Just about a month ago, SeaWorld unleashed the single biggest expansion in park history. It’s not a ride, it’s not a shop…it’s a realm. Antarctica:Empire of the Penguins is a complete and immersive experience unlike any you’ve encountered. While the main focus is on the ride portion of the experience, it’s something that guests need to experience as a whole. We take you in for a closer look at the entire experience, bit by bit and tell you everything you need to know about Antarctica:Empire of the Penguins at SeaWorld.
Antarctica is a place with the harshest environment known to man. Extremely high winds, very low temperatures and little to no vegetation. It’s amazing that anything survives at all in this harshest of environments, yet…life thrives. Penguins are seemingly engineered for Antarctica, and they thrive by the millions. Many different species of penguin call Antarctica home where they not only have to contend with the cold weather but also the many predators. It’s all of this that SeaWorld wanted to bring to life with their all new attraction, Antarctica:Empire of the Penguin.
“Antarctica is a journey that very few humans ever have the chance to make” says Creative Director Brian Morrow “So few will ever get to because it’s so far away, but here at SeaWorld we are making it available to our guests in a scale and style that has never been done at our parks, much less any other park as well.”
Hear our entire chat with Brian Morrow:
From the huge rocky landscapes, to Penguin Rock, Antarctica delivers on the promise of taking guests to another place. But it’s one thing to look like you’re in another place. To pull off the whole illusion, you have to actually be taken to another realm from the get go. Everything needs to tell a story, all the way down to the restaurants and the gift shop. What is the story here? It’s of course all about the penguins, and what we can do to help. There are several ways that Antarctica pushes the education message, with the biggestbeing the “Penguin Wall”.
The penguin wall is exactly how it sounds, it’s a carve wall that features all 17 species of penguins. The wall is unique in the fact that gives you a look at the penguins from all over the world, and in a unique kind of “Easter Egg” way let’s you know which ones are native to Antarctica, and which ones are endangered or threatened. The penguins on the ground are from Antarctica, while the penguins further up the wall are further from Antarctica. Penguins live all over the globe naturally, including New Zealand, The Galapagos and even in Africa. While there are penguins all over the world, in many different climates, there are no penguins that live in the wild north of the equator. On the wall, the penguins are numbered. Their number correlates with a tile on the ground. The tile gives you the info on where the penguin lives, how big it is and the name. If the number is red, it is either threatened or endangered. If the number is yellow, it’s not threatened or endangered, yet.
Get a video overview of the entire new area:
More pictures of the realm:
With any new land, you need a new place to eat. The unique problem with Antarctica is how to do that without taking guests out of the realm,without making them think they are any place but Antarctica. The answer is the Expedition Cafe. The cafe takes on the role of being the place where all the countries that send scientists to Antarctica come to eat. In this place their different cultures mingle, and bring different cuisine from all over the world. While it represents everyone, the three cuisines are Italian, Asian and American. The cafe is a marketplace type of feel, versus the normal cafeteria feel of the rest of the parks restaurants. The cuisine sticks to typical fare for each different type. Asian you have things like Orange chicken, noodles and rice. Italian there are things like spaghetti, and lasgna, and in the American area you have fried chicken and mashed potatoes. There is a live garden where the park uses reclaimed water to grow herbs and vegetables using very little water. This showcases the real way in which scientists grow things in the harshest of environments. The realm even comes complete with it’s own specialty drink, as is all the rage these days. SeaWorld has teamed up with Coca Cola to bring Freestyle Machines to the park. In the Antarctica Freestyle Machines, guests can find South Pole Chill. South Pole Chill has the taste of “melting snow and magic” as Brian Morrow puts it. It’s actually a Sprite type drink with a very light vanilla flavor and what we found was a dash of mint. It’s very refreshing and not at all like your typical vanilla Sprite (which you can get at other Coke Freestyle machines throughout the park). South Pole Chill can only be found in Antarctica.
Get a video walkthrough of the new dining area Expedition Cafe:
More pictures of dining at Expedition Cafe:
The theme continues right down to the gift shop, which gives guests the chance to take a piece of Antarctica home with them. Everything from Penguin shirts, hats and even shoes can be found at Glacial Collections.
While our favorite souvenir is the replica of Penguin Rock, the huge landmark of Antarctica at SeaWorld, there are several other pieces that will make guests go crazy. The thing that is sure to be the most popular is the “Cup that Cares”. The cup uses rfid technology and a specially formulated top to keep CO2 from escaping in the atmosphere. It also helps the environment as it’s reusable and recylcable. There are two different forms of the cup, the standard cup that features Puck, and the cup that you can build. Think of it as a Mr. Potato Head that you can drink out of. Guests can make any variety of cup and dress it up with accessories.
Build a cup that cares with us:
The prices in Glacial Collections range from your typical theme park prices down to extremely reasonable. Things like shirts cost about what you expect from a theme park shop, while things like the Penguin Rock sculpture and even the penguin slippers are relatively inexpensive. There is also a huge collection of things for the home and kitchen, and of course plush stuffed penguins. The shop is great, but we felt that it was missing a specific collection of shirts about the ride and attraction. There are tons of great shirts that have penguins on them, but very few that actually say Antarctica at SeaWorld, or even some that feature Puck, the attractions hero. Also there is a huge shift of girl items versus boy items.
Check out a video walkthrough of Glacial Collections:
More pictures of Glacial Collections:
As we said before, the ride itself is just one part of the attraction. The ride tells the story of a little penguin chick named Puck, and the various things that the little bird must go through in order to survive the harsh environment of Antarctica. The queue leading up to the ride is themed to a cave made of ice. There are actually two different preshow areas that tell you the story of Puck and get you ready for the adventure.
The ride starts off with a huge preshow screen, giving you your first look at the penguins of the ride. You’ll notice that it’s cooler than it is outside. As you continue on, you have a choice to make. Your ride experience can be Mild or Wild. The height requirement for the Wild side is 36 inches. It features a lot of spinning, and some jostling around. There is no height requirement for the mild side, making it a true family attraction. The biggest thing about the ride is that there are some dark places, and one kind of startling scary moment. If you have little ones afraid of the dark, or who are easily frightened, you might want to hold on to them a little tighter…but overall, it’s nothing major. The one thing the ride does is make an environment friendly for all ages. The unique and interesting thing about the attraction is that it is designed to get you gradually acclimated to the environment that you are about to encounter. As you walk into the building it’s cool, but the deeper into the building you get, the colder it gets. By the time you get off the ride, it’s freezing..quite literally.
More pictures of the ride and area:
As soon as you get off the ride, you are greeted with penguins. They are right there, squawking and swimming. The other thing you’ll notice is the smell. While it doesn’t have the same “poop” type smell as the old attractions, and other animal exhibits, it does have a fish smell. That’s because the penguins eat fish, and a lot of it. However, because of the cold, you quickly get used to the smell, besides there are other things there to distract you, such as the fact that there are very few barriers between you and the penguins. And the cold….Ir is a balmy 30 degrees inside the attraction. This officially makes Antarctica the coldest attraction in the world.
Unlike other penguin exhibits, Antarctica gets you as close to the penguins as is safely possible. During our visit there were no nets, or barriers, but that had changed for a while because the penguins were jumping out. It’s not because they were trying to escape, but because they were not used to the lack of barriers in the attraction. Penguins are very exploratory birds, very curious by nature. If they can safely go somewhere, just to see where the path leads, then they will. You’ll find that as you look at the birds they will do things such as come up to the glass to get a closer look, and even follow your hand. One bird was so fascinated by my shiny ring that we spent about 20 minutes off and on playing as it would chase my hand.
There are several different species of penguins living in the exhibit, from the typical tuxedo Adelie, to the cute rockhoppers and even the majestic King Penguin. The King is the largest of the species at SeaWorld and looks almost like a child standing among the rest of the flock.
There are several locations to view the birds, both inside the cold, open habitat and out. While it’s great to cool off, it does get really cold really quick. The other place to view the penguins is in the huge viewing area. It’s two stories tall, and offers you not only a way to see penguins above the water, but also below the water. They swim and play, and either alone, but mostly in groups. The penguins can be completely gone one moment, but in a matter of seconds a flurry of wings and flippers send the best dressed birds soaring right by.
Check out even more penguins!
The whole area just opened, so you can expect lines anywhere from an hour or more. On the opening weekend, the park experienced five hour waits just to get into Antarctica. Unfortunately, as of right now, if you want to see the penguins, you have to wait in line for the ride. You don’t have to ride the Empire of the Penguins, but you do have to wait in the line. If you choose not to ride, you simply tell the person attending the line you don’t want to ride, but want to see the penguins and you can go right through the child swap area.
Check out an amazing performance from the grand opening of Antarctica:
Personally, I felt like the ride didn’t use the technology that it had available to the fullest. There were great big open dead spaces that felt underused, and some of the doors seemed like nothing more than industrial roll up doors. While these are just nitpicks, for me, it took away from the ride itself. However, like I said at the beginning, it’s not about the ride. It’s about the penguins, and the experience. The experience itself is one of a kind, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen anywhere on earth.
Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Behindthrills for more theme park fun.
If there’s something we missed, or something you want to know more about, let us know in the comments below!