After seeing commercials and promotions for the ride attached to SeaWorld Orlando’s newest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, I was quite excited to try out the new ride technology as well as visit the penguin habitat. I was unprepared for exactly how much theming has gone into this new area of SeaWorld Orlando. The story behind the area is that you are on an expedition to the South Pole, a place most people will never journey to, and you experience what the exploration would be like, as well as seeing things from the point of view of a newborn Gentoo penguin named Puck. When you first enter the Antarctica section, you see tall pine trees and soaring glaciers approaching. As you journey into the ride, more glaciers and icicles line your path and soon you enter an indoor queue full of colorful lighting as you wait for your penguin education to begin. In the pre-show area, you learn about the lives of penguins, and one family in particular, waiting for their egg to hatch so they can move on before a great storm approaches. This little hatching penguin is Puck. And as we enter the remainder of the pre-show area, it is Puck we are now following. We enter an enclosed room which you share with the rest of the riders for your vehicle. There we see Puck again and discover we will be following his journey. Similar to Turtle Trek, where you follow a particular turtle on his life journey, this animated portion of the attraction is full of cute, but dangers may lie ahead for little Puck.
**Below is a full ride-thru description, so if you don’t want any “ride spoilers” skip this next two paragraphs** Before entering this area, you decide if you want to ride “Wild” or “Mild”. Wild being the more accelerated, motion-enhanced version of the ride. Mild is just that, mild, with minimal spinning and motion. Once inside, your journey continues through a series of rooms full of brightly colored lights, icicles and other candy for the eyes. In these first two rooms, we are basically just experiencing the technology of the ride vehicle, dancing around other vehicles and exploring every aspect of the rooms. We then move on to a room with more of the animated sequences. Puck has grown and we are following him as he finds his way in the waters and ice of the South Pole. Our ride vehicle then “becomes” Puck in a sense, as we mimic his movements when he waddles and jumps. We then move on as another storm is approaching, and in this next scene, that danger I mentioned before shows up, in the form of a hungry seal. Puck makes it out okay, and as we see his is safe, the ride vehicles spin around to reveal the actual penguin habitat, full of 4 different species of penguins, frolicking, hopping, swimming, diving and waddling around their 30 degree enclosure. From there we move to the unloading area and get out to visit with the penguins in 3 different areas, including an underwater viewing area which is outside of the 30 degree enclosure.
According to SeaWorld spokespeople, the ride itself has many variations within the ride, promising a different adventure each time you ride. I rode it twice, and did notice a little variation within the vibrations of the ride vehicle and the way we entered the first room with the film was backwards vs. forwards the first time, so the possible changes are subtle (not a different ending or different movie on screen), but fun nonetheless. Bottom line, the ride itself is just a really fun way to get to the penguin exhibit. The ride technology is definitely fun to experience (for Disney buffs, similar to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt in Tokyo Disneyland), and the colorful lights and penguin story are fun to look at. I do wonder if guests who just want to see the penguins without going on the ride will be able to enter through the exit to do so.
The penguin habitat itself is impressively put together, with no glass walls and very little separating guest from the penguins. As they swam by and flipped their little tails, we did get wet, which is cool – literally, with the 30 degree temperatures in the room! The most dramatic and for me, most fun to watch was actually the floor to ceiling underwater viewing area. Even though we are separated by glass, we can observe the penguins diving and floating and interacting. It was really enjoyable to see.
I’ll have more reviews coming up, including a video featuring SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment creative director Brian Morrow, details on the food and drink offerings, merchandise and more. Until then, enjoy this Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin photo gallery