plenty of new Antarctica merchandise. (Yes the sign is meant to read “Gifts” but the “t” had fallen off due to construction site use. Morrow said the model takes a beating.)

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

Alongside the gift shop is the wall of penguins in which all species of the bird from around the world are represented, stretching beyond Antarctica even to surprising locales like Africa.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

Antarctica is an immersive area, meant to make guests feel they have left SeaWorld and entered another realm. Even under construction, it does just that, with the only obvious element reminding visitors they’re in a theme park is the towering Manta roller coaster nearby. Morrow admits there was no way to hide it, simply happy that the track is blue to match the area.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

Back inside the “war room,” amidst photos of the real Antarctica hangs a map of the whole area, offering an overview of how all the pieces fit together.

Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando

Antarctica is intended to provide a next level of themed experience at SeaWorld Orlando. It’s more than just a single attraction but an entire area in which visitors can spend some time doing more than only riding rides but also exploring, eating, browsing, or even just sitting and relaxing. With icy rocks twinkling by day and shining under special lighting at night, it will surely be a welcome addition to the park, particularly in the hotter months. Regardless of the actual weather, the visuals are being created with the utmost care and authenticity, offering guests a chance to learn more about the real realm at the bottom of the Earth while also have a fun time.

More photos from the Antarctica construction tour at SeaWorld Orlando:


  1. Jeff Lynch

    Not sure how I feel about this.

    Do I really want to go inside a cold attraction when in Florida? I live in a cold state and when I come to Florida it’s in the winter…to escape the cold. So it feels a little weird to come to an Antarctica area.

    I wish they could have pulled off a Great White Shark area with a Great Barrier Reef setting. I know that they won’t be able to keep a great white alive, but they could get mako sharks to live in captivity and they are relatives of the great white. They could have done a Megalodon ride that would have been scary and fun.

    Come to think of it, they could have done a prehistoric seas area and showcased the life of the ancient planet. That would have been cool….nothing like that in the whole world.

    I like penguins and everything, but I guess the prehistoric stuff interests me more.

    1. DG

      The mascot’s name is PUCK? I can see this ending well with little kids who cant pronounce the letter P…

  2. bianca

    I think this is so cool! , I like the idea of it being cold because mainly in the summer I think this would be nice. See the park and use this place to see the animals and cool off

    1. Dave

      Jeff, the penguins apologize to you that they require a cold climate.

      This is going to be a fantastic exhibit, you really had to reach to try to find something negative here. Then you go off on a stream of consciousness rant that was better served to stay in your head.

  3. OT

    I just can’t wait to see this new addition.
    A uniek ride system, a uniek animal display and a beautifully enviroment. Once this would be considered the Disney standard but all they can do these days is boring omnimovers, princesses and movie franchises.

  4. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who had
    been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me breakfast because I found it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk
    about this issue here on your website.

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