You may want to start planning you SeaWorld Orlando vacation soon now that a new Antarctica-themed “realm” opening next year at SeaWorld Orlando will include a state-of-the-art ride, an up-close penguin habitat, a restaurant and a retail location, the company said Tuesday.
The area will be the largest expansion yet built at any SeaWorld or Busch Gardens theme park, company executives told those attending a major travel-industry trade show this week in Los Angeles.
“You’ll be hearing more about this much more in the future, and there are more details to come. But count on finding the untamed, undiscovered continent of Antarctica in Florida and Orlando in 2013,” Toni Caracciolo, vice president of marketing for SeaWorld Orlando, told those at the 2012 International Pow Wow, according to a copy of her prepared remarks.
Antarctica is the most ambitious project yet to emerge from a wave of capital spending that SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has undertaken since it was acquired by private-equity firm Blackstone Group in late 2009. The Orlando-based company, which owns 10 parks across the country, spent approximately $228 million on capital projects in 2011 alone.
That amount equaled more than 17 percent of SeaWorld’s $1.3 billion revenue for the year and far exceeded anything the company spent on new rides and shows during its time under Anheuser-Busch Co.
Antarctica is also SeaWorld’s attempt to build a fully immersive environment that can not only lure travelers into the park but also drive spending on themed food and souvenirs. While such themed “lands” have been a theme-park mainstay since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, a host of new ones are now in the development pipeline across the U.S. — thanks in large part to the success of Universal Orlando’s “Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” which has proven immensely popular and profitable since opening in June 2010.
This year alone, for instance, the Walt Disney Co. is opening “Cars Land” in Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., and the initial phases of its “Fantasyland Forest” expansion of Fantasyland in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Both projects include multiple attractions, as well as themed dining and retail venues.
Disney has also begun preliminary design work on an Avatar-themed land for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Meanwhile, NBCUniversal, a unit of Comcast Corp., is building a new Wizarding World of Harry Potter for Universal Studios Hollywood. And it is expanding the original in Orlando — a project that many industry watchers expect will include a completely new Potter-themed area in Universal Studios Florida, to supplement the existing Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure.
Disney’s Avatar-land and NBCUniversal’s California version of Wizarding World are not expected to open until 2016 at the earliest. NBCUniversal hasn’t set a public timetable for its Potter expansion in Orlando.
One aspect that will set SeaWorld’s Antarctica apart from the competition: Temperature. SeaWorld is billing it as the “coldest theme-park attraction in the world,” taking guests among a colony of penguins whose habitat must stay in the low 30s Fahrenheit.
As part of its presentation at Pow Wow, SeaWorld also unveiled several details about Antarctica’s marquee attraction: “Empire of the Penguin.”
Guests, who will ride in eight-person vehicles, will be guided by a young gentoo penguin on a journey through the “dangers and wondrous beauty” of the world’s most remote continent. To ensure an entire family can ride together, guests will be able to select various levels of intensity; to ensure repeat visits, the experience will vary from one ride to the next.
SeaWorld said the land will also include a new habitat in which guests will be able to get very close to the park’s colony of penguins, which include gentoos, rockhoppers, adelies and kings. Though it declined to provide further details, SeaWorld said the penguin encounters will be the first of its kind in any theme park or zoo in the world.
Before Antarctica opens next year, SeaWorld will debut another attraction this week at SeaWorld Orlando: “TurtleTrek,” a 360-degree, domed theater experience that opens Friday. And by late May or early June, the company expects to open “Freshwater Oasis,” an environment that will include primates and otters, at SeaWorld Orlando’s boutique sister park, Discovery Cove.