“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.
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
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.
Today that entrance is hub of activity as workers shape rocks to form the arch.
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:
And here’s what it looks like today:
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:
The contrast between freshly-sculpted rock and the freshly-painted version can be seen passing through that entrance area:
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:
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.
A separate scale model shows the new penguin encounter area. Note the proximity of the little figures representing a visitor and the penguins.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
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 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: