Little Puck, an animated creation who's the star of the ride, met dozens of SeaWorld's business partners and members of the hospitality industry during a preview party Wednesday night. The attraction opens to the public Friday morning.
After guests watch Puck hatch in the pre-show as they wind through an increasingly nippy queue, they board a disc-shaped vehicle that's part Tilt-a-Whirl, part bumper car. At this point, it's 50 degrees in the attraction, said creative director Brian Morrow. Plus, there's a wind-chill factor as the vehicles pirouette, buck up and down, swirl and slide. There are close encounters with tall, brightly colored ice structures and other cars as riders follow Puck's journey.
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But there are no collisions in SeaWorld's Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. Vehicles maneuver wirelessly — without the tracks on the floor that have guided theme-park cars for decades.
Freedom from those rails creates more possibilities for the ride, Morrow said. The vehicles have dozens of courses they can take, and they interact with one another. One option has cars facing and mirroring one another's rollicking movements before they slip together into a room that's in midsnowstorm. It's notably cooler and windier there. Here's where theme park imitates life.
"Penguins are very rarely alone," Morrow said. "They will find each other and help each other through the storm."
Antarctica is not without peril. Riders encounter a leopard shark, a major enemy of penguins, on the biggest moment of the attraction. The vehicles get a thorough workout, with special effects rattling the seats and a galloping motion that mimics the diving moves of the now-adolescent Puck. (There's a "mild" version of the ride that travels through the attraction without severe movements.)
"Puck saves the day. Puck is the hero," Morrow said.
The vehicles then glide into an unloading station that doubles as an open-air habitat for 250 live penguins. It's 30 degrees in there — brisk for people, but the birds don't mind. They nonchalantly dive into even icier waters.
SeaWorld's Antarctica area also includes a restaurant, gift shop and educational experiences. It sits roughly atop the land that previously was home to the park's Penguin Encounter attraction.
Antarctica starts a flurry of theme-park additions in Central Florida. Next month, Universal Studios will introduce Transformers: The Ride — 3D, and Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will open its Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. Legoland Florida plans to open its World of Chima expansion in July.
Friday's grand-opening event at SeaWorld starts at 8:45 a.m. and will include a performance by Lauren Alaina, country singer and "American Idol" runner-up. She will sing "Antarctica: One World, One Family," a song heard in the attraction.
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