The theme park industry is famous for using cutting-edge wizardry to convince guests that they have actually stepped into fantasy land. In fact, the main types of attractions have been around for decades which sets a surprisingly high barrier for breaking new ground. This is the challenge that SeaWorld in Orlando set itself over the past two years and it has made quite a splash.
New York-listed SeaWorld Entertainment operates three parks in Orlando including its eponymous flagship which attracted 4 million visitors last year according to the Themed Entertainment Association Global Attractions Attendance Report. It shows that a further 1.4 million visited SeaWorld’s neighboring water park Aquatica with at most 500,000 tickets sold to its all-inclusive family resort Discovery Cove. It caps attendance at around 1,300 guests per day and offers them exclusive experiences such as swimming with dolphins.
Although SeaWorld’s marine life makes it unique, it holds its own against its rivals when it comes to thrills. Turtle Trek is one of the most spellbinding rides even though it doesn’t actually move at all. Standing in the middle of a giant dome, guests don special 3D glasses with lenses which wrap around the sides. They make the footage seem to pop off the walls of the dome in all directions as it becomes a wrap-around cinema screen. At one point a school of fish seems to pass right through the middle of the room as the images can be seen wherever you turn.
Another surprise is the Empire of the Penguin indoor trackless ride which weaves around mock icebergs and stops in front of screens to tell the story of a young penguin’s life in the wild. It tilts in time to the action and a strong smell of fish even wafts in. The proof of its authenticity comes at the climax when the ride cars pull up just inches away from real-life penguins which dart in and out of a giant tank.
Despite its family favorites and marine life, SeaWorld has gained a reputation for thrill-rides and, perhaps more than anything else, they fuel its attendance. “The design team worked diligently from concept development, through the facility and ride design, and into construction to complete Infinity Falls in about two years.” They are riding the crest of that wave now but it sets the barrier even higher when it comes to dreaming up SeaWorld’s next crowd-puller.