Over the past 2 years, MiceChat has been covering the construction of Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins. At long last, this icy spectacular of an attraction has opened to guests. It’s truly an amazing experience and quite a bit more in depth than we expected.
We’ll start by giving you an overview of the new mini-land. Just before the penguin experience, to the left, is the Expedition Café, where the unique cuisine prepared by SeaWorld for the grand opening of this attraction was served. Beyond that, the Glacial Collections gift shop awaits, though it is not forced on you, like it would be at most other theme parks. It’s available if you want to see the equally unique merchandise that has been created for this unprecedented attraction, but you aren’t required to walk through it just to exit.
When you enter Glacial Collections, you instantly realize that this store is offering stuff you have never seen before, with clothing lines for little boys and little girls and an entirely new housewares line with stylish chic and SeaWorld exclusive designs.
SeaWorld was looking to make the entire Antarctica experience one that you could see, feel, touch and taste, and the Expedition Cafe promises to not only deliver a great tasting, locally sourced, food but also entertain as performers go table to table making everyone official Antarticans.
SeaWorld has also entered the specialty beverage market with the introduction of their Vanilla South Pole Chill beverage, available at the Free Style Coke machines. What does it taste like? Brian Morrows, the creative mind behind Antarctica, wanted it to taste like melting snow, but the culinary team came up with a clear vanilla cream soda flavor that is sweet and sure to delight young and old visitors to Antarctica.
CUP THAT CARES
The sure runaway hit will be the build your own Cup That Cares station, where you can build a reusable penguin cup like you would a Mister Potato-Head. The cup will track how much CO2 you save by refilling your adorable custom designed penguin cup.
One thing that everyone will notice is the incredible and awesome rock work/ice work that SeaWorld has done to bring Antarctica to life. With towering glacial structures, glowing icecaps, and glistening arches, you will find yourself dwarfed by the size and scale of the land. SeaWorld developed a proprietary system of blending concrete, fiberglass and acrylic to create glaciers that look lifelike and glow in the bright Florida sun.
Somewhere in the rock work, there is a “hidden Shamu.” You’ll have to find it in your own, we’re still looking.
The Main Attraction: EMPIRE OF THE PENGUIN
The main draw for Antarctica is an incredible new attraction, Empire of the Penguin. But calling it a “ride” would somewhat deceptive, because it is so much more than that; it’s an experience that takes nearly half an hour from start to finish.
Lining up in the queue area, the first thing guests will notice is the incredible theming. It looks like you have actually stepped into Antarctica, with ice and ice caves surrounding you. But while it all looks quite cold, we assure you that you won’t be able to forget the trademark Florida heat and humidity. At least not until you actually enter the show building.
As you step into the final queuing areas, an entrance awaits you like a fabled passage into some subterranean adventure. As the doors open, you can feel the cold, refreshing breeze waft over you. At this point, you actually feel as though you are in an ice cave! Here is where you begin to learn the heartwarming story of Puck, our hero. I won’t spoil that here, but trust me, it is truly a heartwarming and emotional experience.
As you gradually cool down from the outside heat (which SeaWorld has done quite successfully by the way; at no point did I feel I was uncomfortable), you eventually get to a point where you enter the ‘ride’ portion of the experience. Throughout this expedition, mind you, you have been following Puck on his journey growing up and becoming an adult penguin, on cleverly placed video windows that follow you throughout the queue.
Finally, you are ready to board the actual ride itself. When you get on board your trackless craft, you can choose between a mild ride or a wild ride. Of course, we chose the wild ride!
The first thing I noticed upon sitting down in the ride vehicle was how comfortable the seat was. It felt very natural as I fastened my seat belt and secured myself into the vehicle. We did experience some glitches pre-launch, as they are still working out the bugs in the system. We all know how glitchy new rides can be, especially if they have to constantly operate in 30-degree temperatures like these do, while also incorporating brand new, trackless ride technology. I can imagine there are significant challenges when dealing with these diverse problems.
Finally, we were on our way, and the car wandered and meandered through an incredibly beautiful ice cave environment, while listening to the beautiful theme music of the ride. The colors and theming of the interior ride portion are nothing short of stunning.
Suddenly, we can see Puck being chased by a predator. He darts and weaves through the water and ice, as you dart and weave with him in your ride vehicle. The vehicle moves convincingly with Puck as you see the predator (a beautifully rendered leopard seal) chase Puck throughout the ice. Finally, Puck manages to save himself as he launches himself out of the water and onto the ice with his fellow penguins. At this point, the ride car swings around, and suddenly you are confronted with the live penguins in their incredible new environment. They look so happy and content!
At this point, you disembark the ride vehicle. I did sense the chill blow over my body, but I hardly felt it, because as I bent down to look more closely at the exhibit, staring me in the eye from barely a foot away was the active, intelligent eye of a penguin. I put my hand against the smooth surface of the low glass wall, separating the water from my dry environment. The penguin nibbled the glass near my fingers, and I could feel the slight vibration of this through the relatively thin glass barrier. I felt so connected to these animals at this point, so emotional! This is the essence of the Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin experience.
Finally, we reached the area of the experience where we could watch the penguins swim in the deep waters. You truly sense the grace, beauty and power of these animals as you see them swimming in their natural environment; the cold waters of the south polar seas. I was left with the lingering sensation I had truly just visited Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins.
PENGUINS IN THE HABITAT
Once you have disembarked, and you are in the chilling 30 degree temperature without the glass walls, you begin to truly connect with these animals thanks to the incredible journey we have just taken with our hero Puck. The penguins dart, dash, and come close enough to you to create the first freezing splash zone at any park.
Guests are allowed to spend as much time in the penguin habitat as they’d like… But, after 10 to 20 minutes, the cold begins to catch up with you. It’s really a great way to keep crowding down as there’s a physical limit to the amount of time you feel comfortable staying.
The entire Empire of the Penguins experience is a multi-faceted journey that brings you closer to our formal little friends from the South Pole. After your journey to Antarctica, finding yourself out in the hot Florida sun, you will likely want to venture back to Antarctica again soon.
The Antarctica project was an ambitious one for SeaWorld and they have succeeded in delivering a land and attraction which is fun for the whole family. Don’t think of visiting a “Ride” as the ride itself is really just a tiny part of the overall journey to the penguins and increasing your familiarity with them. Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins is a fantastic addition to SeaWorld and the overall Orlando experience.
Unofficial SeaWorld Orlando Podcast
Our last SeaWorld Podcast included some interesting information about Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin: