by Paul Ruben
This spring I visited SeaWorld Orlando for the opening of their cool new attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin.
Guests are transported on custom-designed ride vehicles through several ice caves as they view rear-projection animated video depicting the life of a young penguin, Puck. The payoff comes at the end of the ride when visitors meet live penguins, who stand on icy rocks or swim, seemingly gaping right back at the shivering humans. One way or another, the encounter sent chills down my spine.
It was 90°F (32°F) in the park, but 30°F (-1°C) in the penguin rookery. Nevertheless, I was there to embrace the penguins. No, not just enjoy them, but embrace them. Well, at least touch them, as I did previously in Cincinnati at the Newport Aquarium’s Penguin Encounter. But that was not to be, no penguin touching at SeaWorld. At least until two days after my visit, when a penguin jumped from the water and waddled fearlessly among the onlookers. So I did the next best thing. I went to the gift shop. It had everything for the penguin lover. The store’s penguin-shaped displays are packed with splendid penguin-related items. A plush Puck is expected to be the popular take home treasure.
In the gift shop I could touch all the penguin plush one could imagine, but I found something even better, a penguin “Cup That Cares”. You put it together yourself, just like Mr Potato Head. See? That’s my Cup That Cares in the photo. The reusable cup promotion encourages thirsty SeaWorld guests to reuse materials and reduce their carbon footprint. An RFID chip embedded in each cup interacts with the Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers and tells drinkers how they are being more environmentally responsible by choosing to re-use. I thought it would be environmentally responsible to use my cup for Budweiser, but settled for Diet Coke.
The purpose of my visit was not only to enjoy Budweiser, but to review SeaWorld’s newest attraction. It transports visitors to Antarctica, the penguins’ home. Being at the bottom of the world, I was expecting SeaWorld had devised a way to transport riders upside down, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we were treated to a ride in an elaborate mobile simulator. The movements allow the riders to become at one with the storyline as they follow and mimic the young penguin’s adventures. The combination of a mobile, moving simulator with a trackless ride is a theme park first.
There are 18 species of penguins found in the southern hemisphere. Of these, SeaWorld’s Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin has five: Gentoo, Adelie, King, Rockhopper and Cinderella. The Gentoo is a large penguin with a white band on its head. As its name suggests, the King is the largest, with a black head, chin and throat, plus vivid orange, tear-shaped patches on each side of the head. The Adelie is the classic-looking penguin, medium-sized with a tuxedo appearance. The Rockhoppers are easy to spot with their brightly coloured crests and red eyes. The rare Cinderella penguin? That’s the one with the glass flipper.