While the new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction at SeaWorld Orlando isn’t scheduled to open until May 24, BestofOrlando.com was given the opportunity to have a special sneak peek this week at the area that will reinvent the up-close animal encounter experience that the park is known for worldwide.

During an overview of the attraction, we learned that this new area of the park is actually ahead of schedule in terms of construction, which has taken approximately 15 months to complete according to Brian Marrow, the creative director of Antarctica (soft openings should be taking place in early-mid May). What was surprising to me first and foremost was that this is much more than just a new ride or habitat – as SeaWorld describes it; this area is a new realm that is meant to take visitors into Antarctica and give guests a first-hand look at the life of a penguin. This is no small feat for the company – it is the largest single expansion in SeaWorld history and it will also include new dining and merchandise locations (including a Coke station with freestyle machines that produce hundreds of Coca-Cola flavors) and a large hut outdoors that will welcome diners out of the Central Florida heat, all of which were designed to look like they are in Antarctica. 

After a bird’s eye view of the construction from SeaWorld’s Sky Tower and a visit to the model room on the site, we donned hard hats and actually had the opportunity to walk through the area. While Marrow said that the attraction itself is so close to completion that we were not allowed inside, we were able to discover the icicle-laced caverns and snow-capped rocks that make up this expansion. Workers were still painting a blue tint to the white rocks to give them an icy feel, but with the glass tile sprinkled on the ground and the area mostly complete, it’s easy to see how visitors will feel like they have been transported to the icy continent.

In keeping with SeaWorld’s education component, there is a cove with life-size replicas of every kind of penguin in the world carved into stone that stands out as an unexpected detail. And even further continuing the theme of the penguin, flanked at the entrance of the ride are 35-foot rocks in the shape of a mother and child penguin.

Although we weren’t given the opportunity to go inside the attraction, we were given enough information in the overview to get a glimpse at what riders can expect. For example, did you know that this family voyage seats riders into state-of-the-art trackless vehicles and allows guests to pick two options to enjoy the attraction – a thrill ride or a calmer version (non-riders will also be given the opportunity to walk through the attraction)? Or that SeaWorld has gotten rid of glass barriers with its open-air design concept, which has made Antarctica Empire of the Penguin the coldest theme park attraction in the world?

The new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin ride will submerge guests into the life of the penguin, giving you a look at life through a penguin’s eye and allowing guests to see, feel and walk with penguins in their world. With penguins as close as two feet away in some parts of the attraction, this epic adventure is going to be unlike anything you have ever experienced before at any theme park – and it will be well worth a trip to Sea World Orlando to check out this summer.

Check out more photos of the hard hat tour of Antarctica Empire of the Penguins:

The entrance to the ride


Walking into the Antarctica section of the park

The exit of the ride

A model of Antarctica Empire of the Penguin

The concessions area

The outdoor dining hut

Orlando, FL – 04/10/13